Year B — The Second Sunday of Easter

Commentary for April 15, 2012
Click here for today’s readings
Acts 4:32-35
Does the resurrection have power? If so, what type of power is it — how is it expressed?
Most church attenders (and preachers) would answer the first question in the affirmative. Yes, the resurrection has power! Didn’t we just have a big hullabaloo on Easter? Didn’t you see how many people showed up for worship?

Ah, yes…I love the power demonstrated by the services and splendor on Easter. We all wish that “every Sunday were like Easter.” But, really now…what is the ongoing meaning of the resurrection of the Christ for our lives?

At least a portion of the answer to that second, more probative question is found here in Acts: “the whole group…were of one heart and soul…. With great power [they] gave their testimony to the resurrection…. There was not a needy person among them.”

Now, THAT would be a testimony of the Lord’s resurrection power if THAT happened again today! Not a needy person in America, in Europe, in Africa, Asia, or anywhere else in the world where people name the name of Christ?
Psalm 133
More power in unity. The images are of plenty…so much oil running down the beard of Aaron (at his ordination) that it trails off his head and face and into the neckline of his garment. The dew of Hermon (the highest point in northern Israel) literally runs down and feeds the rest of the country by means of the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, and other tributaries all the way to the Dead Sea in the desert.

Oil and water are sometimes plenteous, sometimes scarce; but the mercy of God never runs dry!
1 John 1:1-2:2
I’ve always loved the vivid image here of John proclaiming “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes…we have looked at, we have touched!”
Once something has become tangible through you by means of your physical senses, you know it in a way that can never be completely explained in words. How to describe the sound of the water rushing over Niagara Falls? What is it like to see the sun set over the expanse of the high desert with its clear skies? To feel a silken scarf as it flows through your fingers? Can you adequately describe what the first bite of a crunchy apple, freshly harvested from the orchard, is like?

In many ways, our fellowship with Christ and his people has to be experienced to be understood. But it sure is good!
John 20:19-31
Thomas thought he needed to “experience” first hand the resurrected Christ in order to believe what he was hearing from his apostolic brethren. And, he did get a face-to-face shot with the Master.
I’ve always found it fascinating that he didn’t really HAVE to put his fingers in the marks of the nails once he had the chance to. The simple presence of Christ brought him to his knees. 
We might well say, “Well, if I could have been there when they crucified my Lord, I’ll bet I would have got it right! Not like those other faithless disciples!”
Not so fast, my friend; we all have our Thomas moments. And in the end, our response can only be like his: “My Lord, and my God!”
  
Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
I was driving back to the church after a hospital visit one wintry afternoon over 30 years ago. 

The sun was shining bright and directly into my eyes. I turned left at a lonely country intersection and BAM! 

My little Datsun was slammed into by a large delivery truck doing 60 miles an hour. 

He hit me right behind the back door and the car spun round and round like a top, then WHAM! I stopped, wedged into the ditch on the side of the road.

Every window in the car was broken, the steering wheel was broken, the seat was broken. 

My head was in the backseat, passenger side and my feet were under the steering wheel and I couldn’t breathe. I literally COULD NOT BREATHE. That truck knocked the wind out of me.

The wreck was witnessed by one of my parishioners, Kitty Hightower. She ran to my car and leaned in the broken window. “Pastor, Pastor are you all right?” 

Well no, I wasn’t all right. I couldn’t breathe. There was no air in my lungs and I didn’t seem to be able to get any in there. 

I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t even move; I just stared at her with my mouth open.

Kitty started crying, and then started screaming to the men rushing over from the country store, “He’s dead, He’s dead. Oh my God, the Pastor’s dead!” 

Which is, I assure you, a peculiar thing to have screamed in your ear when you are indeed very much alive.

After what seemed like an eternity I was able to get a bit of air into my lungs and was able to lift a hand and touch Kitty on the shoulder; which, in retrospect, was not the best thing to do, seeing as how she thought I was dead and all.

When I touched her on the shoulder, she jerked her head up and looked at me with real terror in her eyes. 

Finally, I squeezed out the words, “It’s alright Kitty, I’m not dead.”

It was an odd thing to find myself in that position; the one who had been hurt comforting the onlooker.

But that is the position in which we find Jesus in our Gospel lesson; the one who was hurt bringing solace to the witnesses.

On the Evening of that first Easter, the disciples were meeting in a room, probably the same room in which they had held their Passover. 

They had the door shut, bolted, locked. 

They were frightened. 
They could not get their bearings. 
They could not breathe. 

They had given up everything to follow Jesus, and this is not how they expected things to turn out. 

Just a week ago, on Palm Sunday, they had entered the city with such gigantically high hope, and now this. 

This, this, disaster. 

This, this, craziness. 
This, this, car crash of an ending. 
Indeed, they had had the wind knocked out of them.

And on that first Easter evening, Jesus the Christ came to the disciples in that locked and airless room and breathed new life into them.

At one time or another all of us are like the disciples were on that first Easter evening. 

We too have had the wind knocked out of us. 

Some of us gathered here have lost loved ones unexpectedly, some of us are struggling with the diagnosis of a long-term illness in the family, some of us have had job losses, 
some of us have lost economic security,
 some of us have failed to get that promotion (or that call) we had hoped for, our children haven’t worked out the way we hoped, our marriages are hurting. 

All of us have had the wind knocked out of us, sometime; probably sometime lately. 

Believe you me, in times like those, the big picture fades away and all your energy is centered on surviving, on breathing, on taking one more precious breathe, and anything other than present personal experience becomes difficult to believe in or focus on.

Writing in Christianity Today, Tim Stafford talks about an object lesson Pastor Stephen Bilynski uses with his confirmation class.

He comes to the very first class with a jar full of jelly beans and asks the class to guess how many are in the jar. He writes all their estimates on the board.

Then he asks the boys and girls to name their favorite songs and he lists those on the board.

Finally the class counts the beans to see who was closest to right. Then Pastor Steve points to the list of songs and asks, “And which one of these is closest to being right?”

And of course the students protest that there is no right answer; that a person’s favorite song is purely a matter of taste and circumstance; purely personal preference. (Which would, I suppose, explain my predilection for Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale.”)

At this point, Pr. Steve comes to the point of the entire exercise: “When you decide what to believe about God, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song”

In the article, Pastor Steve says he has done this numerous times over the last 20 years, and always, always, the answer, from teen-agers and from adults, is the same:

“Choosing what to believe about God is like choosing one’s favorite song.”

In modern America, we have transferred faith from the realm of fact to the world of feelings. And the problem with that is, we seldom feel like believing. 

Or more accurately, those personal experiences that would convince us to believe in God are few and far between, practically non-existent; and those things that would cause us to disbelieve, that knock the wind out of us, are much louder, persistent and frequent.

This is why what Jesus did in that room with those disciples is so important to us. Jesus reminded them where he came from “Just as the Father sent me,” and then he reminded them where they were going, “So I send you!” 

Then he filled them with the Holy Spirit the way God the Creator filled the lungs of Adam and Eve with the very air we breathe, the wind that gives us life. 

Lastly, he reminded them what their calling was, what they were being sent out filled with the Holy Spirit to do “Forgive sins.”

All this says to us that whether God loves us or not is not dependent on whether we’re feeling the love or not. 

It is dependent upon God’s choice to love us; a choice God made and will never undo.

Whether God is involved in our lives is not dependent upon whether or not our grand plans and schemes for ourselves or for God are working out or not; 

God’s involvement in our lives is again God’s choice, a choice Gad has already made and will not unmake.

All the disciples, Thomas and the others, had an advantage we do not and will not have; they got to see the Risen Lord. 

But we have an advantage they did not; we have seen the fact that the Church and the Gospel are still going strong 2000 years later; again, not because of us, but because of God. 

Amen and amen.

5 thoughts on “Year B — The Second Sunday of Easter

  1. Rev. Dr. Chilton…you are one heck of a bubba! I enjoyed your inspiring viewpoint. Although I must admit to chuckling a bit when Kitty was screaming of your death in your very much alive ears. Was that bad? Sorry. Glad you survived and are able to share your story! (and btw…I have long loved "Whiter Shade of Pale")

  2. It was written in a manner designed to provoke laughter. I am glad that it succeeded. I am also glad that you are glad that I survived. Thanks for your thanks. Dr. Bubba #2, AKA Delmer Chilton

  3. Great, apt, funny story, but the best part is the move toward the ending: God's ongoing choice of us humans, which makes all the difference when life smacks us so hard we can scarcely breathe. Many thanks.

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