One thing we see out around us is John 3:16. We see it on signs, at sporting events and other places. People seem to use it to remind us of Christ’s presence and his life and death. God gave his only Son so that those who believe might have eternal life. What we must remember, is that in John’s thought eternal life was the age to come, an age begun with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Of course, no idea of the age to come is possible without the Holy Spirit and his coming as the new age dawned. In this way, we can see that the gospel is meant to reflect the idea of the Trinity. I think we are all acutely aware that we believe in One God, three persons, but explaining it is beyond what is possible for us. It is hard for us to conceive that God is not material and who and what He is will come to light at some future time of our existence. What we do have is an experience of three persons, Father(or a parental being), Son and Holy Spirit. We know the Son at an appointed time entered the world to give his life so that creation could be restored to union with the Trinity. At the end of his time, the Son left(sent) his Spirit to keep alive his Word and to aid and inspire his followers as they proceeded to walk in the new life given by the Son. This is why we always invoke the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Theologians for centuries have written and speculated about God and Theology including the Trinity. Yet Thomas Aquinas after a lifetime of writing and after a mystical experience concluded his work was straw.
Faith is what is needed. We come to know God by faith and experience by opening ourselves to him. Christ physically comes in the Eucharist, but the Spirit abides in us if we permit and helps us form an intimate and positive relationships as we walk the path and the way of the new life given to believers.
We are all part of an age unaccustomed to waiting. We get instant news from the far ends of the earth and can even view it on television. Even a soldier today in Afghanistan can actually call home on the phone or even make a video call. This is far different from families at home in past wars waiting for the mail person with that letter with “free” written instead of a stamp from a loved one in a war zone. Today we get impatient in lines we meet everywhere, always being in a hurry to be someplace. Today our readings are Jesus’ farewell to his disciples and the return to his Father. Remember the Ascension is the very last part of the Easter event of Christ’s Passion, Death, Resurrection and return(Ascension) to His Father. They know they are to go out to the world and preach, but they have many questions and much unbounded enthusiasm. But, what does Jesus tell them? He tells them they must wait for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who will teach them and inform them of their mission and how to carry it out. It is the Spirit who is the Father’s gift to us that enables Christ’s church to continue, to keep alive his Word and work through the centuries. Yet, in all their enthusiasm, Jesus said wait, don’t do anything until the Spirit comes.
For us, I think there is a lesson to consider in what Jesus said in telling them to wait for the Spirit. Often times in our lives, things arise whether a crisis or some other situation or event that we need to pray over and consider. As Jesus told his disciples to wait a few days for his Spirit, it would certainly be good if we allowed time for prayer and the Spirit to help with our decision. The Spirit has been given to the Church and also to each of us to help and enable us to discern and continue to follow Christ in every time and century. The Spirit guides and helps the Church as it marches through the centuries, assisting as humanity itself grows in knowledge and advances hopefully to the age Christ has prepared for his followers. So, we need to live our life in the church with his Spirit, waiting for his return and our own ascension to the Father.
Easter Sunday 4-16-17, Acts 10:34,37-43, Psalm 118, Colossians 3:1-4, John 20: 1-9
Ending the Fear of Futility, Failure and Finality
He is risen! He is risen indeed! This is it -the highpoint- indeed the reason for the Christian faith. After all, those who opposed Jesus’ message long ago saw the crucifixion and death of Jesus as a way to stop the growth of this strange renewal of the Jewish faith. But his death was followed by resurrection, and everything changed. It is a day of celebration, amazement, of remembering and claiming promises of life after death and a close, personal unity with God.
American Christians today struggle not against an oppressive Roman Empire, but against the promises and the amazement growing stale and feeling irrelevant; and this struggle occurs against a background of a chicks-and-bunnies-focused society – symbols of fertility borrowed, interestingly enough, from that same oppressive Roman Empire.
So, we must ask, “How do these readings apply to the world that awaits us as we leave here today? “How can our faith be faithfully and accurately interpreted into a hip-hop world? It’s not always easy. But for today, we can find 3 points of the Easter story that truly do make direct contact with our lives: the fight against Futility, Failure, and Finality.
Futility is a widespread problem today. Research says close to 40% of Americans say they don’t think there is a God. Instead people put their “faith” into clothes and cars and jobs and houses and social status – and substance abuse. This approach to life is pretty futile. According to the Center for Disease Control, the US suicide rate increased 24% during the last 15 years, with the rate of yearly increase doubling since 2006. Suicide is now the leading cause of death in teens and young adults. Heroin overdose deaths have increased 45% in 4 years. It is called, “Death by Despair”- lives based in futility.
The Easter story is about a risen Jesus, who lives. But it is also about the personal decisions of people like Mary Magdalene and the disciples of Jesus who saw the truth of God, who witnessed healing and resurrection, who chose to believe, who learned their efforts were not futile, and who found value in their lives and their actions – beyond stuff & society. They created a new cultural importance in the actions of individuals. This has opened a way of life that is filled with joy and certainty, even in the midst of hardship and suffering. Life has become victorious over death. We must live and share this truth! Easter people show their joy, the goodness of life shines thru them. Even in difficult times, they can show love to the unlovable.
Then there is Failure. We, for the most part, live in a world where people don’t just fail, but they crash and burn, drowning in a sea of negativity on Facebook; they are crushed in the media.
Forgiveness and new beginnings are what the Easter story brings; Peter is not only reinstated as a disciple but in the Book of Acts he becomes a fearless and powerful preacher of the Word. The women at the tomb were broken and grieving; they had put their money, their reputation, and their lives into supporting Jesus, and thought it was all a failure. Jesus and angels came to tell them otherwise. Jesus came to the scene of the disciples’ lackluster attempt to return to fishing and put the Spirit’s fire back into their hearts. Jesus picks them up, dusts them off and, by his presence, gives them new certainty and determination.
Easter people go way beyond the lukewarm, “Don’t worry about it,” and offer real forgiveness. They see pureness in the jumbled brokenness in people. The Easter church needs to be the place where failure can be embraced with forgiveness and love, where doubt and fear can accept truth, where our presence and support are available for those oppressed by failure.
Then there is finality. Jesus always left the door open for people. He offered choices. He did not reject people, but probed their motivations and offered alternatives. Even after his resurrection and Ascension, he said he would return. He did not leave us without the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort. There is no end to God’s love.
Finality is one of the main reasons I am in ministry. To know that our lives are important to the One who created us – makes a difference. Knowing that the transience of the material world is not to be feared, frees me to put my time and effort into people, not product. I can find value in how life really is, without the glitter. I find significance in the ritual of a holy, shared meal because time and finality do not exist in the realm of an Easter faith. I don’t need my name engraved on a brass plaque, for my eternity will be found in union with God and in the love of God I share with God’s people.
The Easter church thinks in terms of eternity, so personality differences and petty disagreements shrink in importance. When we can keep in touch with Jesus’ humility, it becomes natural to treat others as more important than ourselves. When we can operate out of that humility, our lives move people to want the faith we have and we get to share our joy with them.
In the weeks ahead, each of us will have opportunities to silence the fears of futility, failure and finality. May the Spirit of the Risen Christ lead you to bring hope, joy and love to all you meet.