Friday, April 25, 2014
April 27, Easter 2: A Community of Jesus #1
Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:91-31
Please look with me at our Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 55: What do you understand by "the communion of saints"? First, that believers one and all, as members of this community [of the church], share in Christ and in all his treasures and gifts. Second, that each member consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and cheerfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.
Last Sunday was a wonderful worship service, and it was made so by many unseen gifts. For example, Aleeza Meir had to arrange and rewrite all the hymns and all the other music for our soloists and our little orchestra. Not one moment could she just plunk down some ready score in front of the musicians; all of it had to be re-scored, and some of it new-composed. I wonder how many folks last week realized how much a gift they were being given.
A second example was the behind-the-scenes activity of our consistory. A few months ago one deacon offered to manage the details of the service and the seating and the ushering and the other elders and deacons and the breakfast and the other volunteers, to let the rest of us enjoy it all, including myself. I want to thank them now on your behalf.
After the service, as Melody and I were on our way out, and headed for our car to go to our cottage for a couple days, one of you handed me an unexpected gift: some excellent cookies, some excellent chocolate, and a very excellent bottle of Riesling.
As we drove away I thought about how this person was thinking about us in the days before Easter, and imagining what we would like or need or delight in. That’s one of the great thing about giving gifts — the joy and pleasure of the planning and imagining beforehand.
This kind of thoughtfulness is hard for me. I am not a good gift-giver. I come from a family of poor gift-givers. My father was wonderful, but he never gave me an ordinary present in my life. My mother does give presents but still, it’s a Meeter family defect and my children can testify that I have it too.
Not Melody; she’s a gift-giver. Whenever she shops, or is on a trip, she’s thinking about other people and what she might get for them. I’m thinking about how to get myself out of there as fast as possible. Some of you in the congregation bring me presents when you come back from traveling, and I am always both grateful and a little guilty, because I never remember to do the same.
What about the Lord Jesus? When he had risen from the dead, wouldn’t he be thinking about his friends and about what gifts to give them? Wouldn’t it give him joy and pleasure to imagine what his friends would need and profit from?
Let’s not assume that after his resurrection the Lord Jesus wasn’t thinking and being creative and original. Don’t assume he was just following some script: "Better check my schedule. Oh, it’s six pm. I’m supposed to go forgive the disciples now." No, he was up to things and things were up to him. All authority in heaven and earth had been given him. He had to sort out what to do next and say next. He had no precedent, no one had ever been in his shoes before.
Of course he was in concert with his Father and the Spirit, but he did not lose his human ego, his "I". He was no less desiring than before to love his neighbors as himself. He will love to think about his friends, and to imagine them, and what gifts he will give to them to lift them up.
He decides to show up among them with three gifts: his peace, his breath, and his authority.
Peace first, and he gives it twice. They were doubly afraid. They feared the Judeans wanting to round them up and arrest them too. And they feared one Jew in particular — him! whom they had abandoned and denied, and shouldn’t he be angry? But he says Peace, which means he reconciles them, he forgives them.
Second, his breath, his Spirit, a share in the Spirit, the extension of the inner life of God and the power of the living God.
They will need this living power for the third gift, which is a share in his authority, the authority to forgive the sins of others on behalf of God, just as he had just forgiven them. No doubt that implied in this authority is the responsibility as well: I’m giving you the power and authority to do it so that you do it.
To for-give is to give. You notice that the one word is built upon the other. You give somebody something when you forgive somebody something. It’s true in other languages as well, in Dutch and German, and in French: pardonner est donner. It’s the first gift of the resurrection, this combination of forgiveness, peace, and power — it’s the first gift to the church. We get many gifts from the Lord Jesus as the benefits of his resurrection, but Our Lord decided to give us as his first gift that peace we get from forgiveness, and the power for us to give that gift as well.
What do you believe? You say that you "believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body." Church-communion-forgiveness-resurrection. Through these four words there runs a dynamic current, from church to communion to forgiveness to resurrection. The church is a community which gives the gift of forgiveness which is the first fruit of the resurrection.
Now think with me about our church’s Mission Statement. I repeat the first part of it every week at the welcome, and beginning today I’m using the first phrase for a sermon series, "A Community of Jesus." What will our weekly scriptures tell us about Old First being "a community of Jesus"?
First, of Jesus, that admirable teacher who lived so long ago, and was executed for what he said and did, whom we, like Thomas, recognize as Our Lord and Our God. You admire him and learn from him but you also worship him and believe in him and you get your life from God through him.
Second, this community is a communion. We are more than a free association of individuals with a common interest; we share a communion with Jesus. We’re in this together because of Jesus, and Jesus defines and determines how we’re in it together. Jesus is an historical person we remember together, but also a living personality with influence and power and determination, and by giving us his Holy Spirit he is constantly making our community of communion of saints.
Third, you share the gifts and treasures that he gives you. And the first gift he has given you is the power of peace from reconciliation. In your own life, no matter what troubles you from your errors and your failures and your history, every week you are clean again. In your relationships with others in the church, and in your relationships with others in the world.
How do we share this gift of forgiveness with the world around us? Could we set up a booth on Seventh Avenue and offer confession and absolution to anybody walking by? Well, actually we do express this gift of peace and reconciliation in the third and fourth missions that we list in our Mission Statement: the gift of sanctuary to anyone seeking spirituality and hope, and the gift of hospitality to community groups and the arts. More subtly we express it even in our fifth mission, to care for the gifts we have been given in our Reformed Church heritage, including our historic sanctuary.
As to that fifth mission we’re looking at some major decisions in the next few months. How much should we repair and renovate that sanctuary, and how much should we spend on it, and with what partners? The consistory is shaping a season and process of discernment for that decision, and no matter what we decide, for that process to be edifying for the congregation, we’ll have to keep expressing among each other this gift and treasure of active peace and reconciliation.
Church, communion, forgiveness, resurrection. I can restate it as Old First, community of Jesus, peacemaking, renovation. The process behind the process. We will do our business together to express the gifts we share with each other from the treasure of Our Lord’s resurrection, and the greatest of these is love. If you track the Lord Jesus in the New Testament, he is present, then absent, then present, then absent, and yet he’s always at the center, and what’s always present is his love. Look for his love, and look for how to express it.
Our congregation is just one more congregation, and our building is just another building, and yet both of them are gifts which have been given to you in love, with lots of thought behind them, and imagination. Receive them as gifts of love to you, and receive each other as gifts of love to you, and as living treasures of the love of God for you.
Copyright © 2014 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.