Bishop’s Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

First, it was a feather. Then a mirror. That was followed by a stethoscope. Now, it is one of those electronic monitoring devices at the hospital bedside. If you looking for connections between these rather disparate items, the connection is that they are all ways that have been used at one time or another to determine if a person is alive.

The feather was considered light and delicate enough that it could be placed in front of a nose to see if it moved in case a slight breath was coming out. The mirror was placed in front of the mouth to see if there was a fog on the glass as an indicator of the humidity of a breath. The stethoscope was a better indicator of a heartbeat than a finger on the carotid artery. And the electronic monitor, well, we have all seen them enough on television to know how they work. Pulse, heart rhythm, and blood pressure, are all there for us to see if there is any possible sign of life.

We all look for signs of life because we have seen enough of death and the sorry and hurt that it brings. There is a finality to death that represents actions that cannot be undone, choices never possible to make again. When there is the remotest possibility that life might be present, we keep our eyes open to see if even a feather might be moved by the slightest current of air. If so, there is hope for the future in this present world.

This hope for life is not simply biological. The church also looks for signs of life because when there is a church that is alive instead of being a museum there is hope that the future will not be the same as the past. That hope is what keeps the church alive from generation to generation as it struggles for the peace of God in a world that is burdened with war and disease and poverty and plain old mean-spiritedness.

With that truth in mind, let’s take a look at today’s lesson from the book of Acts. It is the story of Dorcas being raised from the dead, Dorcas whose friends had already gotten out her handiwork and put it on display as if in a museum. In case you missed it in the reading, Dorcas is identified as a disciple. It is the only time in Christian scripture that a woman is so listed, and her life and witness have given hope to women for two thousand years that they might be seen as heirs to the disciples just like men. That is a powerful lesson in this reading that makes it useful in today’s church even if there were no medical miracle that had been recorded as well.

But I want us to focus today on another important and related part of this reading, one that undergirds our very existence as Christians. When the local community is trying to find signs of life, when it is trying to find hope for the future in the midst of current day pain, it turns to someone who has experienced first hand the resurrection of Jesus. In the case of this story, it is Peter. The nascent church turns to someone who has already seen Jesus alive in the community.

Easter season is a fairly easy season in which to preach a sermon. At the heart of Christianity is seeing the resurrected Christ, and we get examples from scripture this season of how it takes place. The stories we get are no more fantastical and every bit as real as the examples that we can see in our own lives. We find ourselves mourning for what has been, see a gardener who comforts us, and we finally exclaim, “I have seen the Lord.” We find ourselves locked in a room, locked in by constricting circumstances, and in the absence of outside assistance, finally say, “We have seen the Lord.” We go fishing, get on with work by living a normal, humdrum life at the office or Wal-Mart, and finally admit, “It is The Lord,” when someone tells us how to fish or more fully to live into our jobs. All this is to say that when we start seeing the resurrected Christ, it will not be because we are looking back at an empty tomb in the year 33A.D., but instead looking at where Jesus starts makes appearances today, a Jesus who looks not so much like Jesus of Nazareth, but like Jesus of the office worker, Jesus of the police officer, Jesus of the teacher, Jesus of the check out clerk, Jesus of whomever we meet wherever we are.

It is what is happening with Peter in today’s lesson from Acts. One thing that the writer of the book of Acts is telling us is that Peter is able to see life and hope and the risen Christ in someone, namely Dorcas, a woman disciple, after all, who for two thousand years into the future would be seen as a scandal by people in authority. He gives her a hand and helps her up. When everyone else is weeping and has put on display Dorcas’s tunics, which were little more than memorials to what used to be, Peter is able to see life. Everyone else is weeping and seeing scandal; Peter sees Jesus.
That is the sort of good news that we can take away today. Once someone has seen the risen Christ in a brand new visage, then that person becomes a witness to the risen Christ in all sorts of situations and people.

How do we make this story real? Figure out who causes us scandal in this day and age. In whom do we fearfully see nothing but death? Or what in our own lives might be causing us to see nothing but hopelessness when we look in the mirror? Or how about as a church, when we are so worried about our impending corporate death as the number of churchgoers decline?

The writer of the book of Acts would say that it is time listen to the testimony of people who have seen the resurrected Christ. Call in someone like Peter in our own day and age who sees life in situations we think are lost, dead causes. Pack away the memorials to what has been. Pay attention to the witness of the church when it stands up for the immigrant and the marginalized and the poor. Give them a hand and help them up. Tell our political leaders that we expect nothing less of them. Start seeing people who have always been invisible to us in the past. Look for a feather to move; watch for fog on a mirror; perceive the weakest of heartbeats. Make that story from the book of Acts become real in our own day and age, and then get ready to see our world turned upside down. Amen.

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