Saturday, April 16, 2016

Easter 4C

Speaking Plainly...

Easter 4C, the texts appointed for this day can be found here

I’m going to let you in on a little secret--I am not Jesus.

I know, shocking right!

And, I’m going to put something else out there--I’m not the shepherd. 

Jesus is.

This might seem fairly obvious.

But, for some, it’s an easy mistake to make.

Jesus wore robes.  I wear robes. Jesus—most likely, brown hair and look, I have brown hair! 

Jesus hung out with sheep, I grew up on a farm and we had a sheep once.

Jesus gave his friends bread and wine, I give my friends bread and wine. 

The similarities are stunning. 

But, all kidding aside. I will state it plainly, I am not Jesus. I am not the savior. I am not the Messiah. I am not even a shepherdess on the green. 

I am a child of God, just as you are a child of God.

No better. No worse.

Just simply, a child of God.

And, as a child of God, I am called to be as Christ to the world. I am NOT called to BE Jesus to the world.  This is an important distinction.

Jesus is a historical figure, whose life we are asked to emulate, but who we cannot literally be. In this Easter season we are reminded that it was in death and resurrection that Jesus was unbound by time and set loose into the world through the power of the Spirit. The Christ is expansive, inclusive and cosmic.

Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith, writes, “’Christ’ means more than Jesus. It also refers to the new skein of relationships that arose around him during and after his life…The Easter cycle, with all its harshness, joy, and impenetrability, tells of this enlargement of this historical Jesus story into the Christ story”

It is in the enlargement of the story, that the story includes us. In the truth of the Spirit in our midst we are incorporated us into the body of Christ and called into service as anointed ones.  

Have I lost you all?  The more I write, the more I think, the more I speak—the more I realize that these are deep theological waters in which we are treading. This is why the church is more than the spoken word. Our life of prayer—the actions, the rites, the sacraments, the fellowship are all meant to expand our understanding of the relationship we have with God in Christ. And so, I call us to take note of a very particular moment in the ritual of baptism. 

In baptism we are anointed with an oil called chrism.  It is an oil consecrated by the Bishop and dedicated for use in baptism—and the words used when the oil is applied are as follows, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever”. 

Christ is the Greek title meaning, “anointed one” and in our own anointing we become “anointed ones”.  In the early church the act of anointing was understood to impart the gift of the Holy Spirit, “being sealed” and gave the individual a place within the community of believers grounded in an understanding that they were now part of Christ in the world, “Christ’s own, forever”. 

Sealed and marked. Or in other words, in this rite, we are made complete by the Holy Spirit and our lives are given to God.

So, how do we live when our lives belong to God?

Bishop Hollingsworth in the Diocese of Ohio would remind us all, both lay and ordained, that baptism was our first ordination--that our first promises of service to God are made in baptism and therefore, all baptized members of the church universal are called to serve.

Like Jesus we are anointed—and in that anointing are lives are dedicated to Christ. 

When we perform a baptism in this community we are binding someone and ourselves, as the consenting community, to a life bound to a greater cause and purpose. In this act we, like Jesus, become unbound by time—unbound by the boundaries of our individual lives and connected to what we call the household of God and in that connection called in service to the mission of God. 

To be unbound. To be freed from all that would confine us. And, in this Easter season we are reminded again and again that we are set free, as Christ was set free, from the death that would bind and confine us and our ministry. One such reminder appears in the passage from Acts we heard today.

In this passage Tabitha, also called Dorcas (and why that name has never taken off, I don’t understand!), was such a person. Her resuscitation unbinds her from the limits of her earthly body and gives testimony to the expansiveness of God’s gift of new life. 

Tabitha was Christ’s own forever…and she demonstrated this through her ministry to the community.  Tabitha’s identity as a disciple, living as one claimed by Christ, has a concrete and real impact on her wider community.

And, in the miracle of her resuscitation, Tabitha’s acts of compassion are set free from the death that would end them. Death cannot snatch Tabitha away from God in Christ, and the concrete effect of her resuscitation is the defiant marking of this claim.

Tabitha’s compassion is central to this new way of life in Christ. Tabitha’s resuscitation is central to the message that death cannot limit, or destroy, the love made manifest through such acts of compassion. 

I imagine that many of us can think of individuals in our lives and the life of the church whose acts of passion and compassion have not been limited by death. And when we dedicate ourselves to following the self same God to whom these people gave witness, we have dedicated ourselves to the ongoing defiance of death and those powers in the world that would call our cause vain.    

And not only do we dedicate ourselves, we claim our place within the love of Christ in God, and proclaim the good news of the Gospel. 

 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Nothing, and no one, can separate us from the love of God. Neither death nor sin will tear us away from the God who clings so tightly to us.

And that is the grace of this Gospel text we hear today, “No one will snatch them out of my hand”.

This is the consolation of Tabitha’s community. This is the consolation of our community. This is our consolation. “No one will snatch them out of my hand”…

We are bound to Christ and in that binding liberated in Christ.   

Our fellowship in this place, our worship together is a manifestation of that unbinding. It is the claiming of our place and the truth of Christ’s presence within our own lives and within the expansiveness we call creation to which we are connected through Christ.

And so, to bring us full circle. 

No I am not Jesus.
But I contain Christ.
And so do each of you. 

And together, we are the body of Christ.
Not looking to a single individual for the salvation of the world.
But actively participating in the salvation of the world,
Through the dedication of all that we have and all that we are
to the God to whom we belong.

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