On The Birth Of A Movement

On The Birth Of A Movement

On the Birth of a Movement
April 7, 2024
Traceymay Kalvaitis

Psalm 133:1
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

Acts 4:32-35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”


Today’s sermon is titled On the Birth of a Movement.
Most of the Easter lilies have been taken home and I ate the last piece of the Easter cake yesterday, but in our church year Easter is not over; Easter is just beginning. For the next seven weeks we will be in the season of Eastertide. It will be a chance for us to consider what Jesus’s death and resurrection meant for his followers then and what it means for us now. There is much to consider, Friends.

Let’s begin with imagining what it must have been like for Jesus’s closest followers in the wake of his death and resurrection. They had all experienced a collective trauma. They had borne witness to Jesus’s arrest, his public torture, and his execution. They were grieving in the most intense way. Jesus had opened himself to them and offered them a love like they had never experienced before and it eclipsed the importance of all other aspects of their lives. Jesus’s followers had left their jobs, their families of origin, and their homes to be near to him. Through Jesus they experienced the love of God and that connection became their ultimate aim. And yet Jesus never asked them to worship him; he asked them to follow him. Nine times he asked them to follow him. So what were they to do now?

Friends, it is essential that we begin with this poignancy, this heavy sadness, grief and bewilderment that Jesus’s followers were experiencing because it was out of this intensity of emotions that a revolutionary movement was born when Jesus, resurrected from death, appeared again and again. What we have come to refer to as “church” was born from the heady mix of grief and astonishment. The grief had broken open their hearts and minds and their absolute astonishment in seeing him once again forever changed them. Jesus had more to give them. He offered them part of himself as he breathed his breath of life upon them and, in doing so, he imparted to them the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit that he had promised would remain with them.

I can not emphasize enough how important it is for us to imagine the magnitude of this confluence of events and all the attendant emotions. Within the span of a week, Jesus’s followers had experienced the elation of a king’s welcome as they entered Jerusalem, the anger and bewilderment of Jesus’s betrayal and arrest in the garden, fearing for their lives and the lives of their families as Jesus is convicted and executed, and then the shock of Jesus’s reappearance. In the storm of all this intensity, Jesus’s followers coalesced and unified into a small tribe that would carry on, even under the threat of ridicule, imprisonment and death. They were convinced, beyond any shadow of doubt, that they had witnessed the Messiah, the Christ. Their convictions were strong enough to birth a movement with the sole objective of sharing their witness of the resurrection and all they remembered of Jesus’s teachings. It is a movement that is still unfolding to this day, unfolding in this very instant as we are gathered here together.

We know from our own lived experience how people can be moved by grief and anger, fear and bewilderment. We saw it in the spring of 2020 when the video of George Floyd’s murder was shared around the world. Technology allowed us to globally witness an act of brutality so shocking that we had a collective response that blurred all the standard divisions of gender, race, political affiliation and economic status. Over the days and weeks and months that followed, 27 countries from around the world either organized protests or the government issued statements condemning racially motivated police violence or both.* Here in the US an unprecedented wave of response came from corporations, the sports industry, and elected officials from local, state and national levels. Countless communities, including ours, organized weekly vigils for racial justice; ours ran for 26 straight weeks along highway 101. On the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, after the man who kneeled on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds was convicted, President Biden met with George Floyd’s family. The youngest member, Floyd’s daughter Gianna, told Biden, “My Daddy changed the world.”** She is correct; there was a seismic shift in the spring of 2020. Global awareness was raised and even though racist and nationalistic skeletons came tumbling out of the closet, at least now we can deal with them in the daylight. It was the shock of the event that catapulted communities into action. The strength of the shock was, and always is, directly proportional to the strength of the response. The world turned out to say “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter.”

The fervor for racial justice is surely kin to the fervor of Jesus’s followers who unified around the sharing of the gospel, the good news that death had been conquered, that the Holy Spirit was present, and the promise of forgiveness could still be experienced. It was an incredible foundation to build from and it is so important for us to recognize this because if not for the strength of those followers’ convictions, we would likely not be gathered together today.

Before I close, I would be remiss if I did not point out that, as it is with any human endeavor to organize around a set of common beliefs, there are many pitfalls and traps along the way. We heard a beautiful rendering of what the life of the early church was like, when Jesus’s followers created a community based on care and compassion. We must look over the rim of those rose-colored glasses, though, and acknowledge that there was plenty of opposition and understandably so. When we humans are faced with messages that call us to face difficult truths and to change our ways, we will most often attack the messenger. Aristotle first warned us of our tendency to turn the argument to the messenger’s character. We saw this unfold in real time during the spring and summer of 2020 when the Black Lives Matter organization was called into question, while the criminal history of George Floyd was presented as if the life of a criminal was in some way less valuable than the lives of non-criminals.

The same has been true over the millennia in Christianity. What’s easier? To debate whether or not the resurrection actually happened or to live into the theology that we are all God’s children, no matter the color of our skin and that we are all forgiven, no matter whether we have a criminal history or not. It is much easier to enter into debate and undermine the impact of Jesus’s teachings than to abide in them. G.K. Chesterton famously stated, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

In closing, we are invited to enter into this season of Eastertide with eyes and hearts wide open and spirits willing to go to the difficult places where we stand to be improved, enlightened, and transformed because of what happened in Judea over two thousand years ago. A relatively small tribe of witnesses to Jesus’s death and resurrection birthed a movement that still has so much to teach us as we grow into culture where all people have equity, justice, and equal opportunities to prosper. I pray Christ’s blessings on us all as we persevere. So be it. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer
God who is both Father and Mother, I pray your blessings of peace upon us all this morning. This worldly life is fraught with hardship and disappointment and it can eclipse the light of Your presence among us. Help us, Lord, to attune our awareness of the divine that is intermingled with the ordinary, the blessings that come along with the tragedies, the beams of holy light that shine into the heart of darkness. For the parts of us that are fearful, grant us assurance; for the parts of us that feel unworthy, flood them with forgiveness. Strengthen us, we pray, when faced with difficulties within ourselves and within our culture, strengthen us with a love so tender that we become boundless and effectual, on every level of our beings. For the healing that is happening, we thank you; for the awareness that is deepening, we thank you; and for the guidance that is only a prayer away, we thank you.

Benediction I leave you with these words from the 12th century prophet, Hildegaard von Bingen, in her prayer to the Holy Spirit: “Holy Spirit, making life alive, moving in all things, root of all created being, cleansing the cosmos of every purity, effacing guilt, anointing wounds. You are lustrous and praiseworthy life, You waken and reawaken everything that is.”