The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Sixth Sunday of Easter
I name my childhood Easter memories: “One and Done.” First, we’d wake up Easter morning and go see if the bunny is risen; breakfast followed; off to church we’d go, standing room only; back home for the Easter meal. When leftovers were placed in the fridge, Easter was done. Next Sunday at church – done, no Easter flowers, music, or filled pews. Easter was a one day – or less – event. Even though in the Episcopal Church we have a 50-day season, Easter Day is still the main event. Easter season is the stepchild. Actually Easter is a year-long experience, a secret we keep well hidden. Each Sunday is a celebration of the risen Lord.
I think decline in church experience re-enforces a limited understanding of Easter. Some people believe, “Jesus died. God raises Jesus. I believe what I’m told, so that when I die I’ll go to heaven to be with Jesus.” Check the belief box, you’re covered. Now go have fun. How sad – Easter is more than a belief, moment or a day. It’s a movement of God intersecting this world with unconditional love. Easter continues until that day God fully brings a new creation, replacing the old broken one. As someone once said, “The miracle is that Jesus is well known 2000 years later, but Rome and its Emperors are a footnote to history.” Today millions, living witnesses, will gather to worship and serve God, because Jesus is raised from the dead.
For the 6th Sunday of Easter, being the clever person I am, I have come up with an acronym of the day. Today is A.T.M. Sunday. No, we’re not installing a machine in the Narthex to improve giving opportunities – though it’s a thought. Attentive, Teachable, and Motivated, ATM, a path to draw us into the new thing God is doing in light of Jesus’ resurrection.
Here’s what that looks like. Acts records a vision that comes to Paul. He’s attentive enough to realize the origin is more than a passing thought, or caused by heartburn from the Jambalaya last evening. Paying attention to what he thinks is a vision a friend calls the other day to ask my opinion. He sees himself retiring from his church on his 65th birthday next year. Is this of God, or have I rubbed off on him?
Do you ever wonder how God gets our attention? When I quiet my mind, be still, prayerful, listen with heart and imagination open, I am more likely to notice God. God continually tries to be noticed. We get distracted and miss it. Easter requires attentiveness to the new God is up to. Paul is attentive enough to discern how God now embraces some unlikely people and places. That same divine presence calls us to be witnesses to the risen Lord in our lives. Easter is more than a story, a day or a season. Easter happens all around us. And God uses more than visions to get our attention.
Teachable – Paul learns this strange vision is a call into God’s new reality. He isn’t given a blueprint or specific directions, just a vision. It’s a call from beyond – the work of the Advocate, the Spirit Jesus sends. Paul could have resisted. What if another vision appeared: “Mama wouldn’t like this.” Or his priest who said, “Never associate with a foul Gentile – makes you unclean. It’s in the Torah. God won’t like this.” Competing visions? We have a moment when what gets our attention calls us to discern and decide. Is this God’s call? Paul’s vision puts him at odds with his faith tradition. Following Jesus can sometimes do the same for us. Both when Jesus knocks him to the ground, and recruits the most improbable Jew for his mission, Paul pays attention. Are you attentive to God’s tap on your shoulder – are you teachable enough to discern what to do? This is the God of Easter, and what it can look when Christ is raised into our lives.
Motivated – are we motivated to take action, or do we sometimes stumble – “No, that leads to trouble” – and walk away. Maybe that’s what’s needed in that moment. Life would be easier if Paul played within the rules. He’s doing what he was taught is wrong. Paul and company cross the Aegean Sea for Macedonia – Gentile territory; Philippi – a city lacking enough Jews to have a synagogue. They worship in an outdoor prayer chapel. Women show up, not men. Lydia, who could have been a winner on “Shark Tank” and “The Apprentice” – a well-to-do business woman listens to all Paul says. The Advocate’s already been teaching a Gentile. She and her household get baptized that day. Miracles of Easter – of God’s Spirit at work, unleashed again. What if Paul had been motivated more by his past? Paul seems to be at peace as his world rearranges. God dwells within, as Jesus promises, in our good times and bad – peace that renders evil, fear and death powerless – not a peace the world can give. Jesus leaves his peace with us, not to make us at ease, but to motivate us – to extend God’s reign to all, especially to those the church universal is yet to love and welcome. Easter is more than an empty tomb. It’s an ongoing story of God loving and reaching for all through people like us.
For God’s sake don’t repeat this story I am about to tell you. Two families had grown up together, one Jewish, the other Christian. They celebrate holidays and Holy Days together, kids learning to sing “Dreidel, Dreidel,” and “Silent Night.” Both families attend a post-funeral Committal Service with a Eucharist. Down the side aisle I spot the Jewish mother, coming to stand at the end of the line to receive Communion. My mind is racing, “What do I do?” I quietly ask her if she knows what this means. “Yes.” I say, “I don’t want to violate your beliefs and faith.” “Yes?” “Do you understand this is the Body of Christ you receive?” She looked into my face, and smiled: “Yes. We both worship the same God.” What Would Jesus Do? I could be wrong – I felt a peace. Sometimes through the most unlikely people the Advocate teaches everything.
I won’t tell you the rest of the story. Suffice it to say, I really mean it when I announce at the Altar, “It is Christ himself who invites us to meet him here.” Then I try and get out of his way.