In all of our preachers’ work to prepare our sermons each week, we have many resources available to help us; we don’t just make up what to say out of nothing—at least I’m not able to or want to do it that way. We have weekly Synthesis papers of the readings for each week; and we have whatever else we can gather up to help us—commentaries, other Bible translations, materials on the internet, etc.
This week the Synthesis paper for the Lectionary had as its title: “So I Send You”. In all the readings for this week, the message IS that God does send us to do the work He has given us to do. Let’s look at each of these readings to see how this message is brought forward to us.
In the Easter season the readings tend to be out of order chronologically. This week in order of occurrence the Gospel from John should really be read first, followed by the first Reading from Acts, and finally the second Reading from Revelation, also written by John near the end of his life.
In John’s Gospel today we have the familiar story of the doubting apostle Thomas. Jesus has risen from the dead and has already been seen by Mary and Martha and by a couple of his other followers later on Sunday (the first day of the week), and the apostles had been told about this occurrence. Ten of the apostles are staying in a locked house in Jerusalem that night, and they fear the Jewish leaders, who they think may come and arrest and crucify them, too. Jesus appears among them, and says, “Peace be with you”, and after showing them his hands and feet, tells them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He also “breathes” on them, giving them the Holy Spirit, and then instructs them to go out into the world. The apostle Thomas was not present, however, and when told of their experience with Jesus, he does not believe it and says he must see it for himself. A week later the apostles are all together in the locked up house--Jesus once again appears to them. He tells Thomas to feel his wounds, after which Thomas calls him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus points out that Thomas only believed because he saw it for himself, and says blessed are those who have faith without seeing or experiencing. John says that his words are written so that we all may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name. We do not have the physical presence of Jesus to convince us, but John’s words can lead us to real faith in Jesus and in doing His commission—to go out into the world, just as the apostles did.
In the first reading today from Acts we hear about the apostles and their actions in Jerusalem, sent out by Jesus, after receiving the Holy Spirit. What we get for the Acts reading today is only a small part of the full story told. Leading up to this reading, Peter and the apostles had been doing many signs and wonders among the people, had added many believers, and had stirred up the towns around Jerusalem to bring all of their sick to be healed (and they were!). The high priests of the Jews, jealous of their popularity and fearing a riot, had them arrested and put in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the jail doors and let them out, so that they could return to the temple and preach about their lives in Jesus Christ. The high priests, first confused by the escape, then realized the apostles were preaching more and had them arrested again and brought before the Council, who confronted them for preaching about Jesus even after being told not to. Peter and the apostles said they truly believed in Jesus and would continue to witness; they even preached to the high priests right there. They were then flogged and ordered not to preach anymore, which they just ignored. The apostles got the real message from Jesus the Messiah, and acted on it even while being persecuted. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were even considered worthy to suffer dishonor in Christ’s name.
In the second reading from the start of the book of Revelation, likely written some 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, John writes to the seven churches in Asia. He speaks of a revelation (or dream, or a vision) about seeing Jesus coming back to this earth in power, full of glory and dominion. John is definitely in “sent out there” mode by Jesus, fully witnessing to the churches about the resurrection and coming back of Jesus to this world.
In all of these readings we hear about the message and call of Jesus Christ to those he led, his apostles, and they responded—even with their lives. In our Christian faith, we are called also—to be witnesses for Christ in this world. In the Nicene Creed we recite almost every Sundays, it says: “On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” And, it also says, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” This is essentially what John said in this Revelation reading today and what Peter preached in Acts, and we say this every week as our statement of faith.
How do we carry out these faith statements and the call of Jesus Christ to go out into the world, as ”Jesus sends you, and me”?
Our Bishop Greg Rickel had a wonderful Seattle Times article written about him and his work in our Diocese last weekend. (I have copies of this for anyone who wants to read it today.) In this article Greg spoke proudly about a time he talked some parents out of baptizing their child—he was convinced they were doing it only because other family members insisted, which he says “dumbs down the faith”. He said his goal is not to baptize as many as he can so he can count them as Episcopalians. His goal is to have an authentic faith that people can understand and articulate. He wants to have a “back to basics’ approach that is clear about what Episcopalians believe and why, and the rich traditions we have—because for many that is not very clear.
Bishop Greg wants the churches to try new and different ways of thinking about and operating as a church, aware that some things will fail, but some old ways will also die. He says it’s not enough for churches to say what they are against, but they should convey a positive message of what they’re for. He wants members to be clear about who they are and what they have to offer, so they can communicate that passionately. Ultimately, we’re trying to bring people to Christ, not even necessarily to the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Greg shows us his way of living these faith statements and the call of Christ. He is clear about his faith, and what he does to live out that faith, and he encourages others to do the same in new and exciting ways.
I spoke in my last sermon about a Quaker pastor, Philip Gulley, and the books of his I was reading for Lent. I actually completed two of them. The second one, “If the Church were Christian, Rediscovering the Values of Jesus”, has a statement I think applies well to this understanding of our faith. The book talks about the reconciling and loving actions over and over again by Jesus to transform people and situations through grace. Philip writes, “Healthy, loving churches magnify a gesture of grace, transforming it into a mindset and then a movement, expanding its power and presence. Churches that value reconciliation over judgment and acceptance over condemnation get that way by choosing wisely at key moments, never losing sight of their purpose—to bring wholeness to broken lives, immersing each person and situation in God’s grace.”
Here at St. Mark’s, we can look at what we believe and how this translates into how we live and use our lives—within our church, in our family, and in our communities around us. As a church community, in this first 100 years at St. Mark’s, we have been a church of believers in Jesus Christ and His real message to share grace and love with others. It is up to us to continue and build on this community of faithful people in Jesus Christ. AMEN.