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Easter 3 - April 14, 2024 - Yr. B

Acts 3:12-19  •  Psalm 4  •  1 John 3:1-7  •  Luke 24:36b-48

Do you believe in God? Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and if so, do you believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead to reveal to us the reality of eternal life? These are foundational questions for people both inside and outside the church, and for practising Christians they are especially resonant in the season of Easter as we, like the famous doubting Thomas, keep asking questions and exploring different aspects of our faith.

Today’s lectionary readings have reminded me, however, that maybe there is a question we forget to ask, and that is whether or not we believe in ourselves. Do we spend so much time gazing to the heavens in search of God that we forget that God continues to walk among us? For this we must believe if we accept that the Holy Spirit, the third face of God, works in and through us right here on Earth.  I’m sure we will think about that more in a few weeks when we celebrate Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit and what is considered the birth of the Christian church.

But today, in our first reading from Acts, we see the intersection of human and divine at work when Peter and John become channels for the healing of a man who had been unable to walk. They do make a point of telling the crowd that it was not their own power that had wrought this miracle. However, in the verses leading up to our reading we learn that Peter and John had just been about to enter the temple because it was three o’clock - the time of prayer. A beggar saw them and asked for money. They could have hurried on by - it’s the choice that most of us make, most of the time. Instead, Peter took the man by the hand and said "“Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."

What Peter and John had to give was their time, their healing intention, and their strong faith. What, I wonder, do you have to give? What do I have to give?

In today's story from Luke, it seems that the risen Christ goes to great lengths to demonstrate to the disciples not his divinity, but his humanity. Look, he says to them as they gaze on him in terror and doubt: Touch me and see - a ghost does not have flesh and bone as I have. When that wasn’t enough to quell their disbelief, he calls for some food and eats a piece of boiled fish in front of them. I am still human, he is showing them. 

God was made manifest in a person. So how can we people manifest the works of God?

This past Monday, the church celebrated the Annunciation; the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary during which she learned she was to give birth to God’s son. I happened upon this paragraph in Elizabeth Goudge’s book God So Loved the World, and it speaks to me not just of the Annunciation but of God’s invitation to each of us. The book was published in 1951, so you will forgive, I hope, the gendered language as the author imagines Mary’s thoughts after hearing the angel’s startling news.

[Mary] marvelled at the humility of God. He could have given his Son to the world without her help. He could have sent him down from heaven in a blaze of glory. Yet he did not choose this lonely and lofty way, he chose to bend low and whisper to her "You and I." Yet this, she knew, is always God’s way, for God is love, and love is something that cannot exist at all if there is only an "I." There must be "you and I," the Lover and the Beloved, and the Lover honours the Beloved, even though the one is the great God in heaven and the other a peasant girl in a worn blue dress.

Similarly, C.S. Lewis (author of the Narnia Chronicles and one of the 20th centuries most read Christian writers) wrote these words in a 1959 article in The Atlantic magazine:

God could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men …. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of His will.… For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.

We may be slow and blundering. Nevertheless, we, the Beloved, are part of the plan to bring about God’s kingdom on earth. Living as we do in a world beset with violence, poverty and injustice,  we would all, I know, like to see God’s plan moving ahead a lot more quickly. Sometimes it seems stalled all together, and one might even question whether God is in fact still in the building.

I thought about this on Friday morning when I was dropping my three-year-old grandson Jax at preschool. It is not one of my usual grandmotherly tasks, and so I was learning from Jax the routine. After putting their coat on a hook, the children sit on a bench in the hallway to take off their outside shoes and put on their inside shoes before going into the classroom. I was standing behind the bench and watching Jax’s slow progress when I suddenly wondered if I looked like the worse grandmother in the world for not bending down to help the wee lad as he struggled with the velcro fastenings on his shoes. But I was interested to see how much he could do on his own. I wasn’t absent; I was hopeful. We must trust that even in our hardest struggles God is not absent, and that our hopes are God’s hopes.

Our work as co-creators in bringing God’s hopes to fruition was brought home to us in a moving story shared by Lucy Makina at our Maundy Thursday dinner in the parish hall. I can’t do justice to her telling of it, but with her permission I am sharing with you the highlight that stayed with me. Lucy went into labour with Kuzi when Kuzi was coming up on 23 weeks in the womb - incredibly early. Despite all interventions and prayer, labour continued. Kuzi was born and was not expected to survive. She didn’t just survive, but as we can all see Kuzi is thriving far beyond what was ever hoped. But in those first anxious days, months and years, Lucy learned that God didn’t show Godself in thunderclap epiphanies and interventions. Instead Lucy strongly sensed God at work in the people around Kuzi and the family.

Sometimes we humans band together to make miracles happen. Sometimes, we undertake small, individual acts that make a big difference to the world around us, either right away or in the fullness of time. This is how God gets the job done. This is how we get the job done, with God’s help.

Now, it’s easy to love stories like Lucy and Kuzi’s, and it’s easy to nod along with the words of a sermon, but I would like each of us to take a quiet moment after the sermon to reflect on where we - you and I - fit in the whole picture. I am speaking to each one of us, starting with myself, and including everyone seated here today and online.

Do we deep down believe that God’s power, grace and mercy can move through us as truly as it did through Peter and John and other followers since? If you feel any resistance to that idea, where might it be coming from?

Perhaps you are struggling to believe in a God who really does choose to partner up with ordinary human beings in a particular time and place - or perhaps you can believe that, but you kind of doubt that God has their eye on you; you who maybe always puts your foot in your mouth, or was overly snappy with the grocery clerk yesterday, or drank a little too much last night, or keeps meaning to read the bible but watches telly instead. Yes, that you. That part of us that leaves us confident that God can find someone better to work through while we just get on with our lives. Is there maybe even a part of you that is so frozen with shame from a past trauma - or riddled through with grief, or deep fatigue, or anxiety - that you’re pretty sure you have nothing of God to offer anyone else?

Those may not be questions you can answer this morning. But I hope you will continue to think about them, because they are crucial to making our faith come alive, to fully stepping into our birthright as children of God even if, as John says in his letter today, "what we will be has not yet been revealed."

"Knock, and the door shall be opened to you," said Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s try to make sure that works both ways. If God knocks, will you open the door? I pray that like Peter and John we will choose to pause in our day and offer the hand of love and faith. That each one of us is willing to be God’s love in a world that needs each one of us.  And that we will give glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Amen. Alleluia!