Well, here we are, the first Sunday after Easter (and what a very nice Easter day it was here at St. Mark’s!). I especially liked the expanded version of the “This is the Day” Praise Song we normally use that we sang on Easter Sunday. Hymn 175 in its full form, “This is the Day that God Has Made” has a refrain and two verses, and it is truly a resurrection song, and I hope you enjoyed singing it again today, as I hope we might for all of Easter season. They say “variety is the spice of life!”, and I think this is good variety. Our signboard says “Christ is Alive”, and our singing and worship should reflect that.
For the next several weeks of the Easter season, we will be reading about the Apostles and the very early church as described in the Book of Acts. Prominent within this set of readings we will find: the Holy Spirit, Christian witness, inclusion, and love and charity for all—a pretty nice set of items that make up the Christian faith. So, listen and learn more about these themes as we celebrate the risen Christ and see his influence on those who experienced all that happened at that time.
Today’s readings all have some very distinct messages, all very important in today’s culture and society.
Our Acts reading talks about the early Christian community existing in ways that some would like to claim is communistic, and not American at all, our model being of the individual driving to get ahead, to win, to take what is yours. Sorry, if we are to read the full Bible, here it is, the early Christian model of society—common use of all things for the good of everyone, everyone is understood to have God’s grace, no winners but also no losers, no needy, no one deemed to be better than others. Seems pretty idealistic, doesn’t it? Of course, we have seen many attempts at models like these over the centuries that did not work. But, why is that? Maybe because as humans it is hard to keep the focus on working for the good of all through faith in Jesus Christ, and not desire more for ourselves when it is there for the taking.
I have seen a few glimpses of what looks like one of these early caring communities during the past few weeks, watching the new community form at the Chaplains community church in Westport (formerly St. Christopher’s Episcopal). This is a group of people who have mostly met by coming to the local food bank twice monthly next door to the church building or to the Senior House down the road a few blocks, and a few others who have heard about the start of a weekly free meal there who want to help. They all have starting meeting for coffee and then lunch, and inviting those they know to join them--with sincere greetings for one another, friendly listening to each others’ stories and needs, and have brought food and clothes and books to share as they are able. Several are helping with preparing the meals and cleanup, and planning meals and future activities and events. Most of these people live at the edge of society nearby in broken down RVs, trailers or small apartments, with small incomes from Social Security, pensions, or disability checks or part time minimum pay jobs. Yet they come—looking for community, and wanting to help each other and indeed form a community of their own, with lots of ideas about how this place can be useful to all--for learning, movies, games, church worship, and many other things. It will be interesting to see how this continues to grow over the weeks and months ahead.
The first verse of our Psalms reading says it all, as far as what our world, and especially our own country, should strive for, totally different than what seems to be happening now. “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” This does not mean we agree on everything, or are sheep to one person’s or group’s direction or doctrine. But it does mean we can come together on how we treat each other, regardless of race, age, gender, sex, sexual identity, and so on with respect and dignity for everyone. One of my classmates posted on Facebook last evening: "We don't have to agree on anything to be kind to one another."—a quote from Janis Ian. That’s how it could be.
In 1st John, he writes, “we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” Is this the message we hear from all Christian people today? Or for some is it one where they are judging others using the Bible as a club, and their faith is righteous indignation about those they deem as unworthy of the love of God? This looks more like living in darkness to me, and not in God’s light. Jesus Christ came to help us understand what it means to truly love and care about each other, and he only had two commandments for us to focus on: “Love God, and Love your neighbor as yourself.” It can’t get any simpler than this.
Finally, our Gospel from John gives us a clear message of faith to follow. The doubting Thomas story is one that we all can relate to at some time in our Christian journey, as we encounter the tough and windy roads that are our lives and experiences. Sometimes we do get clear messages and visible signs that make it obvious that God is there, maybe not as clear as Thomas touching Jesus’ wounds, but pretty certain nonetheless. Jesus asked Thomas, and it also applies to us: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." How do we deal with this? Sometimes I do not know myself.
A closing thought I also got from the John Gospel today. When Jesus meets up with his disciples, what does he do? He greets them with, "Peace be with you." You all know what we do each service at the midpoint—we have The Peace, where we can greet each other as Jesus did his disciples. So, it is not just reading from the Bible for us to learn, or a preacher enlightening us with more details about the readings, or sharing a communion meal that makes us a worshiping Christian community. It’s also that we say things like The Peace in a caring way to each other that reflect what Jesus said to his followers. Let’s keep that in mind when we do that action every week, or whenever we are together in Jesus’ name.