Third Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018
(Acts 3: 12-19; I John 3:1-7; Luke 24: 36b-48)
- I have to confess that what I have to say today is a second draft. As I went about my first draft, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was off to a wrong start.
- In that first draft, I wanted to take up Luke’s account of what Steve last week irreverently called Jesus eating fish and chips with his followers. I wanted to explore the contrast, if not contradiction, between Luke’s emphasis that Jesus’ risen body was physical and what St. Paul insisted on in his letter to the Corinthians 15 years earlier that the resurrection body is not physical (“psychikon”) but spiritual “pneumatikon.” To explore that tension between Luke and Paul might be helpful to some of you, I thought, (as it is for me), but I soon realized that to do so would be to miss the point.
- The more important – maybe the most important — question to ask about Easter is not “What happened to Jesus when he rose from the dead?” but “What happened to his followers and what can happen to us, after the resurrection?”
- It’s because of what happened to his disciples and what can happen to us that they then and we now can know that something wonderful happened to Jesus.
- So what did happen to them and what can happen to us because of Jesus? – As Steve emphasized last week, they were transformed.
- Now there are many ways in which we might speak about this transformation: the disciples felt the real presence of Jesus when they followed his instructions and broke bread and shared wine; or, they felt the energy of his Spirit to carry on his mission and, as the Gospel today says, to be “witnesses” to others.
- But the second reading from John’s first letter describes another way in which they were transformed and that’s what I want to focus on this morning: they realized, they felt in their very being, that they were children of God.
- This is what people saw in Jesus while he was alive: that he was indeed a child of God who enabled others to trust and believe and feel that they too were children of God.
- And even after his death, especially, as I said, when they gathered around the table to remember him, they felt his presence among them, assuring them, as the second reading puts it, that “God has so loved us that we can be called children of God and that is what we are.”
- Just what does it mean to say that we are children of God
- “Children of God” is of course a symbol, not to be taken literally. But symbols, even when they are not taken literally, are affirming something real – something as real as it is mysterious.
- This symbol is telling us that we human beings are not just human. … we share in the nature of God…. Our nature and the divine nature, though distinct, are not separate.
- As the second reading puts it: God’s seed abides in us. — In Richard Rohr’s language: the divine DNA is part of our human nature.
- As the Quakers say, there is of God in every one of us.
- Thomas Merton pointed to our identities as children of God when he talked about the difference between our True Self and our False Self. We are not what we usually think we are. Our true Self is God’s Self expressing itself in and through us.
- I think that Buddhists are getting at this same mystery when they claim that we all have Buddha Nature. This is what we really are. Our nature is Buddha’s nature.
- More philosophically, as Rohr and other spiritual teachers like Cynthia Bourgeault tell us, there is a non-duality between the Divine Spirit and our Spirit. The divine and the human are not-two. Though different, they exist in each other.
- This mystery of our divine birthright is not something we can grasp with our mind. We know it by living it, by feeling it energize us. Our readings today give us some indication of what it feels like to live and move and have our being in God.
- If we live as children of God, we will find that “peace is with us.”
- The first words Jesus says to his followers in almost all the Easter stories is “Peace be with you.”
- As children of God, we bear within us that which can provide us peace — a ground that sustains us and holds us; is always there, not to miraculously solve our problems, but to enable us to deal with whatever we have to deal with.
- As my Buddhist teacher Lama John Makransky puts it: no matter what happens to us, no matter what we are feeling at the present moment, no matter what is going on around us in the crazy political situation we live in – it’s not the full picture. There is always more to what we see or endure or feel: we are held by, part of, the Divine Presence.
- This is how Makransky describes what we can realize and feel: “…the mind can arrive at a simple, pre-conceptual level of awareness that is prior to ego reaction and discursive thinking, a place of most profound rest, peace and renewal—as if dropping below the choppy waves of a raging sea into its calm depth. In Buddhist terms, this is the place where our inmost capacity of tranquility and wisdom is heard from. It is from this place of deep inner peace and safety that we can best embody a sense of peace and safety for others.” Compassion, 4
- This place of inner peace is our divine nature as children of God.
- A second quality of living as God’s children is indicated at the end of the second reading when it states that a distinguishing mark of God’s children is that they “love their brothers and sisters.”
- The more we can get in touch with our natures as children of God and the more we can feel throughout the day that we are of God and held by Holy Mystery, the more we will be enabled – naturally, spontaneously – to see and feel that others, all others, are also children and expressions of Holy Mystery.
- And we will love them because we feel connected with them as brothers and sisters.
- Following Jesus’ example, we will feel this connection with everyone, even those with whom we disagree or whom we have to oppose. They too are our brothers and sisters.
- If they are acting like what John’s reading calls “children of the devil,” we will know that they do so because they have forgotten who they really are. We will oppose them as we sometimes have to oppose our own blood brothers and sisters – because we love them.
- So as we wake up and live into our True selves as God’s children, we will feel grounded and connected – grounded in peace and security and connected to others in love.
- But our first and third readings add one more quality that will result from waking up to our divine natures: they tell us that “the Messiah is to suffer.”
- To love our brothers and sisters is to expose ourselves to the likelihood, really the unavoidability, of suffering. Love, as we all know, can cost.
- It can cost especially when that love extends, as did Jesus’ love, to the oppressed, the poor, the uninvited refugees. When love extends to the marginalized and so becomes public, it becomes a call for justice, for speaking up, maybe for getting into trouble with the powers that be. We may suffer because of such love.
- The readiness to love even when it may lead to our own suffering, even dying – such love, as we see in the crucified Jesus, can lead to new life, to resurrection.
- In this Eucharist, as we break bread together and share the cup, we have the opportunity to feel Jesus’ presence among us as much as those early disciples did – and to feel, as he felt, that we are children of God, grounded in peace, connected in love, able to suffer.