Sunday, April 7
Second Sunday of Easter
O God, you raised up Jesus Christ as your faithful witness and the first-born of the dead. By your Holy Spirit, help us to witness to him so that those who have not yet seen may come to believe in him who is, and was, and is to come. Amen.
When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him."
All Readings For This Sunday
Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150
1. What questions do you have, post-Easter?
2. What makes discipleship attractive to you? What makes it costly?
3. How do you respond to challenges to your faith?
4. What is the good news that you share as a follower of Jesus?
5. What steps are you taking in this Easter season to help the earth to heal from the damage that has been done?
Reflection by Professor Maria Teresa Dávila
Andover Newton Theological School
The readings for the Sundays following Easter Sunday always seem to me to be something of a let down. After the long journey of Lent, the dramatic unfolding of the narratives of Holy Week, beginning with Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, through the climactic events of the trial, execution, and resurrection of Jesus, I am a bit disappointed to read in subsequent Sundays that there are more questions than actual answers in Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, more challenge to the disciples than vindication for having followed and been faithful to Jesus' message, more loss and disunity depending on the different interpretations of what Jesus' rising from death means than the sense of hope and gain that should have overwhelmed them upon hearing from the women that they had found the tomb empty. Take, for example, the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Their deep sense of loss and grief after Jesus' death so overwhelms them that they cannot even recognize the risen Lord as he joined them on the road. It was only in the breaking of the bread, that radical act of table hospitality, that they are able to open their eyes and see Jesus in their midst, only to lose him again.
The psalms paired with these weeks' readings invite rejoicing and exalting God's majesty and goodness, with phrases such as "Praise God for God's mighty deeds; praise God according to God's surpassing greatness!" (Psalm 150). Now, this is more like it! "The LORD is God, and God has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar." (Psalm 118) Yes! These psalms much more accurately reflect the emotions that should mark the Easter season for the faithful--rejoicing paired with ever-lasting praise for the most wondrous miracle yet, our hope over the specter of death witnessed to by the risen Christ.
Therefore, the scene in the Gospel of John with the apostles in the upper room, scared, barely clinging to each other for comfort, lost without their beloved teacher, comes as a bit of a shock to me. The shock doesn't come from how alien the scene may appear to me. Rather, the shock comes from the realization that the disciples were human beings, and in fact the scene is very typical of my own responses of doubt, loss, skepticism, and fear in the face of the monumental task of living into the Kin-dom. As the mother of four young children, I find the task of being a faithful steward of creation a monumental one: teaching my children about love for and care of the natural world, and, most especially, leading our household in living a simpler life and consuming less and more wisely for the sake of the human family and the environment often sees me paralyzed like the disciples were in the upper room before encountering the risen Christ.
The hidden costs of consumption
We live in a society that up to very recently promoted reckless consumption as a means of stimulating the economy. After the horrific events of September 11, our political leaders encouraged consumption as a way to resume "life as usual" and show the world we had not been defeated by this act of terrorism. Every Christmas season the stores await the throngs of shoppers to see exactly how they will manage to make a profit, especially after the economic crash of 2008. In this kind of social and cultural context, it becomes very difficult, almost isolating, to go against the current and attempt to raise a family in the ways of care for the environment and simple living. Stewardship of the earth, in our current social context, is a counter-cultural, almost rebellious action against the market forces that see consumption as the only fuel to propel an economy that rarely if ever stops to consider the real costs it bears on the environment and on those who first suffer the effects of environmental degradation. Whether by industrial smog and waste, dumping on waterways, or poor working conditions that expose farmers, workers, and eventually consumers to toxic chemicals used to increase production, ALL members of our global family are paying a high price for a level of production and consumption that stopped being sustainable years ago.
Perhaps the reading in Acts presents a more accurate reflection on the risks of being counter-cultural. We find the disciples of Jesus preaching and living according to what they have been taught. We know that in fact these two actions in tandem--the preaching and intentional living of the early communities--were the reason that so many were attracted to this fledgling movement initially. We hear in this reading the following exchange between the authorities, who have (apparently once again) brought the disciples in for questioning on their subversive and counter-cultural activities:
"When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, 'We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us.' But Peter and the apostles answered, 'We must obey God rather than any human authority'" (5:27-29).
The cost of discipleship
Clearly the enthusiasm, witness, and everyday life of the disciples and their followers are an affront to the authorities, their way of life, business as usual. The disciples seem to be inviting alternatives in living and being in community that do not sustain the power structures of the time. As a response they declare the line attributed to Peter here: "We must obey God rather than any human authority." I often wish I had Peter's fortitude when I speak to my children about why we ask our guests not to bring any presents to our birthday parties or our Christmas parties. To my children, who are now realizing that not everyone lives under the same family traditions (for example, our "no gift" policy), this seems terribly counter-cultural. Worse yet, they understand that this and other earth-practices that we follow (such as composting, gardening, using every ounce of any product in the house before recycling its container, only buying natural and organic toiletries, re-using the backs of paper to turn in assignments) put them outside the norm. Following earth-friendly practices in the home can mean and has meant to them some sense of loss, exclusion from the dominant culture, and labeling by others, not unlike the apostles in the upper room, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and the early Christians in Acts.
These stories, then, serve as a mirror of the real human experience of making a real and significant choice to follow one's principles and being faithful stewards of creation and loving our neighbor. They very realistically describe the sometimes challenging sense of loss, isolation, and exclusion that can come when individuals, families and communities take significant measures for the environment that run counter to political, economic and socio-cultural "common sense." You need only think back to the discussions that may have ensued in your own churches when making decisions for the environment, perhaps some costly ones, when it was time to replace a heating system, a copy machine, or getting a sanitation permit to go from Styrofoam cups for the coffee hour to ceramic re-usable mugs. For some people making these changes seems utterly unconventional, challenging the very structures and foundations for our life in community.
What does God want us to do?
But Peter's words are helpful in addressing my sense of loneliness and isolation: I must obey God rather than any human authority. Further in this exchange we receive another gift or grace in understanding how we are to pursue these counter-cultural earth-friendly practices: "And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey [God]" (v. 32). It is through the power of the Spirit that we can stand firm and move along the path of faithfully transforming our churches, our offices, our schools, and our homes to places of environmental concern and stewardship in solidarity with the earth and all the human family. The Gospel reading from John also promises the presence of the Spirit to accompany us in the many challenges of life in community. The Spirit calls us into communities gathered by covenant to work together through these challenges, correct each other in loving embrace, learn together about projects and efforts which are new to us, and that may feel too different and too challenging to pursue.
The stories for today, including that of Thomas, the disciple who was lovingly welcomed by the risen Christ to come close and believe, do not end with the phrase, "and mistakes were never made because they were perfect in every way." Rather, we are faced with the real and very human face of the life of the communities after the resurrection, real lives experiencing loss, isolation, fear, and hopelessness. It is in the midst of these very negative feelings that is the hardest to proclaim resurrection--for the earth, for our communities, for our fledgling families trying to honor God's creation. And yet we move on in the embrace of the Alpha and the Omega, in the knowledge that we are within God's plan of redemption that includes all of history, all the times. We are then called to live as people of hope, for the earth, for each other, and for the human family, in this time, making mistakes, being truly human, faithful in the Spirit.
Our guest writer this week for Mission 4/1 Earth
Dr. Maria Teresa Dávila, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Theological School, is a lay woman in the Roman Catholic tradition. She completed her doctorate at Boston College with a dissertation titled A Liberation Ethic for the One Third World: The Preferential Option for the Poor and Challenges to Middle-Class Christianity in the United States. She received her Bachelors degree from Brown University and her Master in Theological Studies at the Boston University School of Theology. Her main interests are the intersections of class identity formation and Christian ethics in the U.S. context. Her research looks for the intersection of these issues with respect to the relationship of class and militarism, and class and immigration.
For further reflection
Mahatma Gandhi, 20th century
"Earth provides enough to satisfy every one's needs, but not every one's greed."
Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 19th century American poet
"There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul."
Lillian Carter, 20th century
"I don't think about risks much. I just do what I want to do. If you gotta go, you gotta go."
Joan of Arc, 15th century national heroine of France
"Get up tomorrow early in the morning, and earlier than you did today, and do the best that you can. Always stay near me, for tomorrow I will have much to do and more than I ever had...."
Harvey Fierstein, 21st century
"If you deny yourself commitment, what can you do with your life?"
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Sunday, April 7