Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Now that we have experienced all this, now that God has taken us on this roller coaster ride from the depths of the torture and execution of Jesus, to the confused ecstasy of coming to terms with our experiences of the Risen Christ (and, at 6 Flags they brag about Goliath and its puny 4.5 G’s), what’s next?
That will be the question that preoccupies us for the next few weeks. Actually, it’s the question that has preoccupied us for the last two millennia.
How do we live lives that provide faithful witness to the life and teachings of Jesus? In particular, how do we do so in a world where variation, diversity is the norm?
Of course, part of the answer is simply said. If we would bear witness to the teachings of Jesus, perhaps we should begin by following them:
When I was hungry, you fed me
thirsty, you gave me to drink
naked, you clothed me
sick or imprisoned, you visited and comforted me.
Love one another as I have loved you. Love your enemy. Do good to those who persecute you.
This is the necessary beginning. Any attempt to witness to the Risen Christ, that does not have its roots in a life lived with deep compassion for others is false. Or as Jesus puts it in the little excerpt from the “Farewell Discourse” given in the John’s description of the Last Supper:
Anyone who receives my commandments and keeps them will be the one who loves me.
And let’s be clear, this generosity of spirit is required of us even, or perhaps especially, when it is difficult.
We see this in the first Letter of Peter. While there is considerable debate as to its origins, it is clearly addressed to a community experiencing suffering and persecution.
If you suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed…Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.
This is one of my favorite passages in all of the Scriptures. It reminds me that hope should be so transparent in me, especially in times of struggle that I am required to given an accounting of it.
So, how DO I account for the hope that is in me? Just a couple of weeks ago, my 24 year old daughter asked me with great seriousness after a long discussion about the state of our country and world, “Have things always been this bad.” As a parent it broke my heart. But, it’s a fair question and one Christians need to take seriously.
Certainly a part of the answer is found just by looking around-by intentionally recognizing the various communities of which I am blessed to be a part. On Friday night I sat with parents and friends of graduates from the “Cutting Edge” program at Edgewood. As a group, we marveled at the accomplishments of these young people and talked with energy and enthusiasm about how to keep expanding higher education opportunities for people with disabilities.
On Wednesday morning, my wife spent time with a young teacher from Milwaukee, talking about the efforts she and her school are making to build connections with the community they serve.
This is the kind of hope that our faith in the Risen Christ calls us to.
With gentleness and reverence.
Admittedly, this is an area I struggle with sometimes. Facebook doesn’t help. And, if we are honest, I think we need to admit that this is often an area where we struggle as a church.
Certainly, Paul struggles with this balance in the story told in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Here, we have one of the early efforts of the church to engage with people outside of its base in the Jewish community.
He begins, by commending the piety of the Athenians, especially in the altar they have dedicated to an “unknown God.” And Paul affirms the common efforts of humanity to understand,
The God who made the world, and everything in it.
Who from one ancestor made all nations…so that they would search, perhaps grope for and find God.
He even goes so far as to quote the Greek poets Epimenides and Aratus to support his contention that God is not far from each of us.
To interact gently and reverentially with people who believe differently than I do is one of the most urgent tasks in our modern world. Too many have suffered, been made refugees or been killed because of bigotry and intolerance, much of it based in religious differences.
Respectful dialogue, intercultural, ecumenical and interreligious is an absolute prerequisite to a just and peaceful world.
And, for the church, it is more. It is an integral part of our mission to proclaim the gospel. I would like to close today with some words written by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical, Redemptoris Missio:
Interreligious dialogue is a part of the Church’s evangelizing mission. Dialogue does not originate from tactical concerns or self-interest, but is an activity with its own guiding principles, requirements and dignity. It is demanded by the deep respect for everything that has been brought about in human beings by the Spirit who blows where (s)he wills.
Through dialogue, the Church seeks to uncover the ‘seeds of the Word’ a ‘ray of that truth which enlightens all people; these are found in individuals and in the religious traditions of humankind. Dialogue is based on hope and love, and will bear fruit in the Spirit.
Other religions constitute a positive challenge for the Church; they stimulate her both to discover and acknowledge the signs of Christ’s presence and the working of the Spirit, as well as to examine more deeply her own identity and to bear witness to the fullness of Revelation which she has received for the good of all.