Our first scripture for today is from the New Testament book entitled Acts of the Apostles. The book of Acts is a companion piece to the Gospel of Luke, continuing Luke’s story of the revelation of God in Christ.
Remember what this revelation is all about: God has in Jesus Christ accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. The revelation of Jesus Christ is not just about ideas or feelings or metaphors, but that a living, divine person, the one, true God has out of love for his creation, become a man.
The Gospel of Luke presents the experience of this revelation by those who knew God in Christ personally and the book of Acts continues this testimony by presenting how God in Christ, who revealed himself in a real, human body, now reveals himself in a different way- Christ reveals himself in the Church.
In other words, the revelation of Jesus Christ hasn’t just disappeared into the past, into history, but continues now in the Church.
The Church is not just an institution, a non profit corporation, an ethnic identity, but the Church is the extension of the revelation of Jesus Christ in the here and now, in the present and in the future.
This morning’s excerpt from Acts of the Apostles testifies to signs of Christ’s continued revelation in the Church and these signs are evident in the manner in which Christians live, in their unique way of life.
And there is the lesson: The mission of a Christian is to live in such a way that the revelation of Jesus Christ is evident and not obscured. Seeing us, the world should come to know Christ. Is this actually the case? Do we know the Lord Jesus well enough to manifest his life and presence to the world? Remember, being a Christian is not like being a member of a club or political party, but being a Christian is the way of life that emerges from being in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Are we so caught up in the institutional expressions of the Church that we rarely, if ever, manifest the living Christ? Do we reduce the Church’s way of life to a private matter, never allowing the public character of being a disciple of Jesus Christ to emerge?
Are we a bridge to Christ or a blockade? Do we attract or do we repel? Do we encourage or discourage? Are we disciples or merely playing a game with religion?
If the world does not see in us what is described this morning in the Acts of the Apostles, then we have our answers to these questions.
The second scripture for today is from the First Letter of John.
The testimony of the First Letter of John insists that our identity as disciples of Jesus is not just a matter of mind or emotions, but of concrete practices- of keeping the commandments. In this way we reveal the sincerity of our claim to be a Christian.
The commandments of God are not merely interesting suggestions, but expressions of the Christian way of life. The commandments are best appropriated and understood, not simply by enshrining them in monuments or reverencing them as legal texts, but in practicing them, by doing them.
It is through living as a Christian, practicing the commandments, that world comes to know the meaning and purpose of Christ’s revelation. Seeing our unique way of life, practiced in the commandments, reveals who the Lord Jesus is and why his revelation is so important.
And so, if as Christians, we pay only lip service to God’s commandments, testifying to their value but not accepting their demands and practicing them as a way of life, we look to the world to be liars and we obscure the revelation of Christ.
Our identity as Christians is imparted not merely by birth or by culture. Nor is our identity as Christians expressed because our papers are in order or because we matriculated through faith-based institutions. Our identity as Christians is manifested in our way of life, and that way is not self directed or self determined, but it is expressed in whether (or not) we practice the commandments of God.
Finally, the Gospel of John presents one of the most compelling accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Remember, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a metaphor or a symbol, it is a startling event that happened, not in minds or emotions, but in the real human body of the Lord.
God in Christ suffered, he died, and was buried and then he rose from the dead- all this happened in his real, human body.
God in Christ did not rise from the dead as a symbol or a metaphor. He did not return to this disciples as an idea or a feeling. What the disciples give testimony to is not about meeting a ghost or a zombie.
Christ rose in the flesh- in muscle and sinew, in skin and bone. His disciples saw him. They touched him. He was changed, but he was Christ the Lord and he was real.
This kind of testimony highlights something important to us.
We Christians do not profess faith in a myth or a legend. Our faith is in a living, divine person, Jesus Christ. He is God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life. He revealed himself in real space, in real time, in real history.
He died in a real body and rose from the dead in a real body.
Believing this makes us Christians. Faith is Christ’s resurrection is the measure of our faith. If we do not believe in the resurrection, in all its strangeness and density as a real event, if we do not accept the Lord Jesus as being alive, if it’s only a metaphor, then as St. Paul aptly put it- then our faith is in vain. Or to put it bluntly and appropriating the words of Flannery O’Connor- if it’s only a symbol, well then, to hell with it.
The story of Thomas and his doubts is about our own stark confrontation with the truth of the resurrection. We cannot make of Christ’s resurrection something other than what it is. And in our confrontation with the reality of Christ’s resurrection we cannot evade a decision- do we accept, do we believe?
Do we linger in our doubts or risk the great adventure of an act of faith?