Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Third Sunday in Easter Year B

Third Sunday in Easter Year B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Acts of the Apostles 3: 12-19; Psalm 4; I John 3: 1-7; Luke 24: 36b-48

Peter and John go to the Temple for daily prayers. While there they encounter a man "lame from birth." They announce he is healed and the man immediately "leaps for joy." To the crowd who just witnessed this spectacular miracle of restoration Peter addresses this sermon. He begins by emphasizing that the power that healed the man was not from him but from "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," the God of our ancestors. This is the same God, he says, who "glorified his servant, Jesus," who, by the way, is the same person "you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate." "You killed the Author of life whom God raised from the dead. It is as "witnesses" that we announce to all that God did through Jesus that we announce this man healed and, therefore, it is faith in the name of Jesus that this man has been given "perfect health." And now friends, you have the opportunity to be healed, because "you acted in ignorance." "Repent and turn to God so that your sins might be wiped out."

The psalmist identifies this psalm as a lyric of supplication to be accompanied on stringed instruments. The subject of this psalm is the person who counts herself faithful to God and now addresses her listeners: fear, do not offend God, offer sacrifices and "trust in the Lord." Then you too, she concludes, will be able to sleep safely and perfectly at night.

The writer of this letter attributed to John places the emphasis and always returns to one theme-- love, God's pure love for us and how we should mimic that love for others. (See next Sunday's excerpt, 3:16-24, for example.) "Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous." That is the essence of what it means to be called "children of God; and that is what we are."

The raised Jesus stands among his disciples gathered for a meal and greets them "Peace be with you." They immediately figure they have seen a "ghost." But Jesus is here to counter their "fears" and their "doubts." He invites them to touch him and he offers them his hands and his feet, which still bear the wounds from the nails. They are immediately overtaken with joy. Jesus asks for something to eat, (something a mere "ghost" would not have needed)! Jesus then repeated what he had told them before his execution and resurrection: how the [Hebrew] scriptures had explained how "the Messiah was to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day." As witnesses who ate and drank with him after the resurrection, they are to start right here in Jerusalem and then take the message of "repentance and forgiveness" "to all nations."

What ever else was going on in those hectic days immediately following the trauma of the execution of Jesus and the announcement of his resurrection, one thing was consistent and clear in the narrative of Luke-Acts: those who were actually present at his arrest, the perversion of justice in his so-called trial and the agony, torment of dying on a cross saw the most dazzling display of God's love imaginable. It exceeded all prior experiences of God's love, even the amazing story of God's love for Israel over so many centuries, because now it extends to anyone and everyone of any origin. Getting this announcement out to as many people as possible as fast as possible was paramount for the eyewitnesses. Then, as stories about the impact of this announcement on the lives of others began to come in, (like the man Peter and John encountered in the Temple) those accounts were added to the testimony. After all, this was not an announcement about some speculative corollary of theology, it was about real flesh and blood men and women. The Jesus who ate and drank with his followers after the resurrection was not a "ghost." The man who was healed and all the others whose lives were being put back together were identifiable people encountered in everyday routines.

Paul Ricoeur offered and then re-examined his notion of "attestation" in essays and books throughout his remarkable career. He said he was navigating a new course between those two giants who opened and closed Modernity, Descartes and Nietzsche,
(Oneself as Another, p. 21 ff) In summary we can note that sometimes he emphasized the necessary role of doubt-- doubt about our capacities for understanding or acting separate from our own motives, investment in interpretations that benefit our prejudices, and our inconsistent interprettions and the gap between what we claimed and what we actually did.. At other times he stressed the claims we encounter, in particular biblical claims, even the specific claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. We casually live somewhere between these two poles. It is always possible for each person to reach a tipping point. While never escaping the various kinds of self doubt we have (and ought to have) we are compelled to make a decision about such bold claims as these biblical announcements not because they overwhelm or eliminate our doubts with argument and persuasion, but because we have discovered them to be true in the actual wrinkles and folds of our personal lives. This decision he calls "attestation." Because "attestation" is personal, it is never made in words we parrot from others, even the eloquence of scriptures, but in plain ordinary, everyday language. Furthermore, and just as importantly, we attest not only with words but in the choices we make and the actions we take. We never reach a static resolution. We continue to go back and forth between doubt and testimony. But we take the inherent risk. "We wager on a certain set of values and then try to be consistent with them: verification is therefore a question of our whole life. No one can escape this." (Lecture on Ideology and Utopia quoted in Dan Stiver, Theology after Ricoeur, p. 206) With the confidence and authenticity of personal experience, we can attest to the significance of the claim of the dazzling love of God put on very public display in the execution and raised Jesus in our lives. The actions that flow from that claim should bring some sort of restoration in the lives of others in very particular ways and, before we know it, we become witnesses, too!