Sunday, May 1, 2016
Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
As we continue through the few remaining days of this Easter season, someone asked: “What do we do now that Jesus is risen?” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 475). How do we respond to such a transformative event?
In our reading from The Acts of the Apostles we see the consequence of one response. This morning and throughout the month of May, our readings will offer a variety of accounts of people whose lives were transformed by that event. Each story will help us to see the ways in which the power of Easter gave “rise to a sense of mission” that gave birth the early church and continues to this day. (Preaching Through the Christian Year, Year C, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 254).
We seem to forget that the Easter faith we share was born out of Judaism. Jesus was a Jew. Although the early disciples and apostles came to believe that he was the Messiah for themselves, they quickly came to realize that the good news of the resurrection was to be proclaimed to all peoples and nations. That proclamation was to become the mission of the church.
Our inclination is to suppose that the mission of the church is determined by our own efforts. It is true that we must do our part. But it is also true that “it is God who guides all things and works in and through all things not just for good but for what would otherwise be impossible.” (Ibid., page 476)
We must be open to the presence of the Spirit in our lives and in our world. Our reading from The Gospel According to John reminds us of what Jesus said to the early disciples as they struggled to deal with his impending death: “The Holy Spirit whom God will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:27)
It is a reminder for us as well today. Doing our part and relying upon God’s grace to open our hearts to the Spirit’s presence is at the core of our response to the good news that “Christ is risen!” There is no better example of that response than the story of the Macedonian call that comes to us in our reading from The Acts of the Apostles.
The Apostle Paul is making his way to the northwest through Asia Minor. It is his intention to move westward through Asia. But Paul and those traveling with him are guided northward to Troas.
It is there that Paul has a vision of a man pleading for him to “Come over to Macedonia (modern-day Greece) and help us.” (Acts 16:9) It is a startling and dramatic event that signals the mission is now destined for Europe.
The good news of Easter moves out of places familiar to Paul into what is essentially a Gentile setting. “The Jewish community was neither large nor strong in Philippi,” but the community was visible enough that a woman named Lydia was drawn to Judaism and open to listening to Paul. (Op. cit.)
Our reading tells us that she was someone who was dealer of purple cloth, an extravagant textile only the wealthy could afford. She was a woman of means and highly regarded. Our reading also tells us that she was also “a worshipper of God.” (Acts 16:14)
On the Sabbath day Paul and his companions went outside the gates of the city of Philippi by the river to pray. There they gathered and spoke with the women who were there including Lydia. (Acts 16:13)
“When Lydia hears the gospel, she becomes the first Christian in Europe.” (Feasting on the Word, Worship Companion, Year C, Volume 1, Long, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2012, page 169) Her faith is decisive. Her witness is immediate. She opens her heart. She and her household are baptized and as a consequence of her conversion, she offers her home in hospitality to Paul and his companions. In time she and her family will become a part of the church in Philippi.
What are we to make of Lydia? Her story is like the story of other women who respond to the good news of Easter. Like her, others including Rhoda, Tabitha, Eunice and Priscilla also become a vital part of the early church.
Everything about Lydia defies all of our expectations. “She is a businesswoman of no small stature and is in charge of her own household . . . she is in full command of her property. She does not depend on a man to confer her status. She is financially independent.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 476).
But perhaps more importantly Lydia has a vision of what God is doing. People, like Lydia, who were once separated by social, economic and religious barriers are brought together into an unlikely community of believers.
So it is with the church today. While the world we live in continues to build walls, the promise of Easter is that walls that divide will be broken down. Whoever we are, whatever our station in life, wherever we may be from – here in this place - we are family to each other.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul writes: “So Jesus came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to God. So then (we) are no longer strangers and aliens, but ... citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is jointed together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you are also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (Ephesians 2:17-22)
Many years ago the theme of our annual lūʻau was “Maluna o kēia pōhaku” or “Upon this rock.” The phrase comes from Peter who when questioned by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” responds “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)
It is upon that rock, upon Peter’s affirmation of faith that the church was established. (Matthew 16:18) A look at the exterior walls of this church reveals that the foundation of this building was built upon many rocks.
The physical structure of this building is one thing. If we also look at ourselves, we realize that we are also the pōhaku or foundation of this church. Together – whoever we are, whatever our station in life, wherever we may be from – we have been built together spiritual as a dwelling place for God.
Let us pray: Holy Spirit, enliven in us a faith and witness like Lydia’s. As we gather beside the sea here in Mākena, may our faith be deepened through prayer. May we rise to action in service of the good news of the Risen Christ. Amen.