April 10 Easter 3
Sometimes people are surprised to hear that I would prefer conducting a funeral to a wedding – (generally speaking). It is that I feel more useful, more have a role as a pastoral carer at a funeral. I think I am useful at this time and 90% of what I am doing is simply keeping my mouth shut and listening. It takes very little to get people talking of the person who they grieve for, give them half a chance and the stories come tumbling out and when there are a few family members present at the funeral planning time it can be hard to keep track of the time and purpose of the meeting as the stories are told and amidst the tears and the laughter and the comments “I never knew that”, “but what about the time…”, “and do you remember when….”.
Humans love telling and hearing stories. Jesus knew that and that no doubt is why his preferred teaching method was stories. Parables we call them.
And there is a particular form of story that is often repeated in the bible. Call story. Many biblical characters have call stories recorded in scripture. A time when God appears unusually close, tapped the person on the shoulder, maybe the person heard a voice or saw a vision, Can you name some? Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, many of the disciples, Saul/Paul.
Every Christian has a call story to tell – some may never have told it, but every Christian is in possession of their own call story. How unfortunate whenever that term “call” gets reduced and shrunk to the one meaning of a call to ordained ministry in the church. I am using it in its wider sense that each and every person stands addressed by the resurrected Jesus in the same way he addressed Mary on Easter morning. He called her by name – a single word “Mary”.
Today we read of the “call” or commissioning of the figure who dominates the early years of the emerging Christian church.
Saul/Paul the firebreathing, rampampaging persectutor of the fledgling Jesus movement was – literally knocked to the ground and sent spinning on his backside and “blinded by the light” as part of his conversion/call story. Brought to his knees, physically, spiritually, in every way he is led like a little child into the city he came to ravage. Paul has got a cracker of a story and that may be why it is told 4 times in our New Testament, three times in the book we call the Acts of the Apostles.
He was a flawed (like the rest of us) but visionary human being. Visionary for there are strong grounds for reckoning Paul to be the founder of Christianity. It was he who took seriously the implication of the resurrection of Jesus that the kingdom/reign of God was for all.
It was he who argued with the Jerusalem church that ways had to be found of incorporating Gentiles fully into the Christian movement or risk the new movement remaining but a marginalised sect within Judaism
It was he who set out an understanding of baptism which went beyond the baptism which John the Baptist preached and practised, and which involved a sense of identification with the suffering, dying and resurrected body of Jesus.
It was he who first wrote a narrative of the Last Supper and drew implications from it about how Christian believers should behave at the Lord’s Table.
And it was his mission that ensured that, with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, a version of Christian faith survived that was able to carry the church into the second century of consolidation, of separation from Judaism and through the fires of persecution.
But what I think is so profound is that first point – Paul anguished over the meaning of resurrection. If this thing on the road to Damascus has happened to him… what does it mean? He spent the rest of his life pondering what it meant. Not just the finer theological details but how is resurrection to be lived – what does resurrection look like, not after you are dead, but now?
while you are alive? How does hope live in the presence of despair? What would the conquering of apathy and cynicism by love look like in your life? My life, our communal life here at Sunshine Uniting?
How to rescue the Christian community from the blandness of being a religious version of the same life that everyone else is living but with a smear of religion on top? How can “resurrection” be saved from being simply another concept that wafted around in some vague spiritual world. There must be flesh on the bones of this resurrection or it is only a skeleton, lifeless and dry and rattling.
One thing I reckon it means, and this one thing I think has the potential to make the church a far more interesting place. One thing resurrection means is we make the primary lens through which we view everything, talk about everything, make our decisions on how to act, no longer “church”, but “life”. The Christian faith has to cease talking about religion and church and start talking about life. Just life and how that may be experienced more fully, deeply, richly. With more integrity. Thats all we are on about. I think one of the major reasons people are wary of Christians is we give the impression we are trying to drag people into a narrow restricted part of life called “religion” that is all about taking the fun out of life, getting people to stop doing stuff, giving their capacity to think away.
What we need to be heard and seen saying, is “we have found, it has been our experience that the way to live life most fully “I have come that they may have life and life in all its fullness” – is to connect with the Creator of the universe, to worship this One, to live together sharing our lives and bearing each other’s burdens. Call it religion if you like; I find it more satisfying to call it life lived more fully”.
Resurrection does not always come after a death of old age, or after institutions or our bodies wear out and die in bed. We hope and pray that it will come upon us in the midst of life. Slowly or suddenly – it can take either, or both forms. Sometimes resurrection happens in the quietness and ordinarieness of everyday living. Sometimes resurrection interrupts our present lively lives, busy and stressed as we are, or like Saul, going about our Father’s business or Mother Church’s business as we thought it had been assigned to us for ever.
Suddenly hot flashes are sent, a light
from heaven surprises, we get weak-kneed, and our jobs change, our lives
change, even our names change, and those who are enemies become best
friends and we are shown as Saul was “how much we must suffer for the
sake of the name of Jesus.”
The readings today, with stories of the appearance of the resurrected Jesus, put real meat on the bones of our resurrection faith.
Notice that the believers
did not call themselves by a word describing what they held in the way of
opinions, nor did they name themselves after a leader, They called themselves not even
“christians”– that was a name given to us later in Antioch, in Turkey.
They were now at first called “The Way.” This was in those days when these early followers of the resurrected Jesus did not have the benefits of buildings or creeds, or institutional structure or clerics, or clerical garments and vestments, or tax deductibility or a Christian radio or television station … well anything really. All they had was “The Way”.
It is still the way we tread, the One we follow, the teacher, the saviour.