April 26, 2009
Edwards (Knox) United Church
Third Sunday of Easter
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The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
We love heroes. There are many tv shows and magazines that sell us heroes, some with clay feet. I remember being in a Blues bar and in walked Dan Achroyd. Heads turned. A buzz went through the crowd. Being a Canadian bar meant nobody rushed up to touch him. However, people continually made a lot of trips by where he was standing. It became a moment and conversation with those we were with. The joke became, "remember when we where at the bar with Dan Achroyd." Some of the dust of his fame drifted over us.
Our society uses heroes to motivate people. Be like, you fill in the blank, we tell our children. Some Christian groups send out athletes to teen events as a methodology of conversion. Our materialist world had heroes who were ceos of successful companies and they were those who were to guide our economic world. Yet those heroes turned out to cause the problems we now face economically. Our trust is broken and that happens when our heroes turn out to have clay feet.
We are back to the issue of what is it that will sustain us? What will address the deeply felt fear we have about the future? To what and to whom will we turn?
Reginald Bibby has a new book out on values and teens. He suggests teenagers are doing ok, they are more centered. However, and this is a big however, he worries about the future because of impact of the continuing rise in secularism. Like others, he suggests that is due to indifference on the part of many to spiritual reality, and the irrelevance of the church in addressing crucial issues of our time, its been a turn to therapeutic answers rather than intellectual concerns. It is like fish in a tank of water, they never know the water until the tank breaks. Then they miss it. Values are created in shared social contexts and when that goes so does faith. Lukewarm churches produce not greatness but indifference.
Our time is one of reconstruction. Out of the broken web of relationships and ideas. We are called to a much more demanding understanding of our world and faith.
This was not much different for those to whom Luke wrote to in Acts and his Gospel.
To often we hear what will be will be. No Luke suggests, it is the opposite of what will be, will be. What will be is yet to be determined. It means history is being created by our ideas and how we live them out. This places a heavy burden on us, for we know that we fail and sometimes we purposely fail.
Given this reality we are faced with two stories about life. Hope or fear. Our problem is compounded by the fear merchants who try to manipulate us. Our stories are full of us asking us to give over our freedom to escape fear. We project a controlling agent that will save us at the last minute. We get frozen in fear which freeze frames us as victims. We turn our lives over to some big brother. At times we have had theologies that reinforced and created dependencies that froze us in immature faith. In such a faith, atrocities and evil were willed by God. That makes it even harder to love God!
Our hearts are churning with issues of war, terror, economic free fall, and family issues. We normally take our cues for our well-being from others and the information systems of society. What we have discovered is all the updates provide little consolation for our deep spiritual distress. Spiritual bromides are just that. The news of the day freezes us in our fear. We scurry around looking for a word of hope.
What is needed in a fear culture is a second look. We need to pause, gather our thoughts, take a breath, and then ask penetrating questions. We move from a fear frame, being frozen, to a freedom frame. It is to call upon our faith that we are not alone. We live in God's world. We ask "What is needed?" How do we witness?
Again the bible deals with this problem. Luke gives us the scene and the resolution. Jesus finds his disciples quivering in an upper room. They have lost their nerve, and they are fearful. Jesus appears in their midst and says "Peace be with you." He does everything he could to get their attention off the fear and onto something greater. His voice of comfort and reassurance that appeals to their history. In that moment they discover their true humanity, lose their fear and set off to change history.
It was in concrete act of relationship that the disciples came to feel and to know that their encounters with Jesus was a metaphor of God-with-them. Jesus touched people to heal them, Jesus broke bread for those who were hungry, Jesus broke down barriers of exclusion and shame in actual occasions of table fellowship with the poor and the outcast. Luke depicts the Risen Jesus continuing the same central features of his earthly ministry with his disciples: he touches them, as he'd touched countless others, he eats with them, as his table fellowship had signaled the coming of the Reign of God. In this encounter the disciples continue to experience Jesus' ministry — indeed, they are empowered to continue and expand Jesus' ministry.
We know it takes a lot of work to fashion faith that is alive and well on the most ordinary and uneventful days. We need a spirituality that can deal with the bumps in life. We are thirsting for living water, hungering for solid food. We come here to be fed. We come not just to find some moral tidbits, some basic self affirmation, though that is important. We look for something more grounding than civic ethics or behavior, though they help. We come to taste that which is really true that which is life changing and world changing. We want a truth or a faith that can deal with the hard issues of evil and loss and not be overcome. We need a faith so we can move on into that dangerous future to create a hopeful reality.
That is why the church is in the world, for we are witnesses to the real and vital continuing relationship with the Risen Jesus. It is that continuing relationship we internalize. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit — that empowers us. As Peter says in the lesson from Acts, it isn't by their own power or piety that Peter and John healed the lame man, but by the faith that is through Jesus, that is, the empowerment of continuing relationship with Jesus. It is to move from frozen in fear time to greatness. With hope, we claim our freedom to be more humane.
What is asked is to respect our mind and asks us to use it. This is a faith that is well grounded. It doesn't rise and fall with the Dow Jones average or the inflection of a physician's voice. We stand in Greatness and it is grounded by our daily attention to letting the power of faith guide us in all things. The Good News for this Sunday is: the Risen Jesus continues in real and vital relationship in the community of those who follow him. We have a real and vital relationship that transcends the limits of death, and that continues to be manifested in concrete acts of ministry, healing, teaching, learning, community compassion, and outreaching love. We are called to greatness and we are asked to live our version of it. We have all that is needed. We are not alone. God is with us. We are here. Look around, we are community that will move boldly into the world of danger and joy.