Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
Story of Moving to Indianapolis
- Moved from DC in 1999 – for my work
- Don literally cried – leaving a sophisticated east coast city for what seemed to be a simple, rather bland place
- Found a house in a beautiful neighborhood – lots of yard for Don to garden in
- Most of the neighbors were Republicans – didn’t think we’d want to have much of anything to do with them
- Over the years we developed great friendships there (we knew to avoid politics!)
- The people of that neighborhood were its greatest asset
- What’s more, Indy turned out to be a great place – just right for us at that time
- Gave us many gifts, including career changes for both of us that were absolutely life-giving
- Our original perceptions weren’t right – we learned that the place and the people were not what we thought.
Today’s readings are all about perceptions – how we understand the world around us. When Jesus appears after his resurrection in this story from Luke’s gospel, the disciples are “startled and terrified,” because they believe they are seeing a ghost. Jesus reassures them that he is real, in much the same way he proved himself in last week’s parallel story from John: He shows them his wounds, and urges them to touch him. As if that weren’t enough, he asks for something to eat; and in eating he proves that he must be real flesh and blood.
Clearly it took a lot to get the disciples to change their preconceived notion. That makes sense; perceptions are easy to set, but not easy to change.
In the reading from Acts, we also hear Peter addressing the issue of perception. Peter is addressing a crowd that has witnessed a miracle—a crippled man has been healed. While the crowd tries to attribute the healing to Peter and John, Peter tells them they have it all wrong. He reminds them that they heal through the power of Jesus, and that they have not understood who Jesus was.
Peter rehearses the story of the consequences of this misperception, the crucifixion. He then points out that it is the faith of the crippled man that makes him able to walk—it is his ability to embrace Jesus as Christ that has brought this miracle. Perception is what has caused him to walk.
The epistle lesson from the first letter of John also delves into issues of perception. In fact, this entire book – or actually, letter – was written to counter a major misperception about who Jesus is. Scholars believe it was written in Ephesus somewhere between 95 and 110 C.E. It was written to counter docetism, the heresy that Jesus did not come “in the flesh,” but only as a spirit.[i]
In this period a couple of generations after Christ’s time on earth, there were many who wanted to challenge the conventional ideas about who Jesus was. In the passage we read today, the writer says that “the world,” that is, those who are not believers in Christ, does not understand that we are Children of Christ because they don’t know who Christ is. Jesus is misunderstood, so, of course, we his followers will be misunderstood too.
That certainly holds true today, don’t you think? There are times when I find myself almost embarrassed to be identified as a Christian because of misperceptions about us.
There are many times when I wear my collar in public that people give me looks that make me wonder who they think I am, or what they think about our religion. Do you ever feel like you have to justify why you are a Christian – why you go to church?
Of course, this is a real change from years gone by. In the world in which may of us grew up, going to church was expected; you assumed that everyone went to church, unless you learned otherwise.
But today it seems that going to church is countercultural. We are the exception, rather than the rule. And that can be hard. Most of us want to fit in; we don’t want to be seen as outside of the norm.
One theologian, Ronald Cole-Turner, says this: “We are odd…[and] the source of our oddness is the love of God that makes us into God’s children. Knowing that we are loved by such a love, confessing it and consenting to it, we agree to be made different, to let ourselves enter a process of transformation that uproots us from our natural identity and reconfigures the fundamental definitions of our lives.”[ii]
Further, the reading reminds us that we take on this identity as God’s children in an act of faith—without really knowing fully what it means. Look at verse 2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” Even as the world misperceives who we are, most of us don’t really know what it means to be a part of this faith community either; we don’t really know what it means to follow Christ.
Most of us become Christians, I think, because we know that we need an example to live our lives by, and because we have been captivated by the promises that God puts before us through the life of Christ. We don’t really know what being a Christian will do for us, or even if it will do anything for us. What we know is that we need loving community; and we need the promise that there are good forces in the world that we can tap into. We need a moral compass, and we need support. These are some of the most important things that God promises us in the fellowship of Christ.
I remember particularly a workshop I presented once when I worked for Episcopal Charities, the charitable arm of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Two of the presenters in that workshop were volunteers from the community ministry at St. Bart’s Church in midtown Manhattan: Melvin and Brenda. What made Melvin and Brenda so interesting is that they both began as clients of the ministry; Melvin came when he was homeless, and Brenda came when she was unemployed. They spoke in the workshop to tell us how important it had become in their lives to be volunteers at St. Bart’s—to be givers, and not just recipients.
In particular, they told us about St. Bart’s Saturday morning Coffee Hour, run by their homeless clients. The members of the congregation are invited not to work in the program, but instead to simply come and enjoy a cup of coffee with their homeless brothers and sisters. The Coffee Hour creates an opportunity for conversation between people who don’t usually talk.
The homeless people gain the validation of being seen as people who matter, whose story is worth hearing; congregation members learn that those down on their luck are more like them than not—that their perceptions of the homeless are more than likely wrong. And they get a chance to be caring, to acknowledge the frail, beautiful humanity of another—one who so needs that recognition.
These kinds of opportunities help us to really see who others are—and to begin to glimpse what is promised through owning our own identity as children of God. We begin to see Christ in others, and we begin to see how Christ can shine through us.
What did we do to deserve from God such a gift as this identity? Nothing. Cole-Turner says this: “The love of God, John tells us, makes us nothing less than the children of God. We do not always act that way or think that way. We do not look like God’s children—not yet, at least. But the truth comes before the appearance.
We are God’s children now, John tells us, because God has claimed us for that relationship. Never mind that we do not yet appear to be God’s children. Never mind that we have more changes to undergo. As God’s children, we do not appear until Jesus appears. When he comes, we become visible, radiating outwardly the truth that till then is hidden. Only then are we fully, purely, and completely like him.”[iii]
Our job as Christians is to be on the lifelong journey to understand who Jesus is and the power of a life lived after his example. We are called to constantly examine our own view of the world and to try to make our view a bit more like his. And above all, we are called to embrace our identity as children of God. That’s the reality that God has placed in us. God sees it; can you? Can you perceive that you are beloved, that you are an image of God walking?
The challenge before us is to live into the identity that God has given us—to own who we have become through the gift of Christ.
In this me-first world, filled with self-indulgent consumerism and 24-hour televised self-help, it is easiest to believe the message that bombards us, that what we are is not enough. It’s simple not to have regard for the self.
But God has claimed us; we aren’t what Madison Avenue and society would try to convince us. We have to change our own perceptions. We have to live as children of God. And if we can live that truth, if we can let our outward self reflect what is at the core of our being, there’s no telling what that we will do for the world. Amen.
[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Epistle_of_John, accessed 4/21/12.
[ii] Cole-Turner, Ronald. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Volume 2, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), pp. 418, 420.
[iii] Ibid, p. 420.