Friday, April 12, 2013

Our Capacity for Resurrection

Scripture for the 2nd Sunday of Easter includes Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

Today’s Gospel makes four clear statements that ring true to human experience:

First, fear shuts doors, locks them tight.

Second, what fears may lock out includes opportunity, deeper community, and peace.

Third, seeing is believing.

Fourth, persuasion gained from other people’s experience and perspective also leads us to believe.

That could be the outline of a sermon. And of a sermon at a time when the Williamstown community is feeling challenged by important decisions to be made in the weeks ahead.

Let’s start with seeing is believing. Indelible was the women’s experience at the empty tomb, where their dread was turned to comprehending joy. Indelible was the men’s experience in their first encounter with the power of the Christ whom locked doors could not keep out. These indelibilities vied with and surpassed the horror of their Lord’s crucifixion. An Easter faith trumps the worst of the hands we may get dealt in life.

Think back to the images we gained firsthand after Hurricane Irene swept through. Water up to the goal posts at Cole Field. Spruces residents being evacuated as the Hoosic River rose toward the hubcaps of the school bus that gathered them up. Even now, scattered around the Park are empty husks of mobile homes that once were their occupants’ castles, gutted of moldy insulation, stripped of all that had made them cozy homes. Can anyone have seen, and not believed, the urgent need these neighbors of ours have?

We are ready for resurrection images to prove more indelible than the devastation we have observed at The Spruces. What will those images be? We stretch our imagination to picture the outcome, the housing, the location—but we’re sure that what we want indelible is the justice of a generous outcome and the joy of a gracious homecoming for all Spruces residents displaced from their homes.

Seeing is believing also for town residents who can’t imagine relinquishing greenspace for affordable housing. The view from many places in town is spectacular, and the desire to make it indelible in any one spot isn’t hard to understand.

Might this be where fear starts locking doors? With respect to the proposal for the Stratton Hill site, what looks to some of us like an inspired win-win solution giving conservation and affordable housing their shares on that hillside may look to others of us as an unjustifiable loss of recreational and agricultural acreage. On April 24, residents will decide whether to open this door to meet human need, or lock this door to protect that site from change.

This Gospel urges us to pay attention to what locked doors may lock out. I heard a parish leader observe, the other day, “We’re losing our middle class in this town.” Adding affordable housing is a necessity to developing a more inclusive community. I think we should be afraid of whatever locks out new affordable housing, because what we will lose is deeper, broader human community.

A more immediate threat to our community, I suspect, are forms of persuasion that fail to respect the integrity, the dignity, or the sincerity of people on the other side of the issues. On the other side of April 24’s special town meeting, and on the far side of May 21’s annual town meeting, stand we the people, and we will need to stand arm in arm and hand in hand in order to make the very best of whatever choices we will have made.

Efforts to persuade have been many, and there will be many more. I imagine it’s unavoidable that offense will be taken and given, which points to the necessity of mercy and patience in our public discourse. And the necessity of courage, because much needs to be said, openly and honestly, and it would be a shame if our fear of offending silenced us at a crucial moment.

Our Gospel today ends with a fourth simple truth, that persuasion gained from other people’s experience and perspective also leads us to believe. John the Gospel writer suggests the kind of persuasion that God uses to cultivate believing, and that is to tell the signs that Jesus does in this world. That’s the purpose of his Gospel, and he insists that there will be countless more signs of Jesus than any book can contain.

I hope that among them will be this Town’s choice to accomplish the justice of a generous outcome and the joy of a gracious homecoming for all Spruces residents, giving us all images of resurrection more indelible than the memories of how so many homes were destroyed, lives damaged, and plans forever changed.

In the decision before this Town on April 24th comes a unique opportunity to place affordable housing and conservation hand in hand, a way to affirm the communal importance of both, a partnering that will send no one home as losers.

To me, that looks like grace, an invitation to welcome new life, to prove that we have a capacity for resurrection. Let’s find out!