When I first started thinking about Sunday’s sermons, my initial thought was “oh good…another ‘Jesus appears to his disciples after the resurrection’ story…I’ll just reiterate what I said last week”. But, as always, God has a better plan in mind. And so as I was reading the 1st letter of John, I was moved in a different direction.
When I took Biblical Greek courses, we did all of our translations out of 1 John. Because you’re so focused on vocabulary and grammar, and making sure you get all the words in the right order, sometimes you miss out on what the content of the texts is. I remember doing the translation for Sunday many years ago (3:1-7), but the words had new meaning to me today.
My favorite line from this particular text is “see what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God”. I am so moved by this idea that love is given and we are called. To me, this is the essence of what being a people of the resurrection, a people of Easter, is all about. This letter was originally written to a group of “new” Christians…everyday folks struggling with their Christian identity. And in this letter they are reminded that they have a life in community which calls them to seek solidarity, forgiveness and peace with one another. Yes, they had independence and autonomy, but they lived as a village might. What affected one affected all in some way. We don’t really live like this anymore. What we grow in our gardens doesn’t necessarily keep the family and neighbors from going hungry. The books we read or the songs we listen to aren’t necessarily the same as everyone else. And that’s okay. But when it really matters…when someone has taken ill or died…we come together in solidarity and peace. When a new baby is born in our community…we come together in love and joy. When someone is struggling and feels the world closing in…we come together in prayer. We do these things because of the love we have been given and because we are called.
But that’s how we relate to one another. What happens when it’s a “stranger” or someone from “outside”? Are we able to extend that same solidarity, peace, love and joy? How do we pray for and with a “stranger”?
Last Sunday night, we had the World Awareness Dinner. We divided ourselves up into 1st, 2nd and 3rd worlds and ate food representative of those cultures. I would venture to say that people in the 3rd world group were less than excited about having Mark cater a meal of rice, while others had salmon. After the dinner, we came together to process the experience, learn about the lives and struggles of people different from ourselves, and then talked about ERD as a means by which to be in solidarity with those who struggle with various oppressions. The lesson was not just about raising awareness, but also to remember that all of us are loved and are called children of God.
In his book Search for Common Ground, Howard Thurman wrote that God is the giver of forgiveness and mercy, and God offers each of us shalom—that deep peace, well-being, hope, compassion and love—that we are then to extend to one another.
It is that shalom that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus remind us of. When Jesus is among us and offers us peace, extends a hand in compassion, or shares a meal with us, it is in shalom. Shalom—the love that is given and calls us. Shalom—the presence of the risen Christ. Shalom—the opening up and awareness of each other as children of God. Shalom.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.