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Resurrection and Mission (sermon for Easter 2)

April 7, 2013

Acts 5:27-41                  John 20:19-3127FaceofChristinGlory-DukeChapel

On Easter Day I spoke about the injustice of God’s forgiveness. In today’s passage from Acts Peter is spreading the word when he and his friends are arrested and dragged before the religious authorities who say

“We gave you strict orders not to teach in his name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.”

To which they reply with the great slogan of civil disobedience.

“We must obey God rather than any human authority…

The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus… whom you killed…”

Peter is very clear. Whether these particular individuals were there on the day… Like us who sing the hymn ‘were you there when they crucified my Lord?’, they too participated in the same persecuting practices we all share in. So he can say to them as he could to us… You killed him! Yet… God exalted him… (why?)… that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

Notice…

“that he might GIVE repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins’.

Peter doesn’t say that God demands repentance… he says that God gives repentance, God gives Israel a turnaround a transformation of life by raising Jesus. If, as I said on Sunday, the resurrection is a declaration of peace, a declaration of forgiveness (and not just a magic trick to show us how clever God is or how important Jesus is) then the resurrection becomes a source of new life, of transformation (or repentance). In a nutshell, the killers and the persecutors are given a gift… a new way of life, and they are given it by God who is their victim.

Notice too what the religious leaders say…

‘You are determined to bring this man’s blood on us’.

And in a way they are right. His blood is on their hands. And yet… as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, the blood of Jesus speaks “a better word than the blood of Abel”. What does the blood of Abel say? In Genesis we are told it “cries out from the ground”. In Genesis it is clear that the blood of Abel cries out for revenge. The blood of Jesus on the other hand… speaks now a word of forgiveness and GIVES repentance… not demands but GIVES. This is the great reversal of all we think of as justice… God gives us (his persecutors) repentance and a new life, rather than demands it of us

Turning to the gospel reading – the resurrection story from John 20, Jesus is remembered as coming among them and twice declaring PEACE BE WITH YOU. They needed nothing more than to hear those words. They’d been fearing justice/ retribution and instead they receive restoration and reconciliation.

So that’s the first moment of this resurrection event. In the second moment, almost with the same breath, Jesus continues

AS THE FATHER SENT ME, IN THE SAME WAY I AM SENDING YOU. What does it mean? The word ‘send’ has become really important. Mission comes from the Latin word missio for send. Just as God missioned me, so I’m missioning you. In other words the God who sends Jesus to the world is now co-missioning others to share in the same task by the power of the same Spirit. This is a kind of foundational statement on what the church is and what it is about. A people, a community has come into existence for one purpose and one purpose alone – to continue the mission of God to the world. A church doesn’t happen to have a mission. Church is a mission and we only are church when we are part of God’s mission.

But there’s more. Not only does our life now have the same purpose as Jesus’ life, it has the same modus operandi. That little word ”as” can easily be unnoticed. Jesus is not saying “The Father sent me and he’s sending you also”. He’s saying, IN THE SAME WAY that I am sent by the Father, so I am sending you. How are we missional?… Like Jesus.

It’s a funny business talking about the mission of our church. Based on how we talk about it I get the impression that many people assume that the way God sent Jesus went something like this:

God looked down at the synagogue and the temple and saw that attendance was dropping and they couldn’t afford to pay the priests and maintain the buildings and that young people were no longer interested in religion, except perhaps as something nice for the children. So God, being worried about this turn of events sent Jesus down to earth to preach great sermons and provide new styles of music and help the people be friendlier in the synagogue, to perform wonders to draw the crowds in, and to hold “synagogue growth” seminars. He was the one who had the answer to God’s big question: How do I connect with the young people and get them to come to the synagogue again?

How do people get the idea that the mission of the church is to build up the church, or the numbers at worship?

That was hardly Jesus relations to the Synagogue and the Temple, the places of community worship? Two things stand out. He nearly got killed by the crowd at his first visit to the Synagogue and then staged a protest in the temple which shut down business at the height of the Passover season.

How did the Father send Jesus? In fact the clearest statement of this is seen in the story of his dramatic entry into Synagogue life in his home town in Nazareth – at the event that got him thrown out of the Synagogue and nearly killed right at the beginning of his clear. At that event he reads from Isaiah to tell them about his own commissioning. Isaiah writes (and Jesus identifies this with his own calling) the Spirit of God has anointed me to do what?

…bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour

As commentators agree Jesus is picking up from Isaiah the great vision of economic life, expressed in the day of Jubilee when the poor are restored after the struggles of the intervening years… this strange hope (strange to our capitalist ears) for a communion rather than a competition. But Jesus doesn’t just proclaim it, to use Isaiah’s language, but lives it. He lives with the poor, befriends them, he heals those in bondage to evil he gives sight to both the physically and the spiritually blind. He engages the clean world from the place of the unclean. He makes his home on the margins of civilization… He lives, he embodies the kingdom, the life of God’s economy in the world.

And Jesus is sending us to do this also… to proclaim and to live this divine economy, beginning with the poor (who we will always have with us). To be like a seed planted in the ground. – like a seed, like salt, like a tiny light in the darkness. Like a city within a city (not a gated community but intermingled), like a kingdom intermingled within a kingdom, like an economy intermingled within an economy. Often hard to spot, hard to discern in the distorted world. Touching that world and relating to others with a different way of life

What does this mean for us?

A few weeks ago just around the corner (in Caversham) a man died in his home and lay there several weeks before he was discovered. Who might be at fault is irrelevant. He was a loner increasingly isolating himself from others. We love to find blame but this tragedy was a symptom of a way of life, of our economy – of the way we organize our desire.

We (at Caversham) live next door to a school for those with intellectual disabilities (SarahCohenSchool), and over the last month their garden has been raided and emptied out by thieves and their van has been vandalized. Again there is a place for calling people to account, but the more important question is: What does this says about the world we live in and how we might live as a community in mission? After the garden theft, Jan and Ivan got their heads together and took vegetables from our community garden over to Sarah Cohen school. A week later Ivan told me our own community garden was raided. Last weekend our Session Clerk was in the cemetery tending to the grave of her husband when someone took her handbag from her car.

I don’t think we should be surprised by this situation. We call it ‘the community’… this space we live in… but is it? Increasingly it has nothing to do with communion… Increasingly the man who died in his house is becoming a normal example of life in a capitalist society… an individual  like us in the midst of society (not necessarily reclusive) but ‘oddly alone’ . We live increasingly in a society composed (as one author describes it)

“…of independent, autonomous individuals who neither owe nor properly expect anything from others beyond that to which each individual voluntarily commits”. (Daniel M. Bell, The Economy of Desire)

This is what our society calls freedom. This is the foundation of the economy in which we find ourselves as a church. I can’t really spend any more time talking about the way capitalism forms the world we live in, or rather the people we are… and therefore what we call ‘the community’.

The point is simply this. Christians (who trust the risen Christ and the know the presence of his Spirit) believe that another world is possible. That the risen Christ is creating it now, in the middle of this world – even among us sometimes.

Forget the question of how to attract more young people to worship. If more people come to worship that’s great. But its not our mission. The point of our life is joining in the mission of God and engaging the world as Jesus did.

As the Father sent Jesus embodying and proclaiming a new world, similarly, Jesus is sending us.

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 7, 2013 2:14 am

    they spread it like butter on toast 🙂

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