Calling Witnesses

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Calling Witnesses

They almost gave up, but God had other plans.
Do not give up ten minutes before your miracle!

 

Sermon Video




This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Luke 24:36-48

While they were talking about this, 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.”

 

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Full Text of Sermon

 

Introduction & Context

Much of the Third Gospel focuses on Jesus going to Jerusalem, building a community of followers. Today’s lesson, from the closing words of Luke’s version of the Good News serves as teaser for his upcoming sequel which Luke will call The Acts of the Apostles, the pitch for which is from today’s reading: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in God’s name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

If Luke is about the why of our faith, Acts will be about putting our faith in action. Today, Jesus urges the new apostolic community to stay in Jerusalem long enough to get their messaging figured out. So, they go to the Temple and share resurrection stories and plan their ministry. Such an extended planning meeting proves that they were Presbyterians present, sewing the seeds of Pentecost.

 

Grilling the Witness

Jesus identifies them—and us—as witnesses to the resurrection, those who have encountered the trembling potential of resurrection, the infinite yes of God. As witnesses, how will we move our faith into action? As witnesses, where might we share a word of resurrection in our communities? Today’s Psalm asks us witnesses how we plan to defend God’s reputation? How will we broadcast the message of Jesus and his love?

Once the apostles have a plan, Jesus says that they—we—are to take the message out from the holy city, out of our temples and churches and to the courtroom of this world. We are called as witnesses.

 

Prayer for Illumination (sung)

Since I cannot preach like Peter,

And I cannot pray like Paul,

Help me tell the love of Jesus,

And say “You died for all.”

Amen.

 

Touch my wounds, Jesus says. Know how I suffered and rose, but don’t make me into some kind of Marvel superhero. Resurrection is about love. With a mouthful of broiled fish, he opens their minds to understand God’s law, the Torah and the Psalms and how each one of us is an expression of resurrection.

 

Repentance & Forgiveness

He says that where there is sin, preach repentance and forgiveness. Find the exiles, go to them and welcome them home, like God welcomed our forebears home from Babylon. Where Black and Brown bodies are commodified by prison-running corporations, Jesus calls us to preach liberation through repentance and forgiveness. Go to where the pain is great, Jesus says, and testify to God’s power. Where law enforcement has been coopted by white nationalists and toxic masculinity, bring the corrective Good News of agape love: repentance and forgiveness. Notice he pairs them together in this passage, repentance and forgiveness hand-in-hand.

Repentance means to turn around, to change our thinking so fundamentally it propels us into action. Repentance is more than a wake-up call or a crying jag during “Just As I Am.” Repentance means that we admit we were wrong and intend to live differently in light of a change of conscience.

Forgiveness is harder. When people forgive, we try to let go of negative feelings and resentments that once held us captive to the past. When God forgives, there is a grace that wipes the slate clean and offers us sinners a second chance. Forgive and forget? Don’t go there. Anyone can choose to forgive, but nobody forgets, not really. God remembers, and so should we. At best, remember that you have forgiven that lousy so-and-so so that you don’t fall in that trap again. God remembers how God has forgiven us. Why forgive and forget? Forgiveness is enough.

To intertwine these two actions—repentance and forgiveness—and to imprint them as two sides of the same coin, especially as we take the Good News of new life out into the world, allows us to change ourselves. And forgive ourselves. Don’t forget to share the power of repentance and forgiveness with everyone you meet.

If I’d been there in the new apostolic community, I would have pressed Jesus to tell me what to do with the people who think they don’t have room for improvement. If he had it to do all over again, how would he have dealt more effectively with the Pharisees? That might sound like an impudent question, but really, aren’t the Pharisees (ancient and current) the church’s biggest problem?

 

Straight Outta Jerusalem

Luke’s gospel ends with Jesus ascending, leaving us followers to sow the seeds of Pentecost, to repair the damage done to God’s reputation by becoming a church that follows Jesus through faith and demonstrates Jesus through action.

I like to wonder how the new apostolic community prepared their testimony in the Temple, how they reviewed and practiced telling…how Jesus had loved them, called them, healed them…the way he fed the multitudes and doled out free healthcare to lepers and people of every physical and mental affliction. They took a lesson from the relief and joy of the women apostles who were finally seen, heard, respected and believed. They recounted how Jesus had been excluded and maligned by the authorities of religion…all the betrayals and humiliations…how the state finally killed him in public and left his body hanging there all afternoon. Powerful testimony.

The best they can do upon seeing him resurrected in the flesh is to consider him a ghost. Jesus bids them peace and tells them to stop freaking out. My friend, Barbara Essex, writes[1] that God and Jesus have been in cahoots against the powers of this world all along, even if we think God is dead. By raising Jesus, God declares to political and religious leaders, corporations and the haughty one-percenters, “This is not about you!” This is about the redeeming, healing, rescuing resurrection love of God, the One who stands with the outcast. This is about repentance and forgiveness. This is about experiencing a life greater than we can imagine.

The Theology of Sea Glass

I was introduced to beach glass a few years ago. Like most things, once I actually took the time to think about it in prayer, I uncovered more meaning. I heard the Holy Spirit still speaking even to the likes of me.

Every little piece of sea glass begins as something whole and useful like a vase, a wine glass or a window. At some point, someone decides it’s not worth keeping anymore, and they discard it: too old, served its purpose, defective, just not good enough.

The sea glass fragments pictured on your bulletin this morning embody transformation. Earnest Hemingway said that “we are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” Jesus quoted Psalm 118 when he said,“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.” Made from the stuff of earth, discarded glass, sea-tossed, worn down to little gems, even its chemical makeup is changed.

Each nib a mineral resurrection, uniquely shaped, differently colored, all thrown-in together but no two alike. These very stones cry out for newfound beauty. Do not let yourself be discarded, and for God’s sake, do not give up on yourself ten minutes before your miracle.

 

Keep Your Channel Open

The great dancing prophet, Martha Graham, is said to have encouraged Agnes de Mille with the following words.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it [give up on it, if you discard yourself], it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable not how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”[2]

 

“You Raise Me Up” by Rolf Løvland & Brendan Graham

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary,

When troubles come and my heart burdened be,

Then, I am still and wait here in the silence

Until You come and sit awhile with me.

 

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains,

You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas,

I am strong, when I am on your shoulders,

You raise me up to more than I can be.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Barbara Essex, Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide(Kindle Locations 15098-15099). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
[2] Sara Bareilles, Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015), 148.