Easter 2B April 19 2009
1 John 1:1-2:2
For four years, I looked at a huge slab of marble day after day. For four years, through many different kinds of life events, I looked at a monstrous rock and, because of that, I am here now. Because of that rock and the words of Jesus upon it, I live every day.
In the Old Testament there is a story about Samuel and the people of God when they had come to a frightening time of battle. They are facing a very difficult fight and Samuel reminds them of the fact that they are not alone and never have been. He erects a large stone, calling it Ebenezer which means God Helps Us and he says: God has brought us this far! Keep the faith! He will not leave us! Now or ever!
A huge slab of marble was and is my Ebenezer. Some of you have seen it. It stands in Christ Chapel at Southern Seminary behind the pulpit, high and towering over the head of whoever stands there to preach, and deep within the marble are cut the words from today’s gospel: Jesus said, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, Even So Send I You.
When I arrived at seminary, my life, like most everyone, was a fruitbasket turnover. I was trying to sell the house I had owned for over 12 years, which broke my heart. I had left the community I had lived in all of my life, which broke my heart. I’d moved into a not just tiny but minuscule one bedroom apartment, forcing me to sell a large portion of my possessions, which broke my heart, And now I was living in a new city where I knew no one and it was about 101 degrees – July in Columbia – and was failing Greek , which broke my heart. You get the picture: I was broken hearted. So I sat in the soothingly air-conditioned chapel, hiding from doing my homework and studying for yet another test and getting relief from the heat. I was also trying to keep people from seeing me cry. I looked up and right in front of me, filling up all of my vision was that giant marble slab. All I could see was the words of Jesus: Peace be with you, as the father sent me, even so, send I you.
Well, I passed Greek, started regular classes, survived the heat and made friends. Life was ok, terribly busy and I was learning so much! It was so exciting and amazing! New languages, new people, leading worship. Each weekday I sat in the chapel and saw those words of Jesus: Even so send I you.
And then, it was time to go. Off to internship for a year. Leaving friends and going to a scary new place. Exciting and terrifying all at once. Alone again. The right before many of us left, I sat with a dear friend in front of my Ebenezer and prayed that those words were true. Even so, Jesus said, send I you.
Then it was home again to seminary! The final year! So much left to do—so much emotion—like being in a washing machine on spin cycle. Leaving those who I had come to love on internship, returning to those I loved in Columbia. Leading a community as their Student Body president, addressing heartbreaking issues in the community. Lots of firsts and lots of lasts. And in a whirlwind, it was over. They often say that ministry is about saying hello and saying goodbye. Seminary sure does prepare you for that! You get lots of practice. Graduation and most of us were gone: off to calls and ministries far and wide, places God was sending them. But not me. God was preparing something ahead of me, but I was not there yet. And still, every day, there were the words of Jesus: even so send I you.
And then, there was ordination. I wanted so badly to sit in front of my Ebenezer—to see those deeply carved letters fill up my vision on this day of all days but because of the arrangement of the service, it was not possible. An hour before the service began, a friend of mine sent a text message to me on my cell phone. It said, ‘Even So, Send I You’. As I knelt before the altar and the stole was placed around my neck I knew I did not need to sit in front of the big marble slab. I saw those words so deeply carved into my heart: Even so, Jesus says, send I you.
In the good times to celebrate, in the hard times of struggle and even in the boring everyday times, Jesus says to us all: Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, even so send I you.
In the readings we heard today, we have seen a picture of the early church. A time of fear and of doubt just after Jesus’ resurrection and a time of danger for all the followers of Jesus just after Pentecost. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus’ followers are huddled together around their fear, held together by their fear of the other Jews who were possibly trying to hunt them down because of their association with Jesus. And there, in the very center of their fear, Jesus comes to them. He stands among them, and the text is very particular here. It does not say that Jesus stood in front of them as though he were on a stage or making a presentation. He stood among them…right in their midst. In the midst of their fear and anxiety. In the midst of everything he was with them. Peace be with you, he says, and shows them the wounds from his crucifixion. They rejoice because they know it is him. And Again, now that they know for CERTAIN who he is…they know for CERTAIN he LIVES…that he is not a ghost and that he has fulfilled his promise to rise, he says to them: Peace be with you. As the father has sent me, even so send I you.
In the midst of this fear, anxiety, uncertainty and struggle, Jesus is not only present but he has come to send them. He did not come to say: it is ok to hide in here from your fear; the fear of real danger. He did not say: things are hard right now and you can just take some time off from life. No, he said. AS THE FATHER HAS SENT ME even so, send I you. As the father sent me into the difficult times, into the hard times, to the people that hurt and are broken, to the people who did not like me. As the father sent me into conflict and difficult situations, even amongst the disciples themselves, just as the father sent me, I send you. Even though it is hard I send you. Even though it is scary, I send you.
But they…but we do not go alone. Mak no mistake, Jesus did not just send out those disciples any more than he just sends out pastors from seminary, he sends us all. He says to every one of us…to the whole church and to Shepherd of the Hills: as the father has sent me, even so send I you. Things may be frightening for us, there may be ways in which some of us, perhaps in which all of us, would like to hide in a room for fear of conflict or strife, for fear of change and struggle. There may be many places in both in our personal lives at home and in this church where we are afraid. But Jesus comes to us, where we are in our fear and anxiety, in the midst of everything, and stands among us. He has shown us his resurrection and comes to us even this very day in the bread and wine. He says to us all: Peace be with you. As the father has sent me, even so, send I you.
The really hard part about it all is this: Jesus does not promise us a rose garden. We sometimes like to think about the early church as being one of harmony and joy where everyone lived in peace and readily shared everything and sang Kumbaya around the camp fire holding hands. But that is just not reality. We do hear in the text from Acts today that the early Christians shared what they had with one another, were generous with each other and no one among them was in need. But reality is that this was also in a context of great persecution and strife. Further on in the book of Acts we learn of many conflicts that faced the early church, including whether or not it was ok to eat certain kinds of foods or whether or not people had to be circumcised before becoming Christian. In other words, did people have to become Jewish in order to be Christian. Those seem like small things today, but these conflicts were far greater than any of the very difficult and divisive issues we face now. Jesus did not say: Peace be with you and therefore all will be without strife and struggle. I send you out perfectly at easy in an easy world. No. He said even so as the father has sent me…even so…in the middle of conflict…even so….in the middle of your fear…even so….when things are hard and scary and painful….even so…just as the father has sent me even so send I you.
Yet, thankfully, none of us go alone. Jesus blessed them all with His peace, the peace that passes all understanding. Not a peace without strife but a peace that overcomes strife. Not a peace that resolves every conflict but a peace that can love through and beyond any conflict. Not a peace that makes all things easy but that makes all things new. Then he breathes on them the Holy Spirit. They and we do not go alone into the world of conflict, into our lives of conflict. We go with Christ. We go with the Holy Spirit. We never go alone. We go with the one who has seen and experienced pain, loss, even the pain of death and hell, and has risen from it all. We go with the one with whom we rise as well.
Hear the words of Jesus Christ as he comes in our midst…as he stands among us where we are.
Peace be with you. As the father has sent me Even so, send I you.