Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Acts 2:22-24+Psalm 9:9-14+2 Corinthians 4:7-12+Luke 7:18-23

I have been thinking a lot about my great-grandmother this week. I don’t really know why, since I was only a year old when she died and have only heard stories about her from my siblings. Born in what was then the capitol of the Dakota Territories and is now Yankton, South Dakota, Matie Sears’ parents finally settled in Forsyth in the Montana Territory, arriving by covered wagon, and there she grew up. Granny Becker, as my family knew her, was one tough old lady. She wrote an 18-page journal when she was 80 (in 1948) that talked about her father looking to strike it rich in the Black Hills gold rush and the fear her mother had of the native tribes in the Dakota Territory. She wrote of the death of siblings and learning how to do things for herself. According to my late uncle, she built chicken coops when she was 70 and raised chickens to support herself in her widowhood. She could change a car tire, sew just about anything, and was fiercely independent, refusing to live with her children until her eyesight failed and she simply could not manage on her own anymore. She died at the age of 93.

As tough as she was, Granny also loved to paint and glaze delicate ceramics. I have a couple of her pieces to this day, although the majority of them met their untimely end at the hands of her many great grandchildren.

Now we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that this supreme power is God’s and not of us. In every way we are oppressed, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; knocked down, but not destroyed; always bearing forth in the body the death of Jesus, in order that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our bodies. (1 Corinthians 4:7-10)

We are nothing next to the power of God, and yet, like those fragile ceramic pieces of Granny’s, we endure. We bear the marks of living the life to which we have been called. None of us gets out unscathed, and yet even in our weakness – maybe especially in our weakness – Christ is made manifest in the world. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune leave their mark, but we carry on.

Yet often, we lack the assurance of faith. It happens to everyone. We seek the next best savior – money, security, comfort – and it feels like we are doing something right until the diagnosis comes or the death happens, or the layoff occurs, or the stock market crashes. And then what do we hold on to?

John’s disciples were wondering if they should hitch their wagon to Jesus or hold out for something better. Their guy is in Herod’s prison and this Jesus has just brought back to life a widow’s son. John sends a couple of them to ask: are you the one? But Jesus doesn’t answer them, at least not directly. He points to what he’s been up to: the blind see, the lame walk, the diseased-in-skin are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor hear good news. And he ends this list with a blessing on those who take no offense at him.

It’s an odd thing to say. “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Luke 7:23). Plenty of people did take offense. They questioned his authority to do the things he did. They felt threatened that a peacemaker was among them with a message of love. The new world order that he proclaimed upended one based on power and privilege and prestige. And those who had those things or who wanted those things did not like it one little bit.

But you know who did? The poor, the blind, the lame, the grieving, and outcast, and the oppressed. Those with nothing to lose.

When people look at us, do they take offense? Now, I know that there are plenty of people out there who take offense at those who call themselves Christians but spew hatred and division. I take offense at them, too. The kind of offense I am talking about, though, is the kind that says that we are responsible to one another to assure that everyone has plenty of food, a place to lay their head, and opportunity to thrive. And it demands sacrifice from those of us who have the means to help. And there are plenty of people who don’t want to acknowledge this web of mutuality, as Dr. King called it, where there can be no peace and joy for me until there is also peace and joy for you.

We Americans are really good at promoting the myth of rugged individualism when, in truth, no one gets where they are on their own. Just ask my Granny Becker. Her family was a paragon of independence and adventure, but they relied on others to help them travel, to find housing, to help with the sheep farm, to learn how to survive in Big Sky Country.

We should pray that those outside the church look at us with skepticism and maybe even take offense, because then we are probably doing something right. If we are challenging the assumptions that we are entitled to something; that God loves some more than others; that we are responsible only for ourselves and our families; that the poor, the homeless, and addicted, and the hungry are not members of our own family – well, then, that is what it means to reveal Jesus in our mortal flesh.

Friends, we hold treasure – treasure – within ourselves, and the world desperately needs what we have to offer: the Good News of a God of love who heals and comforts and includes everyone.

Granny Becker, age 24 (1892), Forsyth, Montana

ASEPSermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas