Easter 4 Year C
After reading this week’s lectionary, I’m considering “how to build a church 101” sermon. Or a “how not to build a church 101” if I can get some laughs out of it.
“Ignore the people around you,” “use Schoenberg for a mass setting.”
In the first passage we read – from Acts of the Apostles – the disciples accomplish amazing wonders, including healing of a bedridden paralytic and the raising of Dorcas, of the unfortunate name, from the dead. Transformation is promised and delivered. Upon seeing the successes of the church, people believe. They believe in the power. Who needs health insurance when you’ve got Jesus!
From this pericope I might discuss power. I believe that Christians are too shy about talking about power. The assumption: “power corrupts.” I’d spend some time looking at different sorts of power – physical power; spiritual power; monetary power. I’d assess the chaotic nature of power, and the power required to create order.
Power from people with the best intentions can have terrible results; and power from individuals who are manipulative and self-interested may result in wonderful changes for the common good. But I believe, generally, that power is inextricably linked with life itself. God is a God of power. Dim, vague and vascillating (as Whitehead once said), perhaps, but present nonetheless.
In the second reading, I imagine the Christians, in the midst of the apocalypse, declaring God’s glory. It seems defiant, the chant of a team that’s been the underdog for so long on the verge of victory. God wins. They’re Cubs fans. Trusting in the power of the underdog above the power of… money and commerce.
Is this a revenge fantasy? Or an acknowledgement of our deepest desires to win, to be the victor, and feel justified for winning?
Last, the Gospel concerns the good shepherd. The sense of “good” is more like “noble” in the world of honor and shame: Giving up one’s life is a voluntary act, as if within a battle. The good shepherd did not flee.
The way Jesus sacrificed for his friends is akin to a soldier jumping on a hand grenade. His life for ours. The truth is that where leaders show sacrifice that stems from a sense of honor and integrity, people respond. Religions that do not demand some sacrifice die. Perhaps this is the challenge for the liberal religion – people have acquiesed to the conveniences, which have made us lazy, inattentive and weak. When conservatives complain about the religion of Episcopalians being lukewarm and lazy, they may have a point. What do we demand? Not much, except perhaps to be nice.
Churches who have faith in Christ take the initiative. They are not shy about understanding power. But one aspect of this power is that it requires some visible personal sacrifice. Who takes such a power seriously if it does not? To undertake that journey is a witness, a representation and a catalyst for transformation. And it works.
Churches with progressive theology can still hold people accountable; made demands upon a reasonable lifestyle; encourage people to be reflective, resilient, magnanimous and engage tasks with focus and integrity.
I might begin like so:
Some argue that the church is for community.
Others that it’s for justice. Others for reconciliation. Others to teach people to believe in Jesus. Then you’re done.
It may be that a church’s purpose is to harness and embody the power of love.
These stories witness to that power that people thought was worthy.
The power is the foundation of our doctrine and dogma, but it is not the same. It may not be fettered by commonplace pieties or popular taboos.
I’d then discuss ways churches fail, and some ways they succeed. I would finish by inviting people to consider their own conversations with those cynical and unsure about faith and religion. I might offer a few responses.
Perhaps Jesus is saying, “you’ll recognize it when you see it.” When you see people’s lives healed; their sense of wonder restored; their commitment strengthened, that’s where the spirit has been.