Presiding bishop preaches in Walnut Creek, California
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached the following sermon on April 7 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walnut Creek, California, for the church’s 125th anniversary.
St. Paul’s, Walnut Creek, CA
7 April 2013
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
I’ve been having browser problems for the last couple of weeks. I haven’t been able to find videos that Episcopal News Service has been posting. The link works, but no video box comes up on the story page. When I asked the communications crew a couple of days ago, they basically said it was news to them and they’d see what they could find out. One of our IT guys told me it was likely Internet Explorer 10, and I downloaded it again, even though it had been updated regularly. That didn’t solve the problem – I could find the videos on other browsers, but not that one. Then overnight our IT genius figured it out – I had to change the compatibility view setting. Bottom line – I’d been told there was something to see, and I was pretty sure it was there, but I couldn’t get there or see it with the tools I was using. I needed different lenses, another way to see.
That’s Thomas’ problem. His friends have told him this amazing story about their dead friend and teacher showing up, but he can’t believe it. He just can’t get there without using his own eyes and fingers.
We’ve all got compatibility view problems – because most of us can’t see things we simply can’t imagine, and we can’t find things we don’t know are there. All the questions and doubts about resurrection come from those of us who haven’t had experience of it – or don’t know or remember that we have. That’s why we’re here this morning – to remember and reconnect with the miraculous good news of resurrection, and the knowledge that God is always doing something new, and bringing new life out of what we think is dead and buried.
Thomas is often called the doubter, but his name means “the twin.” He’s our twin, for we all have those same uncertainties, we all want to touch and feel the warm body, we want to know that we’re loved in the flesh, by God’s own self, and by all that is loving and life-giving in the world around us. If we’re honest with ourselves, we all hunger for that certainty, in small ways and bigger ones, nearly every day of our lives.
The good news is that the warm body is here, all around us. The body of Christ is here in this very place, this morning, and it’s gotten in through doors and back doors, and even moving buildings, and it’s been doing it around here for 125 years.
Years ago I was driving down the street in a city in Oregon, and saw a sign on top of a church that said, “He arose.” And I thought, “well, that’s nice, but what does it have to do with today? It’s not just past tense! Christ IS risen!” Yes, the resurrection of Jesus was a signal turning point in history some 2000 years ago – AND the ongoing resurrection of the Body of Christ is still happening every moment of every day! The hope in this place is a sign of it, and I think most of us can see it and touch it. Go ahead and try. Take a look – might your neighbor be a visible sign of resurrection? Do you know something about this person’s wounds? Can you touch a warm and risen hand? Reach out and see. Yes, we know there is resurrection here: Alleluia! Christ is risen!
For some of us, it’s easier to see that resurrection in familiar surroundings like this. The question is whether we can take the same eyes, browsers, and search engines out into the world and discover resurrection there. Often, it helps to reframe our looking, to begin to see the church present everywhere. You take the risen body with you – each one of us does. The community called St. Paul’s is doing that – in mission work in Honduras and through Kairos in prisons, in the Trinity Center and even your Valentine Tea. This body of Christ has done a lot to transcend compatibility view problems and learned to see the possibility of resurrection in many different contexts, and you’re helping others to discover God at work in ways they’ve never imagined. You are often the warm body offering love to those who think they’re all alone in a world that doesn’t care. You are becoming the risen, resurrected body of Christ at Trinity Center, in A Place Where People Know My Name. What an amazing way to proclaim the act of befriending the homeless! We’re all homeless until we find a place where we are known by name. That claim to be an encounter of being known and loved is just as true when you gather here, as when you strike up a conversation in the grocery store or at the BART station.
The way we act in the world gives flesh to what we believe and it demonstrates where and what we give our hearts to. Jesus’ friends struggled with doubts, too, and not just Thomas. The book of Acts tells some of their stories, and the one we heard this morning, about conflict with the city authorities, is a timely example. Peter and the others have been thrown in jail for public activism – we might even think about them as political discussions about what their city should look like! But an angel has opened the door and let them out. They’ve gone back to giving their speeches. The authorities want them hauled before the city council, because they’re afraid of bigger demonstrations, and losing their own positions – of authority. They don’t want to be held responsible for anybody’s death. We have to remember that this story is told at a time when the Jesus movement is becoming distinct from the mainstream of Judaism, and there is a whole lot of conflict going on. There is a lot of blame-casting in the pieces of scripture written at this time, and some of it tries to pin the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jewish community. It’s particularly inappropriate because the Romans were the executioners, not the religious leaders.
Peter says that he and his band listen to and obey God, rather than human authority. This time he doesn’t chicken out when he’s asked for public testimony. He’s quite clear about his relationship with this Jesus, who’s been raised from the dead. Peter says something very interesting: God exalted him as Leader and Savior so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. Peter calls Jesus “leader and savior” in contrast to these earthly leaders and rulers who are missing the point all over the place. The word for leader can also mean originator or source – and here it means source of life, and of faith. It echoes all the I AM sayings of Jesus in John’s gospel – I am the bread of life, the vine, the good shepherd, living water. Above all it’s a reminder that Jesus is warm-bodied evidence of the name God offers Moses, I AM WHO I AM. That’s who Peter and his group do their best to listen to, and Peter goes on to say, we’re witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit who is given to those who obey God. Obeying fundamentally means listening. Peter and his band of friends are becoming who they listen to, as the breath of God inspires them. The repentance that the risen Jesus produces in Israel – and it means God’s holy people – is a returning to relationship with God – it is a movement toward abundant, resurrected life and hope.
That’s another kind of compatibility view – repentance means giving up the lenses or browsers that don’t offer life or new vision, and turning toward the source and leader of abundant life. Alleluia! Christ is risen, right here!