Sermon Archives

Sunday, May 1, 2016
The Sixth Sunday after Easter (Year C)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
What Makes for a Remarkable God

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

Consider for a moment the remarkable stories of these past few weeks.  Since the newly kindled fire was struck several weeks ago, we’ve heard some of the most remarkable stories of Bible:

  • Of course, there is the Resurrection, as Jesus rises to new life following his hallowed death just days before
  • The great stone, so large that no one could move it, was moved without a guard even noticing
  • There was the earthquake and tearing of the temple curtain just as Jesus gave up his last, labored breath
  • Jesus seems to passes through locked doors and yet, he can still be touched by Thomas
  • His sudden appearance to a pair of despondent disciples on the road to Emmaus
  • And we mustn’t forget his descent into the depths of hades to conquer death completely

We needn’t stop there, of course to find remarkable stories, even just in the Gospels.  Go just a bit further and we will find story after story of remarkable healings and miracles

  • Jesus feeds 5,000 with enough left over to feed them all again
  • He walks on water and calms a storm, turns water into wine
  • He casts out a legion of demons from a man in the land of the Gerasenes
  • He heals the blind, the deaf, the mute, lepers and paralytics,
  • and raises Lazarus to life again, as he does for the daughter of Jairus and the young man from Nain
  • and we’ve said nothing of his birth!

Among all these stories, its understandable if we’ve become a bit inured to the remarkable, such that we don’t even notice how remarkable to story is.

But here’s the most remarkable thing of all – none of these stories are what make Jesus remarkable at all!  For the first century Palestinian and Roman citizen, these were ordinary stories of the gods!  From virgin births to miracles and healings to the descent among the dead, ancient religious literature is filled with stories of God’s and divine men doing just as Jesus has done. 

They are the ancient equivalent of the Harry Potter’s great professor, Dumbledore, casting a lumos spell – any second-year Hogwarts student can do it.  As remarkable as a lumos spell may be to you and to me, they are not what make a wizard great, but they are expected of a great wizard.

The same is certainly true here.  These miracles, as remarkable as they are to you and to me, are not what make Jesus, and the God he makes incarnate, great.  They are, in fact, the ordinary exploits of any “god.”

No, in the weeks that have passed since we kindled the new fire, we have heard another message, a message that reveals far more about God we proclaim than any miracle ever could, and we hear it again today.

In the face of abandonment and betrayal; in the face of denial and unfaithfulness, Jesus does what no other god or person would do. 

He returns.

It’s that simple.  When his disciples abandoned him; when his disciples betrayed him; when his disciples denied knowing him in his hour of greatest need; when all those that he had poured himself out for turned and walked away; Jesus returned and sought them out.

Amidst all the miracles of the resurrection, what is truly remarkable about Jesus is that he refuses to abandon his disciples.

He not only that he refuses to abandon them, but he refuses to give up on hope on them as well! 

Peter, Thomas, those locked away in the upper room, the two walking sorrowfully along the road to Emmaus; to each, Jesus comes; to each, Jesus returns to draw them back and to give them hope. 

Today, even as the disciples hear of Jesus’ final, impending departure, they are promised that neither he nor God his Father will abandon them to their own ways.  No, when his disciples find themselves alone – and they inevitably will – Jesus ensures them of his abiding presence in the Holy Spirit, to teach them and remind them of all that he has said.

Consider for a moment just how remarkable this is in our world today.  It’s not enough for us today to quietly dislike something or someone; it’s not even enough for us to simply walk away.  No, today it’s socially acceptable, if not encouraged, for us to publicly denounce whatever or whoever it is that we dislike with all of our social media might.  And that’s what we do to those whom we simply dislike or with whom we simply disagree.

What of those who betray us?  What of those who cause us pain?  What then?  We seek their humiliation, do we not?  We encourage retribution, don’t we?  We celebrate their failure and their punishment, no matter what the cost?  . . .  all in the name of justice and righteousness.

Who among us, when we are betrayed or deceived, abandoned or humiliated, turns and seeks out our betrayer to offer them forgiveness and hope?  No, this is not our way; this is not the human way. 

But it is God’s way.

God’s way is not mere justice, nor is it even simple righteousness.  Rather, God’s way is the way of forgiveness.  God’s way is the way of restoration.

  • Forgiveness to Peter; restoration for the disciples. 
  • Forgiveness too, for you; restoration for this community.

But God’s way doesn’t stop there.

  • There must be forgiveness, too, for Judas; and restoration for the Jews and Gentiles who had mocked and tortured him.
  • Forgiveness, too, for those who betray you and for those who cause us harm. 

This may not be our way, but it is the remarkable way of God.  And if it is God’s way, may it become ours.