Did you see the rainbows this past week? Winter and spring in this part of the world are especially good for viewing rainbows. The picture of a full rainbow on your bulletin, taken from our front yard, doesn’t begin to do it justice! Did you see rainbows this week? Or, did you just see rain.
But if you didn’t see the rainbows it might have been because you were inside, glued to the TV. It was another week marked by death and violence. Seems like a common thing these days, doesn’t it? It’s not just names like Aurora, Sandy Hook, and Boston. We can wake up to local tragedies, such as the drunk driver who recently plowed into a family, killing two.
If there’s a silver lining to this violence in our own land it may be the opportunity to enter more deeply into compassion for God’s people around the globe. War, violence and destruction are part of the normal, everyday experience for many, if not most of the world’s people.
On the other hand, rainbows and other miracles of God’s creation are everywhere, too! They don’t disappear just because of war or terrorism or violence. On this Sunday before Earth Day we give thanks for the wonder of God’s creation, which is not only our home and source of our life, but an endless source of beauty, wonder, and joy.
If this is the reality of human life on our planet, what do we do with it? If, on the one hand, life is full of danger, death and violence, and on the other hand, beauty, wonder and joy, what do disciples of Jesus Christ do with that? More importantly, what difference does being a Christian make to how we experience our short time on earth? Or, as Jesus puts it in today’s reading from John, what does it mean for the sheep to follow the shepherd?
Today’s first reading is a snapshot of what life was like for ordinary people of the early Church. A member of the community had died. Dorcas was her name. It’s clear that she had been loved, at least in part for her good works in the community and acts of charity. We’re given glimpses of careful preparation of the woman’s body and the grieving of her friends. And then, a miracle happens: Peter shows up, commands her to get up, and the woman is restored to life!
In this short story we’re given a choice: Do we choose to focus on death and loss, or, do we choose to see possibilities for life, for hope, for salvation, even for the miracle of resurrection—not in some future life but now? We don’t have control over many of the circumstances of our lives, but one thing we do have control over is our perspective.
There’s more to the story of the rainbow on your bulletin cover. This photo was taken on April 15th, which many of us associate with…tax day! And tax day is not a favorite of many. But what our society calls tax day others call birthday. A very special birthday, in fact. On that day, our young Julia turned four years old! And, standing in just the right place, having just the right perspective, I saw the right side of that rainbow planted in her yard!
Now, think of that. Here’s a family that lives with a situation not all that different from the people who show up in the story that is today’s first reading. They’re grappling with questions of life and death. On the one hand, it’s so “everyday.” Life and death happen all the time, all around us. Over the fence I often hear the sounds of laughter and joy. The family who lives at the end of that rainbow is making choices similar to what we find in today’s reading: looking for signs of hope, signs of new life. Looking for miracles—maybe even praying for the wisdom to see unexpected miracles that we hadn’t even thought to pray for.
We miss the point of the story of Dorcas’ resurrection if we think of it as some unlikely story from 2000 years ago that doesn’t have anything to do with the real world we live in. It has everything to do with our experience because it’s about choosing how we will see the world, choosing how we will live. The Easter story is about a community choosing to see hope and possibility where there was none—and, astonished by the miracles they discover.
The story from Acts, is about ordinary people just leading their lives. That’s the close-up view. The big picture is that these ordinary people live with the threat of violence and death every day, far more than we do even in our violent society. Christians were no friend of the Roman Empire. They were persecuted, imprisoned and killed. And yet, in the story of Dorcas we find people who choose to focus on hope, and life, and possibilities for new life.
The same is true for John, the author of the Book of Revelation. Hunted down by the Roman Empire, John nevertheless writes down a vision he has while in exile. The overwhelming threat of death and destruction are all around him, and yet, listen to the language of today’s second reading: it’s full of praise, hope and joy! John chooses a different perspective.
But embracing hope and new life is often not easy. There’s much to distract us to what’s negative. For example, think about how you spent your week. Were you glued to your TV? How’s that working for you? Are you feeling more upbeat, hopeful, joyful? Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. If we invest a lot of time and energy in the latest sensational news before we know it we may become disciples of Fox News or CNN. If things turn out the way we want we may experience a bit of peace…until the next tragedy happens.
But Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” Do we follow the news, or do we follow the Good News? Do we follow the herd, or do we follow the Good Shepherd? Clearly, the community of Dorcas, in the midst of suffering and grief, had found a way to follow the Good Shepherd. In the ordinary circumstances of everyday life they grieved with those who grieved, rejoiced with those who rejoiced, and used their God-given gifts to comfort, to serve, and empower one another and people in need.
I’ve found this example to be helpful in my own life. When I’m tempted to become weighed down and distracted by my own worries and concerns I’ve found several choices to be helpful in returning my focus to following the Good Shepherd. One is service to people in need. At her death, the grieving community of Dorcas turned to service. Peter, especially, looked for opportunities to restore hope and to empower the community through service.
The other practice that has worked for me is encouraging and supporting young people. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. We are enormously blessed every week by the faith, laughter and energy of young people in our church. Their spirits are a good match for the hopefulness we find in the stories of God’s Word. I find that when I try to help and encourage young people I’m less worried, less distracted. I’m the one who is blessed!
Who knows what the news headlines will be tomorrow? Who knows what violence, what disaster, what tragedy? In the midst of it all each of us has the power to choose our perspective. We get to choose who we will follow. We who are the sheep of the Good Shepherd are invited to listen closely for his voice. We are called and privileged to be God’s ambassadors to the world, calling attention to miracles in the midst of ordinary life, hope in the midst of despair. Where others see only rain we find rainbows, where others see only tragedy, danger and death, we proclaim through thought, word and deed the power of resurrection, and signs everywhere…of new life! AMEN