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Good Shepherd Sunday – An Easter Let Down

John 10:11-18

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away– and the wolf snatches them and scatters them…. read the whole passage

Today marks the half-way point of the seven week season of Easter and the fourth Sunday of Easter is called Good Shepherd Sunday. We hear images of the Good Shepherd on the 4th Sunday. 

And in some respects this Sunday represents a departure from the urgency and immediacy of Easter that we have been hearing for the first 3 weeks of Easter. We first heard the story of the women at the tomb fleeing in fear and telling no one. We followed it up the next week by going back to the day of the resurrection and the fearful disciples hiding out as Jesus appeared in their midst, and how Thomas missed the whole thing. And then last week, we again returned to the day of the resurrection as Jesus appeared to the disciples, this time according to Luke, where they thought he was a ghost. 

Three weeks of immediate urgent experiences of the resurrection. 

Honestly…today can be a bit of a let down. 

While these words are familiar and much beloved… I serve a church named Good Shepherd after all… they don’t seem to carry that same earthiness of the resurrection stories that we have been hearing. Jesus giving one of his wordy speeches found in John’s gospel isn’t as exciting as appearing to the disciples who think he is a ghost. 

Yet these familiar words about Good Shepherds are not really about the hard and unheralded job of being a sheep tender, and Jesus isn’t really talking about the job of tending sheep out in a literal field. 

We have a habit of taking this good shepherd passage out of context… we name churches, we make idyllic pastoral art work of Shepherd Jesus, we compose sanguine hymns about “The King of Love my Shepherd is” all clinging to the sweet and cuddly of image of Jesus gently caring for little lambs (the lambs are us by the way). 

The image makes us feel good, Jesus the Shepherd is like a warm blanket we can wrap around ourselves to keep our faith warm and comfortable. 

And to be certain, there are times in our lives when we need that image of the good shepherd loving and caring for us. 

But this passage is a little more complex than we tend to make it. 

This monologue delivered by Jesus doesn’t happen in isolation, nor are these words intended to provide comfort to the disciples or the crowds following Jesus. Rather, we have to go back to a story that we usually hear during Lent – the story of the blind man. Jesus heals a man born blind and moves on. Then the blind man’s community question his healing and declare that he is still a sinner and eventually send him away. Jesus finds him again, reveals that it is Jesus, the Messiah, who has healed him and then says that it is the religious leaders who are blind. 

Nearby pharisees overhear and challenge Jesus. 

And this speech about the Good Shepherd is what results. 

So imagine Jesus, with a man whose blindness has been healed yet has been sent away by the religious leaders of his community, standing in the bustling streets just outside the synagogue. And there is Jesus and the pharisees are arguing about sin, arguing about the responsibility of leaders to tend and care for God’s people. And Jesus says this, 

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand sees the wolf coming and runs away…”

These words of Jesus take on a very different meaning and character. 

They are fiery and bold. They are words that condemn rather than comfort. 

They condemn the leadership of the pharisees. The religious leaders of God’s chosen people who have been given the responsibility of making God’s love and mercy and forgiveness accessible to all. The religious authorities of Jesus’ day had turned this responsibility into a commodity, into a withholding. They withheld righteousness for the privileged few, only for those who could afford its great cost, only for those who could afford to keep the law of Moses. They had turned their call to serve, into selfish ambition and benefit.

They had let their self-concern, their desire to seek their own benefit, get in the way of this task given to them by God. 

And Jesus was calling them on it. 

Of course this tension and conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees is what eventually leads to the cross, but by the end of this particular speech about the Good Shepherd those listening in were divided into two camps. Those who thought Jesus was nuts, and those who thought he might have a point. 

And while the church has been guilty of the same kind of letting our own selfishness get in the way of our call to make God’s mercy accessible -remember Martin Luther’s central issue in the reformation and the sale of indulgences – we probably find ourselves somewhere the middle those two groups of listeners. 

Somedays we probably think that Jesus and his habit of turning everything we think makes sense upside down is infuriating. 

And other days we can see that Jesus has a point. 

And we know we have the same habit of letting ourselves get in our own way as the pharisees do. We know that we can make things more about ourselves and what we want or fear or desire or detest or prefer or abhor. We know that we get in our own way when it comes to our relationships with others, with our families and friends, with our work and vocations, and of course, even here at church. 

We cannot help it, we are human. We get in the way of God’s calling to share God’s mercy with God’s people. We make things about ourselves and we know it. 

Yet, as Jesus calls out the the pharisees for their selfishness, for self-centredness, he also proclaims something else. 

Something deeply tied to this resurrection season that we are in. For you see on Good Shepherd Sunday, half way through the season of Easter we pivot from the urgency of the resurrection to trying to figure out with the rest of the church, just what we are to do next. 

And heard in context, this Good Shepherd speech of Jesus’ retains some of that resurrection urgency. 

As Jesus calls out the pharisees for getting in their own way of proclaiming God’s mercy for the world, Jesus also declares that God is doing what we cannot. 

The Good Shepherd is laying down his life for the self. 

Jesus is laying down the self – God’s self – for the sake of the world. 

Human beings just cannot get out of our own way. 

So God does what we cannot do, and gives up self. 

God gives up God-like power and God-like control, in order to give us mercy. In order that we may be shown forgiveness. In order that we can hear good news in our dying world. 

God gives it all up for our sake. 

And Jesus know that this will take him to the cross. That selfish humanity will kill God in order to take God’s place. 

But as we have been hearing for the past three weeks, God’s selfless act incarnation, of coming in flesh to live and be among us combine with God’s triumph over death on the cross…

That leads also to empty tombs. 

To empty tombs that frighten Mary Magdalene and the other women who loved Jesus. 
To resurrection appearances in locked rooms that remind Thomas that the one he loves lives. 
To resurrection callings to make us witnesses of all that we have seen and heard. 

And the empty tomb leads us to the Good Shepherd. 

To the Good Shepherd who lays down his life, his self for our sake. 
To the Good Shepherd who gives up the self for the sake of the world, for our sake. 

So that God’s love and mercy is given to us in the Word of God that hear. 
So that God can clothe us with forgiveness, life and salvation in the waters of baptism. 
So that God can give us God’s Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper, so that we can be shed our selfishness and become God’s Body the Church. 

The Good Shepherd does what we cannot. 
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for us in order that we might have new life. 

Life given by the resurrected Christ, who is shepherding us into this new  resurrection reality. 

And so today, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we are reminded that this is not about being sheep and God being our heavenly shepherd. 

But rather, that the Good Shepherd Christ is leading us, the Body of Christ, into a new resurrection world in order that we become Easter people. 

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Clinging to the Ghosts of the Past

Luke 24:36b-48

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 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, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Read the whole passage)

Today it is the still the day of the Resurrection. Even though this is the third Sunday in the season of Easter, in keeping with the tradition of the church we treat this whole 50 day season as one great day of celebration. And so we go back once again to the day the resurrection, and we hear a similar story to last week’s story of Thomas… yet, this time it is Luke who tells it to us. 

It is situation that can be pretty hard to identify with. We may know the Easter story and believe that we encounter the risen Christ here in this place each time we gather for worship, but how many of us have witnessed the death of a close friend and teacher, only to have that person show up in our house a few days later? Don’t answer that…

Jesus’ moment with the disciples today comes as the third such moment where the disciples struggled to understand their encounter with the risen Christ. First it is Peter who runs to check the empty tomb, after the women from their group report back that the tomb is empty. And Jesus walks with other disciples on the road to Emmaus, who cannot see who they are walking with until he breaks bread with them. 

And now, with all the disciples in one place, Jesus shows up again. 

But of course, the group thinks he a ghost. 

And so Jesus goes through elaborate ancient tests to demonstrate that he isn’t a ghost. He shows them his hands and feet, invites the disciples to touch him, to see that he walks on the ground and doesn’t float in the air like a ghost. And he eats a meal with them, because ghosts don’t eat, people do.

Yet, the disciples still don’t understand what is going on. 

They are stuck, they are stuck back on Good Friday, back in Holy Week, back in the wildness of Galilee, back on all those dusty roads, small town synagogues, back among the crowds of people clamouring for a piece of Jesus. 

It us more than seeing Jesus as a ghost, they are clinging to the past. They still have not moved on from what once was, from the way things were, from the pre-crucifixion Jesus that they knew and loved. 

They are holding onto the ghost of what was before because they are afraid to move on. Peter was more than willing to run out into the world when he thought Jesus was dead, but once he found an empty tomb, he and the others are hiding in fear. 

They hide because it is easier to hold on to the ghosts of the past then to begin new life with new purpose. And so when Jesus shows up, they would almost rather that Jesus were a ghost than risen from the dead. 

The disciples are not much different than we are. 

Like the disciples, we too cling to the ghosts of our past. 

As our country continues to feel the pain and loss, the grief for the lives lost outside of Tisdale Saskatchewan a week ago Friday, we might have some insight into what it means to be in a mental and emotional state that can’t quite get past what has taken place. Because we know what it is to be driving on rural highways. Because we know what it is to send our kids, our loved ones, out into the world that we know is unsafe, where accidents happen everyday.

And so we we grieve and pray, we wear jerseys and put hockey sticks on porches. We cling to one another searching for hope and peace, much like those disciples after the tragedy that they had encountered. 

Yet,  ghost our pasts come in many forms not always rooted in grief and loss. They may have to  do with church, and with our memories of the past and wanting things to be like they were. To bring the young people back or perhaps really to ourselves the young people that we remember sitting in the pews. 

But the ghosts of our past can also be personal. We might cling to relationships that ended long ago, to times in our lives that we wish never ended, to jobs we once held, to youth we once enjoyed, to eras that we once understood. 

The ghosts come in many shapes and sizes, and the desire to cling to them is not anything but a normal human response to grief, loss and even change.

Yet, we know that refusing to accept change will not work. Staying stuck in the past, clinging to things as they once were, holding onto the ghosts of what once was, in the end, is impossible. 

Because the more stuck and unwilling to move on we become, the more like the ghosts we cling to we become… Like the disciples who found the tomb of Jesus empty, their response was to hide away from the world in a tomb of their own making. A tomb where they could stay at Good Friday, cling to the Jesus they once knew refusing to imagine to new life, the new Jesus that they sense is coming. 

And again, Jesus comes into their midst offering peace. 

Peace to the troubled hearts of the disciples. Peace to those who are stuck in the tense conflict of holding onto a past that is slipping away. 

Peace to our troubled hearts, peace to our grieving world, peace to those unable to let go. 

But Jesus doesn’t end with Peace. 

Once Jesus shows the disciples that clinging to ghosts is not possible, he takes things a step further. 

And all of a sudden the Easter moment, the resurrection moment extends beyond the empty tomb of Jesus and reaches into his hide away of the disciples. 

Jesus begins to transform these stuck and hopeless disciples clinging to a ghost of the past. 

“Everything you know, everything you believe in” Jesus says, “From Moses, to the prophets, to the psalms” or in other words the whole Hebrew bible, “has been fulfilled.”

And Jesus opens their minds, Jesus begins to transform these disciples giving them a new understanding and a new experience of their world. 

Everything that they thought they knew about God, about religion, about meaning and purpose in the world has been changed. The Messiah’s death on a cross and resurrection from an empty tomb changes everything. Everything moment in the story of God’s people that has come before has been leading to this moment… to this Easter moment. 

To this moment of the disciples’ Easter, to this moment of our Easter. 

“You are witnesses of these things.”

A witness is more than someone who saw something or experienced something. 

A witness is someone with a story. 

A witness is someone with a story to tell. 

Jesus transforms the disciples, transforms the world, transforms us. Jesus brings us into God’s story. Into God’s story of new life, new life given for the sake of the world, new life found in empty tombs where there should only be death. 

By making us witnesses of the Messiah, by making us witnesses to this story of God bringing new life into the world… we are given new life, we are given new meaning and purpose. 

Everything we thought we knew, everything we thought we understood has been changed by Messiah, by the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

And every week, every Sunday, every Easter morning, Jesus reminds us of this again. Jesus reminds us that that ghosts we cling to will not root us in past, and we no longer will be stuck. 

Jesus has made us witnesses. People tied inextricably to the story of God. People whose purpose is to tell that story to world. 

And Jesus continues to make us witnesses in the word of God that is proclaimed here, in the holy waters that we are washed and claimed in, and in the bread and wine, body and blood of Christ that we share together. Jesus makes us resurrection people, free from the ghosts and the past and given a story to tell. 

Today, Jesus says to us,

I have made you witnesses to resurrection and new life. 

Thomas, Fake News and Resurrection

John 20:19-31

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (Read the whole passage)

It has been a week since we released the alleluias from their captivity, since we gathered around the story of the empty tomb and pronounced that Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed! Easter has come after a long time spent in the wilderness of Lent, after a Holy week where we did holy things like wave palm branches, share in the eucharist and lament at the foot of the cross.

And even though we are now a week into the Easter seaason, we a reminded today of that first Easter day…. the whole 50 days of Easter have been long held up as one great day of celebration of the resurrection.

So we go back to day one, we hear a story from that first Easter day. And it is a familiar one.

Thomas… We always get Thomas on the second Sunday in Easter.

There must be something about this story that we hear it every year.

It begins on the day of the resurrection, the disciples have heard the news of the empty tomb so they are naturally hiding away in fear. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they did watch their teacher and master be executed by the state and now three days later to hear that he has risen from the dead. This probably seems like too much to handle.

So while they are hiding away, Jesus shows up in their midst. He offers them peace… peace after of the chaos of the previous week. He then blesses them and sends them out, reminding them of the mission that he had been preparing them for.

But Thomas wasn’t there.

Perhaps he wasn’t afraid like the others, or maybe he drew the short straw and was sent to the grocery store for some milk.

Regardless, when Thomas returns he hears the news, the story from the others. Jesus has appeared to them. The rumours are true, Jesus has risen from the dead.

But Thomas will not believe.

So often we portray Thomas as some kind of skeptic… almost scientist like. Thomas the crime scene investigator who needs some evidence, some DNA to put under a microscope, some unassailable proof that Jesus is indeed alive. But those are 20th century concerns… not 1st century ones. And in some ways our 21st century world has moved much closer to the Thomas’s 1st century one.

Thomas lived in a world much like ours. Political leaders or dictators ruled cruelly and with fuzzy relationships to the truth. People were desperate for hope, for salvation, for quick fixes. Jesus wasn’t the only healer and miracle worker around. They were a dime a dozen, messiahs on every street corner collecting followers with promises of salvation, promises of revolution, promises of a better life. And most were fake news.

Thomas had heard the crazy stories before, his world was full of them. He knew what fake news sounded like, stories or conspiracies or promises too good to be true.

And after the week that he had just lived through, one where his beloved teacher and friend Jesus had been crucified because of fake news, because of false claims brought against him by the religious authorities and mobs, because of the heartless Romans who knew very well that the charges were false yet executed him anyways… because of all the events of the previous week…. this news that Jesus was alive was probably too much to deal with.

Thomas wasn’t a scientist or crime scene investigator. He was a hurting human being. Someone who was too wounded and grief filled to get his hopes up again for story that was too good to be true.

Because what if he did believe that Jesus was risen from the dead and it turned out to be another false hope…

We have been living in Thomas’s world for a while now. Despite all our technological advancements and progress, we find ourselves in a society where truth and facts are largely irrelevant. Fake news is everywhere. Just the other day I saw a news story about a group of people in the United States who believe that mass shootings are conspiracies. Fuelled by internet conspiracies, this group travels around the country to confront the families of victims of mass shootings… to tell them that their loved ones were not killed and probably never existed in the first place.

Horrific

Of course, not all fake news is so extreme.

A recent survey of Canadians and their perception of climate change revealed that one third don’t believe that human beings have contributed to climate change, and only about half believe that addressing climate change should be a government priority.

And who among us hasn’t received a spam email from a Nigerian prince offering to give pass on a fortune to us.

Christianity isn’t immune from those who peddle fake news or false hope either. Turn on the tv and find any number of prosperity gospel preachers offering miracles, health and wealth all for a modest contribution to their ministry.

We know what Thomas’s world was like, we know that we cannot trust every story we hear out there. We know what it is like for those in power to twist the truth for their advantage, we know what it is like for those who lead our world to lie to us.

It is easy to see that Thomas might be distrustful of a story that seems too good to be true.

And we also know what it is like to have a lot invested in Jesus, to have all our hope and all our faith in the Christ.

Especially having just come through Holy Week ourselves, having been gathering together week after week proclaiming the importance of this story of Jesus’ resurrection… we too know the heartbreak that would come if it turned out to be just fake news.

That heartbreak is exactly what Thomas is guarding himself against. He knows that he just wouldn’t be able to handle getting his hopes up, only to have them crushed all over again.

So when Jesus shows up again, he does so to give Thomas exactly what he needs. Just as he came and stood among the disciples, he comes and stands before Thomas.

And both times, Jesus does something that is so opposite of how our world would choose to spread the news of someone back from the dead.

Jesus begins with peace.

So often Fake News declares, “Look at me!” “Be surprised!” “Be enraged!”

Yet Jesus speaks, “Peace.”

Peace, so that the disciples can see their Risen Lord.
Peace, so that Jesus can break through Thomas’s guarded heart.
Peace, to calm our troubled hearts that need to know Jesus.

And then Jesus offers Thomas his hands and his side.

It is easy to think that it is holes that are important for Thomas to see. The holes in Jesus hands and the holes in Jesus’ side.

But it is the hands that have shared bread with Thomas for years that reach out.
It is the body that has walked and sat and slept next to Thomas that is offered.
It is the flesh of the one whom Thomas loves and follows who breaks through to Thomas’s guarded heart.

Thomas wasn’t looking for evidence of crucifixion and death, Thomas needed to see that Jesus was alive.

And that is what Jesus gives him.

And is what Jesus gives us.

Because Jesus does the same for us. Jesus continually breaks into our fake news world offering peace and life.

Peace to our troubled hearts.
Peace so that we can be calmed down in order to hear God’s promise given to us.
Peace so that we see.

Jesus breaks through to us, through all the stories and people of our world that we are suspicious of, that we know are too good to be true, that we cannot unguard our hearts for.

And Jesus reaches out to us in the hands that share peace with us,
the hands that place the bread and wine into our outstretched hands,
the hands that welcome us here.

And Jesus offers his side,
his body given to us in the bodies of our brothers and sisters
who sing and praise and pray next to us,
the bodies who come to table and receive next to us,
the body of Christ that we eat and share,
the body of Christ that we become.

Jesus has been breaking into our world over and over again, from the empty tomb, to the upper room, to the waters of font, to the table of the Lord.
Jesus breaks through to us in order that our guarded hearts might know Peace.
Jesus break through in order that we see the Christ, God in flesh.

God in wounded flesh, Risen from the dead.

Do not be afraid… Christ has been Raised!

Mark 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be afraid; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 

“And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

This is not the ending of the story that we usually tell. In fact, nothing about the stories from the Gospel of Mark is usual. The Gospel of Mark has never done things the way we expect. Of all the Gospels, Mark is the shortest and perhaps the strangest, expecting things of us, expecting that we will put the pieces together and be moved to a deeper discipleship.

Mark’s Easter story is perhaps the strangest of all.  In the 3 other gospels, we normally here about Jesus appearing to the women and disciples at the empty tomb. Jesus speaks with Mary in the Gospel of John. He bring greetings to all the women in the Gospel of Matthew. In Luke, Jesus meets two of his disciples on the road of Emmaus.

But in Mark there is none of that. And it makes us uncomfortable. And not just us today, but Christians for centuries have been so uncomfortable with Mark’s ending, that they added to it. Hundreds of years later, shorter and longer endings to the Gospel of Mark were added just to try and wrap things up.

So what is it about the Gospel of Mark and his ending that doesn’t sit well with us?

“And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Failure.

Easter isn’t suppose to be a story of failure. The women hear the good news, they are given clear instructions to tell people about Jesus being risen, and they tell no one.

In fact, this is the story all the way through the Gospel of Mark. The disciples, the ones who are supposed to know and understand who Jesus is what he is about never do. And the people who do know are unreliable. It is unclean spirits and demons who recognize Jesus as God’s son. It is the blind man who never actually sees Jesus who knows he has been healed by the Messiah. All the way through the gospel of Mark, not a single reliable soul figures it out.

But here is the thing, Mark knows that we know that it didn’t end with the women being afraid. We all know the story of the resurrection. We are reading it in Mark’s gospel. We proclaim that Christ is risen from the dead every Sunday we gather for worship, Christians all over the world have been doing so for 2000 years!

So Mark expects that we can figure out that the women didn’t run from the tomb afraid… but Mark is also including us in the story, in the command to go and tell the world of the resurrection. Because if the women are too afraid to speak, that only leaves us, the reader. We are called to be ones who are not afraid to speak.

It is a big calling.

Because it was only on Good Friday that we stood below the cross and we proclaimed that this instrument of torture and violence, of humiliation and death is God’s transformed tool of life.

Because now today at the empty tomb with the women who are too afraid to say anything that we are just as afraid as they were. Afraid to announce this news to world. Afraid of that no one will believe our incredible, unbelievable story.

But this Easter morning and Easter story reminds us something else more than our fear and failure.

We are reminded that it is always in our fears and failures that Christ meets us. It is when we are too weak, too afraid, too focused on ourselves, when we are too much intent on our sin, on our selfishness, that Christ comes and meets us.

There is no Easter without sin and death, there is no resurrection without humanity’s greatest failure, without our trying to be God in God’s place.

And in the midst of our failures, big and small, the Risen Christ meets us. The Risen Christ reveals himself to us and brings us into the new reality of a world where sin and death are no longer the end. Yet still, our fear overcomes us and this new world that God is creating is too much for us. And like the women at the tomb we are too afraid to speak, too afraid to act, too afraid even look at how things are different.

“Do not be afraid, you are are looking for Jesus for Nazareth, who was crucified. Has has been raised.”

Do not be afraid.

Across the old and new testament, these words always precede good news.

Do not be afraid.

And even still the good news can be terrifying.

We stand before an empty tomb today, on this day of the Resurrection. And even when everything is supposed to be perfect, and when death is finally defeated, and Christ is raised from the dead. We are reminded that we still fail. We are reminded that we are still imperfect, sinful and selfish people who are frozen in the face of God’s amazing work in our world.

And we are also reminded again, that it is in our frozen failure that we are met by the Risen Christ.

The Risen Christ who has overcome the cross.

The Risen Christ who has conquered death.

The Risen Christ who has entered in our lives, our joys and our sorrows and has made our life his own.

The Risen Christ who has shown us a new reality, where death is no longer the end, where we are no longer defined by our failures, and where our sin no longer has control of us.

We are met today by the The Risen Christ and we are shown that God’s love for us is alive and there is no place we can go to escape it, and there is no way that would could fail and make God stop loving us.

Even when are afraid to speak a word to anyone, the Risen Christ meets us with the words “Do not be afraid!”

You are witnesses of these things

Luke 24:44-53
… Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 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, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

The great day is coming to an end. For 7 Sundays we been celebrating the resurrection, celebrating Easter. We have witnessed the empty tomb, seen the wounds of Jesus with Thomas, walked to Emmaus with the two disciples. We have heard about the Good Shepherd who calls his sheep by name, and of the Father’s house with many rooms. And last week Paul preached to us about a God who knows us each, and wants to be involved in each our lives, and in the life of our community.

All of this and everything from the angels who announced Christ’s birth, to his ministry and teaching, to his trial, crucifixion and resurrection… all of this has been preparation for the disciples. Preparation for Jesus to leave them behind.

As Jesus speaks to his followers today, they are not quite sure what they are seeing. For them it is still the first day of the resurrection, Easter Sunday. They have heard two of their members tell the story of how Jesus walked with them on the road to Emmaus, but now when Jesus himself shows up they are uncertain if he is a ghost. Jesus offers to let them touch him to see that he is real and he eats some fish to show that he is alive.

Yet, up until now the disciples had been packing themselves up and getting ready to leave. They had followed Jesus around for years, dutifully supporting him as he went about this ministry. Yet, in the last few days everything had come crashing apart. Jesus was arrested, put on trial, and then executed like a common criminal. After that disaster there was nothing left for them. Their hopes for a messiah had been crushed. The excitement of following a popular preacher and healer had been replaced by disappointment, shock and grief. For the disciples, the story was over, there was nothing else to stay for.

 

Packing it all up and heading home is natural for us. When things do not go the way we expect, we are good at moving on. A relationship doesn’t work out, move on to the next. An employment prospect doesn’t work out, we find another. A loved one becomes ill and dies, we push away the grief and try to pretend that everything is fine. Everything inside us tell us to avoid the pain, avoid the conflict, avoid the shame. And so we do.

Packing ourselves away is simply self protection. Withdrawing from life is simply a defense mechanism meant to keep us safe from harm. As we share in this community each week, as we are fed through the word and through the Body of Christ it probably seems like a simple matter to live boldly as a Christian. And yet, Monday morning arrives, and that community that felt so empowering seems so far away.

The disciples must have felt the same way. Jesus is dead and gone. The reason for staying has been taken away. The hope that they had in this little community has been ripped away from them.

And then Jesus shows up again. Jesus shows them that he is alive again. Jesus reminds them of who they are and what they have become.

You are witnesses of these things.

Jesus’ words spark something in the disciples. He isn’t there to hold their hands, or to lead them around galilee and judea. Jesus is not the witness. Jesus is the story. The Old Testament, Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, those were all about Jesus… God has been preparing the people of Israel for the Messiah for a long time.

The disciple’s own experiences of the previous week. The trial, crucifixion, death and now the appearance of the resurrected Christ. This is how Jesus has been preparing his followers.

While they have packed themselves up, Jesus has done the opposite. He has unpacked, opened up, changed them. Jesus takes all that they have learned and all that they have experienced and places it in front of them once more. Jesus says to them: You are witnesses of these things – You are witnesses of God’s work in the world, Witnesses of the Messiah come to save, Witnesses of death being turned into life. The disciples have learned the story, and now it is their turn to tell it.

 

And Jesus names us Witnesses today too. Jesus gives us a story to tell also. Like the disciples, we have heard the scriptures and been prepared for the coming of Messiah. We have experienced the life, death and resurrection of Christ. And in those things, Jesus has opened us up and unpacked us. Jesus has washed and fed us. Jesus has prepared us to stay.

Jesus gives us a story to tell by making us part of the story. As we are washed in the waters of baptism again each Easter, we also dies and rises with Christ anew. In baptism is where we all begin as witnesses. Witness to the God who knows and loves us all.

And in Baptism, Christ makes his story our story. We are not only witnesses to Christ, but we become part of Christ’s body, Christ’s community. Where there only seems to be death, where all we want to do is to pack up and move on, Christ appears showing us new life. Christ turns us from packed up to unpacked, from dead to alive.

As we move to the end of this great day of Easter, to then end of this long celebration of the resurrection, God is preparing us. Not preparing us to be alone, but to be tellers of the story. God names us as witnesses, unpacking within us the good news given and shared for all.

Unrealized Hopes – The Road to Emmaus

While I am late in posting, thanks to a guest preacher Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker, and her sermon from the 3rd Sunday in Easter. You can find her on twitter: @ReedmanParker

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

13Now on that same day [when Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene,] two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. …34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Three weeks into the season of Easter and we continue to hear the stories of that first day. We continue to be placed back with the disciples. In their grief. In their sadness. In their un-belief of what has transpired.

Three weeks into the season of Easter and we continue to hear the story of resurrection. New life. Changed life – because the way it was is not the way it is. And everyone knows it.

Except for those who don’t. For those who stand in fear at the empty tomb, for those who wait to see Jesus for themselves, for those who are on the road between the death of Good Friday and new life discovered on Easter Sunday.

Three weeks into the season of Easter and we continue to hear stories of the disciples encountering the risen Christ.

This first day, Easter day, is important. Three weeks in and we are still hearing about its impact. Today we encounter two disciples on the road to Emmaus when Jesus shows up along side them.

Only Cleopas and the other disciple don’t know that it’s Jesus – they don’t recognize him.

This detail is significant. But they aren’t special. Last week the disciples do not believe that Jesus is amongst them until they hear him speak words of peace and see and touch his wounds. The women, too, do not immediately recognize Jesus for who he is – instead thinking he is a gardener.

In their minds, Jesus has died. It’s done.

And this reality is heartbreaking.

This first day when the disciples are between Jesus’ death and knowing and believing that the resurrection has taken place reveals how difficult is for the human condition to move from the way it was to the way it is.

And it is when Cleopas is talking to Jesus – not knowing it is Jesus – that this becomes so clear. Jesus asks the two men what they are talking about, and Cleopas, surprised “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place?”

Somewhat ironically he’s asking him, have you been living behind a rock these last few days? …. Well, yes, yes I have.

“What things?” Jesus asks very simply.

So the disciples tell Jesus about who he was to them, and how he had been handed over to death. We hear about who they had hoped Jesus would be – that he had come to redeem Israel – but instead he was put to death.

The way they thought the future would unfold did not turn out as they had hoped.

The person they thought Jesus was, the one they expected him to be, did not turn out as they had hoped.

The stories they are now hearing about Jesus being raised from the dead is not how they expected life would unfold next. It’s not how they anticipated God would act.

The disciples find themselves on a long road between what they had hoped for and exclaiming “he is risen indeed”. It is an uncomfortable place to be.

Perhaps we know a little something about what happens when the things we hope for don’t unfold the way we anticipate.

  • When our relationships are complicated or breakdown or break up
  • When our health or our bodies fail us
  • When our work takes a sudden turn
  • When our ministry doesn’t grow or take root in the way we thought
  • When God doesn’t act, look, or respond the way we had hoped for

Perhaps we know something about the discomfort of the in-between-ness between what has been and what will be. Even if things “will be ok” eventually, death of any kind stings. Death is still death. Our emotions are the same. Our grief is still the same.

It is hard to see Jesus when we are expecting one thing and another happens.

The disciples arrive where they think they are going, only to have their eyes opened in the retelling of the sacred stories – Jesus’ story… God’s story – and in the breaking of the bread. It’s then that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him”.

Like the disciples, it is hard to see Jesus walking alongside us when our expectations – our hopes of who Jesus will be, of how God will act or intervene or call us into relationship – blinds us to the real Jesus, who was there the whole time.

It is hard to see Jesus when we are preoccupied with life’s struggles. Hard even when Jesus is walking with us, telling us what’s what.

The good news is that God in Jesus walks the road with us. In doing so, God helps us let go and reframe our issues, and once they have been reframed, the fact that Jesus was there the whole time becomes apparent.

And, like the disciples, Jesus will walk with us down the wrong road, even while calling us in a different direction.

Three weeks into the season of Easter and we too are experiencing an in-betweeness as a congregation. We know that life will not be as it was, but we aren’t yet sure of the way it is or will be.

What we do know is that God promises to be with us.

God in Jesus walks with us down all the roads of life.

God in Jesus walks with us in the in-between places.

God in Jesus walks with us when we are in the midst of dead ends.

God in Jesus leads us down new paths.

Three weeks into the season of Easter and we are still hearing stories of that first day, still with the unbelieving disciples, and when all we think we see is death, Jesus is still walking out of tombs in order to show us new life. AMEN.

Thomas and the Scars

John 20:19-31

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

We always hear this parable on the second Sunday of Easter. It is always the same story. It is Easter Evening, the same day as the resurrection. The early church considered the whole seven week season of Easter to be like one great day, and so even though we are seven days from Easter Sunday, we return to that moment to hear the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples on Easter evening.

Jesus speaks peace to the disciples. He joins right in the midst of them, he comes despite locked doors and windows, despite their fear and their hiding. He speaks peace and breathes on them the holy spirit. This is the very same peace we will share between us in a few moments, and the same spirit that is passed between us.

And then there is of course Thomas. Thomas who is called Doubting Thomas by western Christians. Thomas who is called Believing Thomas by Eastern Orthodox Christians. Thomas will not accept the stories of his buddies, the outrageous claims of resurrection. He wants to see for himself.

We hear this familiar story each Easter. We call skeptics doubting Thomas’s. We kind of know the routine by now.

And yet there is a piece of this story is we rarely focus on. Usually we hear about Jesus appearing behind locked doors, or Thomas seeing the evidence and believing. But what about the scars?

Yes, the scars.

The scars are there all way through. Jesus offers peace and then immediately shows the disciples his scars. That is how they know him. Thomas will not believe until he can touch the scars with his own hands. And knowing what Thomas needs, Jesus shows up and gives Thomas a view he cannot forget. Jesus offers his scars.

The scars are woven throughout the story, and yet they are troubling. The scars are how the disciples know who Jesus is. Of all the things that might identify Jesus it is the scars. Not how he looks, now how he talks, but the scars that his body still bears. His resurrected body still bears.

This can be hard to imagine. This can be hard to accept. Jesus resurrected body is a sign, an example of what our own resurrected bodies will look like. Our scars can often be parts of ourselves we would rather forget. Sometimes they are physical scars, sometimes they are emotional or psychological. Sometimes they are the scars of broken relationships, and unforgiven hurts, of ongoing pain, and untold suffering. Sometimes they are the scars of death.

We don’t want those scars to come with us. We don’t want to remember the pain that created them. We want all of it to go away. We want God to come and take away our hurts and pain, to make us forget all the ways in which we hurt others, and the ways in which we suffered ourselves. We don’t want our scars to come with us, we would much rather leave them and the things that caused them behind.

It was by the scars that the disciples recognized Jesus. It was because of the scars that Thomas could see who it was that was standing before him. The Risen Christ, the new reality ushered into the world by God where death is no longer the end, is too much to recognize, it is too much to be able to imagine or see. And so it is in the scars that the disciples and Thomas can see Jesus. The scars are reminders of what was before. They allow the disciples and Thomas to see Jesus as the same person who called them to follow. The same Jesus who taught in synagogues, who healed the sick and the lame, who cast out demons and angered the authorities. The same Jesus who was tried, beaten and then nailed to a cross.

It is this Jesus, this Jesus that they knew, that they followed and that they loved who is standing before them – Risen from the dead. This new reality that God brings into world through Christ can only be truly seen and understood when signs of the old reality come with it. And yet is still more than that.

There is no resurrection without crucifixion. Our scars are signs of experiences that have made us who we are. Our joys and our sorrows, our loves and our loses, our comforts and pains, our successes and failures, our happinesses and our sufferings. All of these things make us who we are. All of these things are what make us human.

And it is the same things that made Christ human.

And it is these same things that God loves and intends to resurrect.

It is not perfect, unblemished, perfectly unscarred versions of ourselves that God sees. It is the beat up, worn down, tattered, bumped and bruised versions of us that God is deeply in love with. It is all of us, good and bad, perfect and imperfect that God calls beloved children. It is the broken versions of ourselves that God is well pleased with.

For you see, it is in Christ’s scars that we see the Risen Christ. We see the Christ who came to be born among us, to live among us and to die among us. We see the Christ who took on our nature and our lot, who gathered all humanity to himself and who took all our sin to the cross. And it is on the body of the Resurrected Christ, that we see the scars still present, reminders that the one we would not accept and the one that we tried to kill is now alive. The Risen Christ, scars and all, is showing us that God is bringing life into this world, no matter how much death we wield.

But it is not just Risen Christ that is recognized by his scars. It is also us. Just as we see Christ in his scars, God see us in ours. God sees our hurts and our sorrows, God sees our bumps and bruises, God see our broken relationships and our unforgiven hurts. And it is by these things, that God sees us as beloved children. God does not promise to take these things away, the scars will remain. But God promises that they will not define us and they will not control us. Pain will not be the end. Suffering will not be the end. Death will not be the end. God promises that there will always be life. God promises that there is another side to sin, suffering and death. God will not remove our problems, but God goes through them with us.

And the Christ that we have now seen. The Christ that has come to us in behind locked doors, in fear and hiding. The Christ that gives us what we need so that we may believe.

This Christ has shown us the way, the way to the other side, the way to new life and he has the scars to prove it.


*** For 10 weeks I am on parental leave, and during this time my hope is to post sermons from previous years during this time. ***