Sermon from Easter 3 – April 15, 2018
Text: Luke 24:36b-48
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
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.’ 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.
You ARE witnesses of these things!
Did you hear that? Do you understand what it means? Because it’s pretty radical.
That even while the disciples were locked away in their upper room. That even when they were so filled with fear that they were afraid to speak at a volume that rose above a hushed whisper. That even while the door was barred and the curtains were pulled. Even then…Jesus told them that they were already witnesses.
In some ways, it seems a bit like telling a student that they are a Heart Surgeon on the very first day of their freshman year…or telling a person that she is a lawyer before she had even cracked open a book…or like telling a teenager that he is a pilot before he had ever learned to drive his parent’s station wagon.
To put it bluntly – and without stretching this morning’s gospel text too far – our Saviour’s words to his fearfully hidden followers appear to be a tad pre-mature.
And yet that is precisely what Jesus says.
Notice, he doesn’t prophesize: you will be witnesses. He doesn’t ask, would you consider being witnesses if you have the time? He doesn’t beg, please be witnesses. No! Rather he boldly proclaims unequivocally and without apology or approval that: you (the disciples) are already witnesses of these things.
And so are we.
Our risen Lord’s words echo throughout time, and rest now upon our eager and waiting ears. You ARE witnesses to these things. We ARE witnesses to the hope of the resurrection.
In his 2005 commencement address to the graduating class at Kenyon College, author and educator David Foster Wallace powerfully said: All people worship – the only choice we get is what we choose to worship. I think that he had a point. He went on to explain that: In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everyone worships!
+ Some will choose to worship their own beauty – only to feel ugly once they depart from the prime of their youth.
+Some will worship power – only to feel weak and afraid on account of the powerlessness that results from daily life.
+ Still others will worship their intellect (being seen as smart) – but end up feeling insecure, or fraudulent, always fearful of being labeled as incorrect or wrong.
You get his point.
Well, and drawing from our Lord’s boldness in Luke’s gospel, I think that the same can be said of being witnesses. To shamelessly borrow David Wallace’s turn-of-phrase: we ALL witness. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as not witnessing. The only choice that we get…is the choice of what we choose to witness to. And there are plenty of choices.
+ Some will choose to witness to the beauty of material goods – only to feel vacant and alone when those goods fail to fill the ugly voids of loneliness.
+ Some will witness to the power of money – only to feel poor and impoverished when even the heaviest of wallets become incapable of buying happiness.
+ Still others will witness to their own intellectual pride and self-reliance – only to realize that the real bonds of sin and sadness cannot be loosened on our own…regardless of how strong-willed or book-smart we may earnestly be.
To put it another way, and as it turns out, witnessing isn’t voluntary! Witnessing is a part of who we are; and it’s a part of what we do. Witnessing is central to our humanity.
Just think about it!
We are the first to tell one another when we’ve found the best new restaurant…or after we’ve seen a wonderful new movie. We’re eager to pass along the details of a great sale on grapes…or to share a fantastic recipe for pork chops…or even to promote a plumber, a carpenter, an electrician or a financial advisor who went the extra mile! [PAUSE] Though we don’t typically think about it in such terms, each of these are a form of witness. We are sharing a story. We are proclaiming some news. We are announcing a message. We are using our voices…and often our actions as well…in faithful service to that in which we believe.
So let me ask you: WHAT ABOUT THE RESURRECTION?
Because I would be confidently willing to guess – that, and for most of us – we would eagerly choose the task of sharing a recipe or promoting a plumber far faster than we would ever choose to talk about our faith. Maybe we have come to believe that such conversations are impolite. Perhaps it’s been drilled into our subconscious that religion has no place in our schools…or offices…or sports teams…or political decisions. Or, in the end, maybe we’re just afraid. Afraid of what others might think…afraid of the sideways glances…afraid of being alienated…afraid of being found-out. And so we’ve chosen to lock the doors…and bar the windows…and resort to whispering.
We have chosen to keep silent!
But silence was never a part of God’s plan!
Because remember, that eventually the empty tomb of Easter propelled those early disciples to go forth; and to tell through words and deeds, what they had seen and heard. [PAUSE] The empty tomb inspired them to become the witnessing body of Christ that our Lord had created them to be!
And I want the same to be true for us!
It’s time that we, also, break the silence!
Because, and ready or not, we are witnesses! Jesus isn’t predicting the future: you will be witnesses. He isn’t asking, would you consider being witnesses if you have the time? He isn’t begging, please be witnesses. No! Rather our living God is boldly proclaiming unequivocally and without apology or approval that: we (you and I) already are witnesses! What we choose to do with this good news…with whom we choose to share this story…and how we choose to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ: well those are our choices to make. But rest assured, dear friends, that the joy of the opened and empty tomb was never meant to be hidden and forgotten!
Silence didn’t win thousands of years ago.
Any by the grace of God, silence won’t win now, either!!!
You know, and when Holly and I became parents a little over three years ago, we assumed (and quite innocently) that we would be the teachers, and that Nate would become the student. It’s funny how blind adults can be sometimes. What we have learned since then – is that Nate has been able to teach his folks a thing or two…or three…or four! One of our most recent lessons – was the fact that a toddler is absolutely incapable of keeping a secret! On Thursday night…Holly worked. And so Nate and Daddy were left to their own devices. Now earlier in the week, we had made the decision that we needed to purge some of Nate’s toys. He had accumulated more trucks and cars than we could handle. Of course, and in favour of this, we also decided that we weren’t going to buy him anything new until we had sorted through our current array of everything wheeled.
Well on Thursday evening I took Nate on a walk through Lunenburg. We looked at the boats. We went to the park. And then we stopped at the dollar store. *Cough. *Cough. And we visited the toy section. [PAUSE] And as we were looking at the hot-wheels and the Tonka trucks…mommy called. I tried to strike the fear of God into my child – don’t tell mommy where you are! I Promise Daddy, he replied. Well I answered the phone…and no sooner did I say hello but my son loudly proclaimed at the top of his voice: Mommy, me and daddy are at the toy store. I find the cars. Daddy going to buy me new toy. Me no suppose to tell you that. Bye mommy!
May we be so filled with excitement, that like a toddler we also will be incapable of keeping secret the joy of the gospel!
May we be so inspired, that we also will join in raising our voices in proclamation of the life-giving good news.
And may we be so sustained in the hope of the resurrection, that we will vow to break the silence, proclaiming with unending witness: that the tomb was empty…and so forever it will be!
Thanks be to God! Amen!