Sermon 5 Easter 2020

Sermon
Fifth Easter • May 10, 2020
Acts 7:55-60 • Psalm 31:1-55, 15-16 • 1 Peter 2:2-10 • John 14:1-14

In the Name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Jesus made a promise in today’s Gospel that is quite astounding: He said, “I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”

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Here is a gifted healer of bodies; here is one who could cleanse people of what today we could call psychoses and crippling neuroses; here is a teacher of such power that he shifted the small, local, national religion of the Jews into a position to become the dominant religion of the world; here is a visionary who could see the world transforming into a place where “caring” could replace “forcing” as the thing that moves people.

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Jesus is promising that you and I can do greater things than he did! And in fact, his promise has been fulfilled—in part, if not fully. Our physicians routinely produce miracles of healing. Our mental health professionals routinely produce miracles in their patients’ ability of cope successfully with the trials of life. In our time, fewer people die of malnutrition than die of overeating. Social violence—wars and murders—kill the smallest percentage of the population in the history of mankind.

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Our current crisis—the covid-19 virus—is nothing like the black death, the bubonic plague, when upwards of 200 million people died in only four years back in the fourteenth century. More importantly, we knew the cause of the current pandemic within two weeks of its outbreak, and measures for combatting it were put in place fairly quickly, despite governmental dysfunction in major capitals.

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All this is vastly more that Jesus could ever have accomplished, just as he promised. We still have major problems, of course, but we have been empowered to deal with them. Speaking as the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” This is a message for our present circumstance, locked-down in our houses, afraid to get close to our neighbors, cautious of even the slightest personal contact.

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People will say that our mastery of the natural world has come through science, not faith healing. They will declare that it was the industrial revolution that gave rise to the world’s great prosperity. They will say that it is the product of our technology-driven economy. And they will be correct. The work of generations of engineers and chemists and biologists has produced our enormous capacity to feed and shelter and heal each other.

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This is the Christ at work. The Christ is not a single human being, but God incarnating in multitudes of people. Christians have a secret, a mystery we have been given—to know the source of humanity’s great benefits, to know that it is the Christ, God acting in God’s world.

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Let me change the subject for a minute. We have inherited a nasty confusion in our language. In the First Letter of Peter, the epistle which was read this morning, Peter wrote, “…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” He calls the members of the Church a royal priesthood. The confusion is in the word “priest.”

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Peter wrote in Greek, and the word that he used for priest is “hieros.” It means the person responsible for conducting sacrifices—before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the priests took live birds and beasts and killed them, roasting the meat on the altar as an offering to God. A hieros is a person who offers sacrifices to God.

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Jesus shifted the practice by offering himself as the blood sacrifice, and you and I are called to be priests, offering (as we say in the Eucharist) “our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving,” Now comes the confusion, because the word in English, “priest”, is a simplification of the word presbyter, another Greek word which means “elder.”

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So we have two quite different functionaries—on the one hand a person who offers sacrifices to God, and on the other hand a member of the Bishop’s council of elders who manage parishes—both called by the same word. My apologies for the confusion that we have inherited. But it is important to realize that all of us Christians are called to function as priests in the sense of those who offer sacrifices to God.

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What kind of sacrifices? James says that we are “God’s own people, in order that [we] may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” It is about the light. About seeing clearly what God is doing in the world. Our job as royal priests is to simply be clear that it is God who is acting in the world through the technological revolution.

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Does that mean that all is well? No, of course not. All is not well. We are in the middle of a health crisis, and we are about to enter another crisis of significant proportions, an economic crisis—we are on the edge of another great depression, with twice as many people out of work as there were in the Great Depression of the ’thirties. How well the managers of the economy are able to work us out of this difficulty is yet to be seen. But we clearly are in trouble.

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My friends, let us continue to do our job of praise and thanksgiving, of seeing clearly that God is working in the world, and of promoting love and cooperation among our associates and friends, of caring for one another. This is the sacrifice that God requires of his priests. For, as James says, we are not just anybody, we are God’s own People. Amen.

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