Sometimes it has been suggested to me that church is boring. So if you have said or thought that, I something to tell you: Sometimes, I agree.
Take this Sunday, now the one-two-three-four-five, Sixth Sunday of Easter—and we still have two more to go! And I’ll admit to being a little bored with Easter now.
The readings for instance: Every Sunday we’ve been reading from Acts of the Apostles, and pretty much every Sunday has featured Peter standing up in front of some crowd and saying: Jesus, the guy you crucified, has been raised from the dead, and now you have to believe in him to be saved. And after six Sundays I want to say: OK, OK, I got it: Jesus was dead, now he’s alive. You don’t need to tell me again.
Then there’s the first letter of John we have been reading every Sunday, which says over and over and over again, repeating and repeating, then saying again, in as many ways as possible, the exact same thing: Love one another. After six Sundays of that, I’m ready for a good rant from St. Paul, like when he tells those terrible Corinthians to stop getting drunk at the Eucharist, or even when he makes fun of the Galatians for being so stupid that he has to write in big letters so they will understand. I’m not sure St. Paul actually ever really got the “love one another” memo.
And if that wasn’t enough, the gospel, having now run out of the all the stories about Jesus’ resurrection, is saying the same thing as First John: Love one another. OK, OK, we get it! Let’s move on.
Maybe we are even getting bored with the liturgy: I never get tired of it, but sometimes I’ve wondered if any of you are thinking “Great, here come Kristin and Bryan again to douse us with that bucket of water. We get it: We’re baptized! Point made.” Maybe this Easter stuff has run its course— too much of a good thing.
Thank goodness this week there is a little comedy, there in the first reading, when the Holy Spirit “falls” on those Gentiles. I’ve got this image in my head of the Holy Spirit minding her own business, then tripping and falling on those Gentiles: Splat! Yuck! I’ve got Gentile all over me.
And that “yuck!” was actually probably the reaction of those first Jewish Christians, most of whom indeed found Gentiles gross—unclean—and for that reason among others refused to eat with them. Our reading today makes it sound like Peter was thrilled that this had happened, but it was really a huge argument in the ancient church, and St. Paul tells us that he and Peter had a shouting match over whether Gentiles could become Christians without becoming Jews first.
The Holy Spirit falling on those Gentiles was a big surprise—an unpleasant surprise for those Jewish Christians, who discovered that the dying and rising of Jesus they had been preaching about wasn’t just for them: God was calling everybody, everybody, everybody, even those gross Gentiles, into this new family of the church.
Maybe Easter still has some surprises for us, even after six weeks, even after 2,000 years.
As most of us know, five young women in this parish have been preparing for confirmation, and were confirmed yesterday by Bishop Christopher Epting up at Christ Church in Winnetka. I’ve been thinking about what it is they have committed themselves to, what all of us who have been baptized and confirmed have committed ourselves to. And it strikes me that Christian life is this strange combination of boring repetition along with startling surprises. And I don’t think you can have one without the other.
I at least need that boring repetition, the reading of the same stories about Jesus over and over, the constant reminder to love one another, that splash with blessed water, as a constant reminder of who we really are: God’s beloved children, for whom God gave everything in Jesus. And we need reminding because there are plenty of voices out there in the world eager to tell us what they think we are or should be.
It strikes me that we have confirmed these young women just as they enter high school, a time of life full of messages about what you have to do to belong, about what is cool and not cool, full of opportunities to be sure, and full of temptations as well to believe that there is something lacking in us, even something wrong with us, that we are not beloved just as we are, that we have to dress a certain way, or own certain things, or belong to the right group to be loved and accepted. That’s a terrible lie that gets told in all kinds of places, and not just in high school. And that’s one reason why we come back here week after week to remind each other, and allow God to remind us, of the holy truth that we are loved just as we are, and that we should love one another just as we are.
And then when we’ve gotten good at repeating and remembering that, we can start to be surprised, surprised by all the many ways God wants to show that love for us. Sometimes the surprises are joyful, wonderful friendships, new jobs, a partner to share life with, births and graduations and anniversaries and confirmations, moments in life when it’s easy to recognize God’s grace and blessing.
And when we get really good at repeating and remembering who we are, even the more unpleasant surprises of life, the failures and lost jobs, illness and grief and even death, we come to discover in those moments as well the surprising ways God can be with us still, loving us and blessing us just as we are.
So, Signe, Julia-Claire, Sydney, Kelly and Alice, I think I can safely speak for many people here when I say how happy and grateful we are that you took this next step of your Christian journey with us. I hope you will stick with us through all the boring parts, and let them work on their magic on you, so that you always remember that you are God’s beloved daughters, just as you are, and that we in this church love you, too.
And I hope you will share with us your surprises, the joyful ones for sure, and we hope they will be many, and even the ones that are hard or sad. That’s what we are here for. That’s what it means to be the church, this people who remembers how God loves us in Jesus, so that we can learn how to love not only each other, but everybody, everybody, everybody else God has made.