Sixth Sunday of Easter
I have noticed nobody likes to hang out with boring people, who have no idea who they are or what they believe in, who are without life and passion and energy, who have nothing to share with others that might enrich life, unless of course you have no choice but be with them boring people, like when you’re their best friend, or you owe them money, or you’re married to them. Hey, I don’t make the rules, just observations. As well we seldom enjoy being around people who suck the life out of us, and whose self-absorbed, shallow, negative attitude is destructive, discouraging and draining. You don’t have to believe me. You can prove me wrong if you want. I’m open to new ideas. Conversely, we are more drawn toward people who exude confidence, who know who they are and what they stand for, who are positive, energetic, enthusiastic, who enjoy what they do and do what they enjoy. In plain English, these people love life and enjoy being alive. When you’re around them, you can feel it in your bones, because their attitude and energy are infectious. If that describes you, you will still prefer to be around people who share your confidence, your passion, and enthusiasm for life. And at the end of the day, you may be exhausted, but you know you want to do it all again tomorrow. You’re unstoppable. No one is going to rain on your parade.
I’ve seen classical musicians for instance who get so intensely focused while performing they will make strange facial expressions and mildly seizure-like jerking motions and they could care less what you and I think. But when they’re the best at what they do, we let them slide. We know they are genuine, so we can respect the intensity of their passion and enthusiasm. They love their music. They live and breathe their music. They can talk about their craft with such conviction and intensity, you will believe anything they tell you. And if they could bleed music, they probably would, too.
The early Christians were often just as enthusiastic and passionate about Jesus Christ. The stories we read in the Acts of the Apostles tell how certain members among Jesus’ disciples would preach before large crowds, perform signs and wonders, and draw hundreds at a time to believe, repent of their sins and be baptized. One of the seven chosen in last week’s passage, had relocated to Samaria after the persecution that followed the violent death of Stephen. And when Philip spoke, people paid attention. He must have been eminently eloquent and persuasive and engaging, despite the prevailing attitude of hostility between Jews and Samaritans, that his ministry attracted notice all the way back in Jerusalem. And Peter and John, notably prominent apostles in the Jerusalem community, were sent to witness the phenomenal growth of the faith in Samaria, bringing with them the ritual laying on of hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In the first letter of Peter, we are made aware of more persecution that the early followers of Jesus had to contend with, that Peter exhorts them to patience, gentleness and reverence even for their enemies and persecutors. Their best defense against violent opposition would have to be a clear conscience and the knowledge that they follow in the path of Jesus who also endured suffering for the sake of righteousness. “Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.” … such a far cry from the ways of the world … reminds me of the sermon on the mount, where Jesus tells his listeners to turn the other cheek when someone strikes you, give more than what is required, pick up your cross each day and follow him.
And it all stems from our connection with Jesus himself. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” What motivates those who claim a connection with him will not be dictated by the unpredictable and fickle trends that govern popular opinion, not the unpredictable and fickle forces that govern the human heart. Rather, our passionate and enthusiastic witness of the faith becomes evident to anyone who is watching that we are indeed who we claim to be: disciples of Jesus Christ. “The world [does not] see me, but you … see me, because I live and you will live.”
When a loved one is taken from us by death, we will grieve for a while. But a time comes when we will rise from our grief and resume the business of living. … Initially, we will need to make a conscious effort to keep their memory alive by revisiting stories and places and experiences that evoke an emotional response. We will surround ourselves with vivid reminders, photographs and memorable objects, so that we will hear and feel and taste and touch their presence. Ultimately when we can convince other people of it, our loved one will live on in us by the witness of our convictions, and the values that govern our choices. If it would be what they wanted, others will be able to tell from watching us. When something of them lives on in us, that which is intangible, more their passion and integrity than the heirlooms they leave behind, then they live on in us. They endure because we endure. They live because we live.
These days I have the distinct pleasure of sitting down with our young people in 10th and 11th grade preparing for Confirmation next month. It is not my job to decide whether or not they are ready for the sacrament. Every single one of them is convinced they are ready. My job is to remind them that the sacrament is only a marker along the journey. It marks the end of the process of initiation, but the rest of the journey still lies ahead. With Confirmation we accept responsibility for our own response to God in faith. Those who are fully initiated are then invited to a more intimate and mature relationship with Christ through his body the church. We are encouraged to more personally immerse ourselves in the experience of conversion, of blending the message of the Gospel into our lives, to experience that tension that invites us to be changed, so that Jesus continues to live in us. Many adults miss that part entirely of engaging in a more intimate and mature relationship with Christ through his body the church. They act as though their faith is just a hobby. They will attend to it when they have spare time.
Those who claim a connection with Jesus draw life from him. If we draw life from him, then he still lives in our midst … and others will be able to tell. Can they tell from watching how we live?