The Author of Life
This sermon was delivered from Cobleskill United Methodist Church on April 18, 2021
“The Author of Life”
Third Sunday of Easter
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
Acts 3:12-19 12
When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. 17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.
In my studying of the scriptures for this Sunday one particular phrase stuck out to me. You can probably guess which phrase it was by the title of my sermon because immediately after reading it I knew I was being led to focus on this for today’s message. “The Author of Life.”
It’s so poetic.
It’s a phrase that is clearly used to refer to Jesus in the passage from Acts where Peter speaks it. But it struck me as so unusual. We often refer to God as the Creating part of the trinity and Jesus as the living out, the embodiment of that creation into flesh and bones. But in this phrase spoken by Peter, Jesus is called the Author of Life.
I turned the phrase over and over in my thoughts this week. The Author of Life. Since God is the creator and the parent to Jesus, what else could this mean, author of life? I then thought about how similar the word author is to authority. Put that way, perhaps this is a way of calling Jesus the authority on life. After all he was God and yet put on human flesh, lived life from the start as a crying baby to the end as a grownup person who could and did feel every human emotion known to humankind. It could easily be said that Jesus was the authority on what it means to be alive. Someone who lived without regret; who lived robustly, and fully, making the most of every moment. Jesus lived in such a way that he created a moment out of each moment. And he was present and aware of every other living thing that shared space with him in that moment.
We see this so classically in the other scripture reading read this morning. The one where Jesus comes to his disciples after his resurrection and finds them completely mystified and confused. And I just love this moment, but in the middle of their joy and their confusion and their wonder, Jesus asks for a snack! While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. And there they sit, Jesus munching on a piece of broiled fish, catching his friends up on theological matters. The Gospel of John tells a similar story and places it on a beach by the shore where the fish are being cooked over an open fire. This is our Jesus, living life in the moment, enjoying a meal with his friends, being real, being present, living a full life both physically and spiritually.
Could this be what Author of Life means? The Divine Son of God who took on human form so that he could show us the meaning of living one’s own life with purpose and fullness.
I had the honor this week of being part of two memorial services for people who lived their lives with fullness and purpose. I doubt that Doc Mackenzie and Betty Lory ever met one other, but of their lives were both remembered this week in Cobleskill. Doc was remembered as a beloved professor at the college, who worked for nearly 40 years teaching students how to train dogs. The stories told about him are larger than life. He was the kind of professor you could chat with for hours in the student lounge and also the kind of person who could see into the souls of animals. With both people and dogs, he made his loving mark.
And then there’s Betty, who at the young age of 106 had nurtured four generations of family with a relentless love. Betty, who would help anyone in any way that she could, whether it was with a plate of goodies and a cup of tea or a tender prayer in low moment.
I look at the lives of people like Doc and Betty and I see a glimpse of the gift Jesus passed to us when he Authored his own life and, by extension, ours too. It is the gift of being present with people, caring for their needs, and finding a purpose in this life and then chasing after it.
Authoring life was the gift Jesus gave to us. He taught us how it was to be done. All of it, the spiritual and the physical. The tearful embraces, the broken bread, the footprints in the sand, the conversations with outcasts, the bedside visits to the sick and dying, the feet washing, the campfires on the beach, the broiled fish eaten for breakfast with friends. Jesus was the authority on life. He was the author of life itself. And in our most cherished saints we can see the imprint of his authorship and its beautiful. And we want to linger there.
I got to this part of my sermon last night and wanted to quit. I actually threatened to throw my laptop out the window. Because there’s no way to write a sermon focusing on the poetic phrase “The Author of Life” without also including in that sermon the words that actually come before that phrase in the scripture. “And you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of Life.”
As much as I wanted this to be a sermon to just be about the Author of Life and the ways Jesus taught us how to live fully in each moment, it ultimately can’t be a sermon about how Jesus authored life without also including the part where we, the people who supposedly followed Jesus, actually demanded for his life to be taken away from him. We can’t cherry pick the parts that make us feel good and leave the rest behind, as much as we sometimes want to. It doesn’t work that way. The Author of Life will always be intrinsically linked with tragedy.
In some of my studying this week I actually read that Peter, the speaker of this passage, likely used the especially poetic language “Author of Life” in this particularly condemning verse in order to create an even starker contrast between the victim and the heinousness of his death. It’s as if Peter is asking, “what right did we the people have to take the life of the one who gave us the very definition of life?” We had no right but we did it anyway. And we still do it.
The beauty of life is constantly cast into relief by the horror of life. [This week was no exception. It seemed like for every bright and beautiful moment marking the ways life can be lived fully and robustly, there were opposite moments, marking the ways life can be cut short tragically and unjustly. We have the funeral of a 106-year-old saint set in relief against the horrifying and untimely ending of a 13-year-old’s life at the hands of law enforcement. We have progress against stopping the loss of life in a world-wide pandemic set in relief against a simultaneous season of new mass shootings where one person can just choose to take life en mass. What is wrong with this picture? Why does the color of your skin statistically determine the fullness of your life in our justice systems? Why does one person have the power to turn an ordinary work place into a battleground and in a split second kill 8 people with an army-grade weapon? What is wrong with these pictures? Why, after nearly 2000 Easters have we not learned how to condoning the loss of life? Why is Jesus still crucified over and over again in the streets of our nation?
We had no right to kill the Author of Life. We have no right to kill anyone. And yet we do. We sanction it with our tax dollars. We normalize it with our justice system. We justify it with our self-proclaimed freedoms. And perhaps worst of all, we barely register it when it flashes across the news screen. The beauty of life is constantly cast into relief by the horror of life and we aren’t the innocent bystanders we’d like to think we are.
We do not deserve it but God is a God of mercy and forgiveness. It might not sound like it, at this point, but this is still the Easter season and this is still an Easter sermon.
The Christian story is marked with pain and its’ also marked with undeserved and unmerited redemption. The scripture says “you killed the Author of Life,” but there is not a period after that statement. There is a coma and it’s followed by six words: “whom God raised from the dead.” Six words that had then and still have to this day the power to change you and me and the entire messed up world. Six words that hold the power of hope that things can be different. This business of tragedy in our streets, of throwing away life, of brutality as a means to any end, does not have to be the status quo. When God raised Jesus, the Author of Life, from the dead, God invested into the power of love the ability to overcome the darkest of tragedies. The Author of Life desperately writes a new chapter. Killing doesn’t work with God. “And by faith in his name,” the scripture continues, “his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know… Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”
In order to stop the killing we must admit that we are complicit. Our redemption comes at the price of our repentance. As much as I want it to be true, we can’t pick out the best parts of life and only live there.
The beauty of life will always be set in relief against the tragedy of life. But so too is the depth of the world’s sin is set in relief against the depth of God’s mercy. After each tragedy there will always be a coma. Repentance is always followed with redemption. The Author of Life is in the business of writing new chapters. What will be written in yours?
Let us pray.
Author of Life, we love you. We love everything about you. We love the way you taught us about the value of life. And we ache for the way each of us is culpable in the extinguishing of life, your life and others. Forgive us for our complicity in systems of justice that prioritize retribution over restoration. Lead us into a new future in which killing is replaced with living. A future in which dying is replaced with resurrecting. A future in which our apathy is transformed with your great faithfulness. May it be so.