How do we follow Jesus in 21st century San Francisco?

The first Easter Sunday I remember was at the small New England Episcopal Church where I was baptized as an infant. That Easter, they had a great idea: they all children attending the service would receive a free flower to give to their Mother. They counted all the people they expected to attend and bought more than enough small potted plants to go around. They placed them together in around the lectionary stand, which was a brass eagle like the one we used here today. And they congratulated themselves for finding a way to keep the children away from the larger potted plants that surrounded the altar.

But when our family walked in, they realized they were one plant short: that I would go up with the other children but there would not be a plant for me to give to my mother. At first, there was much hand-wringing and discussion. Some suggested it was my fault for not showing up more often. As if a seven-year-old exerts that much control over what happens in their life on Sunday morning.

Finally one woman – my hero – walked over and told the Priest to hold up the start of the service. She then walked up the main aisle, rearranged the pants surrounding the altar, and moved several of them to the flowers designated for children. Then, and only then, could the service begin.

Every time we hold an Easter Sunday Egg hunt here, I remember that day: my pulse goes up a bit and I worry that we won’t have enough Easter Eggs to go around. I worry because I know that if we promise people something good at a certain time and a certain place, we need to be sure there is enough to go around. Because children have long memories, and my recollection of that Easter Sunday would be very different if I had been the one child left without a plant to give my mother. Children have long memories. Adults in the Gospels? Not so much.

Repeatedly in the four Gospels, Jesus tells his followers what will happen on what we know as Good Friday. At best they don’t believe him: at worst they simply forget. They even forgot his promise to rise from the dead on the third day – which we now know as Easter Sunday.

Human beings do that – you do and so do I: we gloss over or ignore or forget unpleasant things people tell us. It’s a kind of self-care, a self-defense mechanism. As The Rev. Dr. Alyce M. McKenzie, a professor at the Perkins School of Theology, explains: “The women on Easter morning came to the tomb, having been repeatedly promised a Resurrected Lord, expecting to find his prone body, still in the tomb. They seek to anoint his body as a way of showing their last respects.” But the body of Jesus isn’t there.

“For some people, Easter is just another day,” she continues. “They expect nothing from [Easter], because they are too absorbed in the pain and struggle of their lives. Their focus on that pain has blocked the second part of Jesus’ message “and rise on the third day.”[1]

For some Easter is a day for chocolate and children, or Easter bunnies and new clothes, or fancy meals and family time. It’s a celebration of spring and, perhaps, a momentary diversion from the madness that emanates from America’s capitol city.

The angel’s words to the women who came to anoint a dead body also ring true to us. We are told to stop looking for Jesus where we expect him to be found – dead in the tomb or frozen in time within a church building. We are told to go and find Jesus out there, in our home, or on the road, or at our work, or when we least expect to encounter on him. We are told to tell people the Good news of Jesus.

What is this Good News? Is it all about the resurrection and finding a path to avoid the fires of hell and maybe get into heaven? Or is it principally the promise which Jesus preached of living a more authentic life here on earth? Is it a way for us to live life more abundantly here and now?

Prophet Micah

Look back through all four Gospels and it becomes crystal clear that Jesus drew people with a promise to help them lead a more authentic life in their time and place. Yes, Jesus talks about getting into heaven. But he bases his teaching on two commandments for the here and now: that we should love God with all our heart and with all our mind and with all our spirit; and that we should love our neighbors as our selves. This is the bedrock foundation of Christ’s teachings. It sounds so simple, yet it is so difficult to do. It is also the authentic way to follow Jesus.

Perhaps that’s why so many who claim they follow Christ have drifted off course into religions focuses on sin, damnation, and hellfire. It is easier to focus on believing the list of all the “right things to get us into heaven” than it is to live out the teaching of loving others as we love ourselves.

It is easier to believe in an authoritarian God who demands absolute obedience to clearly defined beliefs than it is to struggle each day with applying the two broad commandments which Jesus taught us. It is so much easier to follow a path where you don’t have to live in community with divergent views or differing beliefs. That is not the authentic way of following Jesus. Want to be an authentic follower of Jesus?

Most of all, love God and your neighbor.

What does God require of you? The prophet Micah replies: “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”[2] Walking with God can involve developing our own spiritual path, one combining regular time for prayer or meditation and direct action against evil with worship in community – for in community we who are many become one people by sharing one bread and one cup.

What does loving your neighbor entail? Jesus tells us: feed the hungry, give something to drink to those who thirst, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, care for those in prison.[3] This is more difficult than signing off on a list of things you have to believe to get into heaven. But it is the way to abundant life here on earth, it is the path to bring the Kingdom of God a little closer to our time and our place. Most important, by living as Jesus lived, we can live an authentic life, one where loneliness is banned, the wounds of the brokenhearted are bound up, and all God’s children find have a place at the table.

Join us on this spiritual path as followers of Jesus. All are welcome at our communion table for a blessing or bread and wine. All have a place in our community. Everyone is welcome: black or white or Asian or Native American; lesbian or gay or straight; rich or poor; young or old. Come, the table is ready: Christ is Risen and today we begin our work anew to bring God’s love and justice to these troubled times.

Let us pray.

Love divine,

in raising Christ to new life

you opened the path of new life to all peoples.

Send us out, with the joy of Mary Magdalene,

to proclaim that we have seen the Lord,

so that we may do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you

as we follow the spiritual path that Jesus walked,

inviting all to the banquet of your peace. Amen.

—————————

[1] http://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/easter-expectations-alyce-mckenzie-04-02-2012.aspx?p=2 @ 3/31/2018 3:00 PM

[2] Micha 6:8

[3] See Matthew 25:31-46

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