14 Apr 2013
“God exalted [Jesus] at His right hand as Leader and Saviour that He might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:31) In the name …
This past Tuesday Amanda was fortunate enough to participate in the Doctor for a Day program at Franklin Medical Center. She shadowed an orthopedic surgeon. Not more than an hour after eating breakfast, Amanda was in an operating room as the surgeon began to open-up a patient. She saw six operations that day. And she had no problems being there during any of them. She thought it was cool and interesting. That same day I donated at the Red Cross Blood Drive in Northampton. I can’t even watch them put the needle in my arm without getting queasy. I have to look the other way. Each of us is obviously built differently. Even though we may share so much in common, each of us is built differently.
Think about the two resurrection appearances we have encountered this Easter season. Last week the resurrected Jesus only had to speak the name of Mary Magdalene and she immediately recognized Jesus. She immediately accepted that He had defeated death and had returned. This week, on the other hand, we hear of Jesus preparing a hearty breakfast of fish and bread for the disciples. The Gospel is making every effort to convince its readers that Jesus is for real, that He’s not only a spirit or a ghost, but that the Jesus who died on the cross is the same Jesus who resurrected. He’s having breakfast with His followers. And remember last Sunday’s story about Doubting Thomas: Put your fingers in the nail prints, your hand in my side. The Bible is trying to make absolutely clear that the resurrected Jesus is not just a vision. The tomb was empty. The body was not there. I give the Evangelist credit for his honesty. He’s admitting that it wasn’t easy for everyone to believe in the resurrection. For some it came instantly and for others it took time. People are obviously different and these differences don’t disappear when we talk about the faith.
The church does herself a great disservice when we forget this obvious truth. This is why the church is best characterized as a teacher and guide for the faithful. The church tries her best to offer the lessons and example of Christ in real time and in the real world, but how a person chooses to follow Christ, what they see in Him, what they need from Him, that’s going to be as different as people are different. Christians aren’t moral robots, and it’s not the job of church to turn them into moral robots. Church is about creating the opportunity to encounter Jesus, and just like in the Bible, those encounters will not all be the same. However, once the encounter has taken place, church as a guide and a teacher is a mightily powerful spiritual tool in a person’s and a community’s life.
Church allows Jesus’ voice to challenge, correct and commend what we do. It gives God a fighting chance to make sure that our moral choices are not self-centered or self-serving, that they are in accordance with the choices of Christ. The resurrection, say the apostles in this morning’s Lesson, is evidence that God in heaven has vindicated the life of Jesus on earth. The apostles tell the powers that be that you put Him to death, but God raised Him from the dead because you were wrong and Jesus was right. The apostles then refer to Jesus by the common term Saviour, but they also refer to Him, and this is the only place it is heard in the entire New Testament, they call Him their Leader. It sounds kind of unremarkable out of context, but remember what we heard last Sunday. The apostles gathered as a distinct group in Solomon’s portico of the Temple, and, “None of the others dared to join them …” (5:13) For as powerful and honoured as were the apostles, the Leader of the church is always Christ. No matter where we sit or stand in the church, our Leader is always going to be Christ and His resurrection-vindicated example.
Now some may think an emphasis upon personal choice weakens the church and her voice on behalf of Christ, but I think it more likely to create an increased sense of moral responsibility. Let me explain by pointing to the recent cheating scandal at Harvard University. Harvard has been around since 1636, but the recent episode of its cheating scandal has it thinking for the first time about instituting an honour code. It has been formally recommended to the University that all students make a written declaration of integrity as a statement and a reminder of their obligation to conduct themselves ethically. These are the best and brightest, but dozens of them cheated, and Harvard believes that the answer is to make the students more aware of and more invested in their own ethical obligations.
Moral choices, conscience, should not be underestimated – especially not by the church. We each hopefully find something beautiful and meaningful in Jesus to hold on to and embrace. And when it is our free choice to believe, then the bond of faith grows stronger because it is our choice to believe. Conscience cannot water-down the integrity of the faith because as the apostles said long ago, we have but one Leader and that is Christ. It is His example and His teaching that led God in heaven to reach down and raise Him from the dead, to reverse the human judgment imposed against Him. To the degree that we believe in Him and act like Him, to the degree that we allow Him to lead us in life, that is the measure of our faith.
So may we pray this morning that we take seriously the lesson of Christ as our leader, and that church be an inspired guide and teacher of His example, and it is for these things we pray in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo