The Cost of Faith

It is often said that what you pay for something affects how much you value it.

It is often said that what you pay for something affects how much you value it. In other words, the more you pay, the more you cherish it. I suspect that the reverse is also true: the things you cherish the most are the things for which you are prepared to pay the most. So what has this to do with Easter?

A major theme of this month’s readings is the cost to the post-Easter Christian community of their faith. Easter faith is not something we simply espouse each Sunday before returning to our daily lives. It is something that reaches into the heart of our existence. During this Easter season we are challenged to ask ourselves how much we cherish life in Christ’s resurrection community and, consequently, how much we are prepared to pay for it.

This challenge increases as the Sundays pass. Readings from the first Sunday ask us to have the courage to forgive the sins we encounter. The third Sunday’s scripture invites us to follow the radical attitudes of those first disciples who shared all they had to ensure no one went without. The last readings share the ultimate sacrifice Stephen was prepared to make, which raises a similar question in our lives. In the midst of all this, we are reminded of why we should cherish the gospel so greatly: the Jesus we worship walks with us on our life’s journeys, listening to our worries, explaining our confusions, and causing our hearts to burn within us.

April 3
An Unfading Inheritance
Acts 2:14, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

The Sundays after Easter often can feel anticlimactic. We follow the events of the last week of Jesus’ life and celebrate with great joy his rising from the dead, but what then?

We go on as before. Or do we? The readings of the Easter season are carefully chosen to point us beyond that post-Easter letdown. In a sense, the story - our story - is only just beginning. Jesus’ death and resurrection is not simply a powerful event from 2,000 years ago; it spans centuries and changes our lives today. The text 1 Peter 1:3-4 reminds us that the death and resurrection of Jesus have given us a new birth into "a living hope" and "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading." The story of Easter doesn’t end on Easter day any more than it ended when Jesus rose from the dead. Instead the story reaches into the heart of our existence - challenging, transforming, and inspiring us afresh. The season of Easter should remind us that our lives will never be the same.

This also becomes clear in the reading from John’s gospel. Here, when Jesus appears to the disciples he breathes the Holy Spirit on them and gives them the power to forgive or to retain sins (John 20:22-23). This is an immense responsibility. As Christians who live in the light of Jesus’ resurrection, we are charged to live as Jesus in the world, recognizing sin and forgiving it. If we take this commission seriously, we are challenged to stand up to oppression, injustice, greed, and every other kind of sin.

This post-Easter season reminds us of the challenge given us by the risen and ascended Jesus. As such, it should be far from anticlimactic.

April 10
The Journeying Christ
Acts 2:14, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

Luke 24:13-35 contains my favorite gospel story. With his usual storytelling skill, Luke draws us into this narrative of two disillusioned, disappointed disciples who are traveling to Emmaus (we are never told why) and meet a stranger on the way. Eventually they realize this stranger is Jesus. As with so many of Luke’s stories, it illustrates something of the Christian journey of faith.

So many of us go through life disillusioned and disappointed, unable to understand what has happened to us. When we first meet Jesus, we rarely recognize who he is, but slowly, as he travels with us, he explains to us what is going on.

This story can also function as a model for evangelism and pastoral care. The quickest thing for Jesus to do on the road to Emmaus would have been to tell the disciples who he was, what had happened to him, and invite them to believe. He didn’t do this. Instead he journeyed with them and first got them to tell him what was troubling them. Only then did Jesus explain things to them and open their eyes.

It is tempting when we meet people to hurry them, to offer a solution to their problems. Jesus does not do this. He meets people with gentleness and patience, and journeys with them. Luke reminds us to do the same.

April 17
A Radical New Life
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

We all know that the events around Easter are costly - they cost Jesus everything. But it’s easy to forget there is also a cost for us. Jesus’ death and resurrection established a new way of being, a way that calls us to follow the footsteps of Jesus and a way that will change us forever.

John’s gospel reminds us of the radical change that has occurred because of Jesus. Unlike all other leaders - before and after Jesus - he calls us to belong and respond to him because of this. This radical new leadership calls forth from us a radical new response. Acts 2:42-47 describes the complete transformation that has taken place among the Jerusalem disciples. These disciples have changed from a frightened, confused group who fled when Jesus was arrested to a dynamic and radical community centered on prayer, fellowship, and worship. A telling sign of their transformation: They prepared to sell everything they owned to give it to those in need.

Unfortunately, the zeal of the post-Easter community did not last long. References in Acts to this radical demonstration of new life of Christ become fewer and fewer until they stop altogether. We find it immensely difficult to part from our belongings. But this doesn’t detract from the fact that their natural response to the news of Jesus’ resurrection was a willingness to surrender everything, including material goods, in order to live a life worthy of the risen Christ. The earliest disciples, in their post-Easter community, engaged in radical, self-denying action. Are we sufficiently inspired to do the same?

April 24
A Dangerous Proclamation
Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

For some the cost of Easter is so great that it demands even their life. Fortunately, most of us are not asked to pay such a high price; what we are asked to do, however, is to share the vision of martyrs such as Stephen. The theme of this week’s readings seems to be seeing, understanding, and then proclaiming what we have seen. John’s gospel recounts the disciples’ bemusement at Jesus’ words (anyone who has attempted to untangle this bit of John may sympathize with them). The heart of the confusion here is Jesus’ language about the connection between himself and the father. The real problem for the disciples is that they’ve seen Jesus but haven’t yet understood this relationship.

Stephen does see it and is able to speak fluently and inspiringly about the difference this makes. Stephen was a visionary in all senses of the word: He saw and spoke of heavenly things as well as related them to what happens on earth. His remarkable speech, in Acts 7, shows his ability to weave together the great stories of Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon with a critique of how people appropriated them in his own time. But this ability also caused his death. Stephen’s insight, interpretation, and proclamation were so close to the bone that his hearers could not stand it.

We may not be called to lay down our lives for the gospel, but we are called to see, understand, and proclaim God’s view of the world. This will never be popular.

Paula Gooder is a lecturer at the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, England, and a freelance biblical lecturer and writer.

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