*Originally given at Midtown Christian Community, May 15, 2009
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I have titled this homily “After Easter,” for those of you keeping records or taking notes. I am usually careful to mention the title of my homily every time I give one—it satisfies something in me, I have no idea what. But it may give you a bit of a clue as to the logic of the passages upon which the homily is based. One further incidental benefit is that it also helps our church historian, the one tasked with chronicling for future generations, the great history of Midtown Christian Community. As it happens, I think I titled my previous homily, “After Easter,” but I don’t care that this may confuse the Midtown historian. I’m feeling downright ornery.
This is the sixth Saturday after Easter, according to the church calendar. This serves to remind us that we live in the shadow of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Easter is not a holiday that we celebrate and then forget about. It is a reality that must continue to dominate our life together. Easter must fill out our lives and our life together as a community. Like water that runs into every nook and corner when it is spilled in places where it shouldn’t be, like the kitchen floor, or a coffee table in the living room, and becomes sometimes hard to clean up, Easter must find its way into all the corners of our lives and all our relationships and especially our common life that we share together here as Midtown Christian Community. Easter is the thing. Easter makes everything else possible.
And this is the meaning of Easter: The world was enslaved to sin and death—radically broken—but God has begun to fix it.
This world was meant to be a place of goodness and life. Humans were meant to be happy, to be fulfilled, to enjoy good relationships. We were made by God to share with one another, to hear great reports of good things about what was happening in the lives of other people. We were made to have gardens, to plant seeds and then to watch with excitement as flowers and vegetables came up. God meant for us to build things like tree-houses and bridges and machines that lift things or fix things or move things and then for us to be satisfied when houses or bridges or machines make things easier or better or when they make people happier. And we were supposed to give each other gifts and rejoice with each other as we opened them and said truthfully, “man, this is what I really was hoping for!!” And in all of this we were supposed to delight and say “thank you” to God because he is the one who set us free in this great world to enjoy it. That’s how things are supposed to be.
But everything has gone horribly wrong. Sin has entered the world along with its partner in crime, death, and Satan is the ruler of this age, not God. This is very bad news, because now people are not happy, people are not satisfied, and people do not share their stuff with others. People now build things to hurt other people. We now build bridges so we can grab other people’s stuff or so that we can harm one another. We now love to hear reports from other people about how bad things have happened to someone. And when we do hear good reports about how something good has happened to a friend, it’s hard not to get envious and begin to complain that good things never happen to us.
This world was supposed to be a place where God was everywhere, where we ran into God in wonderfully unexpected places and we’d have the time to visit and sit down and talk about how amazing things were and how it’s so fun to be part of God’s world along with other people.
But the world is not like that. We do not run into God everywhere. In fact, we keep having experiences that make us believe that there is no God, and we look around and think, “how on earth can things be like this and God doesn’t seem to care enough to actually fix it?”
And God should fix it because he promised he would. He made all these promises in the Scriptures that he was going to make everything right, he was going to heal our hearts so that they don’t hurt so bad anymore, and he was going to make us new so that we didn’t hurt each other anymore, and he was going to make it so that every kid grows up in a home with people who love them, and God was going to fix the world so that people don’t die anymore and so that there are no disasters anymore where people see their precious stuff burned up or lost in piles of rubble.
This is where Easter comes in. Easter is God’s way of saying to the world, “I remember.” “I know I made those promises and I do intend to keep them.” At Easter, God says, “I know how badly everyone wants the world to be made right, to actually be awesome and joyful and wonderful the way it’s supposed to be. And I want that, too! In fact, I want it so badly, I’m willing to take on myself all the horror, the brokenness, the sin, the injustice, the pain, the killing, the abuse, the name-calling, the insults, the beatings . . . , and I know it’ll kill me. But I’m willing to do it because I want so badly to enjoy my world and my people, and I want so badly for people to love and enjoy one another and to rejoice in being alive in my wonderful world. And this is the only way I can begin to fix things.”
So God sent Jesus into the world and Jesus died and God raised him from the dead as a way of saying to all of us, “I remember my promises and I fully intend to keep them.”
One further thing is significant about Easter. When God raised Jesus from the dead, God actually began to fulfill those promises. On Easter Sunday, God began to fix the world.
It started with Jesus—with God raising him from the dead. Things aren’t supposed to work that way, right? How does the world work? What are the rules the world follows? Things go from good to bad. Things break down. Life ends in death. Clean things get dirty. Beautiful church buildings get old and get to a state of being pretty scary.
In Jesus, God began to reverse that. According to the Easter logic, the dead come to life. The way of Easter spread to the church when Jesus went to heaven and sent his Spirit. God’s Spirit is among us to bring Easter here, to make sure that God’s resurrection power is here among us. The same power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead is here.
That is the meaning of Easter, and learning together as a community what that means for us is how we are supposed to live in the shadow of Easter.
God goes to outrageous lengths—he moves heaven and earth—in order to do good things to his people. We all acknowledged this when we prayed a minute ago the collective prayer – “you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding.” And we see this in the Isaiah passage, where before Cyrus was even born, God prophesied that he was going to raise up this great Persian King to shake up the ancient world, just to do good to his people, Israel. In the same way, God sends Jesus to die and raises him from the dead in order to do us good, in order to bring salvation among us.
Okay, so God is among us with power and we are supposed to live in light of the resurrection, have a community oriented by Easter, but what does this mean? How might it look?
We get a clue in the Acts passage. Here we see some amazing things happening. We see two churches behaving like humans are supposed to behave. They’re doing what we said humans are supposed to be doing. The Jerusalem church heard that a bunch of people became followers of Jesus in Antioch. Now, you need to realize that the people in Jerusalem were not very friendly with people up in Antioch. “Those folks up in Antioch are a different race from us, which means they’re probably bad. And we’re pretty sure that since we don’t like them, God probably doesn’t either.” That’s how the people in Jerusalem should act if the world were still completely broken. But God had sent his Spirit to this church, so they start doing things that look very . . . well . . . “Easter-like.”
They sent Antioch a gift. In fact, they sent Barnabas. That’s like the Cleveland Cavaliers saying to the Boston Celtics, “hey, we know that you guys might need a little bit of help, so we’re sending you Lebron James. We hope he’s as helpful to you as he’s been for us.” Seriously! Barnabas was one of the major leaders in the Jerusalem church—a very wealthy man who gave loads and loads of money to the church. He was awesome to have around and was an encouragement to everyone. There were probably a bunch of little kids who called him “Uncle Barnabas.” But because Easter means that you don’t play by the same rules anymore—the rules that are destroying God’s wonderful world—if you have something great, you share it. So they sent him to Antioch. And the result was loads and loads of blessing—in fact it was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians”—little Christs, people who live like Jesus.
But there’s more here. The church in Antioch hears that there’s going to be a famine all over the world, so what do they do? Well, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, they probably would have thought, “let’s close the doors, not let anyone else in, put a freeze on our giving, and store up because hard times are coming.” But Easter changes things—remember, the rules have changed because God raised Jesus from the dead. They say, “hey, let’s send word around our area and take up a huge collection. The Jerusalem church might need help—they don’t have Uncle Barnabas anymore, so let’s send them a gift.” So that’s what they did.
Because God raised Jesus from the dead, you give gifts. The church is the place where we’re supposed to see what the world looks like when God is at work fixing it—making things move not from good to bad, life to death, clean to dirty; but death to life, bad to good, dirty to clean.
According to the two passages from the Apostle John, the best way for us to make it look like Easter is real is to love each other. We prayed in the collective prayer that God would pour into our hearts such love towards him, that we, loving God in all things and above all things, may obtain his promises, which exceed all that we can desire.
God’s promise is that we will one day enjoy true life in the world when God makes it new, when resurrection life spreads through every last particle of this world. We’ll get to enjoy life the way it was supposed to be, with people laughing and rejoicing and giving each other gifts and building fun stuff and watching gardens grow and accidentally bumping into God all the time and talking with him about how amazing his world is and how much we love living in it. That’s what God has promised us. And the way we obtain those promises is by obeying God’s command to love one another—basically to start living that new world as a community, even though it isn’t fully here yet. That world is on its way, but the church is the place where we’re supposed to see little outbreaks of it. And those little outbreaks are acts of love.
Living in light of Easter means being a community that knows that God is present among us trying to find ways for death to lead to life, for bad to become good, for what is dirty to become clean. Do you see that this makes it possible for us to love one another?
In conflict, one of the hardest things to do is to think the best of another person. I have nothing against Don Humphreys, so I’ll use him as an example. It’s easy to think this way: “I am so fed up with Don. He’s always doing such and such. He’s a pro! Perfectly consistent! Always screwing things up! I say something to him and he always forgets! And it’s not even worth mentioning it again, because I know exactly what he’s going to say. He’ll say this and this and this and then fly off the handle and it’ll be a big mess, so it’s not even worth it! He’s impossible, there’s no hope!”
What’s wrong here is that I’m playing by the rules that are destroying the world. Life to death, good to bad, dirty to clean. If I play by the Easter rules, everything changes. I am now free to assume the best about Don, that God is working Easter in him, transforming him from death to life, bad to good, dirty to clean. I can now think about Don like this: “Man, that was really hurtful what Don did to me. But I know that God is at work powerfully to change him and I bet that if I mention this to him, he’ll totally want to be restored to me and make it right. I know that in this situation, because Easter has changed everything, what is a hurtful situation can become one that is even better than it ever was.”
Well, there is so much more to be said about this, but I’ll close with this. We’ve been a community for about 4 ½ years, and things are better than ever—praise the Lord. We’re about to kick off a season of reflection on how things are going here at Midtown. This is not easy for any of us, especially when there are many close relationships, some with lots of history. But let’s draw upon God’s Easter power—let’s work along with God—to assume the best about each other, to really love each other. Let’s confess with our lives our faith in the reality of Easter—that God has begun to fix the world, making things go from death to life, bad to good, dirty to clean.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.