A Sermon: What Next?

WHAT’S NEXT? LUKE 24: 36-49

APRIL 15, 2018 EPC

I THREE IN ONE

A An elderly lady dies and appears at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter asks her to explain her four husbands. She says, “My first husband was a millionaire. My second was a very handsome actor. The third was a pastor and my last husband was an undertaker. I had one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and four to go.”  I was happy to see us pastors make the list; even if it was at number three.

B. There seem to be a lot of threes here today. The Trinity is always a part of our thinking. I received a note that said I was one of the three best pastors he had ever had. I don’t know if I was win place or show. But at least I made the list.

C. And today the lectionary people, who are not very good at math call this the third Sunday after Easter even though Easter was only TWO weeks ago. And this passage is from the third gospel, Luke who unlike Mark shows us the risen Jesus. And in this appearance Jesus gives the disciples three initiatives, three things that Jesus initiates and askes his followers to

D. They are to know the real Jesus, to understand scripture as the context for Jesus and to see Jesus as the confirmation and key to understanding scripture, and to see Easter as the beginning of missions. They are all connected to one another. It’s kind of like 3 in 1 oil.  

JESUS AND US: BODY AND SPIRIT

A. The first initiative is for us to know the real Jesus. That understanding starts with the fact that the body of Jesus was raised. What if you had to prove that you were not dead? That happened to a man named Charles Hubbard, a Vietnam veteran from Austin Texas. He received a letter from the VA informing him that he was dead and he had to return thousands of dollars in benefits.  He had to make an extensive case to prove that he was alive including showing up in person at the hearing. It took the VA eight months to restore his benefits and declare that he was not dead after all.

B. When Jesus appeared to the disciples they were cowering behind a locked door. They were defeated and afraid. Jesus said, “Peace be with you” because he knew they were terrified. They thought he was a ghost. His presence and his words were not enough to convince them. He scolds them a little for still being afraid. Barbara Essex said that Jesus was frustrated with their lack of faith. “Why are you still freaking out?”

C. So he showed them his wounds.” Go ahead, touch my scars.” They are still not sure. So he asks them if there is anything to eat. Jesus comes back from the grave and he doesn’t talk to them about advanced theology or cosmology or life and death. He asks if there is anything in the fridge.   Then he ate a fish taco. Ghosts don’t have flesh and blood wounds and they don’t have a digestive tract.

D. The first thing that a disciple has to do is to believe in the real Jesus. This has changed my understanding of heaven. I used to think we would be bodyless spirits floating around in some other reality. But now I think we will have bodies; not these bodies, thank God; but resurrection bodies like Jesus had. How do we know all of this? The Bible tells us so.

E. Next we have to show others the real Jesus. Sometimes words will do it. But most of the time we have to show them our scars that say we have been through some hard times, but God has seen us through them all. That’s what the Psalmist was saying in the first reading today. Maybe we have to eat with them. There is great power in sharing a meal. In the ancient Middle East, to eat with someone created a bond of friendship which we not to be broken. Don’t underestimate the power of breaking bread together. In other words we have to develop a relationship with them that will allow us to share the reality of Jesus with them. See, we are only on the first initiative and we have already touched on the other two.

II. JESUS:SCRIPTURE’S CONTEXT AND CONFIRMATION

A. The second initiative that Jesus offers is to understand scripture. Once they have been convinced that he is real, he reminds them of what the scriptures wrote about him. The whole Old Testament was pointing to him.  From Abraham to Moses through the writings and the prophets, it was all about what would happen on Easter Sunday.

B. The scriptures were the context to explain Jesus. But if that were all, we would still be in the dark about what it all means. Jesus is not just the ultimate message of the Bible. Jesus is also the key to us understanding the scriptures. Luke tells us that he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. This was their ah ha  Luke uses that word dianathyen to open a number of times. It’s the same word he used when the disciples at Emmaus had their eyes opened when he broke the bread. Unless Jesus opens our minds, we have no chance of understanding what is written.

C. I have known some very intelligent people who know a lot ABOUT the scriptures. But they have missed the truth that comes only when the Spirit opens our minds to what it all means. One man in the Middle East said, “So many Americans come here. They take the Bible literally. But they do not take it seriously.”

 D. The Bible is a sacred gift. It is where we learn about the real Jesus. And it is Jesus who makes it possible for us to understand it, to feel it, to take it seriously. That is why it is such a sin to let the Bible and the faith that it proclaims be hijacked by a political party or a government. Its truth is much bigger than partisan politics. That’s what the Declaration of Barmen from our Book of Confessions says. It was written in Germany in the middle thirties. It said that the faith stands over and above any human power.

 E. So what do we do with the Bible? Well one thing we must avoid is using it as a weapon to attack one group of people or another. The ultimate message of the Bible is grace through faith. Leave judgment to God.  We are not qualified and it’s above our pay grade. Just spread the truth of Jesus from scripture. The church is about love and patience and peace. Oops, there I go again talking about the other two initiatives. The scripture confirms the reality of Jesus. Jesus opens the meaning of scripture for us. He then sends us on our way to proclaim that truth in word and deed.

IV. EASTER IS OVER WHAT’S NEXT?

 A. Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia. The alleluias have faded. There is a little more room in the pews. The wow factor of the holiday is past. The question for us is, “NOW WHAT?”  That was the third initiative in the text this morning.  Jesus didn’t leave them or us without marching orders. Once they grasped the reality of Jesus and once they understood the scriptures, he commanded them to proclaim the necessary changes and the grace that they had experienced to the whole world; to the ethna, to all ethnic groups.  And that proclamation is not just about getting them saved to go to heaven. It’s not just about their spirits. It’s about their bodies.  God formed the human from dust and called it very good.  Humanity matters. Flesh and blood matters to God The physical needs of humans matter to God.

B. Our mission then must go beyond a Noah’s Ark model. We are doing more than just getting as many on board as we can before the flood. We are charged with caring for the whole person. ALL persons; not just the ones who are like us; not just the ones who can pay us back; not just the ones we like and not just the ones we approve of.

C. There is no more I went to Honduras a few years ago on a mission trip. I was moved by the incredible poverty there. Especially the children. One little boy died of a tape worm. He was too far from a hospital where he could have been cured. But his family had no way to get him there. So they watched him die. Many were sick from drinking contaminated water. Many had no education. Many suffered with diseases that could easily be cured with access to medication. In a debriefing with the pastors there I said I felt so bad for them. He corrected me.  “Feel so bad for US. Those children are US, not THEM. They are YOUR children.” I stood corrected.

D. The problems are so many and so big. Sometimes we feel like we can’t do anything. But that is not true. There is a couple in the Garfield section of Pittsburgh who started a farm. They hire local kids to work there. They sell cheap or give away produce to local families. They are making a huge difference in that neighborhood in the name of Christ. You provide blankets to people who are cold and without shelter. Who are these people receiving blankets? What race are they? What color are they? What are their politics? It doesn’t matter. They are us and they are cold and wet. The Presbyterian Church is partnering with the infant church in Honduras and other third world counties to alleviate hunger and poverty and ignorance in many needy parts of the world. That’s us. WE are part of that proclamation of change and love and grace. Any place in the world where women are abused or children are suffering needlessly or groups of people are killed with Serin gas or refugees have no place to live, or people are jailed unjustly or where people cannot afford basic health care that is where we are called to proclaim the love and grace of the risen Jesus Christ.

E. The WHAT NEXT of Easter is joy instead of fear. No longer will we hide behind locked doors with only a wispy, powerless, dead Jesus. We acknowledge that missions involve risk. But we will proclaim Christ in word and deed   The WHAT NEXT of Easter is that we will seek the wisdom of scripture to guide us in every aspect of our lives; these lives, here and now. That in itself is a witness to the reality of the risen Christ. The WHAT NEXT of Easter is to commit ourselves to missions both near and far. It’s three in one.  They are inseparable.  It isn’t biblical, but I thought it was an interesting touch that one of the made for TV movies about the death and resurrection have the high priest go to the tomb and he sees it is empty and he says, “Now it begins.” Making those initiatives a reality is the reason that Easter isn’t the ending. It is the beginning. Jesus tells them to wait until God has empowered them to get to work. But we live on the other side of Pentecost. I think, for us, the time is right now.