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[Sermon] Resurrection for All

Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo + May 5, 2024 + Sixth Sunday of Easter

In this sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Pastor Hector reflects on the challenges of building inclusive faith communities in a divided world, drawing parallels between early Christian struggles and contemporary societal divisions. Through an exploration of Echo Chambers and the call to love one another, he challenges us to extend the embrace of Jesus Christ to all people.

Sermon Transcript

From automatically generated captions via YouTube, with punctuation added by ChatGPT.

"Grace to you and peace from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ, our recent Lord." And we said amen. Boy, it's hard to follow up with that. What can I say now? And then when I was thinking, I have been serving an ordained Ministry for 31 years. I thought it was too many years. Years. Now I feel like... n. It's after I hear that Colleen has been serving for 50 years, I feel like I'm still... I'm just starting. But no, it's a joy. And I believe that this was a living example of what we heard in the gospel today and what we heard also in the book of Acts in the readings today.

So, I invite you just to reflect on those words in the many ways in which you and I are called to live out the call that we have to love one another, laying out our lives, living down our lives. Sometimes means what David said, that we give our time and our talent, and that we choose to follow Jesus by serving, loving, and nurturing others.

As I said last Sunday, I wasn't with you, and I had the opportunity... No, I was not hiking. You won't find any pictures on social media with me hiking somewhere or having fun. And if you find some pictures, it will probably be some of the videos of the two churches that I visited. I went to intentionally. I wanted to go to Worship in other congregations, one on the one hand to be able to worship and not lead the worship service, but on the other hand, to also observe and learn from what other ways that communities of Faith are celebrating and the love of God.

So, I went to the Salt House, which is one of our congregations in Bellview, and then after that, I went to the Episcopal cathedral St. Mark's. So, there was only like... I mean, the first service was at 10, the service at the cathedral was at 11, so I had to leave a little bit earlier one and to get late to the other. But when I was driving, I said, why are the people of Trinity doing? I need to see what they are doing. So, I turned on the YouTube when I was driving, and I saw you. I saw what you were doing, and I was so glad. And I was so glad to have at least 30 seconds of Trinity because that kind of completed my day. And obviously, that reminded me how much I miss being with you and what you mean in my Ministry and what we mean for one another. I hope that you missed me. [Laughter]. Okay, no, I know, I know that we are united.

So, I just want to reflect a little bit on the passages that we read today. And I want to maybe start by saying a disclaimer that I am not... I had never been, even when I was a kid, I had never been a fan of Walt Disney and the world Disney movies. Sorry, but I'm not... Yes, I'm a weird kid. I was a weird kid. But anyway, so, but I know what Walt Disney and the movies have because I watched some of the movies. And I believe that you watch this, this... if you look at this picture, the one that we're going to show you now, you will remember these and you know the content and the reason. So, let's look at the first slide that I have. What is that? Snow White. What are the words? "Who is the fairest of them all?" And the mirror used to say, "Dear Queen, you are the fairest on the land," right? So, I was looking at this because when I was reading the passage, especially in the gospel in the book of Acts, it makes me think of the many ways that we as human beings, we build these environments, these spaces in which we tend to listen and to hear the information or the opinions that reflect our own opinions, our own thoughts.

And we create those spaces because we like to hear our own voice, to affirm what we believe. And we call them Echo Chambers. And I believe that our society really fosters and really makes us view all those, and especially social media and the media, the news media outlets, tend to do that in order to control, in order to make us feel that we are okay, that we cannot think differently, and more important, that we do not join those who we do not like or those who think differently, and then build these environments where even lies become part of us, and we come to believe them. No matter where we are in the whole spectrum of any aspect of life, these are enclosed environments. We hear what we want. And in some way, when we hear it, we practice what we call the two arms embrace. "You are right. You are good. You are the fairest on the land." We turn inwardly in our Echo Chambers. We hear only one perspective. We tend or we are forced to ignore facts.

And the only thing that we are enforced to do is to see the wrongness of others, to see others as a threat, to see others as enemies, and to see the unworthiness of others. And when we do that, we lose our sense of identity, our sense of belonging, our sense of purpose. And in the end, I believe, our sense of humanity. The early church, the early Christians were struggling in their daily lives. They were struggling because they were facing the Injustice of the domination of the Roman Empire. And in their desire to keep their identity, in their desire to keep their community, sometimes they were blinded and they would only see themselves. And they couldn't... And they saw others as the Gentiles, the outsiders.

The persecution had caused them to be disowned by their own families. And the Christian Jews couldn't believe that day when they saw the holy spirit being poured upon the Gentiles in the house and the home of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion. But the spirit had no limits. Whether we like it or not, or whether they didn't like or whether they like it, the spirit did the work that only the spirit knows how to do. That day, Peter's Echo chamber was demolished. He was able to see that for God there is no limitation, that the love of God transcends any Echo chamber or any desire, any line that we... that we build around us. And I know that Peter was trying to live faithfully what he knew the faith that was passed on to him, the faith that grew in him as he was a witness of the resurrection of the Lord, as he was trying to figure out faith and go through all the journey that we studied during Lent.

In that day, he realized that the Injustice that we fight sometimes blinds us and we don't see the Injustice that we inflict through our human-made justice to include or to exclude others. Sometime ago, I was... I was watching a video of an American comedian. And this comedian, he does some political commentaries. That day in that video, he started talking and in his jokes and what he was doing, what a comedian does in a stand-up show, there was a man wearing a MAGA cap. And when he heard some of the comments of the comedian, he started shouting and insulting.

And you know what a person who is reacting and is responding can do when feels attacked or he feels criticized. The time went... He was a little calm. And then comedian continues with the show. And a few minutes later, when the comedian makes other comments, another person starts yelling and throwing all kinds of... I cannot say the words here with you or maybe I could, but I'm not going to do it. But this was a Marxist, the other side of the spectrum. And they are fighting. And then the Maga and this the... And the... And the... And the Marxist start exchanging, attacking each other and really... Um, you know, bringing the... And excluding each other.

The comedian keeps going on with some issues in society. And there is this silence between these two characters in the show. And then finally, there was a point where the Marxist stands up from his place in the back, comes to the front where the MAGA cap person was, and you see him coming directly like this. And everybody thought that... What do you think was going to happen? He extends his hand and his arm. This is the Marxist. The mega person stands up, shakes hands, says, "Do it." No, just... I saw Peggy do it. Do it. No, extend his arm. And then they embrace each other.

That made me think. That made me think. Made me think about communities of Faith. Whatever will it take for communities of Faith to be able to... Be... To be the space where no matter where we are in our journey, where no matter where we are in our faith, where no matter where how we see and experience life, will be a safe space where you and I and everyone can come and share and talk and try to understand one another. The reason that I believe that these two men were able to embrace was because they notice and they figure out that the issue was not necessarily them, but there are bigger issues in the community that are hurting that they are damaging that they are breaking relationships that are bigger what what they believed and that was only by them coming together and sit down and embrace that they will be able to attract to to to address the issues that are hurting the community breaking relationships damaging those around them.

What would it take for us and for the entire Society to tear down the echo chambers that continue to divide us and to makes us see the other as the in as the unclean or the outcasts? What is the difference of a congregation if we are behaving exactly as the others behave outside? What is the difference of having a recent Lord that has come to heal us to strengthen us to guide us to give us life to take us from the death from the chains of death to give us life?

The quote that we had today from Miroslav Volf inspired me to think in this way and made me step back and look at myself and how I need to understand when the Lord Jesus says love one another that this love is not going to be just the love that I like or that means that I like you because you are like me but I love that is violent because as Oscar Romero would say is violent because it takes us out from the places where we feel comfortable and we build our Echo Chambers to tell just to hear what we want to hear.

But the love of Jesus takes us to places that are uncomfortable challenging that makes us to be able to speak to the person who I cannot accept in my life that I don't like, and I would I will wish everything that I can against that person love one another as I have loved you because remember that it was not you who chose me but it was my love for you that made me choose you. And what I I ask you today says Jesus is only to say yes to that love and to that let that love to feel you in a way that you will be able to see others in the way that I see them. And when you are able to embrace one another you will experience the life that was given, the life that will defeat death, the life that brings to together the communities, the life that heals, the life that gives you a sense of belonging and purpose in your life. And then you will be known that you will be my disciples, when you are able to live in that way.

But you are not going to do it on your own because [audio cuts out]... But I want you to think on on something that is important. Miroslav Volf says, and I think that this is the end of the passage in the book of Acts, if you remember after Peter preached and shared the message the people in the house of Cornelius told Peter to stay with them and Peter stay with them. And that was the practice Peter had initially not wanted to go to see Cornelius Peter didn't want to be in touch with other was on um unclean. But now he's invited to stay for one purpose, and what purpose do you think that was that? To practice love. So we are going to practice Love in This Way Embrace.

Miroslav wolf says there are four steps for embrace when you're going to embrace what do we do first? Open our arms, an invitation, an invitation for the other to come. Second we wait. We don't force the other to come because when we force the other we cancel the Embrace. Once the person comes into you or you go into the arms of others what do we do for the embrace? You close your arms, and in those closing of the arms is when the healing the encounter happens. But for the Embrace we keep our arms closed? Why? Why not or why yes? We need to because now we are going out nurtured, affirmed, and to practice more, and that's what we are going to do

In the last slide as we show the slide we have this slide that we normally share with our first communion students I believe that this is good because he tells us, and this is uh Pastor Erlander, and I love it because it just shows Jesus Embrace for all the promise of Jesus that He will draw us to himself no matter who we are and no matter where we are and the invitation now to do the same thing. But I think that there Pastor Erlander could have had a second part of this picture which is Jesus opening his arms and sending us to practice. Right?

So the question for us as congregation now is that what does it mean for us to practice that Embrace? How we can do it? And one of the ways that we have been thinking it is how this space if this is going to be the space where we practice the love of Jesus and the embrace, it is how we are going to expand this space? And one of the ways is thinking that maybe it is time for us and we have the call to extend this experience to a different time, to a different day in a week. So the question is what would look like if we want to have an additional Gathering of the church where people practice the Embrace?

In your bulletins you have a QR and for those of you who are Savvy with your telephone you can read the QR next to the section for the message for the sermon and you will go directed to a survey. The council in conversation with the staff we have been talking about how we as congregation may expand this opportunity for us to gather to experience the love of God with one another, to practice the Embrace. And the council entrusted the staff to look and start exploring ways for us to do it. If you are not good with your QRs and telephones, there are some hard copies. Raise your hand and our guiding host will pass on a copy for you so that you can read the survey.

So what we are going to do now is that let's think about the Commandment that Jesus has given us and how you believe by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit how is the spirit inviting us to extend that Embrace beyond the Sunday Gathering. I invite you to take a time if you would like to you can do the survey if you are quick in typing on your phone to do it if you feel it out out by writing you can uh do it now and return it to the guiding hosts and if you want you can just read it reflect and complete it during the week so let's conclude this reflection with a moment to pray and to think how is God inviting us as congregation to be an expression of the Embrace of Jesus Christ for all people, and how we are going to live it out and practice it in our ministry. David is going to play some music for us and we will try to um to fill out that that uh survey so let's do that.

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