This Will Change Your Life

How many of you have ever had someone try to get you to do something or try something by telling you, “it will change your life?” Maybe it’s something health related, like kale. Come on, it’s a super food! It will change your life. Or maybe it’s more about a new culinary reality, like when someone made roasted sweet potatoes and Brussel sprouts for a church lunch. Not gonna lie – it changed my life. It opened me to new realms of culinary delight in places I never wanted to go.

We all experience these little epiphanies from time to time. Last night my daughter found out an assignment due date was changed. She was – genuinely, I hope – praising God and sharing the joy with her friends across various platforms of communication.

In our community of faith, we’ve had several life changing events in the past few weeks. We’ve experienced tremendously moving worship services with our sister congregation, Grace. We nearly blew the roof off with trumpets and singing last week, and we’ve been praying steadily for the recovery of two of our members. We are all grateful for the recoveries of both Jan and of Clem, and we are greedy for more. While each healing miracle is precious, they bear with them constant evaluations for how life is to be lived, now.

That place of evaluation is where we are today in our experience of the risen Christ, and the experience of Holy Week and Easter and the scriptures that we have received today beckon us with something that changes everything.  That ”something”  is the question of how we will respond to the transformative reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That’s a pretty loaded invitation, and we need to unpack it a little if it is going to become anything close to life changing. I guess the first question is, “Do you want your life to be changed?” For most of us the answer is, “No. Not unless I’m forced to.”

To some extent that’s because we naturally seek equilibrium and stability. It’s a survival thing. Yet there is some part of us that also craves something new – otherwise there would not be entire networks dedicated to redesigning our homes inside and out. So, the first thing we have to do is recognize that change is essential to life – metabolically, mentally, and spiritually.

The question then becomes less about whether or not we need our lives to change and more about who, or what, we are willing to allow to make the changes. Sure, we have choices to make, but to say that belief in the resurrection is transformative means that there is something more to it than what you or I choose to make out of it.

It means that we recognize that God is God and we are not. It means that we recognize that there is something that we have to give ourselves over to in order to get it, to understand it, and to be remade by it.

In the words of H. Richard Niebuhr, “When a Christian says “God” he [or she] does not mean that a being exists who is the beginning of the solar system or cosmos, or the great mathematician who figured out a world in which mathematicians can take delight. What he [or she] means, what he [or she] points to with the word, “God” is a being infinitely attractive, which by its very nature calls forth devotion, joy, and trust. This “God” is always “my God,” “our good,” “our beginning,” and “our end.”

This God is the one who became known to us in the person of Jesus – in his teaching and healing, and through his death and resurrection. This God is the one who returned not in some purified glowing, spiritual transcendence, but in woundedness and hunger to empower us to be the ones to retain the brokenness of the world and to release it.

It doesn’t really matter how he got in the room. What matters is that he met them in their sorrow and darkness and gave them peace. He greeted them in this traditional way, not because he thought they were worried, but because he wanted them to know that he was there to restore their unity with one another and with God. And he showed them his wounds, and they rejoiced!

What happens next is essentially an affirmation of what he told them before he died – that they were being sent out into the world, just as God had sent Jesus. I can’t imagine that was all that comforting. They were meeting in secret because they were afraid that the very thing that happened to Jesus would happen to them. Yet he entrusted them with the forgiveness of sin for the world from which they were hiding.

Now, something to know about sin in John’s Gospel –and in the other writings shared in his community— is that we aren’t necessarily talking about immoral behavior. It could be, but it’s really more about the big picture. Sin, in John’s community, is about separation from God and neighbor. Sin is about forgetting, or denying, the revelation of God through Jesus.

Sin is living in denial, or darkness, when the light that reveals all that is good and bad and indifferent to it has already come to immerse us in truth and beauty. And this truth not only includes the woundedness of Jesus, but yours and mine. It recognizes that God is active even in and through our limitations – even in our doubts and fears.

And the great hero of those of us who love to question and need proof to believe is none other than Thomas, a.k.a. the twin. There are a few things to note here about Thomas before making him the patron saint of doubt.  First off, it doesn’t say why he was not with them, but some have said the syntax of the Greek here suggests that he wasn’t just out for bagels. He was not with them. He was no longer a part of their company. So, this was not only about Thomas’ need for proof. It was about reconciling him to the community of believers.

And seeing is connected to believing in John’s gospel. Whether it’s Nathaniel asking what good can come from Nazareth or the woman at the well, “Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep. How will you give me this living water?” or even the beloved disciple at the tomb – seeing is an important part of believing.

 And so, it is with us today. And so, the question of how we will respond to the transformative reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just a theological exercise! It is the real deal – as real as it gets – opportunity that will change your life, and our lives together, again and again and again.

Because if we are not putting the hope of the resurrection into action, how will anyone recognize us as a church outside of our architecture? And I hate to tell you that unless someone walks in these doors they often think we’re part of ULL (or worse – a frat house)!

Odd though it may seem, the church in Acts is a good place to start—not because of their communal living— but because of the strength of their common unity. Sure, they held all things in common, but even that started to break down in the next chapter. No, what matters is the way that they responded to the stress of loving. What matters is that the very same authorities that order Jesus’ death told them to keep quiet about the resurrection.

So, they responded to the threat of imprisonment and the dismissal of their message of unity between God and neighbor with a deeper love than anyone could imagine. They made sure the poor were cared for. They lifted up the value of each member, and they gave God the glory for all that would come next.

They raised the threshold for what it means to love. That word, threshold, is an important human concept. In a recent article in the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that one of the factors in the mass shootings in our culture is that the threshold for behavior has shifted over the last 15 years. Essentially, the idea is now part of our collective conscience in such a way that it can’t be un-thought or unthinkable.

And while there are many other factors at play in the violence and pain of our society, I believe there is but one solution. That is for the church of Jesus Christ to raise the threshold of what is loving. That is for the church of Jesus Christ to be willing to recognize our woundedness – as human beings, and as the church – in such a way that offers peace and calls forth devotion, and joy, and trust.

I got a glimpse of that last Friday at the grand opening of the Emily House, a new shelter for women and children experiencing homelessness. I saw it when Leigh Rachal, one of our ruling elders, stood before the crowd of dignitaries and deadbeats like me, and told us that when we hear that there have been pregnant women lying on concrete in the cold in Lafayette we can say, “Not here.”

And when the Director of the facility was lauded for her work she corrected those who praised and said, “I was raised to believe that to stand in the place where wrongs are made right is not a burden, but a privilege.” Later, when I introduced myself, she said that she had learned her ethic of justice from her Native American heritage.

I thought about telling her that she would make a good Calvinist as well, but that wasn’t really the best moment for it. You see, at the end of the day, what matters most is that each of us know that God offers us inspection of the wounds of Christ when we allow ourselves to see— the humanity in one another—and that naturally draws us into a more common unity with God and with one another. While we may look at the early church and shake our heads over the failure of that social experiment, what matters is that they did it. They changed the threshold of what could be done.

Likewise, this congregation has a rich history of things that we could dismiss with “Been there and done that. It didn’t save us, either.” What matters more is that we have done things in response to the transformative power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we will do more!

Right now, God is conspiring to help our members recover from illness – and many of you have been a part of that. Right now, God is conspiring to develop a clean water filtration system in our sister church in Cuba, and several of you are already a part of that – but it will take all of us being of one mind, and it will take God calling more partners in to assist us.

Right now, God is at work in that thing that has harmed you the most, even if it is simply that it helps someone else know that they are not alone. I gotta tell you, the most profound place that I saw this was in Jan and Clem and Velma’s prayers for each other – even while each were fighting for their lives in different hospitals.  Because of that – and so many other examples of your love and faith for one another – I know that right now, beloved of God, through our interest in the wounds of those in and through this beloved community, Christ is being made known. And the strength of our common unity – just as in days gone by – is the testimony that we must and can and will give! And to God be the glory for that. Now and always, amen.

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