Easter 6B Sermon (2024)

6th Sunday of Easter
Texts: 1 John 5:1-6;
John 15:9-17; Acts 10:44-48

Facebook Live (sermon begins at 29:50): https://fb.watch/rTylI6D0hk/




See the entire YouTube video (37 seconds) titles Special Olympic Race at: https://youtu.be/v1qtv7uKUlY?si=YfsviTczucG6a1EL

The photo in your insert (see Sermon Notes) is the ending of a short video you can find on YouTube, about a race at a Special Olympics. The drama is centered on one of the racers falling down (#7). The girl next to him stops running and helps him up. Before you know it, all the racers are helping him, arm in arm, across the finish line together. In general, the Special Olympics have the Spirit of everyone winning. We smile when ‘everyone winning’ is the way of the Special Olympics. But in most other venues, the suggestion that everyone wins brings a frown, and most often a comment along the lines of, ‘in the real world, there’s always winners and losers.’

Today, I’d like to seriously challenge that ‘real world’ talk. The so-called real world of human history has definitely been one of winners vs. losers. I’ve talked in the past that that represents the logic of sacrifice, deeply ingrained in our very anthropology at this point (see, for example, Advent 3B). We evolved with a politics in our communities in which there’s always winners and losers, with the losers getting sacrificed — religiously symbolized for centuries by actually shedding someone’s blood on an altar.

If the Gospel is about God’s very different politics coming into the world through Jesus the Messiah, then I firmly believe that the win-lose politics of human history are being turned on their head. The world sees Jesus the Lamb of God as being sacrificed on the cross by the powers-that-be. But those who have come to faith in the Risen Jesus see that sacrifice turned into self-sacrifice. We even use the word sacrifice more in the sense of Jesus’ self-sacrifice, rather than in that old-time sacrifice where someone else’s blood is shed. We talk about sacrifice more in the sense of Jesus’ self-sacrifice. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, Jesus becomes the Great High Priest who sheds his own blood on our altars of sacrifice, instead of the age-old way of shedding someone else’s blood (Heb 9:12, 25-26). Sacrifice is turned into self-sacrifice. And, at the same time, the logic of win-lose is opened to the new creative possibilities of win-win. Jesus the Good Shepherd comes to bring abundant life, where there is enough for everyone and everyone wins. It turns out that in the real real world everyone does win.

On Easter Sunday, I told the story of an eight year-old Down Syndrome boy, Philip, who finally became a winner in the eyes of his Sunday School class. The class went into the church yard to find symbols of life, placing them in plastic eggs — things like butterflies and little flowers. The children assumed Philip had done it wrong when his egg was empty. Until he said, “The tomb is empty. I did it right. The tomb is empty.”

On Easter, we also talked about how our society as a whole has changed its view of differently abled people — and our politics along with them! We’ve gone from sacrificing most of them in institutions to “mainstream” care that seeks to help everyone to flourish. Win-win. Here’s the question for today: when we have a politics of caring for the vulnerable, like Philip, can we finally learn that God has created a win-win world in which no one has to be sacrificed?

Like today, Acts 10 was the First Reading on Easter Sunday. Peter gives a sermon at the home of Cornelius, a Roman army commander. Peter himself has an Aha-moment, ‘I finally get it! God shows no partiality.’ Today we read from a few verses later in Acts 10, where after his sermon the apostles baptize Cornelius’ entire household. Through water, these Gentile ‘outsiders’ are made children together in God’s household. In God’s household, no one is to be left out. Everyone is to be a winner in God’s earth home, teaming with abundant life.

The theme of winning comes from today’s Second Reading, where the Greek word for “win,” nikē, is prominent. Here’s what we need to take away from all this talk about winning the world: The Letter of John follows-up with the Gospel of John to make sure we understand the new rules of the game when God’s politics come into the world, grounded in the power of love, instead of the power of military victory. In Jesus the Messiah and our faith in him, God’s win-win politics has entered into the world of our win-lose politics.

The bottom line is that we come to have faith in a very different kind of leader — as we saw just two weeks ago, a Good Shepherd. The authoritarian leaders of this world have not been good shepherds. Rather, they operate with win-lose politics where some people, usually the most vulnerable, become losers. The losers are “sacrificed” for the good of the winners, those in charge and their allies. Just think back to COVID. We actually had some of our elected leaders saying things like, ‘Well, it’s OK if we older Americans are sacrificed for the good of the economy.’ Such leaders sell us on the doctrine of scarcity, that there’s not enough for everyone, so there must be winners and losers. On Good Shepherd Sunday, we heard that those strong man leaders of human history are little more than thieves or hired hands.

But we place our faith in the Good Shepherd who, in love, lays down his life for the sheep. He turns their bloody sacrifice of others into the self-sacrifice of his own blood. He lets himself appear as a loser on the cross when he has actually come to show us the victory of Easter, the victory of abundant life. He has come to lead us into a win-win politics which has faith in abundance, not scarcity. There is enough for everyone in this good creation God has made. The one lifted up on a cross as one of this world’s losers is actually God’s new win-win politics come into the world.

Where do we see the evidence of such a new politics having come into the world? In the way we help differently abled people to achieve their best, helping them to flourish as much as possible — and us with them! There’s many other examples we can talk about. The struggles we’ve had with racism and sexism, where there needs to be winners and losers, but we can approach anew with a win-win politics. There’s still much to learn about and talk about regarding movements for greater equality when it comes to race and gender. That’s why I’ve issued an invitation [in that month’s newsletter] to go beyond the sermons and turn this way of reading Scripture for understanding the politics of God into a conversation.

I’d like to end today with some comments on a book featured at the end of today’s handout (Sermon Notes): The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, by Heather McGhee. I find it to bring a win-win approach to politics, as signaled by the book’s title, from the perspective of an African-American woman. She seeks to go beyond the zero-sum game of typical human win-lose politics and find a politics reflecting the “sum of us,” a coming together to move slowly toward a different kind of politics in which everyone prospers. And we make such efforts why? Because in following Jesus we seek to live by a different kind of power, the power of love, where we lay down our lives for another as friends. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Bethania Lutheran Church,
Racine, WI, May 5, 2024

Facebook Live (sermon begins at 29:50): https://fb.watch/rTylI6D0hk/

Sermon Notes

Print Friendly, PDF & Email