Sermon
April 11, 1999
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture: John 20: 19-31 and I Peter 1:3-9

Sermon: Set Free

Just last Sunday we sang Christ the lord is Risen Today, spring flowers

graced the front of the church, we were all here in our best clothes, the

choir offered their most glorious music. It was truly a wonderful

celebration of Easter -

For me personally, all we need that day is the opening hymn Christ the Lord

is Risen Today. It is so powerful.

My favorite lines happen to be in two consecutive verses, at the end of

verse 3 we sang, "Christ has opened paradise," followed by, "Soar we now

where Christ has led" at the beginning of the 4th verse.

"I love these words - Christ has opened paradise," "Soar we now where Christ

has led" For me they are the essence of the resurrection - of our Christian

faith.

In the Resurrection of Jesus Christ we have been set free. - free to soar -

to follow the path of Jesus Christ

As we look at our gospel reading for this morning, I am sure that the

disciples felt anything but free. It was the evening of the day that the

disciples discovered that Jesus had been resurrected. Word had spread

quickly throughout the city - who knew how people would take this news. Who

knew if it was even true? Why, what if someone had set this up -

specifically to sabotage the community of faith that had gathered around

Jesus. Or what if - maybe even worse yet, the Roman authorities thought

that the disciples had set it up - to keep the faith alive. Their fears were

real - they might face real persecution or as Jesus had - death. So they had

shut themselves away, they had locked all of the doors. Suddenly - there is

Jesus standing before them. As he shows them his hands and his sides he

gives them peace fulfilling what he had promised them earlier.

"Peace be with you" Jesus said,

"Peace of Christ be with you" - do you say those words when we pass the peace

each Sunday, - what do you think of as you offer Christ's peace to those

around you? "peace be with you" - What is genuine peace? Is it merely

the absence of conflict or war? Does peace occur only when something else is

not present? Is peace merely passive or is peace active. Could it be that

peace is a tangible commodity produced in the chaos of life.

The Peace of Christ is active, it is lively, it is filled with intensity -

the peace of Christ is about being set free - it is about a sure and certain

faith that grounds your everyday life - it is about being a disciple -

Jesus offers the gathered disciples his peace and proof of his presence with

them. Then he commissions them to leave their hide-away to go into the

world. He breathes on them, giving them the Holy Spirit - empowering them

to act in his name. Peace empowers.

When we look at our reading from I Peter, we see that after some experience

living as Christians in the world, the folks that Peter is writing to are

feeling the pinch of persecution for their beliefs. Peter says, "through

the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have been given a new birth, living

hope" - "In this you rejoice, even if now for a while you have had to

suffer various trials, that your faith is tested" Peter's letter is designed

to bolster their faith, to remind them of all that they received from Jesus

Christ. "In this you rejoice, the new birth, the living hope."

Sometimes it is very difficult to live the way Jesus taught us to live, to

take whatever stand is necessary to live out the commandment to love God and

to love one another. Today is not as different from the time of the

resurrection as we would like to believe. We live in a pluralistic era that

is rightly described as post Christian. Christianity is not even close to

being the predominate world religion. And Even the Christians don't agree on

what it means to act and live as a Christian. Being a disciple is hard work.

It means taking a stand on issues that the authorities or the general public

feel will threaten the way things are. It means that sometimes we are called

to act on an issue that others don't understand or that they fear.

The front page of the latest issue of The United Church of Christ News,

CONNtact has an article about the Naugatuck church giving up prejudice for

Lent. They spent the 6 weeks of lent focusing on the issues of racism,

sexism, homophobia, and prejudice against other religions. The whole

program was designed to help people identify their own prejudice and begin to

deal with it. Looking at your own prejudice is hard work. After you begin

to look at it you also will be called to speak out about it.

What is God calling us to do about bringing an end to the suffering in

Kosovo? How easy is it to feel that we are too far removed to make any

significant impact on what is happening there. What can you do? What do

you need to teach your children? We are all involved in this battle.

A couple of weeks ago - I got home from church ate lunch and sat down to

enjoy the New York Times Sunday paper. As it turned out - I only read one

article - this one. The headline says "Minister is Suspended for

Officiating in Gay Ceremony" The United Methodist Church Conference in

Northern Illinois felt compelled to suspend the Rev. Greg Dell after a higher

church board decided to interpret a line, in the advisory section of their

Book of Discipline, forbidding clergy to perform ceremonies for same sex

unions, as binding church law.

When my husband Bruce handed the article to me, I felt tears well up in my

eyes. There was a photo at the top of the article and when I looked at it I

felt as though I was looking into the eyes of Jesus Christ. So much deep

emotion was conveyed by the photo. The pastor's eyes reflect the sorrow and

disappointment he felt for the fate of the world, his pain for all people who

are being oppressed. His face shows his agony over acts of injustice that

leave human beings outside of God's realm. His expression lets us see the

pain and the suffering he and his family has endured because of his church

trial.

But there was something more there, something a bit more elusive. In the

midst of his deep pain and sorrow, his eyes also reflect the peace of Jesus

Christ - the peace that reassures him and gives him courage. The peace that

tells him that Christ is with him and propels him forward to try to change a

system that breeds only fear and hatred. The peace of Christ grounds him in

his faith as he makes the decision to not sign a document saying that he

would never officiate at another same sex union. The peace of Christ

supports him as he does his best not to discriminate against any member of

his congregation.

That peace was given to the disciples that very first Easter. It is the same

peace that we pass every Sunday Morning - it is the breath of God, sent to

shore us up in the face of the criticism of the world. We are called to be

the voice of Jesus in the world - not an easy task, but, we have Christ

with us.

Now, having Christ with us doesn't mean that everything will go the way we

would like it to go, we won't always win, but we will have peace and our

faith to allow us to endure and persist in our struggle against fear and

ignorance and greed and hatred. The peace of Christ will be our

reassurance.

In the week ahead we will all have many opportunities to be the voice of

Jesus Christ. It is the season of Easter.

"Christ has opened paradise, Soar we now, where Christ has led." In the

Resurrection we are set free to follow and we are sustained - we are guided -

we are shored up that we can face whatever obstacles or challenges are

present. Let us heed Christ's call to us. "As the Father has sent me, so I

send you. - May the Peace of Christ be with you always." Amen.

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