Summit Presbyterian Church
April 15, 2012
1 John 1:1 - 2:2
A Fellowship Complete
What is the miracle of Easter? The main miracle, the one you're probably thinking of, is that Jesus rose from the dead. That when the women went to the tomb, they found the stone rolled away and Jesus gone. Angels dressed in white told them that Jesus had been raised and would appear to the disciples and the gospels have several accounts of these appearances: Jesus came to Mary Magdalene in the garden, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple met Jesus on the road to Emmaus; the eleven met Jesus on a mountain in Galilee; Jesus came twice to a house in Jerusalem where the disciples were huddled in fear, and he also met them on a beach. [Taking a break to hear a word from our sponsor, our next Bible Study in May . . . ] Christians have wondered, over the years, if the body of Jesus actually rose from the grave, and what that body was like. The gospels aren't clear. Jesus encourages the disciples to touch his wounds, to see that he has flesh and bones, and he eats bread and fish with them. But he can also go through doors, disappear in an instant, and keep his followers from recognizing him. However we may "explain" the resurrection - as body, as spirit, as a spiritual body or even as a vision of the disciples - the first miracle of Easter is that Jesus rose from the dead. The scriptures testify to that.
But our scriptures today, on this second Sunday of Easter, speak of another Easter miracle. And that's the miracle of the transformed life, the new life, that followers of Jesus had with each other. A different kind of community than they had before. A fellowship in the risen, living Christ. In our first reading from Acts, Luke says that the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul. No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. So great was the grace upon them all, says Luke, that there was not a needy person among them. Now if we were making a list of hard-to-believe miracles, I'd put that above the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Or the multiplication of loaves and fishes. Or the turning of water into wine. Anyone who's watched toddlers in a sandbox, or read about the Soviet Union's five-year plans, or observed our own 1% vs. 99% knows how hard it is for people to share, how hard it is for us to put the needs of others before our own comfort. But according to Luke, the early church did. It also grew in numbers and in spirit. Their life together had been transformed.
John speaks of that miracle in a different way: as a divine fellowship that followers of Jesus now have with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. A fellowship where they live in the light of God, walking as Jesus walked. A fellowship, John says later in the letter, where disciples love one another, not only in word and speech but in truth and action (3:18). Now John recognizes this fellowship has not reached perfection. Followers of Jesus still fall into sin: "If we say that we have no sin," says John, "we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." But, miraculously, Jesus Christ brings us back into light when we fall into the darkness. "If we confess our sins," continues John, "Christ who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Jesus restores us to this fellowship divine where our joy may be complete.
Last Sunday the Inquirer had an article called "Debating the Resurrection." It beings by saying: "It is not easy being Christian, what with doing unto others, loving your enemies, turning the other cheek. Yet the far greater challenge is to accept without doubt the core belief evinced in the Easter story — that Jesus rose bodily from the dead."
I don't know about that. I think it's the opposite. It's not easy accepting without doubt the core belief evinced in the Easter story -- that Jesus rose bodily from the dead - even when we define "bodily" very loosely. Yet the far greater challenge is doing unto others, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek. The far greater challenge is believing in the second miracle: that in fellowship with with Christ our life together can be transformed - as a church and in the world. That we're no longer bound to the ways of sin and death. That, through the grace of the Risen Christ, we can live in a world where there's no needy person among us. We can learn to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We can bring about a world where racism has lost its grip, where all children are loved, where justice is not bought, where we pray for our enemies rather than bomb them, and where we live in a way that allows our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to have enough. Believing in this second miracle doesn't require us to suspend our belief in the "laws of nature." It doesn't require us to think unscientifically. But I think it requires an even greater a leap of faith!
And that leap of faith begins with our life together here at Summit. Faith that if we seek to follow Jesus, the light of Christ will guide us in decisions: about our mission, the tower, money. Faith that if we love one another as Christ loves, there will be no needy one among us: no one needy in terms of food, or companionship, in terms of comfort or care. Faith that when we sin -- against God and one another, knowingly or unknowingly, by things we do or things we don't do - Christ will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. A faith that our life together, as Summit church, can be transformed through love. A love that begins here, but that does not stop at the door; for as John says, Christ died not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world. And in that love -- for God in Christ, for each other and for the world -- our joy may be complete.