Monday, April 19, 2010

Of Strangers and Friends

Easter 2, April 11, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Killeen, Rev. Paul Moore

Every one of us has had the situation occur where someone we thought we knew suddenly looks very strange to us. Kids grow up when we aren't looking, friendships mature into something they were not. Relationships shift and change, and sometimes, tragically, die or go sour. Or suddenly something about someone comes to light, and it shifts everything you knew about that person.

This is what happens to the Disciples in today's Gospel lesson. They knew Jesus was a great preacher and teacher, they knew He was a miracle-worker and a wonderful man. They might even remember Peter's words about Him being the Christ, the Son of God, but they didn't exactly know what that meant, I'm sure. And they had also seen Him die, they had wrapped his dead body in spiced linens, and they had laid His body in Joseph of Arimathea's new tomb. They knew what death was. Or did they? Now suddenly, He is not dead. He's got the marks of His death, but He is not dead. He's not a ghost, but He just appeared among them. Suddenly "Son of God" begins to take on new meanings that they had never even conceived of.

And this new, this resurrected Jesus invites them into something just as amazing and wonderful. "The Holy Spirit is now with you, and by my command you have the power to remit sins." If the product of sin is alienation, then remitting sin must reconcile. Redemption is intimately tied up with relationships, there's just no two ways about it. Remitting sins will shift relationships.

Now the power to remit them implies the opposite power, the power to retain them. You can cling to them, let them ruin relationships, let them destroy lives, let them alienate people who should be loving and serving one another, but you can also remit them, you can release people of the things that tie them down, you can free up relationships to heal and restore, you can renew lives and free them from what so drags them down, and you can give people the power and the energy to love and serve one another. It's just as big a miracle as Him suddenly standing among them.

Stop and think about it for a minute. Here is Jesus, suddenly become the stranger, inviting them into relationship on a strange and wonderful level, a level at which they have that great work of inviting the stranger into relationship with them and with God. Easter is God reaching out to us who have become strangers to Him, and then giving us the privilege of inviting other strangers into relationship with ourselves and with Him.

So who is the stranger now? There are those who have never been anything but strangers. You have never or barely met them, you know precious little about them. Some of them worship here every Sunday; some of them are new here each Sunday. Some of them are coworkers or neighbors. Some of them sit beside you in the airplane or in the public library. Some of them speak a language you don't know, and live a culture you don't understand. They have stories to tell. The stories are strangely like your stories, if you just stop and listen. They are stories of heartache and triumph, pain and pleasure. They are stories of hopes and dreams, of fears and failures.

Most of all, they are stories of God. Yes, they really are. At the root of every person is an untold dialog between themselves and their Creator, conscious or unconscious, it is there. Every love ultimately is the love of God; every pain is ultimately the pain of distance from God. Every good draws one near to God; every evil pushes away from God. Their stories tell of how this person has met, missed, misunderstood, dismissed, accepted, followed, worshiped, and mistrusted God. Just listen, you will hear. You will invite the stranger into the house of your own heart, and be amazed. And you will be blessed by the stranger.

Then there are those who have become strangers who once were not. You once knew them and now you don't. They may have just drifted away, life circumstances changed and the relationship could not continue as it was, perhaps one of you merely moved away. There may have been a rupture, a break-up of a romance, a divorce, an offense that has not been overcome, an outright malicious rejection, or even a death.

These people also have stories to tell. You know something of the story, because yours is the complementary story. You share something with them, and you always will. Because of the brokenness of the world, some people are best related to at a distance, not out of hurt or malice, but out of compassion and wisdom. Others will be an albatross around your neck until you are reconciled. Your story and their story fight for supremacy within you. The only peace is to die to the idea that only one story is true, and that the real story is the one told in Christ, in which both fit into a larger context. That context is reconciliation, the making of peace between those who have become alienated. What a powerful way to remit sins!

The gift of strangers is an opportunity to be like Christ; to invite them into your life; to open your heart to what they have to offer, and let them enrich your lives, as you enrich theirs. If there was a past relationship it will never be what it was...that's not the point. It is a new relationship now, and it can be greater because of the past. Our Easter faith calls us to believe that Heaven is greater than Eden, resurrection is greater than resuscitation; reconciliation is greater than innocence.

If there never was a past relationship then the alienation due to our limited living deserves to be overcome. Abundant living never happens alone, it always happens in the context of relationship. Inviting the stranger into your life is a great act of divine healing in our broken and ailing world.