Preacher: The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia
The Water of Resurrection
So here it the real power of Easter. All the good and wondrous things that Jesus did throughout his life and his ministry were made even greater in his resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection after his death at the hands of the most powerful empire in the world meant that, once and for all, those with eyes of faith can see that truly nothing can stop the power of God’s love. In his resurrection, Jesus showed us that our human life, that those we love, the way that we love, and the way we live are important and that, even though the ways of the “real world” would seem to be destined to ‘win’ that isn’t true for those who know the way –for those follow Jesus, the good shepherd. Because even though the talking heads around us all seem to be willing to tell us what to do, how we should do it, and what will happen if we don’t, it is Jesus who willingly lays down is life for us.
All the above is true –and yet I am well aware that it probably doesn’t sound too convincing. Unfortunately, a lot of our religious language today sounds like platitude The Good Shepherd, for example, is a wonderful image that we’ve tried to tame to a fairy tale with cute and surprisingly clean sheep and a handsome, non-ethnic Jesus who smiles beatifically but does little else. We as a people of faith have been using the same words to describe the miracle of a resurrected life for a very long time and have ended up milquetoast. Others, starting with much the same words and images, find very different meanings within them. And their voices are often much louder. So while I may say, for example, “Jesus Christ died to save sinners.” Full stop. They may say, “Jesus Christ died to save sinners if first they do this or they do that—or if they haven’t done this or that…or else, the subtext is, Jesus didn’t die to save them. And so, fellow Christians, we have a serious PR problem – especially with young people from ages 18-30. As you may have read in Friday’s Seattle Times, Washingtonians are less religious than ever which the Gallup poll links to the number of young people making Washington their home. So while we hear some good news in a Pew Research Report analyzing the “feeling thermometer” of Americans towards religion in 2017 with people across all age groups are feeling more warmly towards religions in general than in 2014. With our country’s youth, I am going to give you some statistics here –mainline Protestants share their 59 percent approval rating with Atheists and Evangelicals and lag far behind the 66 percent approval rating for Buddhists, 64 percent approval for Hindus and Catholics and 62 percent approval rating for our Jewish brothers and sisters.
I get that numbers aren’t everything. I am thankful; too, that all religion are being seen more warmly, with previously unfairly maligned groups gaining the most percentage in good will. But I am sad, too, that our Good News seemingly hasn’t been heard by so many of our youth and that many of them equate Christianity so closely with politics that it is hard for them to see and hear the Good News in and amongst all the “Fake News.” And I can’t help but think that we haven’t been good witnesses—we haven’t been good disciples.
In today’s reading from Acts, we read of Peter and John who were jailed for preaching the resurrection of the dead through Jesus Christ. We are told that “…many who heard their message believed; so the number… who believed grew to about five thousand….The next day when the Jewish leaders had made them stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” And we are told: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” Now that is what witness looks like.
Now I know some might make the assumption that when I say,” This is what witness looks like,” I am referring either to the numbers of folks converted. Peter and John were definitely growing the Church numbers. Apostles 5000. Devil Zero. Or folks might assume that I am referring to the bravery shown by Peter and John who continue to witness to the resurrection even as they are held in custody. And, indeed they were brave. But, actually I am talking about how Peter and John stayed centered in their belief in Jesus Christ in the midst of all that they were doing and experiencing. And that even as their lives were being threatened and told that they could no longer preach, teach or heal in Jesus’ name, they replied: “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
We cannot help but speak about what we have seen and heard. That is what witness looks like.
In a commencement speech given at Kenyon College, the late David Foster Wallace began his speech with a story that went like this: There are these two young fish swimming along and they happened to meet an older fish swimming the other way who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is the water?” Wallace assures his listeners that he is not there to explain the water to the “younger fish” He writes, “ I am not the wise old fish.” But he goes on to say the immediate point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. He also admits that this observation is “just a banal platitude – but he stresses “the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life-or-death importance.” One of the platitudes that he believes the commencement speech at liberal arts colleges must contain is that students there are being “taught how to think.” And, yes, he says he knows how just how platitudinous that sounds, but he suggests that what being taught to think” really means is being given the choice of what to think about. He invites his listeners to “Think about fish and water, and to bracket, for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.”
That is what is being discussed in the letter of John, one of the readings assigned for today. The things we feel, think, say, and do everyday, while they might seem banal, are important. And while we may not always remember it, they are made possible to us because we live in our little bubble, or little submarine, of grace. John writes: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him…. And he continues “And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.” We know that he abides in us by the Spirit that he has given us.
When John talks about abiding, or living within, God he is talking about the water through which the fish in Wallace’s story swim. He is also talking about the ministry of Peter and John and how their witness is based on their belief, their teaching of and their lifting up the fact that all that they are, have, and do is given to them by God through Jesus Christ. The power of their witness is that they, like the old fish, recognize the water or the grace through which they live, move and have their being. And in the resurrection life, as John’s letter reminds us, through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are given the Spirit to help us discern what is important. We are not just taught how to think but are given the freedom to truly think for ourselves and to view ourselves through the lens of a loving God. And that freedom to choose, the freedom to see God’s grace working in the world around us has the power to profoundly change our lives. It also can lead us to truly witness to God’s work in our lives not because we think we “should,” which is not a place out of which we are inspired to share our faith, but out of a place of excitement and joy where we can’t imagine not telling someone. So, we like Peter and John find ourselves moved to say, ““We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
I like to think about how things might change for our young people if good and joyful Christians came to the forefront and began to truly witness to God’s love. If we, filled with the Spirit, talked about Jesus Christ, both the real human first-century Jewish man, and the one who walks with us even today. What the Pew Report shows us is that the world is looking to us and to other faiths as they see where the secular values and culture of condemnation and judgment can lead. We are being given an opportunity to speak out with our voices and our lives. We are being called to re-invigorate our efforts to “feed the sheep” – real living and breathing sheep and proclaim Jesus Christ died to save sinners exclamation point –every single one.
Christians we have been inculcated with an idea that sharing our faith is onerous or uncouth or something done by ‘other’ strange people. We are not only aware of our PR problem but seem to have internalized it. But we are all swimming in the water; we abide in and are surrounded by God’s love. And we are asked only to tell about what we experience. We ask, “Friends how’s the water?” And when they ask us what is the water? We give them something to drink. We give them something to eat.