Communities of Resurrection: A Post-Easter Message of Social Justice and Hope

Volume and Light is all about social justice, particularly as it relates to education. But today’s post is a little different. This week I attended a sermon given by my friend Morgan Stafford who I’d been asking to be a guest on my blog.

Morgan invited me to coffee last year after reading my op-ed on Nashville’s growing prosperity on the backs of the undereducated, over-jailed, and unhoused. I have enormous respect for Morgan’s personal and professional mission to acclimate the United Methodist Church to the growing diversity in the communities surrounding the churches. Morgan courageously infuses racial, economic and education justice throughout his biblical teachings.

Enjoy Morgan’s sermon.

Thank you Vesia Hawkins for the opportunity to write this guest blog post. The following is a modified version of a message I shared in chapel at Belmont University on April 2, 2018, the Monday following Easter.

Communities of Resurrection

Blessings to you on this Easter Monday! How important it is to gather together in community on this day after Easter Sunday and continue our Holy Week journey. This morning, perhaps we can ask of ourselves and of our companions on the journey, “how might we respond to the resurrection? Christ has risen – now what?
Our scripture reading this morning from the final chapter of the Gospel of Luke describes the journey of the disciples following the resurrection of Jesus and their encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

It’s my understanding that the theme this year here in the Belmont University Chapel is Belonging. This morning, I want to connect the theme of belonging with an important recurring word from our scripture passage. The word is stay. We see the word stay four times in the 24th chapter of the gospel of Luke.

The first two times occur on the road to Emmaus. Jesus appears unexpectedly to two of the disciples, and after reminding the disciples of what the scriptures had said about him, Jesus essentially drops the mic and keeps walking as the disciples reach their destination. In verse 29, the disciples ask Jesus, in our NIV translation we read that they “urged him strongly,” to stay.

The disciples are not ready for Jesus to depart from them again. Jesus agrees to stay, entering the house with the disciples and breaking bread with them before disappearing from sight. The disciples were not ready to lead without Jesus. They wanted him to stay. On a college campus, perhaps a more contextually appropriate word would be “clingy.” That’s right, the disciples were being flat out clingy with Jesus. They were not ready to say goodbye. So perhaps on the days when we feel unprepared for the path of discipleship, unequipped to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we can remember that we are in good company.

We see the word stay two more times towards the end of the chapter. In verse 49, we read the words of Jesus to the disciples: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” In other words, when we stay where God has sent us, God clothes us and strengthens us with power from above.

The final appearance of the word stay is in the final verse of the Gospel of Luke. We read that the disciples worshiped God and stayed continually at the temple, praising God. So what is the significance of the word “stay” in our gospel reading this morning? What might this mean for us today on this Easter Monday as we seek to be people of the resurrection? Another question I want us to consider this morning: What is the relationship between being “sent” by God and “staying” where we have been sent?

Verse 49 – staying in the city – this passage was on my mind this past Friday as I participated in a very special version of the stations of the cross led by Open Table Nashville, an organization led by my dear friend Ingrid McIntyre. Open Table is a non-profit, interfaith community that disrupts cycles of poverty, journeys with the marginalized and provides education about issues of homelessness here in our city.

On Good Friday, a group of leaders, diverse in age, gender, ethnicity, religious background, and more, took a pilgrimage through the streets of downtown Nashville, praying and reflecting on how we are called to acknowledge and alleviate the suffering in our city today. People carried crosses labeled with some of the systemic forces that oppress our communities, including poverty, racism, xenophobia, gun violence, and mass incarceration, to name just a few. On the solemn occasion of Good Friday, how humbling it was to consider how those living at the margins of our society continue to bear their own crosses, just as Jesus beared his cross.

Just a couple weeks ago, you may have read a report that shared the results of a recent study, finding that the 37208 zip code, right here in North Nashville, has the highest incarceration rates of any community in our nation. “1 in 7 children (male and female) born in North Nashville, between 1980 and 1986 could expect to end up incarcerated on any given day in their early 30’s.

This is a reality that we must wrestle with as residents of Nashville. We often lose sight of this reality as we get caught up in the rapid growth and increasing prosperity of our great city. But my friend Vesia Hawkins asks the question, “How can we be great if our marginalized citizens are becoming more vulnerable and growing in number?”

This time last year, I was preparing to move back to Nashville after two years in seminary at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. I knew that the story of growth in Nashville had more than one side, more than one perspective, so when I read in the Tennessean an op-ed written by Vesia Hawkins, I immediately connected with her honest words. Vesia named the issues plaguing our city – a lack of affordable housing, overcrowded prisons, underperforming schools – and all of it disproportionately impacting people of color in our city. Vesia closes her op-ed with the simple yet prophetic lament: “I wish Nashville’s greatness was felt by all of its citizens.”

“I wish Nashville’s greatness was felt by all of its citizens.”

As I reflect on these words alongside our Gospel text, I am led to say on this Easter Monday: I wish the power of the resurrection was felt by all of God’s people. I wish that our collective understanding of the resurrection pushed us beyond the assurance of our own new life, to the pursuit of new life for our entire community. Sisters and brothers, the resurrection did not happen so that just you and I could experience new life individually, but so that all people could experience new life collectively in Jesus Christ.

Why is a communal understanding of the resurrection important for our faith? Because the resurrection is meaningless if I do not use my new life to give life to others! And sisters and brothers, there are people in need of new life in our city today. This Easter Monday, can we celebrate the risen Christ while also remembering the many among us who are frozen on Good Friday due to systemic forces which plague our city and our world?

Following the resurrection, Jesus asks his disciples to stay in the city until they have been clothed with power from on high. Do we believe that if we remain faithful to God’s call to serve our neighbors, God will empower us to perform mighty acts in the name of Jesus? Do we believe that we have been called not only to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, but to be the hands and feet of resurrection in our city today?

Not only are we called as individual believers, but we are called to serve in community. My impact as a hand or foot, as a voice or a body, is limited, but when I join together in community with others, my impact is multiplied. I cannot bear the cross of my neighbor alone, but by living and loving in community with others, I can participate in a community of resurrection.

This is what it means to be a resurrection people. Not just living in the confidence of my own new life, but acting out of conviction that the resurrection is for all people, especially for those living under systemic forces of oppression. In community, the power of the resurrection can be lived out.

This Easter Monday, while we wrestle with the realities facing our beloved city of Nashville, we are also mindful of our sisters and brothers in the city of Memphis as they prepare to remember in just two days the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Just as we remember the forces that led to the death of Jesus Christ and consider the forces that impact our city of Nashville, we acknowledge that these same systemic forces of evil led to the death of Dr. King. His leadership in the struggle not only for racial equality but for economic equity, for fair wages, for justice – we honor his memory by engaging in the same struggles today, for we know that in many of our cities, Memphis and Nashville included, we have not made the progress that Dr. King had hoped for in the past five decades. We honor his life by continuing in the struggle for justice.

Two weeks ago today, our city lost a spiritual giant. Rev. Michael Williams, former pastor of West End United Methodist Church, was a mentor to so many. And so, as we prepare this week to commemorate the life and death of Dr. King, I want to close this morning by reflecting on the words of one of Dr. King’s mentors, Dr. Howard Thurman.

In one of his most well-known sermons, Thurman asks us the important question, “What do I want? What do I want, really?” Thurman states, “A man may not be talented. He may not be a great man in other people’s eyes, he may be just a simple humble human being, but at the place where he functions, with all of his simplicity, with all of his limitations, if he is able at that spot, to say yes with all of himself, to the thing which to him is more important than if he lives or if he dies, whether he succeeds or fails, if he is able to say yes, then the resources of life begin to move towards him.”

Sisters and brothers, through the resurrection of Christ we have been given the resources of life. We have the gifts to serve our neighbors and our city, and if we stay, if we remain faithful to our calling, to the spot where God calls us to say yes with everything we have, God will clothe us in power, a power from on high, the power of the resurrection.

May we be a community of resurrection, today and forevermore. Amen.

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