The 3rd Sunday of Easter
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
There is something so definitive about Easter. Suddenly everything is different. Jesus, previously seen as a remarkable teacher, but a man nonetheless, becomes known as God incarnate. His friend Peter now called him “the Author of life” in the first reading from Acts today. Resurrected, the Christ now soars above the limitations of earth and humanity as the world’s redeemer.
But this definitiveness is not limited in Easter to Jesus. Peter goes on to claim that in him, our sins are wiped out. Gone forever. In faith, we have risen with Christ and we are born anew. As John wrote in the second lesson, “No one who abides in him sins” anymore. Jesus himself said “whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Doesn’t it feel wonderful to be made so definitively new?
Well, yes, until the next time we walk in darkness. Until we run smack into our human limitations again. Until we feel quite unresurrected, stuck in the old self. As they say about the Ganges River - where it is believed that one’s sins are washed away - the birds of sin are perched in the trees all along the banks, just waiting for pilgrims to emerge from the waters.
And so there is a conflict here. On the one hand, we’re told that with Christ, we are resurrected into a new being, released from the power of darkness. On the other hand, we are told that we shall always be a sinner. And we know how in so many ways we’re the same old person we’ve always been.
Some resolve this conflict by thinking of their new life entirely in terms of heaven. Whatever sins or unhappiness they experience from now on in this world don’t really matter. After this long valley of tears they will go to heaven, where at long last all the promises of Easter will be realized: purity, peace, and unending joy. But it’s not very satisfying to have our gratification be that delayed, is it?
Others really go out on a limb and declare themselves incapable of sin in this lifetime. They’ve been saved, God is with them, and no matter how bad their actions may seem to others, it’s all part of God’s mysterious ways. Everything becomes justified. Jim Jones should remind us how dangerous this is.
But for most of us, questions remain. With faith in Christ, does a permanent change really happen to us? Or are we just like everyone else, stumbling our way through endless cycles of goodness and badness, trying to gradually improve ourselves as we go? In this lifetime, is there some hope of getting to the point where we experience complete freedom and unconditional love for everyone? Must we wait until we die? What about these Easter promises, anyway?
One of my sons is an actor. I don’t just say about him “he acts in plays.” I say “he is an actor.” He not only was trained in the craft of speaking and moving on stage. Something happened to him in the process of his training that changed who he is. At some point he became an actor. He will always be an actor. We say “it’s in his blood.” And it is.
We’ve got two people in our congregation who were recently ordained. They are now finding out what the rest of us discovered along the way. At some point when we weren’t looking – perhaps before we were even ordained, or in the ordination rite, or later when people began treating us differently – we changed. We became a deacon, a priest. We’re not just carrying out the duties of an ordained person. It’s who we are.
So it is with our Christian vocation. At some point, during our training, hopefully something happens to us inside. A change occurs so that we become oriented towards God in Christ. This may happen when we’re children. It may happen for our 6 youth who are going through a rite of passage today in the Celebration of Manhood and Womanhood. It may happen to some when they accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, when they join Alcoholics Anonymous, when they go through a serious crisis, when they finally learn how to pray from the heart. It may happen at more than one point in life.
But if we are children of God, it is because we have allowed something to change in our heart. We have turned towards something beyond ourselves and said “yes.” We were humbled and were then willing to look at ourselves honestly, to rely upon that mysterious power of goodness we call “grace,” to consider what the wisdom traditions have to teach us, and to do what we can to follow in the steps of truth and love. This is our “training,” and in the process, we become children of God.
Without this change, people do walk in darkness. Without any power of goodness beyond oneself, without humility, without a connection to wisdom traditions, without an intention to dedicate oneself to love and truth, without an opening of the heart, people live in sin. They are often obsessed with material things, getting ahead, finding security, self-justification and control. Life closes in on itself, and becomes smaller and darker as they get older.
But if we have had some kind of inner conversion, if we have reoriented ourselves Godward, our hearts are broken open and light is able to get in. The door is off the hinges. We will always be porous. We can’t go back. Possibilities beyond our own feeble powers can always come into play. We’re not in control, because we don’t have to be. Something else - something far better and wiser and more loving than we are – is at work. We are a part of something eternal, something that is always within us, around us, moving us and all of creation towards its fulfillment.
We may continue to sin, but with a heart that is oriented towards God, with faith, we are not enslaved by sin. We are free not because we will never be frustrated and stuck again, but because the door is permanently removed. I think this is what John meant when he said that “No one who abides [in God] sins,” or when Jesus said that we “will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.”
Going back to my son and those who are ordained, even though they have been changed internally so that they become an actor, a priest or deacon, they are not finished becoming. They will learn and become better at what they do.
All our lives, we will continue to live into our Christian vocation, our identity as children of God. We will always have to apply ourselves to the ongoing journey of faith, to try to understand ourselves, to repent, to embrace the promise. The 6 young men and women who dedicate themselves to this pathway today will discover that it is a long, winding one.
But we make this journey with an inner security. We don’t walk as one lost, alone, blind, in the wilderness. Like our 65 pilgrims to Chimayo on Good Friday, we walk in the company of countless other porous people who have also reoriented their hearts Godward. We walk with the scriptures and our faith traditions. We walk knowing that we belong to the family of God, and that the Spirit is always guiding us all homeward.
Yes, we are sinners, we will always be limited by our particular history and issues. There is a part of us that will always be resistant to God, to love, to freedom. That’s our lot in life.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is all you are. If your heart has broken open to God, if at some point you have become porous, there is the divine light in you. That light shines in the darkness and it will never be overcome. Whenever we sincerely give ourselves to God, God takes our offering seriously. The door is taken off the hinges, and there is no going back. We are resurrected with Christ. We live in the kingdom of God, and we always will.
So may Christ’s peace be with you. Do not doubt; do not fear, only believe.
Peace be with you.