(Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:8-20, 1 Peter 3:13-22)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/flUd4Zjely4)
15‘If you love me, you will keep* my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,* to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in* you.
18‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’
We return to reflect on our assigned texts after taking a week off to reflect on Luther’s thoughts about the Apostles’ Creed. Recall that we are deep into the season of Easter, a 50-day period dedicated to better understanding the resurrection of our Lord. The day of Easter kicked off the season but it by no means explains the season. The resurrection is a difficult thing to understand. It is shocking, confusing, unbelievable, unimaginable, upsetting…and yet hopeful, inspiring, promising, and affirming at the same time. Our Lord went into death on our behalf, he took our sins on his back, he went into the great unknown of death for our sake only to rise three days later having conquered the powers of sin and death. Our Lord didn’t deserve to die the way he did or when he did. Our Lord came only to love us, to share the love of the Father with us, to open the wisdom of scripture to us, and we put him to death unjustly and unfairly. But our Lord didn’t abandon us for our sin. Our Lord came back to us in spite of our sin. Our Lord came back to loving us despite our unlovabledness. Our Lord came back because he can’t help but love us. Thus is the power of love—true, genuine, unconditional, unselfish, steadfast love. Our Lord loves us so much that he can’t stop loving us. He conquers sin and death out of sheer love for us. Sin and death has no power of him, they only have power over of us. Christ came along and conquered sin and death once and for all. We no longer have to fear sin and death because of what Jesus did on the cross and in the grave. If we believe in him, then we can live without fear. This is one of the many gifts of faith in him. Christ sets us free…more accurately, his resurrection sets us free!
But his resurrection is a difficult thing to believe and place our trust in. We want to believe he has risen but our faith can be weak at times. We struggle to see our risen Lord in the world sometimes. We look around and see nothing but pain and heartache. We see nothing but suffering and sorrow in those around us. How can our Lord be here among us and allow for such suffering? Didn’t he die and rise again to conquer sin and death and yet both sin and death remain with us. Shouldn’t there be no more sin and death? Well, Christ did conquer sin and death so that we no longer have to fear sin and death, not so that we no longer have to live in sin or die. Sin and death are two realities of this world that we can’t get rid of. But we can get rid of fear by placing our trust and faith in Christ.
At the heart of our confusion and disbelief in the resurrection is a simple question: where is Christ among us? If we confess that he is risen and walks among us, then where exactly is he? I think this is the question at the heart of our readings assigned for this morning too. Where is God among us? The apostle Paul had had a very personal encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. His encounter transformed him from being a persecutor of Christ to being a devoted follower of Christ. He went out into the world to share Christ with others and found a wide assortment of ways that people were using to recognize God in their lives. In our reading from Acts, we heard how Paul was struck by an inscription on one of the altars that the people were using to worship. The inscription read, “to an unknown God.” The Greeks worshipped many gods and, in case they forgot to include one of the gods in their worship, they labeled one of the altars, “to an unknown God.” Of course, this gave Paul a great opportunity to share with them about our God who has a name—Jesus Christ. “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” Our God is a living God. Our God is a God who gives life. Jesus Christ is alive and gives life. As Paul goes on to say, “for in him we live and move and have our being.”
This is our God, a living and life-giving God. Christ is living and life-giving. But simply confessing this doesn’t mean we are any closer to witnessing our risen Lord. We haven’t answered the question, “Where is Christ among us?” Our psalm for today helps us give praise to our God who never stops listening. We sang, “But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.” Our God answers our prayers and continues loving us. Just count all your daily blessings—God loves us and blesses us all the time! But again, where is the risen Christ in answered prayers and steadfast love?
Peter and John get us closer to answering this question. Peter encourages us to do what is right and good, even suffer for doing what is right and good, for Christ suffered for doing what is right and good. We are encouraged to keep our consciences clean so that others who want us to suffer for our goodness will actually be the ones who suffer. So Peter is encouraging us to be like Christ in our goodness and suffering. John takes it one step further by offering us Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” The Spirit is in you and me. This means Christ is in me and you. It is one thing to be like Christ, it is another to be the Christ inside of you. Christ is in each one of us through the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to be so concerned with being like Christ but rather revealing the Christ within us. It is Christ within us that is revealed through our goodness.
Which brings us back to our question, where is Christ among us? Everywhere we are!! Christ is among us by forever being within us! Mother Theresa, the great saint of the 20th century, knew this all too well. She could see Christ in everyone she met which, in turn, enabled her to treat everyone with nothing but love and respect. She knew where our risen Lord was—in her neighbor. She once remarked, “To be able to love one another, we must pray much, for prayer gives a clean heart and a clean heart can see God in our neighbor. If now we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten how to see God in one another. If each person saw God in his neighbor, do you think we would need guns and bombs?” God is found in the living Christ and the living Christ is found in you and me. WE are the living Christ! Paul knew, Peter knew it, Mother Theresa knew it, and Jesus taught it. We don’t have to go far to see our risen Lord. Just look in the eyes of your neighbor!
As we continue along our Easter journey, let us rejoice in our risen Lord. He died on our behalf and he rose on our behalf. Though his rising might be a stumbling block for many, let us give thanks for knowing where to find our risen Lord—in each other. Christ is within us and wants to be revealed. Let us reveal him, Christ seen in me and…Christ seen in you.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.