19 May 2007

The risen Christ is everywhere... still

Tomorrow I am finishing a six-week sermon series on the resurrection appearances of Jesus. It has been a good series for me. I've taken apart the scriptures that the lectionary lumps together, jumped between the Gospels, and managed to hear new things in the text. That's always a very nice experience.
My sermon tomorrow uses the Great Commission text from Matthew. We don't have opportunity enough to preach this text a la lectionary, in my opinion, and there is a wealth of meaning, direction, and symbolism in it. I mean, I could probably preach an entire month on the phrase, "Go forth!"
But tomorrow I'm using it as the last of the resurrection encounters and though I don't write in manuscript form and therefore have almost nothing to post on this website ever, I wanted to talk about the sermon here because part of it is the "rest of the story" from an earlier post you can read here.
For those who would rather not read all the details, the gist of it goes like this -- my congregation was helping a family to whom we were introduced on Good Friday. They were people in need of much assistance and as we moved to offer assistance, God's people provided in amazing ways. The family, who had never been very involved with church, were amazed that folks would just offer themselves and their resources to others they had never met. It was a wonderful Easter story.
After Easter, the story of this family became more complicated. The man of the couple made some poor choices, was put in jail and eventually headed back to Arkansas to live with his parents. The woman of the couple struggled along, made some poor choices, had her children sent to her family in Indiana, and eventually followed.
For those of our congregation who know/ knew about it, they shook their heads and expressed sorrow and also some sense of resignation that these poor choices were made. What I have NOT heard, however, is a regret that we went out of our way to assist this family. Now perhaps that's because they don't whisper things like that in my direction. Or perhaps it's because they know the main point of my sermon tomorrow which is this -- even if "the nations" don't respond to the gospel, we're still sent forth to share the good news.
What I have realized again, in the course of helping this family, is that it would be really great if our evangelism or mission had a happy ending, or if all our efforts as Christians could be wrapped up in a neatly presented package, preferrably with a shiny bow on top. But that's not how it is some of the time, or perhaps even most of the time. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, despite our most sincere intentions, despite our most heartfelt prayers, folks don't respond to the gifts we offer. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they make poor choices, get put in jail or get sent back to Arkansas or Indiana!
Yet Jesus calls us to offer ourselves despite the fact that he had to have known much of our work would look like failure. We are still asked to treat each other as we want to be treated. We are still asked to give of our resources for the kingdom. We are still sent forth beyond our comfort zone.
If we look at Jesus -- we might be able to see that some folks might have called his mission a failure. Look at his life -- travelling from place to place followed by a motley band of arguing followers. Look at his death -- a brutal and bloody political assasination, abandoned by most everyone. Look at his resurrection -- supernatural and terrifying and when he ascended into heaven he left the work of evangelizing to the motley clueless followers who had abandoned him. One would hardly call that a successful implementation of the grand plan.
But as we know, the story goes far beyond that moment. The key is that the work of God is never done. Christ ascended to God's presence to be super-present with us through the gift of the Spirit. The disciples received the Spirit and went to work and through the labors of their hands and hearts AND the immeasurable gifts of the Spirit, the mission of Christ to bring folks to the Creator became and has become and is becoming one of success.
So often we think that if the work we do and the resources we use do not acheive the job that the job has failed. That the work is done. But the risen Christ is everywhere -- still! In the midst of our "failures," in the midst of poor choices, in the midst of exhausted possibilities, the risen Christ is still here. And the work is not done until the Spirit stops. And the Spirit doesn't stop.
So. Tomorrow we will talk about Christ's resurrection appearance among us... still...again. And again and again and again. We will also pray that Christ will continue to appear to those for whom our work and resources was not enough to lead them to the Kingdom. And we will pray that Jesus will remind us that he doesn't give up on us, even when we think we're done or when our hubris maintains that WE are those who bring the work of the Lord to completion. We will pray that he gives us the strength and the vision to keep putting him on -- keep working in his name -- keep proclaming him wherever and whenever we go forth.
He has come to us... still. He is here with us... still. He will be with us... still.
Alleluia! Christ is risen, friends! He is risen indeed! Still!

1 comment:

more cows than people said...

yes!!! soooo helpful and faithful and... just right! Amen!