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Third Sunday of Easter, Cycle B
April 22, 2012
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9
1 John 2:1-5
Newsweek magazine has run another cover in a series of covers close to Easter that challenge the Church and our traditional understanding of our faith in Christ.
This year the article is by Andrew Sullivan and is entitled, “Christianity in Crisis.” Mr. Sullivan’s motivation is very sincere, and he is struggling with the same issue that has given Christians across the centuries pause.
How do we live the gospel of Jesus with full integrity, and what have we laid upon the gospel that is more about us than about resurrection faith?
Yet like many of those who have addressed this question, the Christ and Christianity he proposes would focus on the moral teaching of Jesus at the expense of the real source of that moral teaching - Christ himself who suffered, died, was buried, and rose on the third day.
His argument is that the radicality of Christianity relies upon the substance of the teaching of Christ, rather than on the one who is the teacher. The gospel we hear from Luke is the response to this argument.
From burning hearts in worship to missionary zeal in service is the dynamic that characterizes chapter 24 of Luke’s gospel.
The disciples of Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem to relay the account of what “happened to them on the way.” Immediately the disciples go through a similar dynamic in the upper room as Jesus appears to them, deals with and corrects their misunderstanding by reference to his teaching and scripture, and then missions them to the whole world.
What is it that motivates such a radical change in the disciples? Is it that they finally understand Jesus’ teaching?
No, the dynamic that transforms the disciples is the resurrection of Jesus itself.
Jesus was not a ghost. The resurrection was not a fortification of Jesus’ message in their hearts as the content of resurrection faith.
This was not the general resurrection that they had expected as the inauguration of the Messianic age.
God had done a new thing in Jesus. He was really, physically there, but he was also radically changed.
He inaugurates in his own person what God wants to do for the whole world. The dynamic of the resurrection is not something optional to the radical teaching of Christianity. It is its very heart.
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Children bring surprises we dare not squander
I was walking my dog on the beach recently one evening when I found myself behind a young family.
A mother, father and two school-age children, a boy and a girl, they were heading back to their car after what looked like a long day on the beach.
The parents were loaded down with damp towels and beach chairs. Still wet from swimming, the children were exploring the beach as the parents trudged across the sand.
At the edge of the dunes, the daughter called to the rest of the family: “I found a jellyfish!”
Her brother dashed over. The mother yelled, “Don’t touch it!” Both parents, tired from the long day, deviated from their path to the car, and walked toward their children.
While clearly not as excited as the children, they were willing to delay their departure to have a look at their daughter’s discovery.
Observing this family on the beach, I was struck by how this family’s experience was so typical of life with young children.
Children call their parents to deviate from their planned route. The routines of everyday life are never the same once children enter our homes and our hearts.
Even when parents are exhausted and bound for rest, they are often taken out of their way — however briefly — to another path.
Children bring surprises. Whether profoundly simple — a jellyfish on the beach — or simply profound — abiding love — the surprises children bring to our lives offer us a deeper awareness of our blessings. How we view those surprises makes all the difference.
Those parents on the beach could have scolded their daughter for venturing from the path.
They could have refused to go out of their way to see her discovery.
They could have called her back to them. But instead, tired as they were, they trudged the extra steps to the dunes to see what she wanted to share with them.
That simple act, honoring her discovery, spoke volumes about their willingness to engage in their children’s world and the parents’ awareness of what really matters.
Of course, parents and grandparents are only human, and we don’t always respond to children’s surprises with enthusiasm and grace.
And children don’t always bring surprises we should honor with our time and attention. However, for the most part, being parents and grandparents provides us opportunities we dare not squander.
Unless we adopt the attitude and enthusiasm of the young, we adults can become consumed by routines and habits that diminish rather than enhance our lives.
We stop really seeing the world. We become too comfortable with mediocrity. We become too focused on seeking comfort over adventure. We choose the familiar over surprises because familiarity feels as if it’s within our control.
Familiarity feels safe, predictable.
Children force us to step outside of our comfort zones. Whether their surprises are pleasant or not so pleasant, our children and grandchildren teach us that life isn’t predictable.
Our God is a God of surprises. And resurrection is the greatest surprise of all.
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Weeds among the flowers
My husband and I were pulling the crop of weeds that had taken over the flower beds around our house when a jogger stopped by to warn us that we’ll never get rid of them all.
“Those roots reach all the way to hell” was her parting comment.
We all had a good laugh about it, but last week when I was re-working the ground, preparing to plant the flowers I had purchased; the woman’s remark came to mind. As I dug deeper, I discovered roots that I thought I had gotten rid of.
Running my fingers through the ground, great clumps of dead roots surfaced, but this time they came out with little resistance, making the task feel more like play than work.
Earlier weeding had been time well spent. The tilled soil was now ready for the newly purchased flowers. Yes, it’s all about the preparation and the same can be said of the faith journey.
Following Easter, we begin to see the apostles’ faith slowly come to life, but only because Jesus had done the prep work in advance of his passion and death.
Though all but John scattered when he was arrested, Jesus’ Resurrection drew them together. Slowly fear and confusion were being replaced with wonder and hope.
For three years Jesus had been tilling the soil of their souls, but weeds of fear, pride and selfishness have roots that seem to reach all the way to hell. Unfortunately, they surface when we least expect them.
Even Jesus’ rising from the dead did not eradicate the roots of the human condition, and so Jesus continued tilling the soil of their souls by appearing to them, even inviting Thomas to touch his hands and side.
Again, important prep work in advance of the coming of the Holy Spirit. These weeks after Easter play an important role in the faith development of the early disciples, and hopefully in ours as well.
Seeds of faith that had been planted during the months and years that we have been walking with Jesus are still at risk of being choked by weeds that were mowed down, but whose roots had not been removed.
All this reminds us that there are no short cuts in the faith journey. Prep work is an important part of the process because just when we think that the garden is free of weeds, they spring up reminding us that God is not finished with us yet, nor can we rest on our laurels.
As believers we are tempted to breathe a collective sigh of relief when Lent is over and Easter Sunday breaks through the clouds of darkness. Yet, amid joyful strains of Alleluia and the celebratory tone of the season, we could be at risk if we grow complacent and neglect our interior garden.
Wouldn’t it be a shame if the seeds the Lord planted in our hearts during the season of Lent were overcome by weeds during this joyful season?
Now I’m not suggesting that we continue our Lenten practices into the Easter season, but it helps to remember that the good work God has begun in us is in preparation for what is to come.
We are being groomed to bloom where we are planted, and the possibilities are endless. However, like the apostles who still thought Jesus’ Resurrection meant he would establish an earthly kingdom, we don’t always get it right. Weeds that seem to spring up overnight can overtake hearts that are less than vigilant and so we can take a lesson from nature.
Gardens play a prominent role in Scripture. Our genesis was in the Garden of Eden.
Jesus commended his life to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane and He appeared to Mary Magdalene disguised as a gardener outside the tomb from which he had risen.
And then, there are parables about wheat and weeds, the mustard seed and the vine and the branches.
During the month of April, gardens provide a timely analogy. Even as farmers prepare their fields for planting, the burst of color from spring flowers reminds us of the cycle of life and the splendor of God.
With evidence of new life everywhere, springtime is fertile ground for renewed hope.
While it’s not my intention to rain on anyone’s parade, keep in mind that rain is a necessary element if our garden is to thrive. The problem is rain also makes the weeds grow.
It reminds me of the story of the monk in charge of the abbey garden who was very proud of his work. One day the abbot reminded him that the garden was after all God’s garden, to which the monk replied, “Well that may be true, but you didn’t see it when I let God take care of it.”
Like the abbey garden, the spiritual life is a partnership between the human and divine. God provides the grace for us to do the work and that includes tilling the soil, weeding, and watering the seeds that God plants so that we can indeed bloom where we are planted.
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