Sunday, April 23, 2023

3 Easter, 2023: Inspired with hearts ready to serve

Lectionary: Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35 

I love this lectionary today. It is so full of inspiration and heart – and I use those terms intentionally because to be inspired is to be roused or urged to do or know something. Inspiration is something that comes to us from outside us but it is also an internal physical process. To inspire is to breathe in. To be inspired is to be breathed into. For us, it is God who inspires us, who breathes into us, compelling us to live, do, or understand something.

In modern culture, the heart is the seat of love and compassion. For those in Jesus’ time and place, however, the heart was the center and seat of thoughts. It was also considered the location of the soul. In other words, it is the place in our bodies where heaven and earth intersect. 

So when Jesus laments that the disciples on the road to Emmaus are slow of heart, he isn’t talking about them being slow to love, but slow to understand. So, he explains the Scriptures to them, beginning with Moses, interpreting everything everyone had said about the Messiah.

They still didn’t get it though, and it wasn’t because they were stupid or resistant. It was because it wasn’t time yet. They weren’t ready.

You see, it is God in Christ who acts to open our spiritual eyes and each of us is approached differently. Mary Magdalene’s moment of inspiration happened when Jesus spoke her name. Thomas was inspired when Jesus offered to let him touch his crucifixion wounds. God always meets us where we are and inspires us to move from unbelief to belief - in God's time.

When that happens we recognize and connect with God on a deep, interior level. In the midst of the beauty and glory of this personal connection, we experience a physical sensation, the first sign of the process of transformation happening within us and it happens in that physical spot in our bodies where heaven and earth intersect – in our hearts.

Our Scriptures, Old and New, show us that God has always done it this way. In Ezekiel, God says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” (36:26). In Jeremiah: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it ton their hearts.’” (31:33) This is what the disciples were experiencing when they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was opening the Scriptures to us?”

The heart is where we co-exist, co-abide with God. It is a physical and spiritual reality that is made available for us to strengthen at every sharing of the Holy Eucharist. In the holy food of communion, we become one with the ultimate community, the community of the Divine Trinity. Jesus, the 2nd person of the Trinity, abides in us as we abide in him, making us the current locations of the coexistence of the human and the divine on earth.

The world tends to dismember us, to cut us off from God and one other. When that happens, we experience heartache. We all know how it feels to physically droop and spiritually sag under the weight of the turmoil in our world. As the psalmist says so well, “...the cords of death entangle me, the grip of the grave took hold of me. I came to grief and sorrow.” 

That’s been my experience watching the news this week. As I learned about Ralph Yarl, a bright, beautiful 16-year-old in Kansas City who rang the wrong doorbell and got shot for it and now struggles to live, and 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis, who was shot and killed when the car she was in went up the wrong driveway, I felt my heart break and my spirit sag. And these weren't the only innocent lives lost this week to guns.

Listening to the discussions about why some believe that everyone needs unlimited access to a gun and the legal right to “stand their ground,” my heart broke even more. How divided, how dismembered we have become.

God save us, I thought. Show us the way to go.

I’m grateful that preparing this sermon this week I was blessed to be reminded by the psalmist that God
hears the voice of our supplication. It enabled me to repent from my sadness and distress and return to the Lord, putting my trust once again in God’s love and loving plan for us.

Jesus knew this experience of worldly dismemberment too. He experienced it first-hand in Jerusalem when the shouts of “Hosanna “transformed into shouts of “Crucify him!” We watched as he physically drooped, falling three times as he carried his cross to Golgotha. We heard him spiritually sag as he cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani…. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

That’s why the risen Christ gave us a way to re-member ourselves, to put ourselves back together, to co-exist with God and one another in shalom. Every Sunday when we gather to worship, we intentionally breathe in the Spirit of God through our Scriptures, common prayers, and hymns of praise. We nourish and strengthen our souls with the holy food of Communion. Then we are made ready to breathe out the effects of this in our lives when we are dismissed at the end of our worship service to go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

If we don’t keep breathing it in, however, we can’t keep breathing it out. Coming to Sunday worship is not a duty (social or otherwise), and we don’t affect our eternal outcome by going or not going, but we do affect our present – understanding who we are, whose we are, and what our purpose is. 

 Being present at the Holy Eucharist opens our spiritual eyes and strengthens us, individually and as a community, to be witnesses of the Good News and stewards of the many gifts God has given us.

Jesus is the one through whom all things are made. All things, all people, all time, all activities, all of creation, all resources– everything comes from God and belongs to God. We are not asked to guard God or hoard God’s gifts. We are called to scatter them far and wide, welcoming all people – all people – to live as part of one family: the family of God. 

As Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb says in her book, She Who Dwells Within (Harper, San Francisco, 1995, 179), “Hospitality is the ability to give things away because one has replaced the idea of ownership with the idea of stewardship. A steward… equitably distributes that which is available… provides sanctuary and shelter, extends a warm welcome to her guest, and makes strangers feel at home.”

This is what church is meant to be, and do, and understand! And this hospitality is a gift Emmanuel has in abundance.

God is breathing life into us and we respond by living a Eucharistic life: a life of thanks and grace, a life that reflects our gratitude for all God has given us and demonstrates our commitment to using those gifts to serve God and all God’s people, welcoming and advocating for all suffering injustice or indignity, reconciling with all from whom we are divided or dismembered, and making them feel safe and at peace at our church home.

Let us pray… 

Eternal Reality, Creator of all that is, Opener of our spiritual eyes, and Inspirer our hearts, we willingly share your grief and sorrow each time one of your children suffers or dies as a result of our worldly dismemberment. Re-member us, we pray, Adonai-Shalom, Lord of our Peace, then send us out to be bearers of your life-giving presence to all we encounter, until your world is made one in the unity of your love. We pray this in the name of our Redeemer, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

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