Sermons

Acts 3:12 – 19; 1 John 3:1—7; Luke 24:36b – 48

 

Have you ever had the challenge of trying to convince someone that were were alive?

 

Peter W. Marty, publisher of the magazine Christian Century, comments on today’s Gospel passage with this story:

 

Proving he was not physically dead “was the predicament a few years ago for Charles Hubbard of Austin Texas.  This Vietnam vet received a letter from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs informing him that he was dead and that his family needed to return thousands of dollars in benefits.  A victim of stolen identity, Hubbard found his checking account closed by the VA. After he made an extensive case for being alive, the VA informed him that it would take eight months for him to be officially brought back to life.  That’s when they would restore his pension benefits.”

 

I have had the experience of having to prove that I was who I said I was.  Most of us have. We carry i.d.’s to be able to show, at a moments notice that our testimony is true to whoever might need to be assured.  However, I’ve never had to make the case that I was still alive.

 

 

But Jesus did.  In the Gospel story last week with dear old Thomas, and again this week with the gathered crowd, Jesus appears and tries to prove that, despite what they have been told, despite what they saw with their own eyes, he was alive.  

 

“I am alive,” Jesus argues in every way he can to assure the disciples and their friends that he was alive.

 

Not alive in metaphor, but alive.  Not a ghost, but alive. Not alive like before, for he has the wounds to prove it, but alive.  Really, truly, honestly alive, he tells them.

 

In today’s Gospel passage, which immediately follows the road to Emmaus, Jesus tries at least four different ways to convince the gathered crowd.

 

First, he speaks to them.  “Peace be with you.”

 

They are startled, but not convinced.  Perhaps they were hearing things, or seeing things.

 

Next he shows them his hands and feet.  This is no dream, this is no wishful thinking.  The crucifixion happened and it has left its marks.  Look, see my wounds. Come touch flesh and bone. Still, they are not convinced.

 

His third attempt might be the one he would have started were he to have appeared here at St. Paul’s. “Do you have anything to eat?” Jesus asks.  

 

That might have done it for this group, for gathering to eat is a favorite activity of ours.  It is a time when we are very much alive.

 

But ghosts don’t eat.  Metaphors and wishful thoughts don’t break broiled fish and ingest it infront of everyone.  People who are alive and well do that.

 

His final attempt in this passage is to be with them like he was prior to the crucifixion; as their rabbi.  Come, listen to me as I explain scripture through the lens of the resurrection. Come hear again what God has said to us since the beginning and has now shown to us once again.

 

As I said in my Easter sermon, belief in the resurrection is no easy feat.  It wasn’t easy for those who were the first to witness it. It wasn’t easy for those who shared broiled fish with the risen Christ.  It hasn’t been easy for anyone since then, and it isn’t easy for us today.

 

We have started our Adult Education series for Easter and we are talking about the resurrection.  It’s hard to talk about something you don’t fully understand. And if you think Elise, or Pat, or Megan or I have resurrection all figured out, you are in for a big disappointment.  

 

When Elise and I were discussing Adult Ed, Elise commented that she was clearer about what she didn’t believe about resurrection than what she did.  I knew exactly what she meant.

 

I don’t know what happened in that room with Jesus’ followers.  I don’t know how someone who doesn’t need to use the door can then ingest fish.  All I have are the accounts of those who had an experience of Jesus among them in a way that was so different, so amazing and so beyond scientific explanation that the only way they could describe it was in the ways we have inherited through our scripture, and from the accounts of those who have come before us and have testified to their own experiences of a risen Christ.

 

I’ve had mine.  Maybe you’ve had yours as well.

 

And maybe this whole resurrection thing is one of your biggest obstacles in your life of faith.  Maybe this is the line in the Nicene Creed during which you cross your fingers or stay silent.

 

But maybe the challenge comes from thinking we know what these early witnesses meant by their description, and we can’t buy it.  We won’t buy it.

 

Maybe, when confronted with the possibility of resurrection, we defend ourselves against it because we think we know what it would look like, and science won’t let us imagine the possibility.

 

Perhaps our challenge lies in our focus on having to understand what resurrection would look like before we assent to the possibility it exists.

 

I wonder what might happen if we tried the reverse. I wonder what possibilities might exist for us if we accept that resurrection happens and then wonder what it might look like when it does.

 

What if God isn’t asking you whether or not you believe in the resurrection.  What if God is asking you what it will take to convince you God is still alive?

 

Friedrich Nietzche made the now famous statement, “God is dead.”  While many hear this and assume that Nietzche was arguing that the Divine had ceased to exist, what some scholars of Nietzche believe he meant was that religion had taken God’s place, thereby ending God’s life among humanity.

 

If this is what Nietzche meant, I get it.  The times in my life I am the closest to uttering the words “God is dead” is usually when God is not manifest in my life as I believe God ought to be, or as I’ve imagined God would be, as I’ve been taught God ought to be.

 

I am unable to experience the risen Christ in my own life when I am certain what the risen Christ will look like, or say, or do, rather than opening myself up to the possibility that I don’t know what Christ will say when Christ appears to me.  That I can’t begin to imagine what Christ will look like or do or ask of me.

 

God appears among his followers and asks them what they need in order to understand that God is still very much alive.  And Jesus tries everything.

 

I think that is something God has been doing since the beginning, and continues to do to this very day.  We hear God ask, “what do you believe” when what God keeps asking is, “What do you need to know that I am alive.”

 

Belief is a checklist in which we are much more invested than God is.  

 

Responding to the possibility that God is alive and present in our lives is an invitation to relationship that is everything God tells us God wants.

 

It took Charles Hubbard eight months to convince the government that he was alive.

 

I wonder how long it will be until I can give myself over fully to God’s convincing.  I wonder how God is trying to show me that God is alive. I wonder how God is trying to show you, and how you will respond.

 

Amen.

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

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