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Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

    May 09, 2021

    Passage: John 15:9-17

    Preacher: Rob Donehue


    Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
    May 9th, 2021
    St. Anne’s, Conway SC

    Acts 10:44-48 1 John 5:1-6 John 15:9-17

    I hope you all will indulge me this morning. I’d like to share a personal story. As some of you know, I was pretty heavily involved in the bishop search process that culminated last Saturday with the election of Ruth Woodliff-Stanley. There was a good bit of work that went into it, so last Sunday after church, Davis and I loaded up and went to the beach with David for a couple of days; a mini-vacation of sorts. And it was superb. David is at an age where he kind of knows what the beach is and is absolutely amazed by all of it. It’s fun to see the world through his eyes; where all of the sensory experiences are new and exciting for him. And if I were ever asked to give an example of witnessing pure joy, I’d have to say it would be watching him as he took handfuls of sand and let it run through his fingers. Or seeing his expression as he watched pelicans diving into the ocean.   

    On Monday, we took David down to the beach, and we were sitting on the sand right at the tide line. We were digging around in the sand, and the water would come right up to us, bringing with it all sorts of shell fragments. And we’d pick up a handful of sand and shells and then let the receding water wash them away. All to the repeated sound of “Oooooooooh!” from an enthralled toddler. And then as one influx of water came in, I saw in my hand a tiny little shell, about the size David’s thumbnail. It was a nearly flat shell - one half of some sea mollusk shell, and it was strikingly beautiful. Pure white flecked with deep coral red, and strong though impossibly thin.  I managed to pick it out and hang on to it, and I showed it to Davis, who was equally impressed by it. We then showed it to David. I guess he thought it was a tasty morsel because he promptly tried to eat it, so I took it back and then let the oncoming water wash it away. 

    And that brief experience got me thinking. Of all of the millions of shells and shell fragments washing up just on that stretch of beach, this one tiny shell happened to wash ashore at that particular moment. And amidst all the multitude of people on the beach that day, just three people were able to see and appreciate that shell’s unique beauty in that moment. 

    Of course, I know - or at least I hope - that other people even on that same day had a similar experience of seeing something particularly captivating. I hope that all of you have had at least one similar experience some time in your life. I also hope that such moments make you stop and think about how special they are; about how utterly amazing it is that, in all of the incomprehensible vastness of the universe, on one small planet at one brief moment in time, you were aware of beauty. When you think of it in those terms, you might think that seeing a pretty shell doesn’t really mean much. Because on a cosmic scale, why should it matter? OR you might dare to think that your experience of beauty is even more amazing because of how astoundingly  unlikely it is that you’d exist and have the ability to appreciate beauty in the first place. I hope that you’d go with the latter. 

    Within the Christian tradition, there is a fancy theological term that is used to describe just what I’m talking about. It’s called the “scandal of particularity,” and it relates to the Christian claim that Jesus is the Son of God. The “scandal” is that Jesus was a particular person who lived in a particular place and time. And the question that the scandal raises is this: “Given the scale and age of the universe, and given the billions of humans who have lived and died on this planet, how can ONE person be so important? How can one person’s existence affect the entire human race - even beyond that, the entire cosmos?”

    For a lot of people, this question of Jesus’ particularity is a real stumbling block. But Christians kind of double down on it. We say that Jesus’ particular existence DOES have cosmic meaning. Sort of like how finding one beautiful shell on the beach matters even on the cosmic scale. It matters why? Love. 

    It is well and good to think of love in a general sort of way; as a force that binds the galaxy together. But unless love can be found in the particular, then it remains only a vague concept. It’s one thing to say that “Love conquers all,” but it’s entirely another to say that “A first century Jew who was willing to die to show us the truth about God” conquers all. It’s one thing to say that “Love makes the world go round,” but it’s entirely another to say that “One person dropping everything and traveling hundreds of miles to sit with grieving relatives” makes the world go round. And yet, it does.  

    We are in the Easter season, and you may have noticed that over the last few Sundays, the Gospel readings have shifted away from the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and have focused more on what Jesus said and taught about how we are to follow him in loving one another. This shift is deliberate because all of these readings point us to resurrection life - how we should live in the light of the resurrection. And what is resurrection life? Love. Messy, particular love.

    You all know it. I have the privilege of hearing from many of you about the particular circumstances of your lives, and sometimes those circumstances are beyond difficult. Parents and loved ones die. Spouses get sick. Children struggle to get by. And I know that at times it seems like the waves of life are breaking you into fragments and washing away your sense of wholeness. But I also hear about your small, particular acts of love even within those trying circumstances. And it’s those acts - the trips to the doctor; the phone calls to check in; the last-minute travel plans; the rearranging of rooms; the sending of cards and letters - that tell me the good news of Easter is still very much good news. That the cosmic scope of God’s love can and still does take shape in particular times and places. 

    Yes, sometimes we have to sift through the mess to see it, but if we’re willing to persevere, we will find beauty - and joy. That’s what living the resurrection life is all about.  


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