Keeping Radical Company with the Risen One
The Rev. Dr. Andrew R. Guffey
5 Easter: May 19, 2019
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
In the name of the Living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + AMEN.
We seem to find ourselves back at Maundy Thursday. Did you notice? The Gospel appointed for today is also the heart of the Gospel read on Maundy Thursday: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I know many of you were unable to make it to Maundy Thursday, so just to brush up a bit: that’s the Thursday before Easter, when we wash each other’s feet as a sign of this new commandment, this novum mandatum, to love one another.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are two basic themes that keep winding their way through my homilies, especially in Eastertide. First, Jesus is actually alive. Second, our watchword is love. I keep returning to both of these themes not because I don’t have anything else to say, but because these really are the bedrock of our faith and life together. Because these are the two things that make Christian faith so radical. And it is radical.
I imagine many of you have heard the author Annie Dillard’s take on church. She asks:
“Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”
People love to quote that crash helmets line. Now, Dillard was writing in 1982. Maybe her diagnosis was a bit more fair then than it is now. I think we’re all a little more worried in church than we were then. But perhaps not for the right reasons. Our principle worry shouldn’t be that the church might close or that the young people will not come. Our principle worry should be about what happens when we realize God is actually here, that Jesus is actually alive, that we are actually commanded to love on another. That should scare the be-Jeezus out of us, or maybe rather it should scare the be-Jeezus into us.
Because that is, in fact, the situation we are in. I keep coming back to these two themes—Jesus is alive, and love—because they are the two pillars of this radical thing called church.
We frequently talk in this Diocese about being an inclusive church, a welcoming church, a church where everyone is welcome. I think that is all well and good, but it doesn’t mean much if we don’t know what we’re saying. It doesn’t mean much if we don’t understand why we are inclusive and welcoming. It doesn’t mean much to welcome someone to church if we don’t know what we are welcoming people to.
Let’s look for a moment at the story of Peter from Acts 11. This is the story of Peter baptizing Gentiles. Gentiles, people! How dare he?! This is not done: that’s like eating devilled eggs without paprika or eating pineapple on pizza—ok, ok, we have denominational differences over that one, so let’s get more serious—that’s like having women priests and bishops or consecrating same-sex unions! It is not done! But Peter did. Why? Because Peter was listening to God—granted, God had to get ahold of him by the extraordinary measure of a dream vision. But nevertheless, Peter saw the work of the Spirit, the work of the living Christ in the hearts of those who were there, and he said, “who was I that I could hinder God?” Granted, Peter resisted: that’s the whole point of his dream. Peter, eat these foods. No, Lord, I can’t, it’s not clean, it’s not right, it’s not what Scripture says. But just as Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, so God is Lord of the Scriptures: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” In other words, you best strap on your crash helmet, Peter, and lash yourself to the pew; it’s about to go off!
Peter had a choice to make. He could have balked—no, not me, I don’t want to be the radical. Get me off this ride right now, please! But that’s not what he did. He said yes. He said yes to where God was leading, yes to what God was doing, yes to the people God loved, even though he didn’t understand it. He said yes to love, yes to the living Christ. So he strapped on the crash helmet, and said, “Giddyup!”
And friends, that’s the choice we have, too. Are we willing to follow where Jesus is leading us? Because after all, this community called into existence by the Triune God—by God the Author, in God the Only-Begotten, through God the Holy Gift—is not just our community. In fact, it’s not really ours at all. It is the society of those who keep company with the living Christ. Jesus is not trapped in history or in the pages of our Scriptures. These point to the living Christ, but he is not trapped in them. And if we are willing to follow that Jesus wherever he leads, are we ready to keep company with a lot of people we might not choose to keep company with otherwise? Are we ready for, as Dillard says, “The waking God [to] draw us to where we can never return”?
Maybe, if we just knew where we were headed? Sure, we could be willing to be a little radical if we just knew where God is leading us? Then, let’s look where God is leading us. Let’s listen to the promise: “‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”
Let all God’s people say,
 From Teaching a Stone to Talk.