Sermon for Third Sunday in Easter 2018
Acts 3:12-19 Psalms 4 I John 3:1-7 Luke 24:36b-48
An irate mother confronted the teacher when they got back from a field trip to the pool. “I can’t believe someone stole my son’s towel. What kind of things are you people teaching at this school?” The teacher apologized over and over and asked what the towel looked like and maybe they could find it for her. The mother replied, “Well, I guess you could try to find it. It is white with a green stripe that says Holiday Inn.”
What are we teaching? As we gather today, as the family of God, as a religious community, we are celebrating the Great Fifty Days. The Easter Season provides opportunities for the church to reflect on the post-resurrection appearances to the disciples and to celebrate anew the blessing upon those who have not seen and yet who believe.
Jesus was the talk of the town. Everyone wondered what all that had happened in Jerusalem meant. The disciples wondered if Christ was real? Is Christ real for us? Where do we find him? Sometimes it’s easy to feel alone in the face of all kinds of problems, challenges, and difficulties. Where is God in all the things that happen to us? When a child becomes seriously ill, or when a parent dies. What real difference does faith make? Is there anything more to our lives than what we see with our eyes, what we touch with our hands? The disciples wondered too.
After the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples were scared, confused, lost. Everything that they thought they believed in seemed to be disproved. They loved Jesus and followed him. He was their hope and their life. And now, he was gone.
But then he was back. He appeared to his disciples in the midst of their hurt and confusion. They were startled, and he soothed them. It seemed too good to be true. They had wondered, what sort of body did Jesus have? He even ate some food as they watched in amazement. How could it be, solid and real, with flesh and bones, able to eat broiled fish, and at the same time be sure that he wasn’t a ghost. How could he appear and disappear at will, and at the end to be carried into heaven? His presence was real. He was real and he was with them again. Their life and love together was not ended.
The disciples saw Jesus’ new life with their own eyes. Their failures were forgiven, their pain relieved, and their opportunities for sharing God’s love were beyond anything they could have imagined. As Jesus found them in a time of great suffering and loss, they would proclaim the new life of Christ they had seen and known in their own lives. That was their good news, and their witness.
That’s where Jesus finds us - right in the middle of our hurt and confusion - right in the middle of the messes of our lives – right where we need him the most. We shouldn’t even think about waiting to get our act together to invite Jesus into our hearts. It doesn’t work that way. Thankfully, we don’t have to sort out everything difficult or confusing in our lives before God will come to us. We can find God present in the midst of the best times and the worst times of our lives. And then we can share the good news of faith with others.
Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” Peace is something we all crave. When the church phone is ringing like crazy when I’m talking on my cell phone, the emails are backing up from last week and the car needs servicing. Peace sounds pretty good. When a child is pulling on one leg and the dog on the other. Peace seems far way. Grace is God’s free gift of salvation given to us in Christ. Receiving it brings us peace (Romans 5:1). In a world filled to overflowing with noise, confusion, and relentless pressures, people long for peace. Many give up the search, thinking that it is impossible to find, but true peace of heart and mind is available through faith in Jesus Christ.
God’s peace is different from the world’s peace (John 14:27). True peace is not found in positive thinking, in the absence of conflict, or in good feelings, it comes from knowing that God is in control. Our citizenship in Christ’s Kingdom is sure, our destiny is set, and we can have victory over sin. God’s peace can guard our hearts against anxiety.
So how do we find peace, or how does peace find us? We become aware. We examine our lives. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We must spend time with God, with God’s Word, with people of faith to know more about who we are and who God is within us. We must look at those parts of our lives, our habits, our gifts, our regrets, our losses, our victories.
The days after the resurrection challenged the disciples. They wanted to live. They wanted to live in the way Jesus lived – for the sake of the sick in Galilee, for the women in Israel and Samaria and Canaan, for the poor in the temple, for those burdened by taxes in Palestine, for sinners everywhere who knew themselves to be weak and didn’t pretend to be strong. The disciples wanted to live with an undivided heart, an undivided life. The word for purity in the original language might be translated “undivided.” Those who can see God lack the inner divisions that plague and divide our souls. Purity of heart is to will one thing. The heart that is whole is being healed of its divisions, manifesting a single spiritual current directed toward God. When we experience an examined life with an undivided heart, God honors our efforts and we find peace.
Then, we can see the end result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives in living into this deep and lasting peace. Unlike worldly peace, which is usually defined as an absence of conflict, this peace is confident assurance in any circumstance, with Christ’s peace, we have no need to fear the present or the future. When our lives are filled with stress, and we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with Christ’s peace, we are made new. (Phil. 4:6-7).
Peace be with you. Peace has come to mean the time when there aren’t any wars or even when there aren’t any major wars. Most of us would settle for that. But in Hebrew, peace, shalom, means fullness, it means having everything you need to be wholly and happily yourself. For Jesus, peace seems to mean - not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love.
Today’s text brings the work and ministry of Jesus full circle. Luke tells us at the beginning of his Gospel that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption for all of creation. God transformed a tragic consequence into a new thing – an acquittal and ultimate redemption. The ugliness of the crucifixion gave way to the power of resurrection.
Just when we thought the story is over, God had something to say. It has always been about God and continues to be so. Jesus didn’t launch into explanations about the resurrection and he didn’t give an itinerary of his whereabouts since Friday. Instead, Jesus taught and commissioned: his whole life, death, and rising were about what God is doing in the world – reconciling the world to God’s self. From the Law of Moses to the prophets to the Psalms, it has always been about God and God’s purposes, aims, and agenda for creation – repentance that leads to forgiveness of sins and the wholeness of creation.
The risen Christ appeared to groups and couples to assure them that he lives; to teach them to put their fear and doubts in the context of God’s plan; to open their understanding of the Scriptures; to commission them as witnesses of all that God has done and is doing in the world. Jesus declares that his followers are now ready to be credible, reliable, ready witnesses in Jerusalem and to all nations, because of what they have seen and what they know. The defense is sure – Christ is risen! The work begins and continues because of the resurrection.
Today’s text challenges us: What in our communities needs the presence of the risen Christ? What kinds of experiences and understandings do we need so we can be credible witnesses to God’s aim in the world? No matter how we answer these questions, Jesus commissions us to declare the presence and power of God in the midst of tragedy, despair, and death. They do not triumph - God does. And God aims to redeem creation and to redeem us. The risen Christ makes himself known to us in ways large and small. As people of faith, we are to be witnesses to Christ’s presence among us, in our words and in our deeds; our faith demands nothing less. I love this quote from Bishop Jack Spong, who says that Jesus lived fully and loved wastefully. And that is what we are called to do – to live fully proclaiming what God has done in our lives and to love wastefully, not just folks like us, but all people. And God will bless our efforts - to live fully and love wastefully. Amen.