04/11/21 – Resurrection Unity

RESURRECTION UNITY

April 11, 2021
2nd Sunday of Easter
Psalm 133, Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

This week I became fully vaccinated, and it felt a little like resurrection. I can relate to the disciples in the locked room, fearful of going out into the world. Fearful of being in close contact with other people who might be carrying the virus. But this past week I took on a new life that included visiting my two grandchildren in St. Louis and even hugging them without wearing a mask! They have had virtual learning since the lockdown last spring and only play with others outside wearing a mask. At this point, the great division in our communities is vaccinated and unvaccinated.

As every second Sunday in the Easter season, a reading from Acts will replace the Old Testament reading. We still have the Psalms to connect the Old Testament with the New. From our Psalm for today, we see that the quest for unity, and the peace it brings, was God’s desire for us long before the risen Jesus entered the locked room with his fearful disciples and repeated the phrase, “Peace be with you.” In the words of the psalmist:  How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” In our epistle reading, we find that it was of critical concern to the first Christian congregations. In our contemporary society, political, social, and economic disunity has sharply increased in recent years, with disastrous consequences to the common good of the people. The question that challenges us is: Can unity be resurrected?

The book of Acts is a continuation of Luke’s gospel. The author, I’ll refer to him as Luke, did what no other gospel account did. Luke provided a picture of how Jesus’ ministry, his death, and resurrection were lived out in the early church. For the early Christians, Resurrection was the ultimate new life. They explored the question: What does new life in Christ look like in day-to-day living? This is a theme we will explore throughout the Easter season and will continue after Pentecost.

Our reading from Acts paints an idyllic picture of the first Christian community in Jerusalem. The first Christian community in Jerusalem was discovering what being a new creation in Christ entailed. Those that had more than they needed sold land or property to provide for their sisters and brothers who had less than they needed. Those that gave trusted the apostles and the community’s leaders, to distribute their donations to the poor and vulnerable as directed by the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus’ teaching. These first Christians were following Jesus’ example. They made sure no one was in need, just as Jesus did when he fed a crowd of 5000, healed the sick, and brought outsiders into the community.

From the epistles, we know that conflicts eventually arose within congregations between the haves and the have-nots. Paul accused members of the congregation in Corinth in which the wealthy hosted worship services in their homes and their wealthy friends came first and ate all the food and drank all the wine that was intended for their communal meal, leaving the poor with meager leftovers or no food at all. Paul also chided the congregation for their meager offerings, comparing them to a poor church in Macedonia that was far more generous. Throughout the bible, the moral allocation of money is proclaimed as an essential witness to one’s faithfulness to God.

Throughout the ages, unjust systems have been established that favor the already wealthy and powerful. It seems as if greed always wins. But Jesus taught another way. He challenged this status quo in the Roman Empire and in the Jewish community in Judea. He refused to back down when he observed a lack of justice and equity. Immediately following this passage in Acts, Luke provides two models of Christian living after the Resurrection. The apostle, Barnabus, sold land and gave the proceeds to the church. A husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira, sold land, but they kept back a portion of the profit. Peter accused them of lying to the church and to God. Let’s just say, the story did not end well for Ananias and Sapphira. Jesus had warned that it was “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mark 10:25). Money can be a tremendous source of conflict. The desire to hoard wealth destroys relationships among families and between nations.

Our reading from 1 John also addresses the issue of unity. The author was writing to a congregation that had theological differences. The author stressed the unity they had in Christ. All are sinners, he wrote, but all are forgiven through Christ — and not just the congregation, but also the whole world. The congregation’s unity was not based on doctrine, but by their living, as Jesus did. “Now by this, we may be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments.” And Jesus said: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:17)

In our gospel reading from John, Thomas was feeling left out. The other disciples saw the risen Christ, but he had not. Significantly, having seen the risen Christ, they were still gathered in that same room with the door closed or locked. They had witnessed the Resurrection but were not living as though anything had changed. When Thomas saw the risen Christ, he was changed. It is significant that the gospel tells us that Thomas didn’t take up Jesus’ offer to touch the wounds on his hands and his side. That Jesus would come to him, giving him what he needed and what the other disciples had already been given, was enough for Thomas. He was convinced that Jesus was God’s son, and so was, like God, present and available, just, loving, and compassionate. Not only was Thomas’ faith in Jesus restored, but his relationship with the other disciples was also restored and he accepted the mission Christ had given all of the disciples.  According to early church history records, Thomas traveled far from Jerusalem preaching the gospel and was martyred for his faith.

We know from Acts that the disciples did conquer their fear and went about creating new worshipping communities. As author and pastor, Talitha Arnold observed: “The new Christian community wasn’t focused on seeing the Risen Body, but on being the Risen Body…They didn’t just proclaim God’s resurrection power. They became that power by offering new life to others.”

Imagine what we Christians could do for the world, what we could do at Westminster for our community if we joined together to be Easter people! What if we looked at others as Christ did, as children of God in need of forgiveness, love, and daily bread? What if we were resurrected into the new abundant life Christ suffered and died for us to have? There is only one way to find out. As G.K. Chesterton famously wrote in his book, What’s Wrong with the World: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” Let’s go out and show the world what resurrection looks like.

Amen. May it be so!

 

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2021, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Ave. | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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