Sunday, April 14, 1996

Second Sunday of Easter - Year A - 1996

Second Sunday of Easter

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery
hast established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant
that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's
Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their
faith; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth
and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

Preface of Easter

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles Acts 2:14a,22-32
14 [But] Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, 22 "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-- 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him, 'I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will dwell in hope. 27 For thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let thy Holy One see corruption. 28 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou wilt make me full of gladness with thy presence.' 29 "Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
The Word of the Lord.

118:19-24 Page 762

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the LORD.
20 "This is the gate of the LORD; *
he who is righteous may enter."
21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD'S doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 On this day the LORD has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

A reading from the First Letter of Peter 1 Peter 1:3-9
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. 9 As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.
The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John John 20:19-31
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." 26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, "Peace be with you." 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." 28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
The Gospel of the Lord.

2 Easter -- Year A

Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

There is a question that I used to dread being asked. Actually, there are quite a number of questions which I dread, but this one in particular used to bother me. The question is usually asked in the context of an awkward encounter with someone who has recently been converted, and can occur from the lips of a stranger in almost any situation. The dread question is, "Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?"

I hate any question for which I do not have an answer, after I have already been asked it once. The problem is, that even when I knew the question was coming, I never seemed comfortable with my answer. To tell you the truth, I think that part of the problem was that it took me some time to even understand the question. My answer, half-heartedly given was always a simple, "Yes". This, of course was not at all the answer the person asking me the question wanted to hear, and I must confess, I sort of enjoyed the reaction to my simple answer.

In my most cynical moments, I have suspected that the question was phrased by some evangelist who knew that a straight forward answer to the question, "Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?" would require entering into a conversation, and it left many other questions lurking, just waiting to pounce on any reply that you provide. In other words, the question was phrased so that regardless of the answer, it gave the inquirer the opportunity to ignore you and go ahead and say what they wanted to say. But again, this is a cynical approach.

Even when I am not cynical, I think the question has an adversarial tone in it. It smacks of, 'I have something that you don't have'--no matter how eloquently you position your reply, you have lost merely because the other person asked the question first. For this reason, my, "Yes", said simply without comment, I found to be utterly baffling to most of those many who have asked me this question. They are left with little to say.

I will point out here that one of the hidden benefits of wearing a collar is that no one ever asks me those kinds of questions anymore. It is this point that gave rise to my dwelling on this subject--that and Peter's words in his letter to the Church we heard this morning.

And in reading the letter, I believe I have stumbled upon the quintessential answer to the question, "Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?" and the cousin to that question, "Are you saved?" Rather than just a simple, "Yes." to either of those questions, I believe the answer that we should all hope to be able to give would be, "Yes" and then pause for a moment, look slightly offended, and then ask with a worried look, "Can't you tell?"

In fact, I think that I have found the question dreadful specifically because I was afraid that in being asked, I was being made aware of the fact that the people asking me indeed could not tell that I was a Christian. That is a very dreadful thought.

John quotes are Lord in his Gospel: By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

By being asked the question, I recognize that my love for others is not strong enough so that it shows.

But having love for another is something that ought to be able to be seen--at least, now and then. I have said before, and because I believe I am right, I believe it is worth saying again: The best form of evangelism that we can do is to lead our lives in such a way so that people want to know why we do the things we do, and so that they want to imitate us. And if the reason we do the things we do is because we are Christians, then we are showing the love that He expects of us. Moreover, we are evangelizing.

Anyone who really believes that Jesus is the Son of God, who took on flesh, died on the Cross and was raised on the third day, has the necessary ground work upon which to build a life--their own life.

But the groundwork is not all that is necessary. Jesus also said that if we believe in Him, then we have hope in His Resurrection. We must also believe that promise to us. And if we believe that by Jesus, and with Jesus, and in Jesus--we have eternal life after this one, and that the life we are to have is perfect and full of wonder, and full of glory--then the way we live this life will change. It must change if we really believe.

I spend much of my own life living a lie. The lie I live, I probably share with many of you. The lie I am talking about is a bumper-sticker slogan, and it says, "He who dies with the most toys, wins." When I think about what God has done for us on the Cross, and beyond the Cross, or when I think in theological terms, I can readily see the lie in that statement. But when I sit in my office at home and do my income taxes, or look at the advertisements in a magazine, I find that I can too easily live that lie myself.

I go through I life saying, "I want, I want, I want." Rarely do I walk around considering what it is that I already have, and what it is that God wants me to do with it--or to whom He wants me to give it.

I am not preaching against materialism (but I could, and perhaps I should), but there is better way. I am not preaching against anything, because if we are for God, then we cannot be leading our lives striving for the most "toys" before we die. If we are for God, then our lives will be lived accordingly. And if we are living our lives accordingly, then virtually every conscious moment will be to others our proclaiming that we have a personal relationship with God.

It is like asking yourself how you would live your life differently if you could do anything and not suffer any consequences. That is only the entry level question. The more sophisticated version of that question, for a Christian, is how would I live differently if I had no hope in the Resurrection?

Our answer to that question ought to be, "I am already living my life, at all times, and in all ways, as one whose hope is in the Resurrection." But my own answer would be, that while I know I do have hope in the Resurrection, I too often take it for granted, and frankly I fear that none could tell that I am living this life in that hope.

"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."

We all live under those words. None of us have seen the Risen Lord in His glory, yet we confess the faith. "Without seeing him, you love him." Those are Peter's words to the Church; and thus, those are Peter's words to you. It is the proof that you do, in fact, have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But to the world, the burden of proof is on how that relationship can be seen by what you, and what I, do--and do not do.

Peter's next words were those I would hope we could use as the pattern for our lives, and the way by which we would never have to fear being asked if we know Jesus, or have a relationship with him. He said, "though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy."

Our lives as unutterable and exalted joy. It is not easy to do. In fact, as a Christian, very little is easy to do. Our lives would be far simpler if we had no threat of judgement, and far simpler if we had no hope in the Resurrection. But they would be lives without joy.

I watched a movie recently which quoted words from a poem. The words were either that of Bob Dylan or Dylan Thomas, I didn't catch which--you may have seen the movie. The words were, "Rage against the loss of light." The poem was not in context, and not being familiar with it, I cannot tell you what the author had in mind. But the words struck me deeply.

"Rage against the loss of light." How appropriate for us in those times when our getting on with life dims the light which is our belief in the Risen Lord. We must rage against it, because we cannot endure it if the light goes out. And others cannot endure if they are never allowed to see the light which has been given to those of us who believe--either because it is so dim, or worse if it has gone out entirely.

That we believe is a gift. And that gift is the product of another gift, which is the Son of God to the world. We are blessed by it, and have meaning because of it. We have hope because of these gifts. Therefore, these are causes for unutterable and exalted joy. And, as Peter concludes, As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.

What a great life we ought to lead. What earthshaking news we have to share. How loved we are by God to have this gift. Sitting in a traffic jam, or filling out income tax forms may not be times when you feel like thanking God for all that he has done for you--but that is exactly what we ought to do. Considering the gifts we have been given--especially that of faith in the Risen Lord, the traffic jam or the income tax, or the other distractions of our lives are of little importance.

This is Easter. Eater did not end last week anymore than it did nearly two thousand years ago. In fact, in the Church, every Sunday is a little Easter. And in the Church, this is only the second Sunday in a Season of Easters--where every day is Easter. Given that it is the holiest and most joyous time of the year for us, how do we let others know about it?

Sometimes, we need to ask ourselves how we can let ourselves know about the joy that is there before us, if only we would take it up. As sons and daughters of the living God who has called us heirs of His kingdom--called his own because of his love for us, we have cause for unutterable and exalted joy. And so that His kingdom may spread to the end of the earth, we have a duty to express this joy that has been offered to us.

Our faith gives rise to joy, and our joy ought to be seen in our love, and our love ought to be seen in our joy. They go hand-in-hand. Christian love must always have an element of joy in it. And Christian love is only possible if we have faith in the Resurrection. That is who we are, that is what we are. If you love and believe, but have no joy, than "Rage against the loss of light" and fight for what is yours for the willing. Your souls and the souls of countless others need our joy, need our love, and need our faith.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Copyright © 1996 W. Crews Giles

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