2nd Sunday of Easter, year B, 2015 (preached 4/12/15)
first reading: Acts 4:32-35
second reading: 1 John 1:1-2:2
gospel reading: John 20:19-31
Every year on the Sunday after Easter we read the story of doubting Thomas. Partly because we hear Thomas’ story every year, I DON’T want to preach about it today.
This is not to say Thomas’ story isn’t important, because it is. Doubt can actually play a crucial role in faith. Doubt can be a good thing, because it means we’re actually thinking about our faith, not taking it for granted. Being open and honest about our doubts and questions can help our faith grow.
What I want to talk about today is this – now that Jesus has been raised, so what?
Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Alleluia! So what? What difference does this make to you? What difference does this make for me?
I’m not talking about heaven. That’s all fine and good. But we have no control over that. Thankfully Jesus took care of that for us. What I’m asking is about the things over which we do have control.
What difference does Jesus’ resurrection and lordship over us make in our lives today and tomorrow? Because his death and resurrection isn’t JUST about heaven and the future, it’s also about our life in the here and now.
How do we answer the “so what?” question? Because how we answer that question helps shape our WHOLE life – how we live day to day and over the long-haul, how we view ourselves and one another, and how we view the Church.
We get a clue to the answer in our first reading for today.
The “so what?” has a lot to do with our relationship with one another. This makes sense given Jesus’ response to the question of the most important commandment. He said it was to love the Lord God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. On Maundy Thursday Jesus gave us the new commandment to love one another as he has loved us, and put that love in action by washing the disciples’ feet.
In the reading from Acts we hear that the early believers sold what they owned and held all things in common. The sold everything to share with others and to give to those in want. We read, “There was not a needy person among them…“
An ideal community. A community founded in faith and sustained by the common sharing of goods so that everyone had enough – – NOT in proportion to one’s ability and strength, but by the strong and well-off taking care of the weak and the poor.
This is a immense challenge to the way we live our lives. We’ve grown so mistrustful of each other, so suspicious of one another’s motives – even during Easter dinner I was having a debate over whether to give money to a person sitting on a city street holding a sign that read, “Homeless, please help,” with a box for donations on their lap.
My teenager challenged me, and for all my nice logical arguments about concerns over drug use, and wanting to connect that person to services that would help them long-term, I had to admit there was also a part of me that was afraid of my OWN wallet going empty.
What Jesus and the early church SAYS to us and SHOWS us is indeed an enormous challenge to our thinking and our lifestyle.
We are Christians, and Jesus told us to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, work for justice. No exceptions. No litmus tests.
Jesus washed the feet and DIED for the one who betrayed him and the one who denied him, so who are we to deem anyone unworthy of Jesus’ love or our help?
Theologian Gerhard Krodel wrote, “Spirituality dare not be divorced from social responsibility…” and “to believe in God is inseparable from caring for and sharing with the members of the people of God.”***
Jesus calls us to COMMUNITY – not to some individualistic society where it’s dog eat dog, each man for himself or survival of the fitest.
I’m thankful that we in our congregation, and in our larger Lutheran Church, take Jesus’ command to love and serve our neighbors seriously. For a congregation our size and age we do a great deal to help those in need both near and far. We are part of a larger Church that reaches all over the globe, proclaiming God’s love in word and deed – working to alleviate human suffering, advocating for justice, seeking peace.
I’m thankful that we live out the example in Acts. We’re not perfect – very few people in history live up to the ideal given to us by those first brave followers. Having these examples keeps us humble, so that we don’t think too highly of ourselves, so that we always strive to do better and confess (as we’re commanded in our second reading) when we have fallen short, as individuals and as the Church.
So… the “so what?” of the resurrection is this – in thanksgiving for Jesus’ immeasurable sacrifice and gifts to us, we live our lives as part of a COMMUNITY, where in the words of John’s letter, we have fellowship with God and EACH OTHER. We love our neighbors and even our enemies as Jesus commanded us – we work for peace and justice so that all may see God’s love shine through our words and deeds.
That way, when others look at us they’ll see Jesus – and when we look at them we’ll see Jesus too.
So little by little we edge toward that ideal community of the first followers. It may be work, hard work, but it’s a labor of love given to us by the Lord of love.
***Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Acts. Augsburg Publishing House: Minneapolis, MN, 1986, pp. 116, 117.