7 Easter A—5/28/17
Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10,32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11
Pr. Scott Kramer
It’s already been over six months since the election but in some parts of the country you might think we are still in campaign season! Driving through rural Washington recently I’ve seen huge signs still in place on barns and fences: “Make America Great Again.”
We live in anxious times, and once anxiety takes hold of human hearts it’s not easy to let go! As those campaign signs and billboards demonstrate, the anxiety doesn’t go away–even when we get what we want!–because we haven’t come to grips with the deepest root of our anxiety. Instructions from our second reading, therefore, are welcome words for our time: Cast all your anxiety on Jesus, because he cares for you.
Today is the last Sunday in the Easter season and we’ve come full circle. The stories from today’s readings are a retelling of the Easter stories we heard seven weeks ago, only this time we hear the stories in new ways…with different outcomes!
We know from experience that whatever difficulties we face in life, our anxiety can be lessened by the knowledge that others share our experience—including the stories of other people in other times and other places. We are not the first and we are not alone. We are in good company, as for example our second reading puts it, “for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.”
The anxious human impulses of today are the same as followers of Jesus faced two thousand years ago. Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? In other words, “Jesus, take away my anxiety. Make Israel great again!”
Today, as two thousand years ago, anxiety can make our lives small. Anxiety can take so much energy that we end up with room in our hearts mostly for “me and mine…my people, my group.” I’m reminded by the scene from the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus found his disciples asleep, as the gospel writer puts it, “worn out by their grief.” Anxiety can make us spiritually asleep and worn out. And yet, to the extent that we can cast our anxiety on Christ, we will experience expanded hearts and minds with room for much more than “me and mine!”
But just because anxiety keeps our hearts fearful and small once doesn’t mean it always has to be that way! Ours is a God of endless second chances. In our story from Acts, for example, Jesus’ disciples gather in an upper room, just as they had after his death on that first Easter. But this time, instead of cowering in fear behind locked doors, Luke reports that they “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer”—and check it out!—this time with “certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” No more are the disciples alone! Their circle has expanded. There is room at the table, and room in their hearts, for more.
The power of the risen Christ, the power of the Easter Jesus, is the power to free us from our anxieties for the good work of fulfilling our human purpose on Earth: to serve the world God so loves.
Our anxieties can lead us to look for God’s activity in the places we think God should be rather than where God actually is powerfully at work. Remember the Easter story we heard seven weeks ago, when the disciples arrived at the tomb, looking for Jesus? In Luke’s account of the resurrection, do you remember the words of the two mysterious strangers who met them at the tomb? Why are you looking for the living among the dead? This story is told again in our reading from Acts. After Jesus disappears from among his disciples, two mysterious strangers again appear and ask, Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? It’s the same question!
Here is a problem that faces God’s people in all times and places: Anxious Christians tend to be distracted Christians: Distracted from the good work that God has given us to do here and now, in this place, in this life, in this time.
Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? It’s a very anxious question! And, it was a familiar expectation among God’s people. Everybody in Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be the protector and savior of their nation. But listen to how small this vision of national greatness is compared to what Jesus describes: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
God’s love does not settle for a town or a nation, a race or a religion. God’s love will settle for nothing less than the salvation of the world–and I’m not talking about the life to come! You and I are the ones who have “received power” to give the world a glimpse of God’s grand vision which, as we will hear next week, is fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost among all tribes and all nations and all cultures and all languages.
The world gets a glimpse of God’s grand vision when Christians renounce hate, when Christians build bridges of trust and understanding among different religions, when we welcome the stranger from abroad as well as the stranger down the street, when we refuse to be drawn in by voices that judge people by their sexuality or skin color or language or economic circumstances.
Over the past weeks we have heard the stories of Easter, when Jesus shows up at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways–so much so that not even his closest friends recognize him. Our human anxiety can get the best of us, too. We settle for small visions, such as “making America great again,” and are surprised when nothing changes, or even seems to get worse! When the vision is too small, anxiety not only remains; it escalates.
And yet, the Good News of Jesus Christ is that the Easter story happens not once but again and again and again, in all times and in all places, including our own! Ours is a God of endless second chances. God’s own people can at any time cast all our anxiety on Christ. We can at any time, regardless of past choices and priorities, get on board with God’s grand vision for the world and all creation, with new stories and different outcomes!
Cast all your anxiety on Christ, because he cares for you. In the stories of our faith, and in the stories of our lives, wherever loves overcomes anxiety, there is the risen Christ!