A Risen People

April 7, 2024

Series: April 2024

Speaker: Rob McClellan


Today's Sermon


"A Risen People"


Acts 4:32-35
           32Now 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. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There 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. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

A Risen People

            Last week we had a rousing Easter/Resurrection of the Lord Sunday. There was good energy in the room, and when it was almost over, while we were singing the closing hymn, the final verse, two lines jumped out at me.  I even caught some smiles on folks singing.  Can anyone guess?  Here’s the verse:

Christ is ris­en! Earth and Hea­ven
Nevermore shall be the same.
Break the bread of new cre­ation
Where the world is still in pain.
Tell its grim, de­mon­ic cho­rus:
Christ is ris­en! Get you gone!
God the First and Last is with us,
Sing Ho­san­na, ev­ery­one!

It’s by Bryan Wren, a wonderful hymn-writer who taught at the seminary I attended.  It’s not the language we typically use here, but something about it fits.  Notice the response to the resurrection, to tell the forces in the world that threaten to tear down, to drive us apart, intimidate and trick us into turning against one another, “Christ is risen!  Get you gone!”  When a community forms, part of what it does it says it what it welcomes, and part of what it says is what it does not.  Grim demonic choruses, get out of here.  In a world where Christ is risen, we don’t have to stand by idly in the face of the forces of crucifixion literal or metaphorical.  We say to them:  Your way did not work and will not ultimately work.  There is a deeper reality at hand.  The lines from the hymn capture an appropriate amount of gusto to quiet the chorus of voices that should be described as demonic, a chorus that sometimes seems to be shouting louder and louder.  Well, no more.

            The resurrection demands a response from us. The early followers knew this.  Their experiences of him after he was killed drove them and their descendants to approach their life, and their life together, a certain way.  To proclaim Christ is risen was to commit to learning the art of living together supportively, to attend to and provide for one another’s needs as the Acts passage you heard attests.  This could have gone the other way.  It could have been a contest of egos, of potential successors, and there was some of that struggle, but the resurrection inspired a people to try and live in a way that mirrors God’s shalom, peace, peaceable kingdom, that manifests heaven on earth. 

           For a number of weeks, our Wednesday adult class has been studying the work of New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, and Crossan asserts that is the task of the Christian, at least according to Paul whom he favors, to live as a risen people starting now, not waiting to be raised up later.  It is to say to the world when its worst impulses rise to the surface, “Oh no, you must have forgotten.  Christ is risen.  We don’t do that here.  You want to sanctify violence?  Oh no, Christ is risen.  You want to convince me to hate my neighbor?  You must not have heard.  Christ is risen.  You want to traffic in deceit and manipulation for your perceived gain? You must not understand.  Christ is risen.”  To proclaim Christ is risen is to say to the demonic choruses, “We sing a different song,” and while everyone is welcome here, every tune and lyric is not. You don’t have the last word, the living Word, the risen Word has the last world!

            In many ways, it is the same divine voice that has always been there.  If you want to get Christological about it, remember John attests that this Christ, this word, this way, this logos, has been since the beginning, exists in and transcends all time.  The poetic psalm we heard today provides a beautiful image of what this looks like when practiced: 

1   How very good and pleasant it is
          when kindred live together in unity!
2   It is like the precious oil on the head,
          running down upon the beard,
     on the beard of Aaron,
          running down over the collar of his robes.
3   It is like the dew of Hermon,
          which falls on the mountains of Zion.
     For there the LORD ordained his blessing,
          life for evermore. (Psalm 133:1-3)

            Unity can be cheapened.  Sometimes people try and take a shortcut to it, crying “divisive” whenever someone threatens to raise something difficult.  That’s not true unity; that’s denial.  Unity is committing to one another so that the group can work through what is difficult. Acts says the people were of one heart and soul.  When we take communion, part of what we are doing is ritualizing that commitment.  At the table we embody reconciliation and filling up that we might be ambassadors of the reconciliation we experience in Christ out it in the world and our own spheres within it.

           You are going to hear a lot more next fall about what it means to stick together in these times, a holier unity, being of one heart and soul.  The elders are going to start to wrestle with and embrace that concept at our May retreat.  Look, we know what our society feels like right now, tense, untrusting, aggrieved. We can try and hide, but there is an election coming, and many feel this kind of existential dread and anxiety.  We will be told all kinds of things about each other.  Are we going to let those voices win or are we going to sing a different song, a song of commitment to each other and the world, a song of, dare I say, joy?

            Just as I opened today with lines from a hymn, I turned to our closing hymn to see if it had anything for us.  You might consider it an anthem to what a world transformed by the resurrection could look like.   Hear the words:

1 Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
The cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes with praises ring.
Love, drowned in death, shall never die.

2 Christ is alive! No longer bound
to distant years in Palestine,
but saving, healing, here and now,
and touching every place and time.

3 In every insult, rift, and war
where color, scorn, or wealth divide,
Christ suffers still, yet loves the more,
and lives, where even hope has died.

4 Women and men, in age and youth,
can feel the Spirit, hear the call,
and find the way, the life, the truth,
revealed in Jesus, freed for all.

5 Christ is alive, and comes to bring
good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring
with joy, with justice, love, and praise.

Maybe these words sound more our brand, but they were written by the same person, Brian Wren.  We need both messages:  Demonic choruses, get you gone!  Choirs of joy, justice, love, and praise, come on in!