An advocacy sermon for Central Lutheran Church in Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington
on the Third Sunday of Easter, 2010
Eternal and all-merciful God, with all the angels and all the saints we laud your majesty and might. By the resurrection of your Son, show yourself to us and inspire us to follow Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Christ is Risen!
I love that we speak those words aloud throughout these seven Sundays of the Easter season. Of course, it would have been impossible to celebrate Easter for only one Sunday, because the more we hear about the resurrection, the more we see that while it begins at Christ’s empty tomb, it cannot be contained there.
New life overflows, spilling out of the tomb and into the lives of the disciples, spilling out of their locked doors and into the most public of spaces, spilling out of their little fishing boats and into all of creation. In today’s gospel Simon Peter even dives into the sea, as if he is going to share new life with the fish and urchins and bull kelp… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
For what interests me as much as the water Peter dives into is its cousin, the air, that invisible gaseous mixture of oxygen and nitrogen and traces of argon and carbon dioxide and other rarer and obscurer molecules that we are usually oblivious to but that we spend our lives swimming in, breathing it in and breathing it out.
The air moving in and out of us is one of many signs that we are alive. As the air moves in and out, so many things happen. Oxygen flows through our bloodstream and into our muscles, making it possible for us to move through the world. Those muscles can do a variety of things, including the manipulation of even more air to create sound in the form of speech and song. Breathing, speaking, singing, signs that we are alive.
Our Scriptures reflect this centrality of our respiratory system. In the opening chapters of Genesis, the very first thing the Creator does after forming humanity from the dust is to breathe into the new creature; only when it has breath and is able to breathe and speak in the world does the creature become “a living being.” Jesus does a similar thing in our gospel text last Sunday, when he breathes the breath of the Holy Spirit into his disciples, and sends them out of the locked doors to proclaim the gospel out there, in the world.
There is an awful irony, then, in the beginning of our reading from Acts this week. In it we find the movement of air, a respiratory system at work. But is if this life, well, it does not seem to be quite what the Creator had in mind.
Our reading tells us that Saul, this wild child of God, is “breathing threats and murder.” It is a deathly breath. Saul gives this deathly breath voice, and asks the high priest for search warrants, powers of arrest, the right to lock up God’s living, breathing people. This is what Saul does with the air, moves it in and out of himself for a deathly purpose. Saul is breathing… sort of. Saul is alive… technically.
And yet, and yet. Saul is in a world that is beginning to overflow with Easter. He is about to become caught up in the resurrection of all things.
For as he was “going along,” the Scripture tells us, as he was “going along” somewhere between the high priest and the lowly disciples, as he was “going along” somewhere between the powerful and the persecuted, as he was “going along” as so many of us go along, Saul suddenly sees the light. Well, he doesn’t so much see the light as he is surrounded by the Light, overwhelmed by the Light, knocked off his high horse by the Light.
To the ground Saul goes. From the heights of the high priest he is brought low until he meets the dust. Dust: the source material out of which his creator formed him. Dust: the common thread he shares with the high priest and the disciple alike. Dust: the land swirling around in the air, bringing Saul face to face with the heart of creation itself.
Amid the dust arising around all around him Saul hears the voice of the crucified and risen One. Amid the dust arising the crucified and risen Christ speaks to Saul by name and tells him the truth about his deathly existence. And then, amid the dust arising the crucified and risen Christ brings Saul to life.
“Get up,” the voice commands him. The Greek word here for “get up,” anAstethi, might be more accurately translated “Arise.” It is the same word Peter will use in our reading next week when he raises Tabitha from the dead. Arise. Saul is not converted so much as he is resurrected.
Soon Saul is breathing again – but this time it is the breath of life, a breath resurrected.
For soon he finds himself in the presence of crucified people, and in their presence he finds himself filled with the windy and wild and life-giving air molecules of the Holy Spirit.
Soon he finds himself washed clean with still more molecules, hydrogen and oxygen joined together into water for a holy bath that makes him one with all of God’s crucified and risen people.
Soon he finds himself sharing a meal with these crucified and risen people, he finds himself sharing a meal with the very body of Christ.
And from that meal they goes forth together to live their new life, a new life which of course includes the continued movement of molecules through the air, breathing, speaking, singing. Saul now breathes the breath of life and out of his mouth will now come the good news of resurrection for all creation.
Saul will bring this good news, Christ tells us, this good news of creation-wide resurrection, to the most public of public places; he will bring it before the nations, before the rulers, before all of God’s people.
This year I have had the privilege of serving at the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State. And in this work I have had the profound privilege of seeing new life everywhere: in communities, in the halls of power, and in congregations like this one, where faithful advocates like you carry out amazing advocacy ministries by taking the side of the marginalized and joining your voices to the chorus of those speaking the good news of justice and peace for all the earth.
I recently had one of these opportunities to see resurrection life taking place in the public square.
A group of faithful advocates had joined together at a rally for immigration reform in Occidental Park. We gathered with people who had streamed in from Walla Walla and Yakima and the Tri-Cities, from Vancouver and Anacortes and Bellingham, from White Center and Shoreline and Capitol Hill to breathe, to speak, to sing out in a chorus of voices calling out for the good news of justice and peace for all the earth.
One of the pastors who had gathered with us joined a throng of people on the stage who had lined up to offer greetings and to call for justice and peace in over thirty different languages. We can move the air in so many different ways yet still be breathing that same Holy Spirit air, still be speaking the truth about the deathly life we see all around us, still be singing the good news of the new life that God is raising up in all of creation.
It was for this that we have been raised, after all.
We may seem far from Saul and his radical resurrection. But we, too, can find ourselves on our knees, confronted by the reality of a world gone wrong. And so we come together here, in this place, where we are gathered together through a holy bath, where we breathe and speak and sing a holy word together, where we share a holy meal together with all of God’s crucified and risen people. From this place we, too, go forth, to bring the good news of a new life of justice and peace to the nations and the rulers and all of God’s people.
For it is not just Saul but all of us who hear the voice of Christ speaking to us and to all of creation in this Easter season:
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