Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter

April 22, 2001

"Surely we cannot help speaking of what we have heard and seen."

During this past week the daily liturgies have been telling the story of the young church after Jesus' resurrection, in the Acts of the Apostles. On Friday we heard how Peter and John had healed a man, and they were brought up before the religious leaders. The leaders were afraid of the numbers of people beginning to follow Jesus so they told Peter and John that they were not to speak of that man again. Their response was the words I just proclaimed: "Surely we cannot help speaking of what we have heard and seen."

This past week many in our city have wondered: how can we celebrate Easter and the risen Christ in this city, torn in pain and anger and erupting in violence?

I would suggest that there is a way. We can meet this situation if we go beneath the surface and look more deeply to discover the kingdom of God working even in the midst of this painful situation, in those I call "the Easter people."

I propose that we think of three:

First there is the mother of Timothy Thomas. Surely of all the people in this city she is the one who had the greatest reason to be bitter. She had lost her son in a senseless act. Yet she goes before the Tv cameras and pleads with the people that 'this is not the way'. She asks parents to keep their children out of the area and to instruct them that violence is not the answer, that it does no honor to her son.

Then there are the ministers who put their lives at risk on that second day by standing face to face with the vandals, who are only a few feet away brandishing rocks and bottles. The ministers cry "Don't do this! It only makes things worse."

And the other Easter people are all the rest of the city's parents, who did teach their children that violence is not the answer, and the young people themselves who learned that lesson from their elders and refrained from going onto the streets.

You know, we frequently use the expression "to build the kingdom of God." I once heard a very respected biblical scholar say that language like that isn't scriptural. The scriptures never talk of God's kingdom being 'built'. In scripture the kingdom is something always at work, beneath the surface. It's a seed hidden in the ground, where things appear to be dead but it is actually preparing new life; it's yeast at work in the dough and producing fermentation; it's like a parent waiting patiently at the end of the property for a wayward child.

We don't build the kingdom. The kingdom is God's doing. The kingdom lies dormant until it suddenly breaks into our story, in the form of human acts we would have thought were impossible, in deeds of heroism and care. It erupts.

How did that mother plead for peace when all the pain and frustration within her cried out against injustice? How did those ministers put their lives on the line? How did the rest of those parents and young men not go on a rampage?

"Surely we cannot help speaking of what we have heard and seen."

And let's be clear: Easter people are not romantics, they are not naive. That's what some people outside our religious tradition charge the church with: religion is simply an opiate, avoidance of pain. No, those Easter people are not 'out of touch'.

Timothy Thomas' mother is not out of touch with her anger. She doesn't deny it, she says even as she calls for non-violence, "I'm angry." Those ministers are not 'out of touch' with their fear even as they face the mob. And all those parents know the kind of pressures to let their kids run wild: they've been profiled and pulled over in their cars simply because of the color of their skin.

We are called to be witness of hope.

I recall the words of a friend of mine back in the worst times of the 60's, when the country was tearing apart, with assassinations and riot, Vietnam and civil rights struggles. He said, "You know, I used to be an optimist. Then I became a pessimist. Only recently have I begun to have hope." Hope is not naive, it's not all-American boosterism: "rah! rah! and isn't life grand! And aren't we great?" Hope is tough, and it's real.

We are called to be witnesses that the deeds of the kingdom do happen -- in the face of anger and pain and frustration. I f someone tells a story of gloom and destruction, we must tell two stories of peace-making. If someone counsels violence, we must show resistance by not resorting to violence.

"Surely we cannot help speaking of what we have heard and seen."

Tell them where you have seen black and white people living at peace, loving and caring for one another and for each other's children. Yes, and tell them to come to St. Agnes, where it's imperfect but hey, we work at it. Tell them what you have heard and seen, the deeds of the kingdom.

Let me end with a story.

For years I have participated in the Good Friday 'Way of the Cross - Way of Justice'. As you probably know, some three thousand people march and pray through our downtown, stopping at particular sites which call for change and healing. We pray at the Justice Center and the Drop-In Center, places like that. And some of the walk takes into Over-the-Rhine. We walk past people in tough straits and they look at us from the sidewalks. I've often wondered what they think as they see this crowd walking through their territory. Some of the faces have a clear message: "What do you think you're doing? You come here one day a year and then do nothing the rest of the year. You're just relieving your guilt." Others smile and wave to us in a friendly fashion; they're just glad that someone cares.

But one time I saw two little girls standing on the curb trying to figure this all out. Finally the face of one of the girls lit up and she cried, "Oh yes, they's the parade people!"

What a wonderful image of our church. We are in a parade stretching back 6000 years and proclaiming the faithfulness of our God even to this day. We proclaim hope. And the little kids in our midst are learning from us how to take their places in the great procession soon. Let's pray that the message the lick up from us is the message of realistic hope.

"Surely we cannot help speaking of what we have heard and seen."