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Alleluia. Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed, alleluia.
My Aunt Becky’s a writer. She’s published a number of Christian Romance novels.
She’s been starting a blog. A recent post came to my mind as I studied our text from Acts.
My aunt reflected on how we don’t always know how things in life will work out, but how God works all things for good. God carries us, even though tragedy, to a better future. She used the refrain “because of this…” to trace life’s ups and downs into the joys she’s experienced.
I think of God’s action not as God making good things happen or bad things happen in order to get us to do a certain thing, but more about encountering God through the joys and struggles of life. God is with us in all things, the Spirit works within us to recognize God in our daily lives, and we discover more about who God is and what God intends for us as we encounter the world through prayer, the lens of Bible and tradition, and the community of faith.
In this Easter season, we get the opportunity to follow the book of Acts and see God working a path forward for the disciples and the early church. We listen to their stories so that we can become more aware of how God is calling us forward into a new future, shaped and directed by the transforming power of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Jesus was killed and he was raised to life.
Because of this, his disciples were confused, afraid, and in awe. They stepped back into the ordinary things of their lives, like Peter’s fishing, in order to make sense of their world being shaken. Then Jesus meets them, on the shore, in a locked room, wherever they are stuck, to show them his real body, scarred, but resurrected. When he leaves them, he does not leave them alone, but sends his Holy Spirit.
Because of this, they are empowered. They preach and heal. The Spirit works within the listeners. The Church is born. Thousands of people are baptized into the new community that follows Jesus.
Because of this, the religious establishment, the powerful institution, feels threatened. Some of those within it believe Jesus is evil, and those who follow him must be stopped before his story leads good people away from the true faith.
Because of this, a man named Saul approves of and presides over the violent killings of those who follow Jesus. He gets authority from the religious establishment, so that he can go into their local worshipping communities and search out those leading people astray by teaching about Jesus. He has the power to arrest them, so as to root out the cancer of Christians.
On his way, Jesus Christ meets him. “Why do you persecute me?” Jesus asks, speaking in the powerful voice of God.
Because of this, Saul’s understanding of who Jesus is dramatically changes. In this encounter, and in those that follow, God changes Saul.
When Saul meets Jesus on the road, it’s in a blinding light. Saul emerges with a changed purpose and limited abilities. He cannot see. He doesn’t really know what to do next, Jesus just told him to wait until he hears from him again.
Because of this, he has to rely on others. He has to trust they are who they say they are. He has to put his life on hold, because he’s not continuing on the path towards attacking Jesus’ followers, but he doesn’t know yet what Jesus has in mind for him. It’s not the best position to be in. He’s already made a lot of enemies, especially among those who follow Christ, with whom he now wants to learn and pray.
There’s a man name Ananias who’s a follower of Jesus. His name is on the list in Paul’s bag, the one giving Saul power to arrest and kill false teachers. He knows Paul is coming after him, breathing threats and murder. Then Jesus appears to him in a vision, telling him to go to Saul. They have a little back and forth- Ananias isn’t so sure God’s in the know about who this Saul guy is- and what a bad guy he is, but eventually, Ananias goes.
Because of this, Ananias walks up to the person who meant to harm him and calls him brother. Saul is welcomed into the Christian community with baptism. Saul becomes Paul, one of the most influential apostles, bringing word about Jesus to people all over the region, writing letters that still define God and faith for believers today.
Peter, Paul, Ananias, all their lives were shifted into new directions because of the work God was doing through Jesus Christ. They might not have ever imagined they’d end up with the adventures and priorities they did because of Jesus. Who could have guessed God would enter into creation? Who could have guessed God would not only become incarnate, but would die? Who could have guessed that for Jesus, death would not be the end? Or that because of Jesus, death is not the end for us, either?
As you live into Easter, take some time to reflect on your life’s path. How are encounters with God nudging and shifting you closer to God’s desire for your life? How is the death and resurrection of Jesus changing your life?
Let’s begin with the experiences I hope you share:
God has claimed you as God’s own child, most loved, a sibling to Jesus, connected to all those whom God loves, in the water and promise of baptism.
You’ve been welcomed into a community where we worship and serve, learn and celebrate.
Jesus has invited you and made you worthy to sit and eat at his table, so that in bread and wine you would receive into your body his own life giving body and blood.
The Spirit has come into your life to bring you to Jesus and gift you with all you need to do his work in the world. God loves you unconditionally and forever.
Jesus has died and been raised to give his life so that you would have life. God has a new future planned for all of creation, in which death is not the end and pain is no more.
So… because of this?
Because of this, all God has done for us, what matters changes. We don’t have to be afraid of the future- of the church, of our lives. The scope of our purpose is broadened beyond the individual and the present moment. No longer do we live for ourselves only, but we live for Jesus and in living for Jesus, we live for our neighbor and our work and our life does not end with our death.
Because of this, the scales over our eyes that have built up from years of living according to the self-centered vision of this world begin to fall away. We begin to see with God’s sight, focused not on what we can gain to build up ourselves, but how God is including us into God’s great redemptive work of bringing hope, healing, and joy to all creation.
Because of this, the meal we are about to serve and enjoy is not about impressing our neighbors, earning a specific dollar amount, or breaking record attendance, but is an experience of the kingdom of God, in which each person works together for the sake of a shared celebration of all God has given us.
Because of this, people we once condemned or feared have become our beloved family. God pushes us into relationships with people we might not otherwise choose to share community with, and even in the midst of challenge, we discover the joy of growing in trust and love within the richness of a diverse community.
Take some time this week to write, share, or pray about your own encounters with God and the ways God has been working in your own life.
How are you being shifted into a way of being that is ever more closely aligned with God’s intentions for you?
How is God showing love and hope to you through the community that walks with you through life’s adventures?
We are being transformed. It can be scary, it can be uncomfortable. It’s God’s work, and God will accomplish it. If we take anything from Saul’s story, and Ananias’ story, and Peter’s story- if we learn anything about God from Jesus’ death and resurrection- it’s that God works life-changing, boundary shattering good even when we least expect it. Welcome change is coming.
Alleluia. Christ is Risen.
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