Questioned Because of a Good Deed – Lectionary 04/25/2021

Acts 4:5-12

The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is

‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Sermon Text

            There is a special sort of danger that comes from doing a good deed. In fact, good is so intoxicating a presence in life that when the most good possible – God in Godself – was among us, we sought to kill that goodness. Christ our Lord, the most Good, was killed for the egregious crime of doing what was right. Doing what is right means doing good even when it is unpopular, it means loving even and especially when that love does not benefit us. We must do good, no matter what, because that goodness is the ultimate act of obedience to our God, who had the parting words to us, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

            The Church, despite this high calling, lacks the reputation you think they would have for living selflessly. Why might this be? Some point to a cultural conspiracy, some grand scheme to represent God and God’s people as monsters. While it would be hard to deny some people definitely have an unfounded grudge against the Church, I do not think that constitutes enough people for our reputation to be as it is. The mission of the Church is not to become popular, but it is nonetheless meant to be reputable. The righteousness of the Christian must be such that no dirt thrown at them can stick – not because it is denied outright, but because they have no guilt to be dug up. (1 Peter 3:13-17)

            The reality of our situation and position in culture is complex, but the decline of Christianity cannot be denied. No denominations are growing, few local churches even, and most, “converts,” that any church logs in their records are just moving from one congregation to another. We are increasingly unpopular, increasingly scarce, and increasingly liable. As much as it would be nice to point to forces outside our control and blame them, I refuse to accept that we are not culpable. If we say that forces outside the Church are capable of destroying us, then we admit defeat outright and we put more power in earth and people than Heaven and God.

            While the complexity of our present state does not allow us to come to a single cause or source to our present concerns, I submit that one of the chief problems we face is that we are never accused of doing good. Never are we brought before councils for making the infirm well, or the poor secure, or the lonely loved. Never are we brought before courts to attest by what authority we care for the wounded or welcome the stranger. Never are we rejected for the good we do, never are we put out of step with our society in the name of justice. Where is our abundant mercy which we offer the world in the name and authority of Christ?

            Some may lift up certain people penalized for one thing or another. Refusal to participate in some event or some aspect of their job they consider noncongruent with their faith. While the veracity of such displays is worth discussing in other contexts, I would insist that these are not acts of mercy or goodness but acts of negation. Not doing something perceived as bad is not enough, especially when the matter is one of contention. No, we must actively do good and not merely passively avoid evil. We must not be known as the people against a thousand others, but the people who are for all people, who do all good, who seek out chances to act in mercy and love.

            Without a doubt we have fallen, not in totality, but in part, because we lack the love which we are called to give to those around us. While there are occasional headlines here and there of churches doing community work that meaningfully helps others, most of our business is posturing and pretension. Still more, churches are seldom among those fighting for other people in the public sphere. When homeless camps are cleared in midnight raids, where are the Christians to defend them?

When people are being evicted en masse, where are the Christians to aid them? When there is hunger and disease and lack of housing, where is our mercy to care for others?

            While there are organizations that do good in the name of Christ – World Vision, UMCOR, and our very own JCCM come to mind – many more do so for profit or else using methods we have known for decades cause more harm than good. How many villages have been wrecked by ill informed and performative missions? How many hungry people turned away from Salvation Arm tables and shelters for being deemed, “too different?” With rare exception, much of our missions infrastructure corporately is as broken as it is individually. While it can be fruitful to send money to people who are doing good, and sometimes better than trying to do something ourselves we do not know how to do, we cannot depend on sending money away to try and make the needy of the world someone else’s problem.

            There was a time when the church was the source of support people could depend on. Hungry? Seek out a church. Cold? Seek the people of God. In despair? Go to they that serve a Risen Lord. Over time this tendency decreased. Partly this came from a shift in needs people had and services provided by the state. Yet, we cannot deny a shift in the culture of the Church. Though it is a perennial problem that the church puts membership numbers and income ahead of people, the 1900s saw it morph into a platform. Churches adopted business mentality, business ethics, and replaced conversion with recruitment and salvation with a commodity.

            The upheaval in, “Christendom,” over the last hundred years is part of a through line that stretches back to Constantine. One of power and profit and wicked intent. We must divest ourselves of these inclinations and root ourselves in the righteousness of Christ.

Righteousness that manifests in acts of love and mercy, in real aid to one another in times of need. The work of the church cannot be tied up in sitting here on Sunday and waiting for people to walk in the door. It can neither be found in abstention from culture or lambasting of the Other. No, it is to be found in active acts of love in and among and with others.

            Though there is no one answer to how we regain our zeal for good works, I invite us to look to Peter’s trial before the Sanhedrin. After his arrest for public preaching and healing of an infirm person, the officials in the temple realize they have no legitimate grounds for his arrest. So, they point to the healing which Peter performed and begin their examination with two questions. “By what power? By whose name did you do this?” Peter opens his defense with a question that reveals the absurdity of the accusation. “Are we to be interrogated for a good deed?

            The Church functions best when the worst someone can say of us is that we will do anything hep others. The truest legacy of the church is not found in the pulpits of revivalists or the throngs of the megachurch – not even in the hallowed halls of denominationalism. The legacy of the church is found in radical and outrageous mercy. We attest to God best when our conduct is oriented toward helping. We must live a life by which people will come to ask us, “How has this person been saved?” And where we can answer, “By the name of Jesus of Nazareth whom God raised from the dead.”

            “Seek ye first the Kingdom,” and live into its righteousness. Let us abandon our love of scandals of abstention and pursue the scandal of God’s mercy. Go forward and proclaim the mercy of our Lord through the mercy his love enacts in us. Open wide the gates of Heaven, for a feast is set for all who attend. – Amen.

Ignorance Kills – 04/18/2021

Acts 3: 12-19

When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,

Sermon Text

            Our scripture today asks us to grapple with our sins that we have committed, “ignorantly,” or perhaps, “unawares.” It was, for the Jerusalem priesthood and their supporters, an act of ignorance that led to them killing Jesus. If, Peter argues, they had been aware that Christ was God, they would have never done what they did. The tragedy, of course, was that Jesus has been clear from the very beginning that he was the Messiah. However, there are two kinds of ignorance in the world, intentional and incidental. Incidental acts of ignorance are moments when we truly act without knowledge of a situation. However, intentional acts of ignorance are far more deadly, they come from stopping our ears and making excuses. This evil has reigned supreme for all of history.

            Yet, today I want to deviate slightly from my usual mode of sermonizing. Instead, I would like to share a recent experience of mine in which I spent two weeks – sadly virtually – visiting a Reconciliation Center on the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation. Here, at this Lutheran ministry, work is done to try and heal the rift between those of European descent and the tribe. A rift that was initiated by our ancestors, wounds which reach back into history and refuse to let go.

            I, like many here, realized quickly that I was truly ignorant about both the history and present reality of Native people – least of all the Lakota. My great uncle, (by marriage,) was Osage and while I have distant memories of seeing one of their sacred dances, my knowledge of Indigenous peoples extended little further than my own readings into history. Yet, over the course of those two weeks I saw history and the modern day became more clearly defined. The work of the past does not cease to be but have consequences throughout time.

            The Lakota people inhabited the Great Plains and lived a nomadic lifestyle following buffalo herds. The herds provided all they needed for life and are seen to this day as sacred siblings to the Lakota. Lakota stories tell of a Heavenly woman, taking the form of a white buffalo calf, who gave the people their sacred rituals. Life was tied to the buffalo and to these rituals that followed the Lakota throughout their life.

            Yet, at a certain point, the Lakota came into contact with Europeans. The first of these had settled in Barbados, far from the plains. Yet, those first Europeans, the Spanish, quickly spread throughout what we now call South America and the Southern coast of, “Turtle Island,” the name which many Native peoples used for North America. The governor of the, “Indies,” Christopher Columbus, was later removed from his post and tried in Spain for the cruelty and, “tyranny,” he exercised over the Native peoples he had enslaved.[1]

            Later, the French came and gave a new name to the Lakota, as well as their linguistic relatives – the Nakota and Dakota. When describing these tribes, the French borrowed a word from the Ojibwa people, calling them “Sioux,” a word meaning – “Snakes.” Despite this being a term of derision, it is used to this day to describe the three tribes as a whole. The French initially claimed the plains for their own, but due to difficulties on the European continent, they were compelled to sell the land to the former British colonies which now called themselves the United States of America.

            The United States, was remarkable anti-Indian from its inception. The Declaration of Independence describes the Natives of North America as, “merciless Indian Savages,” so called for their supposed sin of defending their land from invasion.[2] The treatment of the Native Americans is a dark stain on all of our natural history. In an early draft of this sermon, I tried to list all the offenses we as a nation have committed against Native peoples – I ran out of room. Yet, as our focus so far has been on the Lakota people, we can briefly discuss our treatment of the tribes.

            The Lakota were highly involved in negotiations with the United States regarding their land. The hope of leaders in the tribes – including, Sitting-Bull, Red Cloud, Big Foot, and Black Elk to name a few – was that peace could be brokered somehow. Yet, time and time again, the treaties that were made by the tribes and the U.S. were broken by government forces. These culminated with three especially brutal exchanges.

            Firstly, the systematic destruction of buffalo populations to deny the people food. Secondly, the battle of Little Bighorn – one of the most definite victories of the tribes over the U.S. Army. Finally, the massacre of wounded knew – where men, women, and children were gunned down indiscriminately shortly after completing their, “ghost dance.” A sacred ritual began by Black Elk. These events, though it is a simplification to put it like this, led to the “defeat,” of the Lakota and their forced migration to their reservations.

            The next century saw still mor indecencies thrown at Native peoples. They were taken from their homes and forced into boarding schools. Their hair was shaved or cut into European styles, their language banned, and all Indian culture forbidden. Having eliminated Native peoples from ancestral homes, blasted their sacred mountains for gold and to make monuments, and decimated them with disease and gunfire – now even their culture and language was to be eliminated. The program of these boarding schools, fourteen of which were Methodist, was to “kill the Indian and save the man.” These boarding schools were in operation into the 1950s.

            The irony, not lost on all people, is that beyond any consideration of general humanitarian concerns, the abuses against Native peoples were often abuses against Christians in the name of Christ. You see, since the Spanish first came to the continent, Natives had converted to the faith. John Wesley famously came to Georgia hoping to convert native people, only to find they were already Christian and wanted Communion instead of conversion. Though not a majority of tribal peoples, the pretense of, “saving,” people through these acts of cruelty falls flat when this is considered.

            Today, there is no monolithic culture among any surviving tribe. No reservation is exactly like another nor any individual Indian identical to another. On our trip many people asked our speakers to address the Cherokee or Ho-Chunk people – as if they were related beyond living on the same continent. We can only know the views of modern Natives by speaking to them and listening closely. Reading their accounts of history and not only ours that rejoice in their destruction.

            The people we spoke to over the course of our visit to the reservation were complex – as any person would be. They had different ideas about how to handle the poverty, unemployment, and addiction that grips the reservation. We were struck, listening to their problems, by the similarities that they have with our own here in Appalachia. Though what brought us to where we are is quite different, the end results are the same. People going hungry people coping how they can, people in need of help.

            Yet, I think our similarities go beyond just having similar problems. We know in Appalachia what it feels like to have people come and tell you how to fix your problems. Those who arrive and tell us, “You wouldn’t have opioid issues if you just did this…” Or, “You wouldn’t be so poor if you just…” We in our depressed corner of the world know how it feels to be told by outsiders to do this or when they don’t even really know who we are outside of headlines and stereotypes.

            We should, on this Native American Ministries Sunday, invest time to understand our Indigenous Siblings. The reconciliation center I visited with puts the people at the center of their work. The ministries are not simply inclusive of Native People, but dependent upon them. They offer services and ministries based upon needs the community brings to them, not that they foist upon the community. All ministries should be conducted in this way.

            Here in West Virginia we are often told that we have no tribes that lived here before settlers arrived. This is not true. Here in the panhandle the Chesapeake and Massawomeck, members of the Iroquois nation lived. The West of the state were people with the Osage. Several more tribes lived in the South and North of the state. Despite what our West Virginia history courses taught us, we stand on land that once belonged to others. The only consistent acknowledgement of which I see of this are two Iroquois nation flags on route 480.

            Together, we can become aware of our native siblings and the work they have embarked on thus far. They are not a historical relic, they are alive and active now. Whether we reach out and help them through Lutheran ministries or Methodist ones, or even just our own participation in existing initiatives, it does not matter. What matters is that we come together and help those who need their voices lifted up and which have long been silenced.

            To return to our initial thesis for this service, we must accept that our continual ignorance about our siblings around us causes them harm. This is not true only of Native Peoples but all peoples. I would ask you all to look at our bulletin today to take in one final note of what could be. This image by Kevin Poor-Bear is called, “Peace on Earth,” and the medicine wheel at its top represents many things to the Lakota people. More than anything though, we heard that it meant all races of the earth were related and dependent on one another. Whether we trace that relationship to Wind Cave or Eden, let us open our eyes to the stories and needs of our siblings around the world. Beginning, at least today, with our indigenous siblings.

Repent, learn, bring life where once was death. – Amen


[1] “Lost document reveals Columbus as tyrant of the Caribbean” in Madrid. Mon 7 Aug 2006 04.40 EDT. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/aug/07/books.spain

[2] Fulltext available at: https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

Testimony, Resurrection, Grace – Lection 04/11/2021

Acts 4: 32-35

          Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Sermon Text

            The early church, in its fledgling days in Jerusalem, thrived through God’s gifts to them. With the testimony of Christ’s resurrection on their lips, they were prepared to go forward and tell all people about the miraculous things that had happened in the Holy City. A story of a ministry cut short by greed and power. A ministry God renewed through the resurrection. Salvation born out of death and reignited into radiant life.

            As the Church gathered together, they saw – for maybe the first time – the disparity which had become the norm in Judea. Those with land, opportunity, and influence not only survived but thrived. Meanwhile, those without suffered grievously – unable to have consistent shelter, food or clothing. The life of the average Judean was one of poverty and struggle. Though they toiled they had nothing to show for it.

            There is much debate regarding the particulars of first century Judean economics, but the clues we do have point to a relatively depressed system of fiefdoms. Land was leased to farmers, the farmers would work that land and pay with a large percentage of their crop yield. The principle means of commerce were in crops that were not meant to be consumed in their raw form but processed and sold for economic gain. Grains, grapes, large scale fishing ventures – cash crops and exports built for an empire. There were seldom farms meant to support families anymore, only farms meant to feed the grindstone of society.

            This volatile system of food production was easily upset. If the rainy season was late in coming or the dry season failed to have a sustainable dewpoint, then crops would fail. The bill for the land would come and the meager produce would go to pay for its use rather than to feed its workers. When there was no contingency to protect the people producing the food or to ensure they received a wage regardless of their output, survival became a matter of chance.

            Jesus, in describing the Kingdom of Heaven, pointed to this system and proposed an alternative to this disastrous and predatory system. In a parable, Jesus described workers being called to work at various times throughout the day. (Matt. 20: 1-16) The workers at the end of the day received the salary which they were offered, no qualifications being placed upon how much they produced or when they signed on. While the parable is primarily an illustration of how salvation is offered to all people, at all times, it cannot be denied that this story was meant to point to the actual exploitative processes of his day.

            To make up for the economic and resource-based disruption of their era – Roman and Judean society established several ways to provide for the needy. In Judea, people could give money over to the Temple as, “Korban,” to ensure that it was used to care for the poor. (Mark 9:7-13) Likewise, Almsgiving was not uncommon in either society. Roman nobility would sometimes build public gardens to grow fruit and other produce in. These were used both earnestly to help the poor and cynically to appease crowds who opposed Roman rule.

            The final method of securing people’s livelihood was in the private societies of Roman provenance. For a small fee, the participant was assured they would receive food and drink – usually a loaf of bread and a few liters of wine – every day. The fees of every member were collected, aggregated, and then used to ensure all people had at least the bare minimum to survive each day.

            When Christian communities began to form, they were often mistaken for this last kind of society. The idea manifested that a group that came together to eat and pray regularly must do so through the asking for and receiving of dues. It would not be uncommon for such a group to meet – it would not trip anyone’s radars to see such a thing come to pass.

            However, within a few days of being established, the first meeting places in Jerusalem began to see a surge in membership. People poured into the meeting houses and gathered to hear sermons from the apostles. The Spirit of God was on the move, the people were seeing the fruit of their ministry become ripe before their eyes. The light of Christ, now offered to all people, was shining brightly in their midst.

            What was it that allowed for this flourishing? How was it that the apostles were able to show Christ so clearly and receive people into community so directly? The three things which are ascribed to the apostles are their testimony, which is about the resurrection, and which was defined by the grace that rested upon them. These three things – testimony, resurrection, and grace – carry much of our Christian life upon themselves.

            The apostles gave their testimony, better translated as witness, with, “great power.” The word for power here does not just mean strength but potential for motion. The apostles preached like they expected God to do something with what they were preaching. When we testify about God, that is, tell others what God has done in our life, we ought to do so with the trust that God will use our Testimony. We should be unafraid because Christ, “will not let [the Word] return empty.” (Isaiah 55:11, para.)

            We testify God’s work in our life with the ultimate goal of pointing to Christ and Christ’s resurrection. The singular event which we celebrated last week is the axis around which all things turn. We live the life we live now because Christ died and rose again. All gatherings of the faithful depend upon us being able to draw from Christ’s resurrection. We never meet for purely earthly meeting, but for the business of God in this world.

            We do this with God’s grace, God’s favor, upon us. As Methodists we believe grace is that power which allows us to be transformed by God’s love. Grace leads us to God, justifies us before God, and sanctifies us into the image of God. Because we have received God’s grace, we become vessels of the same. We do not merely take grace and lock it away within us, but show it to one another, to the world. We act in transformative mercy as we were given it ourselves. The work of God sets the path for our work in the Church.

            These three empowering gifts of God did not spring from nowhere. God’s gifts are rendered through the Holy Spirit to the gathered community of God. This community is so close that it was said to be of, “one heart,” sharing all their desires and of, “one soul,” a word here meaning, “their whole being.” The church in Acts 4 saw all members as being equal, but more than equal they saw every individual as part of one singular “body.” The hunger of one sibling was the hunger of all.

            An idea we miss in our English translations is how the beginning and end of our scripture are linked. The testimony of the resurrection and the grace of God is given to the community because they were willing to care for one another. Γαρ (Gar,) the linking word between the two ideas is usually used to convey causality. The church grew and succeeded because it had no needy people in it, because those with means took care of those without any. All who owned land sold it to help those who had no food. When was the last time we ever thought of selling someone to help someone else?

            The first church in Jerusalem flourished because God blessed their work. God blessed their work because they saw one another as part of the same being. “To care for you is to care for myself.” We too must love one another fully and completely. Where one of us lacks, may another provide. Moreover, let us cast our eyes to our neighbors – of our church and of our homes and of our state and of our nation– and actively seek their welfare. For, if we are to have the powerful testimony of God’s resurrected Christ bring grace into our lives, we must first love one another. Community, not marketing or personality, is the true source of revival. God bless the work and anoint us in love. – Amen.

Fearless and Active – Easter Sunday 2021

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Sermon Text

             If you attended our Sunrise Service, then this scripture is likely hauntingly familiar to you. Matthew, using Mark’s Gospel as a template, adds additional details to Mark’s account. The women arrive as the tomb is opened, they receive their message from the angel that Christ is risen, but before their fear can silence them, Jesus appears and reassures them that they really are to go and proclaim what has happened at the tomb. He truly has been brought out of death and into life, from shame into glory. Matthew and mark carry the same event on similar but markedly different words. They provide two different views on what Christ’s resurrection mean.

            This morning we looked at the amazement and fear that the resurrection sets in our heart. Flabbergasted that Jesus told the truth, that death really could be swallowed up by life, we silently praised the wonder of our risen God. Yet, Matthew looks beyond the moment that fixes our choice to believe toward what our belief can do. We are not just passive recipients of a static salvation, but active participants in a relationship with our God and savior.

            The first Easter morn was begun when a group of women went to give their beloved friend and teacher a proper burial. The haste of is burial meant no time could be given to embalm him. Taking up the costly spices and oils needed for the process, they came to the tomb, ready to say one last goodbye. Yet, as they arrived an earthquake shook the ground, and a flash of lightning filled the air. An angel had arrived, scaring off the tomb guards and ripping away the seal of the tomb.

            The women do not have time to respond to what they have seen before the angel cries out to them, “Do not be afraid!” As if anyone could be calm when a bolt of lightening talks to them after an earthquake. The angel tells them that Christ has risen and that they must go to the other disciples and tell them the news – that they are to go to Galilee and receive their Commission.

            The women rush off, filled with equal parts fear and joy. “Jesus is really back! He was telling the truth! Every bit of it was real!” They were caught up in the thrill of it all and ready to do as they were called to do. Peter, John, Thomas, and all the others would be ecstatic to know the good news. The journey of the disciples wasn’t over, the Gospel hadn’t been silenced – the work of the Church had just begun.

            If we look at our own life, we can see moments where we felt the same rush of energy and mission. When something clicks within us and God seems close to us like never before. When the clouds break, and the light of Heaven shines down on us. When we find ourselves uncertain of what is to come but thrilled at the possibilities. In these moments, the Kingdom seems within our grasp, the resurrected life overwhelms our doubts, all is right in the world.

            Easter is a celebration of life and of what God has in store for all of creation. As Christ suffered and died once for all, we are all able to experience a foretaste of Heaven and see that it is good. The free gift of faith and salvation is offered to us all. We are raised up with Christ into glory and given, not only a new lease on life, but an entirely new life. Like the sun which rises each day, the night of our own despair comes to an end in Christ’s resurrection.

            Yet, what if our zeal blinds us? What if our work consumes us rather than rebuilds us? What peril can our mission hold for us? The answer is that we may, in pursuit of serving God, forget that our own goal is the presence of God within us. When we look for life, we must look to its source and not simply be caught up in providing it to others ourselves.

            Our scripture gives a powerful image of this ability we have to lose our goal while keeping our work. The women are running from the newly opened tomb without looking back. They want the others to hear what God has done. Yet, in running off to do so, they have forgotten something important. If they saw the stone roll away, then that means that Jesus is probably still nearby. If they had waited only a moment longer, they may have seen him emerge immediately.

            How tragic it would have been if this were the case. The women, overjoyed at their mission, somehow would have missed out on seeing God. Certainly, it happens to us sometimes. We want to be the shining light in people’s lives, tow rite all we can or give all we can or testify all we can. Yet, somewhere along the way, work supplants Christ as the object of our life. We no longer labor for the sake of the Kingdom, but to check another box on the to-do list. We succumb to the idol of business, we become busy-bodies.

            Praise God that we are not left to our own devices. Our scripture tells us that Jesus catches up to the women. Using the same words, he used to describe the crowd greeting Jesus, John tells us that Jesus meets the women. Jesus offers and abrupt, “Hello!” The blessing of that, “Hello,” cannot be taken lightly. In the midst of their fervor, in the excitement of the life that had been offered to them, the first evangelists were running off as quickly as they could. Ironically, in doing so, they had left Jesus in the dust. Yet, Jesus ran after them, to be with them and to recenter their goal on knowledge of him, to reconnect the work they did with the love he gave.

            Faith, mission, all the essential substances of our life, are found in pursuit of and enjoyment of God. As we go through life, we must constantly return to Christ as the center of our life. When we look to do the work of which we are called to, it can become all we are concerned with. We remove the core of the Gospel and transform it into vague well wishing. We remove the goal of our mission and reduce it to recruitment to our social club. God alone fulfills the life we receive through faith. We cannot, having been called by God, take back the reins of our life. We must start and end all our work, our hope, our life itself, with God.

            Today we celebrate Easter, the day that God made good on the promises of new life. The seal of our future resurrection was found in Christ’s own resurrection. We are sent out today with the reassuring voice of angels telling us, “Do not be afraid!” We have the certainty of Christ who goes before us into the world. With our mission clearly stated, to proclaim Christ’s resurrection and to serve one another as siblings in one holy family, we cannot go wrong. We do al things with God as our eternal goal, and as the sustaining presence on which we depend.

            Let us go forward, active and unafraid, rushing off in haste but not in a hurry. The work ahead is not easy, but God is leading us into the Kingdom. The struggle is well worth it. Rejoice! Christ is Risen today! – Amen.