The Rev. Deacon Thomas R. English
Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
Good Morning. I will begin by reminding us of a portion of today’s collect:
“Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s body (that would be us) may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith;”
So how do we do that…today and everyday in our lives? This morning’s lessons offer so rich an Easter banquet on which to dine, it was difficult for me to choose just which dishes to select to answer this question. However, there are a few themes that run through this banquet that I have chosen to discuss with you. They are shalom, faith, peace, grace, love, and justice. And that’s a lot to chew on.
In our lesson from Acts “we have a radical extension of the truth that everything we have comes from God and belongs to God and is for sharing with others.” A truth we acknowledge each Sunday at the offering when we say “and of thy own we have given thee.” These early Christians’ impulse to live this truth in reality---to restore that which has always belonged to God--- seems to come out of a new understanding of who they were in light of the Resurrection. It is written that the believers were, "one in heart and soul...” Do we get to experience this "oneness" in the communities we belong to? In our families? What would or does "oneness" look like for us in our day? What is the sharing in the community for? What is supposed to come out of the building up of the community?”i
One answer is shalom which is often translated simply “peace” as in a greeting. But it far more than that.
Shalom is a basic unifying vision around which many other important biblical beliefs are organized. It encapsulates God’s basic intention, God’s vision for humankind. The basis and primary model of shalom is the biblical concept of covenant: God makes a covenant with his people. In our collect this morning we are invited to join a “new covenant of reconciliation” established by the resurrection. Our understanding of salvation, atonement, forgiveness and justice are rooted in this shalom, this unifying vision. Its dimensions can be measured this way:
First: shalom refers to material or physical conditions or circumstances. God’s intent is for humanity to live in physical well-being. All humanity, not just the privileged. Everyone deserves the daily bread. But shalom is still more. It is vision of the future articulated by the prophets and includes health, material prosperity and an absence of illness and poverty. It is the kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. It is the kingdom now---the kingdom each of us is called to make happen now. We see the richness of this vision in Psalm 133: “The anointing oil, in glad celebration, with exuberance and joy is poured out extravagantly upon the head. It is warm and aromatic and runs down the face into the beard and into the collar of the robes. It is rich and sensual. No one minds. It is a sign of favor. It is an occasion for great happiness.”ii
The Second dimension of shalom describes social relationships. God intends his people to live in right relationship with one another and with God. To live in shalom means that people live in peace, without enmity but not necessarily without conflict! Shalom defines how God intends things to be. God intends people to live in a condition of “all rightness” in the material world, in interpersonal, social, in political relationships; and in personal character. Shalom undergirds the Old Testament, but is central to the New Testament. Jesus came to establish the new covenant of reconciliation so that things might be as they ought to be, both among people and between people and God and even nature.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
“This was not a “private benefit appearance” for his followers. Jesus presents himself to his apostles (which means “the sent ones”) precisely in order to send them out as witnesses to his resurrection. It is a mission the apostles –finally!- set themselves to carrying out faithfully and in a powerful fashion. That “power” ultimately came from the Holy Spirit; but insofar as it resided in them, it can be located in two virtues endowed with divine power: unwavering faith in the Lord and his resurrection – such that they were literally willing to bet their lives on it - and a witness of fraternal love that they and the growing community of believers around them gave to all who saw them and that surpassed anything ever known to human imperfection. It was this faith and love that would conquer the world.”iii
“The peace of Christ. It is the first thing Jesus gives his disciples when he appears to them. This is not the dead peace of inaction, or passivity, or the immature peace of absence of responsibility. God’s peace can never be a “lack of” something, only the rich fullness of the kingdom. It is the extraordinary, exultant peace that flows into the souls of the disciples when their wild, dawning hope is confirmed: “He is alive!” Everything he had told them is true, and everything he had promised, is already on the way to fulfillment. And he is with them forever. They need never fear losing him again.”iv
When we greet each other at the Peace it is this sort electric energy we are wishing for one another to energize us to do the work we have been given to do. When I was a kid I used to go down town to Ross’ joke store to buy gag items to trick my friends. One thing I remember was a hand-held buzzer-vibrator which, when you shook hands with your friend, he got what felt like a mild electric shock. Try that image out this morning at the peace!
“In fact, the peace of Christ is Christ himself: it is the possession of Christ, the living with the risen Christ in the intimacy of friendship, rooted in grace that is its essence. Our word grace is translated from the Greek word charis which means the unmerited operation of God through the heart of humans. Such closeness to him, if we understand it properly and respond to it, will inevitably lead us also to become powerful witnesses of the resurrection for those around us. If in all we do we act under the profound conviction that Christ, by virtue of his new, risen life, is by our side, then the way we do things and the joy and selflessness with which we do them will become the best advertisement for the resurrection there could possibly be.”v
Emboldened to speak fearlessly, the apostles proclaimed the Resurrection "with great power." A few verses earlier the text refers to signs and wonders being performed through Jesus' name. What does it mean for us to proclaim the Resurrection "with great power?" After all we are not apostles….. or are we? Having been forgiven all of our sins and nourished at His table are we not also sent out each Sunday?
"And great grace was upon them all..."? Grace is here at St. Mary’s; we have all seen it….in the Saturday morning breakfasts, at the Wednesday evening meals, when we come together in worship. I think we need to acknowledge this kind of grace, the grace of unity and oneness, the grace of blessing and sharing, the grace that propels holy boldness.
“Love, the sign of Christ. Jesus himself had said that his followers would be recognized by the love they had for one another. The first Christian community made this a reality, to the point of being “of one heart and one mind.” Each one of us belongs to the Christian community of a family, a parish, perhaps a school, or a movement, or a workplace community where at least a large number of our coworkers are people of faith. Does it happen, or at least, could it happen, in our communities, that people say as they said of the early Christians, “Look how they love one another”? Look how they are always willing to help anyone in need. Look how you never hear an unkind word about anyone, present or absent. Look how they treat everyone with respect.
Look how they don’t exclude anyone. Look how they always seem to think of others before themselves.
I suppose such a picture sounds unlikely. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons it has such an impact. The main reason, of course, is that the presence of Christ makes itself felt in such a community."vi
While none of our lessons specifically mention the word “justice,” it is loudly implied in the visions of covenant and shalom. Where there is injustice, there can be no peace. Where there is no love, no grace. Where there is no faith, God’s kingdom is not possible. Justice is the hallmark of God’s kingdom as it is intended on earth as it is in heaven. In his book, The Greatest Prayer, John Dominic Crossan says that he is often told that our God is the God of love not the God of Justice. And he asks the question: Should divine love and divine justice be played off against one another, and if not, how can they be reconciled in Christian consciousness? There is an argument about the meaning of the word justice itself. Our lessons this morning talk about distributive or restorative justice as opposed to punitive retributive justice. A justice where all share in the bounty of the community, where all get the daily bread, where “there was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.” It sounds sort of like Communism which started out as a utopian dream but has so often resulted in bloody slaughter, as in Cambodia for example. Why does distributive justice so often end up in violence, Crossan asks.
Love, on the other hand, has had its meaning so diluted by an unimaginable range of referents---from our favorite sport team, to our favorite desert, to our life partner to God Almighty. If justice so often tends to go wrong, Crossan asks, why does love so often tend to be so empty? Could it be that love is a style or mode of justice, so that you can never have either alone?
Crossan resolves these questions this way:
“We speak of the human being as composed of flesh and spirit or of body and soul. Combined they form the human person; separated, what’s left is a corpse. Think then of justice as the body of love, and love as the soul of justice. Think then of the justice as the flesh of love, and love as the spirit of justice. Combined you have both, separated you have neither. Justice without love and love without justice is a moral corpse. That is why justice without love becomes brutal and why love without justice becomes banal.”
The practical applications of distributive justice—who gets what when where and how--- are in the final analysis political decisions. I can’t help but to note that today, April 15th is the deadline for paying our taxes. However, because today is Sunday you have until tomorrow unless you have asked for an extension. In Jesus’ time the decisions regarding who gets what were made by Caesar and a client king. In our day, in the U.S. at least, thank God, they are made by us---we are the Caesar in the ultimate sense.
And that raises the provocative and still relevant question: What does belong to God, and what does belong to Caesar? In a democracy the people are the system. Is our tax system fair when those with so much pay so little and those with so little pay more? Can we afford a criminal justice system that neither protects the community nor rehabilitates offenders but take precious funds from our children’s schools? How is it that only a few families own 99% of the wealth in this country and why is it that access to well paying jobs is shrinking? Will my grandchildren be able to afford to go to college, will yours; will they even be able to qualify for education loan?
Drawing on the sacrificial symbolism of the old covenant, the new covenant of reconciliation is affirmed in the resurrection. In a distributive-restorative justice which combines both love and justice, God offers forgiveness---not because we have earned it—but because God loves us. The slate can be wiped clean. In restorative justice God offers the healing of Shalom.
How we show in our lives what we profess by faith is not a marginal issue. It is at the very heart of our understandings about the nature of God and the nature of God’s actions in history. How we live shalom, faith, peace, love and justice are not issues which we Christians can avoid.
It’s been a big meal. I hope you found it satisfying and I so hope you saved room for desert!
iFrom “Collects, Comments and Conversation,” Clarence E. Fairchild, Spirit Network 2000-2006
iiSpirit Network, Fairchild
iiiFrom Homily Archives, Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi, 2008 Legion of Christ