Thursday, April 23, 2009

Resurrected Community

Easter 2 B
Acts 4:32-35
Resurrected Community
By Rich Gamble

I missed the movies here on Friday night and caught two remarkable shows on television. The first was a report on the series NOW. In that report, the viewers were shown not only the reality of glaciers melting away in our era of global warming but also why that it is a problem with direct and dire consequences. The second show was a conversation between Bill Moyers and the creator of an HBO series called The Wire.

In the show about the glaciers we were taken to the glaciers which feed the mighty Ganges river. That river provides water and irrigation to over 100 million people. The glaciers provide a means of water storage so that water is stored in the winter and slowly released during the summer. In this way the Ganges has a constant flow year round. When the glaciers disappear what will happen to the Ganges and the people who depend upon its waters? Another huge number of people depend on water from glaciers from the same are which flow to China. The loss of these glaciers will likely mean that crops will fail grain prices will rise around the world and more people will starve. This is a crisis bearing down on the world like freight train while we tinker around the edges of vast and growing production of greenhouse gasses.

Bill Moyer’s conversation with the producer of HBO’s “The Wire” was one of those rare moments when someone in the popular media speaks a core truth. David Simon, former Baltimore crime journalist and now producer talked with Moyers about The Wire, a television series which ran for five years and then ended. Simon talks about the utter failure of the war on drugs, how it has filled up our jails, reduced the attention of the criminal justice system to violent crimes, and has not in any hampered the flow of drugs onto the streets of this nation. This much, many of us have heard but Simon then goes on to talk about the large areas of our nation which are inhabited by an “underclass” of “surplus” workers. Large numbers of Americans live in areas which are basically left to rot because we have ceased to need the labor of the people who live there. Unneeded they are discarded, left to grind out their lives in poverty, crime, drugs and few opportunities for real change. The primary response our nation offers such folk is our ever expanding prison system.

In the course of the conversation, Moyers, a true gift to our nation, said: "Over the past 20 years, the elite one percent of Americans saw their share of the nation's income double, from 11.3 percent to 22.1 percent. But their tax burden shrank by about one-third."

Simon went on to diagnose why it is that Americans continue to support policies which are lining the pockets of the wealthy and abandoning the poor. He said that Americans seem to have a “casino mentality.” Like people who sit feeding their money into a slot machine because they see someone else winning and want to be like that person, while all the while it is the casino which is the real winner. We are taught in this nation to identify with the elite and not the poor with the few winners and not the many losers. And so we see our good as connected to rich and not the poor.

And there you have it. While the world is about to endure unknown levels of suffering, developing nations are rapidly expanding their consumption of fossil fuels so that they can enjoy a lifestyle like ours, while here, great wealth shifts into fewer and few hands and larger and larger numbers of people are left behind as unnecessary to the needs of those who rule our economy.

If you believe this, as I do, then there are few options:
Stick your head in the sand of popular media and wait for poverty and global warming to go away.
Stick your head in the sand of the afterlife and wait for Armageddon.
Grab as much as you can and horde it away in hopes of buying your way out of future problems.
Change things.

As indicated, if you want to stick your head in some sand, there is a form of Christianity for you. Unfortunately it is the dominant form of our faith.

But if you want to change things, there is a great resource in an alternative version of Christianity. And our text today is a primary source in that interpretation.

On Easter Sunday we heard Mark’s version of the Easter story. Mark’s version has no Jesus, no corpse no resurrected body, nothing but a young man to tell the tale of Jesus’ rising from the dead. We saw how this young man was connected to the mysterious young man who ran off from Jesus when he was arrested. The young man is now fully clothed, wearing white, the color of transformation, and no longer running away from Christ but rather staying in one place pointing people to where the risen Christ has already gone.

The only proof of Jesus’ rising is in the testimony of a young man whose life has changed. That in the Gospel of Mark is the sign of God’s presence in the life and ministry of Jesus: a transformed follower.

We would like something more: a larger number of witnesses, video would be nice, a burial shroud with Jesus’ image seared into it, something more than the testimony of one person whose life had changed. But that is all that Mark is offering, that, and the possibility that other followers of Jesus will also be transformed.

In the book of Acts today we have a brief vision into the community of followers of Jesus. Did you notice how that brief passage is structured. The first verse tells of how the community did not claim private property but shared all that they had, everything they owned was held in common. The next verse talks about how the Apostles gave powerful testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. The last verse talks about how there were no needy people among them because people sold their property and gave the funds to the Apostles to be distributed to those in need.

Did you hear it, sandwiched in between two verses which talk about the transformed attitude of the community towards private property and the use of their shared funds to aid those in need, was a statement as to the power of the witness of the resurrection.

It is easy to read today’s passage and see it as two different things. The Apostles share their resources, and share a powerful witness of the resurrection. When we hear it we think of the Apostles taking a break from the mundane actions of redistribution of capital to preach powerful sermons about the resurrection. But it is more likely that Luke is not talking about powerful preaching sandwiched between acts of sharing; rather, Luke is talking about one action. The witness to the resurrection is so powerful because it isn’t just words it is in actions that cut to the heart of difference between the resurrected community and the world.

Jesus’ resurrection is not about one person’s victory over death. It is about a community’s victory over the worldwide system of fear and domination. Not that they toppled the system but they created an alternative to it and showed people like us that it could be done.

What are we to do in the face of an impending environmental catastrophe and ever more violent disparity between rich and poor? Well like those first Christians, I believe we are called to set an example: To stand up against the liars and the misinformed, to stand up for the poor and oppressed, and to live in a way that proclaims our participation in a resurrected life.

God didn’t give us a five point plan, just some examples to learn from and follow. I don’t have a five point plan either, but I know we can grow in our faith and faithful actions. And I know the world needs to hear from those of us who have an alternative vision.

Our story is the story of new life coming out of and overcoming the worst of violence and oppression. Christ’s resurrection from crucifixion is a sign of hope for the world. We are the Body of Christ if we live as resurrected people. If we live as resurrected people then there is hope. If we stick our heads in the sand, hope is not with us.

The choice is ours but only one choice is good news for us and the world.

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