April 30, 2017 sermon (Easter 3)
Acts 2:14a, 36-41/ Luke 24:13-31
Community in the Making
Today, let’s talk about community. Miriam-Webster dictionary defines the word ‘community’ first and foremost as “a unified body of individuals as the people with common interests living in a particular area, an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location, a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society, a group linked by a common policy, a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests, a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society.” According to the second and third definitions, community is “society at large, joint ownership or participation, common character or likeness, social activity as in fellowship, and a social state or condition”.
Is your head spinning yet? Let’s weed out all the words that give us a headache and focus on the ones that stick out; words such as “unified body”, “common”, “joint”, and “likeness”. I think these are the words we should focus on. So based on the dictionary definitions and the weeding out process, I would say that community is a unified body of people with something common and likeness who share something, if not their entire lives. In a way, community is like a family. And when you have a community of people who are marginalized and discriminated against, such as the LGBT community, the members really feel like family to each other. This is what I learned while being a part of the LGBT group in my church in Montreal; since a lot of us have a difficult relationship with our families on account of us being gay, bisexual, or transgender, we might feel more like family to each other than our biological families. Maybe that’s why when I hear the word community, I imagine family.
The stories we hear of the first disciples after the death and resurrection of Jesus are stories of the community of the disciples in the making. During his public ministry before his death, Jesus has gathered followers, preached and lived out the message of God’s kingdom, and commissioned his disciples to continue his ministry after he is gone. But this community didn’t start shaping itself until Jesus died and rose again, and the scared disciples received the Holy Spirit and truly started spreading the gospel messages. The gospel story we read today gives us some clues as to what this community of the disciples, also known as the kingdom of God, is about.
Two disciples were walking from Jerusalem towards a city called Emmaus. The resurrected Jesus showed up and traveled with the two disciples but they didn’t recognize him. Maybe it was because they were too traumatized, sad, and confused, or maybe it was because it was getting dark as it has been suggested in the scholarly world, as it did get dark and they invited Jesus to stay with them for the night. Skipping over what went on between them on the road (for example, Jesus calling them stupid for not understanding), let us focus on what happened that made the two disciples finally recognize Jesus; this will give us some clues about what God’s kingdom, our community as disciples is about.
The first step these disciples took was to invite Jesus to stay with them since it was getting late. This reminds me of “Knock and it shall be opened to you” or “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”. It shows that the kingdom of God requires active seeking, or knocking on the door. To seek God, God’s kingdom, God’s blessing, or any other things that come out of our relationship with God, we need to be proactive. Remember the Psalm we read today? The psalmist made supplication and called upon the name of God. God offers an abundant and unconditional love to all of us, but we need to actively receive it. But the proactivity of these two disciples was not about asking for help or blessings; it was about hospitality. The first step towards the enlightenment to recognize Jesus was a proactive hospitality.
The second step relates to the first step in that it is about inclusiveness and hospitality. What did they do as the second step? They broke bread with Jesus; that is when their eyes were open and they recognized him. These two steps teach us the fundamental nature of God’s kingdom/ the community of the disciples; it is about welcoming and showing hospitality even to strangers, and sharing bread with them (both literally and figuratively). God’s reign is about showing hospitality to diverse people and sharing our resources. According to the account of Acts of the Apostles, the first Church community practiced radical hospitality. The text we read today shows how many people were touched by Peter’s sermon and joined his community of the disciples. Spoiler alert; they grow in number and lived together, sharing everything they had. We don’t actually live in the same place or share all our possessions; but this is the spirit of a community. People who belong to the same community share things; values, time, memory, and most importantly they share food and drink together. Eating together is extremely important at developing a sense of bonding. When Jesus ate with outcasts, it was more than food; it was a statement that everyone is welcome in God’ kingdom. Eating together meant equality, especially in the ancient times. Even now, people don’t sit at the dining table with people they dislike or look down on (or they try to avoid it, anyway). That is why church people love eating together. When I was in the Methodist Church, there were so many jokes about Methodists and their many, many pot luck gatherings.
Anyway, back to the our text in Acts, people asked Peter what they should do, and he urged them to be baptized; as you know, baptism is the initiation of becoming a part of the Christian Church. Then what Peter says summarizes what this community was about; “Save yourselves from this corrupted generation.” This saying reminds us of John 17 where Jesus says that he is not of the world. You probably heard the saying “in the world but not of the world”. Members of God’s kingdom/ community of the disciples, although they live among others in this world, their life should be set apart from the values and lifestyles of this world.
We heard a story of a community in the making. This is the community in which we belong. We are all followers of Jesus, just like the first disciples who started spreading the message of God’s kingdom. This kingdom in which we belong has a different set of values than the rest of our world. We preach and practice radical hospitality, love and justice. How can we see Jesus like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus did? We proactively seek a community of love and equality. We welcome others into our space and break bread together. This is how we can see Jesus; through acts of love and hospitality, by welcoming others into our community, going to each other and to the marginalized of our world, and becoming their brothers and sisters, and community. We need to be a community of love, equality, and justice. Community changes and evolves. The first disciples formed their community and evolved; and here and now, we are forming our own community and evolving. We are the Christian community in the making. And we decide what kind of community we want to be.
Rev. Sunny Kim