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God creates abundant life

The following sermon was preached by Kristin Engstrom, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, April 23, 2009.


John 20:19-31

We're still waiting here at LSTC.  We're still waiting, not for the resurrection, but we're still waiting for the cross.  You see, a couple years ago, some students decided that while there are a couple of smallish signs around that indicate who we are, as well as our name written in large letters on the front of the building, albeit hidden by trees.  These students realized that there was no overt sign or symbol showing to the Hyde Park community who we are or what we are all about.  We need a large cross on the building, it was decided, so that people will know what we are all about. 

Right now have a temporary cross affixed to the front of the building.  I heard a rumor that the permanent cross would be here by Easter, but as of today, we're still waiting for that permanent mark - the permanent mark that demonstrates to everyone who this community is.  And once that permanent cross arrives, then, everyone will know who those people are that come and go from the ugly, 70's looking building on the corner of 55th and University.

Now, I'm all for making an external indication of our identity.  Anything to help identify this community, to remind us of who we are supposed to be, and to remind other people its always a good thing.  But, I wonder if affixing a cross to the building will actually mean anything.  Will it change who we are as the LSTC community?  Will it make us love each other?  Care more about each other?  About the environment?  Be more involved in the world?  Will it change the Hyde Park community's notice of LSTC?  Or, might it even bring about the miraculous conversion of people walking by, drawn in by the cross?  Maybe, it would be nice if it that could be expected to be true. 

But I don't think that being faithful people is as easy as hanging a cross outside.  I wish all we had to do to be a faithful community, to share God's love was to put on the cross.  But it's not that easy, for the cross was not that easy.  It was blood and sweat and suffering and death.  But even more, I'm not even sure if the cross is the right symbol for us.  For the cross is not the end of our story.  It was not the final word or the final sign of our faith.  It was the resurrection that had the final say. 

Should we then, be affixing the cross to the LSTC building, or hanging it around our necks?  Or should we be proclaiming something else?  Maybe an empty tomb?  A wounded hand?  Or a floaty resurrected Jesus?  Really I don't think that there is a sign that is adequate for who we are as people.  How do we go about representing, of showing the world that we are resurrection people?  But maybe that's the problem.  Maybe we just want to post a sign, instead of doing the hard work of being the sign ourselves.

We live as people who follow an extravagant God.  One who brought abundant life out of torturous depletion on the cross.  We follow Christ who is life out of death, of generosity out of nothingness.  This strange, miraculous abundance is not something that can be put on outside of buildings or around our necks or even tattooed on our flesh in order that it be made known to our communities.  It is something to be lived, because it can't be contained in a symbol.  For this life out of death, this resurrection, is life itself.

It was this abundant life, of life out of death, that the early church community in Acts was all about.  It was their lives.  For these men and women, when they confessed their faith in Christ and were baptized, they were most often ostracized from their families - from their source of income, their safety net, and their lives.  The family was the center of life and to be kicked out of that family would be akin to death.  Most people, except the very rich did not have land or property to sell or utilize in order to gain an income outside of the family system.  So, these misfits with no families and not much wealth had to rely on one another.  Otherwise they would have most likely died - literally. 

Because of these extreme circumstances, and the power of the resurrection, and probably some work of the Holy Spirit too, that these misfits came together as one community, a new family of sorts.  They were of one heart and one soul, pooling their resources, and entrusting one another with their very lives.  They had no one else to rely on except each other.  They were each other's lives.  "And they were lacking in nothing; there was not a poor or needy person among them."  This early Christian community was living proof of life arising out of death.  They were living abundant lives, when they should have been dead.  This little community was living the resurrection.

We only have 2 weeks of classes left in the school year at LSTC.  Most of us are locked away in our upper room, much like the disciples in the gospel reading for this week, furiously typing papers, studying for tests, writing tests, reading papers, preparing financial statements, contacting donors.  Most of us are locked away, waiting for our resurrection that we hope will come on that last day of classes or upon grading that last paper or preparing for that last meeting.  Then, we believe, we'll be able to talk to our friends, pray again, and come out of our locked rooms.

But, Christ has already been to the cross.  And Christ has been resurrected.  Christ has already died our death, so that we may live.  So that our lives may be lives of resurrection, of freedom from the locked room, and freedom for each other and all of creation.

And we are called, in these abundant lives, to follow Christ who walks away from the tomb and into our isolated communities.  To walk towards those who are suffering, to walk with those who are ostracized from their communities, and walk on behalf of our gasping creation.  Because we are called to show love and to share our lives with others, just as this early Christian community did in our reading from Acts today.  That community was not so concerned with their own individual livelihood, with their own stresses, with their own crosses, with their own deaths - they were concerned with all of their livelihoods, with all of their stresses, with their communal cross, with all of their deaths.  If one person was affected, they were all affected.  They were concerned for their very lives for they were living the resurrection, together.

To live the resurrection is not about signs so that people will figure out who we are on their own, its not about finishing that last paper, its not even about becoming a pastor, professor, chaplain, administrator, or diaconal minister.  It's about living with abundance, of trusting in the power of the one God who brought life out of death, and who continues to bring life in the midst of our communities.  We live the resurrection when we share our lives with others and with all of creation.  When we put down our individual crosses and let someone else carry them for a while.  When we carry someone else's cross so that they can experience the resurrection from their burden of death.

It seems that in this Acts community, it was not so much an amazing testimony made with words - or with great sermons - that was the power of their testimony.  It was their communal life that gave truth to the words of their testimony.  The power was not in their words, but in their lives.  It was their lives that were their testimony.  "With great power, the Apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection for the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.  For there was not a needy person among them."  They didn't hang a sign.  They didn't make a bigger cross.  They lived the resurrection abundance in their community.  And it was through this abundant life that others came to know and experience the power of the risen Christ.

There are poor and needy people among us.  Poor in spirit, in faith, in food, in water, in money, and in so many other ways.  As people living out the resurrection, who live in the abundant overflowing resurrected life, given to all people and all creation in Christ's resurrection, what is our testimony in the midst of this suffering, or our suffering?  We've hung the cross outside.  But let us live the resurrection, let us live our testimony of the resurrected life of Jesus the Christ, together.   Amen.

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