Today is the fourth Sunday after Easter. Three Sundays ago we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! As Christians, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus because it represents God’s power over all things but more importantly over the ultimate fearful event in all life, namely death. Death has the capacity to silence voices, to scare us, to cause confusion and throw us for a loop. But resurrection diffuses death’s power and eliminates its sting (1 Cor. 15). In the resurrection, we encounter a power that is stronger than any wounding force! This power is seen in the ministry of the Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha, it is seen in Jesus’ ministry, in the ministry of the apostles, and in the churches’ life in missions and other ministries.
In spite of the Easter celebrations however, the month of April here in the USA is also known for decades for horrific events:
- The bombing in Oklahoma City that killed one hundred sixty-eight children and adults.
- The Columbine High School shooting resulting in deaths of 15 persons.
- The shooting death of 32 students at Virginia Tech.
This April 2013 continued the trend when some people planted bombs along the route of the Boston Marathon. The explosions killed at least three people and wounded more than 133. Among the dead was an eight-year-old boy. The event in Boston and the subsequent lock down of the city and terror felt in the entire nation reminds us of the need for a shepherd; one who has the capacity to deliver us and walk with us through life’s darkest valleys.
Psalm 23 is fitting here this morning. In this psalm we hear a song of trust from someone who might have experienced God’s deliverance. The psalmist expresses confidence and fearlessness even while go through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23:4). The psalmist praises God as a good shepherd who meets the needs of the flock in the same way God met the needs of the Israelites in the wilderness (Neh 9:21). In our experiences we may feel like we are passing through the darkest valley but with him we shall fear no evil for he will keep us from wondering off into danger. God not only protects and keeps us from danger; God is also a generous host who invites us to a meal even before our enemies.
We started by talking about the resurrection power being unleashed in the world through God’s people. A wonderful illustration of the resurrection power comes from (Acts 9:36-43). In this passage we meet a little community in Joppa, near the Mediterranean Sea. In this community, one of the disciples, a woman named Tabitha (or Dorcas, in Greek) gazelle got sick and died. Dorcas was devoted to the Lord and served the needy in her community. The community was devastated and sought help from Peter. In the face of death, the community in Joppa took action. First, they tended to Tabitha’s body – an act of care, as was the custom. The widows who had been ministered to by Dorcas mourned for her. Jesus said blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Unlike the community in Joppa, not every church can summon an apostle with the power to raise the dead.
But we must not loose sight that Peter’s role in this story is a witness to resurrection power, which I believe we can relate to. Have you seen a devastated neighborhood restored by acts of generosity and kindness? Justice served in the face of injustice, hopeless people given hope and voiceless people given a voice. All around us are realities in need of the resurrection power of Jesus. Like members of Tabitha’s community, we can tell true stories of violence, poverty, ignorance, disease and death.
When we do so, we give voice to the voiceless and break death’s power to separate us and drive us to individualism. Like the community in Joppa, we can tell the stories of those who have died in hopes of the resurrection power. We can gather to mourn together for the devastation around the world. We must not be silent or silenced in the face of the injustice and death; death from greed, obsession with violence, rugged individualism, etc. We are people of the resurrection and we declare all around the world that death will not overcome! This is the call of the church to bear witness and embody the resurrection power both here at home and around the world and particular, in places where the church is weak or non-existent. Note that at the end of this text, Peter stays in a tanner’s house, an unclean environment and it was there that the call for him to cross more cultural boundaries came when he was called to go to the house Cornelius. Let us go forth as a people on a mission to proclaim and embody God’s resurrection power to all people and to God’s creation!
Preached at Kinzer Mennonite Church April 21, 2013