You are the Material

April 8, 2018

Series: April 2018

Category: Faith

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Acts 10:34-43 - Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

You are the Material

 Groucho Marx once said that he sent a club he belonged to a message saying, “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”  That is kind of what happened to the Christian community following the resurrection of Jesus.  Prior to his death and resurrection, the followers of Jesus had been small in number.  Really just his close associates, those he had personal contact with, pretty much all Jewish – not many Gentiles in the bunch.  But, following his resurrection, when word began to spread about Jesus Christ, the Risen One, more and more people joined the movement.  Through the resurrection, God invited all people into the way of Jesus Christ.  Through the resurrection, as Peter reminds us in this scripture passage, Jesus Christ is Lord of all.  God shows no partiality.

Though this was good news for many, I’m guessing it was a little difficult to handle for others. First, this was a drastic new way of living and being for the Jews and the Gentiles – two groups of people who were about as different as different could be.  Could it be possible that people from each group could follow Jesus together?  Could it be possible that God would love them the same?  Immediately following the passage we heard today, Peter begins to baptize some of the Gentiles, welcoming them as followers of Jesus.  This upsets some of the Jews who have been following Jesus, thinking that they belonged to an exclusive club.  But Peter responds to them saying, “If then God gave them the same gift that God gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

Two groups of people, who never thought they would or could get along with each other, coming together after Jesus’ resurrection to follow him. For God shows no partiality, preaching peace by Jesus Christ.  Who are we that we should hinder God?

Not only does this resurrection message of God’s love for all stretch our comfort zones of who is included and who is not, but it also makes us confront our own self-acceptance and sense of self-worth. God shows no partiality, which means each one of us is included in God’s abundant love.  Each one of us is given the promise of new life.  Sometimes that is a difficult message to hear.

During the season of Lent, SFTS, the seminary in San Anselmo, sent out a daily devotion by email. A week ago, on Easter Sunday, the devotion was written by Marcia McFee, their visiting professor of worship.  She wrote, “Listening and taking in what we hear can be tricky. Perhaps something someone says feels so impossible that understanding it is completely out of the realm of our imagination. It makes me wonder what I have yet to take in and own, deeply in my very being. What have I heard in the listening that still has yet to truly register? This Easter, what promises do we need to remember and believe about the possibility of new life? What must we repeat until we truly get it?” She then offers a series of resurrection statements.  

“You are created in the image of the Divine.” “You are a beloved child of God.” “You are loved without condition.” “You have a place at the table.” “I am with you always.” “New life is possible.” “Death is not the last word.”   McFee continues, “Grief can cloud the vision of resurrection. New life might not make any sense while we are immersed in the depths of despair. Sometimes we need to be reminded. So I invite you to say those affirmations to yourself. And if it feels hard to hear the first time, say it again and again.

That is the promise of resurrection. That is the promise of this Easter season.  God shows no partiality.  Jesus Christ is Lord of all.  This is Good News!  It is a wonderful and inspiring message!  And it is also a challenge.  This Good News means that we are called to love ourselves just as God loves us.  It also means that we are called to love others just as God loves them. 

Both of these can be difficult. Where do we even start?  In her memoir titled Practicing Resurrection, Nora Gallagher writes about a time while studying for the ministry when she served as a intern at a local church.  One of her tasks was to work with a group of congregants to plan a Lenten series.  She arrived at their first meeting together and writes, “They looked at me and I looked back at them.  None of us knew exactly what I was supposed to be doing there.  And from two of them, there was a look of … respect?  As if I were … holy? Or at least holier than they.  I wanted to scream.  I wanted to say, ‘This afternoon I threw the finger at a driver who cut me off on the freeway.’  I wanted to say, ‘I’ve forgotten how to pray.  The ministry study year has taken up so much time, I don’t have time to pray.’ But they didn’t want or need to hear any of this.  As I sat down, what a friend said moved through my mind. ‘You are the material,’ my friend Christina had said. ‘They will use you.’”[i]

Certainly, I’m not the one God loves – I am full of flaws. Certainly, I’m not the one promised new life through the resurrection – I haven’t earned that.  Certainly, I’m not the one who can offer a word of hope and healing to another.  Yes, yes you are.  You are the material.  God will use you.

I love that Gallagher’s book is called “Practicing” Resurrection. For resurrection is something that needs to be practiced.  It is not something that always comes naturally.  When we are struggling, the signs of new life might not always be obvious.  When we are depressed, we may not always trust in God’s abundant love.  When we are in opposition to someone else, we may not want to acknowledge that God loves them too.  But we practice.  We help each other.  We repeat again those phrases from Marcia McFee. 

“You are created in the image of the Divine.” “You are a beloved child of God.” “You are loved without condition.” “You have a place at the table.” “I am with you always.” “New life is possible.” “Death is not the last word.”

We tell them to ourselves. We embody them. We live them.  And then, as McFee writes at the very end of her devotion, we “do ‘just as Jesus told us’ and take these messages to others. Especially those who are still standing in the tomb, wondering where love has gone.”

That’s the other part of Peter’s message that we heard today. Having experienced the Good News of the resurrection, we are called (actually Peter uses the word “commanded”) to preach and to testify to others. Who, me?  I don’t have anything to say!  I don’t have anything to share!  Yes, yes you do.  You are the material.  God will use you.

Throughout the Psalms, including the one we heard today, the Psalmist sings about how he will share the good news of God’s love. “My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, I will praise your mighty deeds,” says the Psalmist. This is exactly what Peter is asking us to do. Just one week ago we celebrated the resurrection, and what it means in our lives. Christ is risen, death does not have the final word, love for all wins. Have you shared this good news in the past week? With the Psalmist, have you proclaimed how God’s love is alive in your life?

Gallagher writes about practicing resurrection. Parker Palmer, in the quote on the front of your bulletin, speaks of “choosing” resurrection.  For it is a choice.  We could choose to continue harmful habits.  We could choose not to forgive.  We could choose not to love.  Now, this doesn’t affect God’s choice.  God has already chosen each one of us.  God shows no partiality.  God has chosen love.  God has chosen resurrection.  It is now up to us to choose how we respond to this amazing gift.  It is up to us to choose how we share this gift with others.

Sitting here in worship, the Easter glow of last Sunday still lingering, that choice seems obvious. Of course we choose resurrection!  Of course we choose new life!  But, the choice is not always that obvious.  Choosing resurrection means choosing love for all … even our enemies.  It means receiving God’s love us, even when we feel unworthy.  It means sitting at the table with those we can’t stand.  It means trusting that we are the material and that God will use us.

Jonathan Chapman, a pastor acquaintance of mine, said that he preached his shortest sermon ever last week on Easter. It was a grand total of 158 words.  Here’s part of what he said, "Some years are harder than others. They’re years you just can’t wait to be done with—years you are glad to never see again. Maybe it’s the year you lost a loved one or faced an unimaginable tragedy or just didn’t know what to do. Maybe it’s the year you felt buried in the tomb. Maybe you didn’t have a year like that. But maybe you have. So today, for those you who’ve had that year, I offer my shortest and truest sermon about the Resurrection: It worked. Praise God. It worked then. It works now. And it will work for you."

I guess sometimes you don’t need more than 158 words. The resurrection worked. It worked then. It works now. And it will work for you. I would add one thing, though. It works, but it isn’t easy. It works, but we need to choose it. We need to practice it. We need to do the hard work that makes resurrection a reality not only in our lives, but in the lives of others as well. And then, let us share. Let us testify to the Good News of the resurrection. Christ is risen … he is risen indeed!

Let us pray. This is a prayer from the Iona community.

“Lord Jesus, here are your disciples – your wounded hands and feet in the world today are ours. At times we have been the frightened ones, staying at a distance, worried about our safety or our reputations. But you come close to us, bringing peace and challenge, unlocking our potential and setting us free.

At times we have been the doubting ones, when creeds conflict or certainty has evaded us. But you come close and allow us to speak our minds, accepting us and setting us free.

At times we have been the confused ones, feeling far from you with questions that don’t have answers. So, in the evening of your resurrection we listen for your voice.

The risen Christ says to us: ‘Peace be with you. As God has sent me, so I am sending you.’

Through our fear, through our doubt, through our confusion, may we continue Jesus’ work as we travel many roads, liberated and united by the love of the resurrected one. Amen.”[ii]

 [i] Practicing Resurrection, by Nora Gallagher, pp. 133-134.

[ii] Stages on the Way, by Wild Goose Worship Group, pp. 198-199.