Sermon; Easter 4A, Acts 2:42-47 (and others)
Things have changed. And things are changing before our eyes. How we do community is changing. How we do church is changing. How we do outreach is changing. In some respects we are in a place reminiscent of the disciples after the resurrection: locked behind closed doors, grieving, scared, and wondering what tomorrow will bring.
It was then that Jesus appeared and said, “Do not be afraid. Peace be with you.”
In the clergy meeting last week we talked a lot about fear, courage, and peace. There are a lot of definitions and examples for those three words, some of which I'll put forth here.
Fear, rational or irrational, can paralyze us. It can keep us from acting. But it can also motivate and drive us to action. It can move us forward. If the fear of the unknown outweighs the fear of the present threat, we will remain in that locked room. But if the fear of the present threat outweighs the fear of the unknown, we will act and move forward.
Courage has many definitions. Confucius said, “To see the right and not do it is cowardice.” Napoleon said, “It takes more courage to suffer than to die.” Rollo May said, “Courage is not the absence of despair; it is, rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. said, “Have the courage to act instead of react.” And there are many other quotes about courage that have to do with fortitude, standing up to the wrong, and other aspects of life.
It is now that Jesus appears to us and says, “Do not be afraid. Peace be with you.”
Jesus appeared to the disciples in that locked room, and in other places, and said those words. The disciples were grieving and afraid. Everything they had known was under siege and in the middle of being changed. But the realization came to them that if they stayed in that locked room everything they had done over the past three years would be for naught. So, with courage, they confronted their fears, stepped out of the house, and began proclaiming the good news of God in Christ.
And in their stepping out, in putting their fears aside, in finding the courage, they also began to understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Peace be with you.”
Like fear and courage, there are many definitions for peace. In the disciples' context, and in our context today, peace is not an absence of conflict. It is, rather, a sense of calm in the midst of trouble.
They were in the midst of trouble and Jesus was telling them to be at peace. How, you may ask, was this possible?
I remember hearing an interview with Mike Post, the man who wrote the theme song for Hill Street Blues. And in that interview I remember him saying that when he watched the opening trailer – that first scene of police cars scrambling out of the station with lights on as they sped toward a “robbery in progress” – he was filled with a sense of peace, and that led him to write the calm theme song that became famous. There are times when we are in the midst of chaos and are surrounded by peace.
I have experienced times on a football field when a call is made and it seems like the whole stadium is coming unglued. The crew gets together to talk things over, and in the midst of the screams and chaos, there is a sense of peace in that huddle. Maybe you've had a similar experience.
The disciples were in such a time. We are in such a time. It seems as if chaos reigns. It seems as if all hell is breaking loose. As it was then, so it is now, that we need the peace of Christ to envelope us and calm us.
This is the peace that allowed Jesus to remain silent before his accusers. This is the peace that filled Jesus with the knowledge of where real power resided. This is the peace that allowed the psalmist to write, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.” This is the peace that allowed, and allows, the disciples and us to do good and great things in difficult times.
Those first followers of Christ found themselves in new and and difficult circumstances. But there were a few constants in their new environment. The lesson from Acts tells us that they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, and to the breaking of bread and prayers. They would distribute financial proceeds to those in need. They broke bread at home and ate with glad and generous hearts. Even in these difficult times those are things we can do.
We can devote ourselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship. We are looking at how to start small groups for book or Bible studies, or other things that might be helpful. Fellowship doesn't necessarily have to be in person, so we are also looking for ways to connect virtually. For instance, the J2A group meets every Sunday for game night and every Thursday for “Zoompline” (online Compline). We've begun streaming the service earlier so you all have time to chat and catch up, and we're letting it run longer for the same reason.
We are obviously missing being a part of Holy Communion and our table fellowship. But could we work to have virtual table fellowship with others? What if we invited others to join us for a virtual dinner party? We wouldn't be sharing the same meal, but we would be sharing over a meal.
And how is our prayer life? This would be a good time for us to explore the BCP. For the most part, we aren't going anywhere, so have you thought about praying the Daily Offices, or any of the other wonderful prayers to be found in that great resource? Keeping up on our prayer lives is absolutely critical right now.
All of this brings me to the mission of Saint John's. The mission of Saint John's is to Worship, Welcome, Serve, and Encourage. That mission might be more important now than ever before. That mission won't change, it can't change, because of current circumstances, but we may change how we accomplish that mission. Let us not fear the unknown future more than we fear losing what once was. Let us have the courage to view these changes as opportunities to move forward in how we Worship the Lord, in how we Welcome people to be part of this branch of the Jesus movement, in how we Serve those in need, and in how we Encourage others.
In all of these things we may experience some fear, and that's okay. Doing these things will require courage. But in all these things – living in the current crisis, continuing to be the Church, trying new things – let us walk in the peace of Christ. Let us be comforted by him who suffered for us. And let us not despair that the world is changing while hiding behind locked doors, but let us fear no evil, let us live with generous hearts, and let us have the courage to live in peace.