Where Are You Headed? Where are You Needed?
Sermon by Rev. Douglas Olds
19 April 2015
Stinson Beach Community Presbyterian Church, CA
Calvary Presbyterian Church, Bolinas, CA
Luke 24.36 While they were talking about this [appearance report], Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 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.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 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.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 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, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
Friends, to adopt a phrase by Kipling, There is a time to paint God of The Things as They Ought to be for The Things as We See Them.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeeemer. AMEN.
“Huddling together behind locked doors, fearing that the authorities will come after them,
the disciples struggle to take in these strange reports of “Jesus sightings” and wonder what it all means.
Then suddenly, Jesus is there among them”!—and so they encounter the time for transformation of understanding and ethics, ever proceeding like all of Christian life a progress of turning and commitment to live life fully according to God’s reality.
Jesus is alive! Jesus the healer is himself healed of death.
And his first words to the fearing disciples is, “Peace be with you.”
He does NOT say to the disciples, “you are safe.”
We cannot escape our fears except by knowing we have peace with God.
“Behind what locked doors are we hiding? Hearing that dreaded word cancer?Unemployment, loneliness, and loss? Terrorist attacks?
The fear of death, our own or that of someone we love?”
Our fears hold us captive, we huddle behind closed doors, the closed doors of traditions and clubs and even churches. It becomes difficult to give witness to the great joy that is ours—
that the bonds of death could not hold Jesus.
For Luke, the disciples’ failure to recognize Jesus in his resurrection is human blindness.
Blindness that that cannot discern what divinity and spiritual power ought to look like.
And now, in our story of the resurrection from the end of Luke’s gospel, the disciples think they see a ghost. Yet the resurrected Jesus will not have Easter faith reduced to mere private spiritualism.
“Look at and touch my hands and feet, see that they are flesh and bones,” he says.
Strangely, Luke tells us that their joy at seeing Jesus in body causes them still to disbelieve until Jesus invites himself to some food and the disciples see him eat. Like so many another episodes of meals that Luke employs throughout his gospel,eating a shared meal symbolizes Jesus’s ongoing mutuality with humanity. Only then are the disciples ready to learn the mysteries of the Hebrew Scriptures from the Resurrected One—how they foretell and describe the Messiah.
So the continuing teaching of the disbelieving disciples is the first point of Luke’s narrative.
The gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are enigmatic. Jesus is resurrected not as a spirit, but in a flesh and bone body that bears images of his crucifixion but somehow transformed and not entirely recognizable. It is a mystery if this resurrection body is the final form that Jesus takes as the Christ,
or whether it is a transition body before his being taken up into heaven and becoming re-embodied and renewed in the Church.
This mystery is not solved for us.
One thing about eternal life that Luke’s narrative does suggest is that we don’t lose our identity when joining with the divine spirit.This powerful portrait of the resurrected Jesus has him maintaining his identity and his friendships. In this, we can trust the Holy Spirit in our lives that has a particular regard for us as individuals, and we can take heart in our participation as God’s people, where Jesus’s rising into heaven is how his spirit is reconstituted in the Church.
Here is the first message I have for you from this passage:
We in the Body of the Church move through life as representatives of the resurrected Christ.
It is the Holy Spirit among us as a body of believers that can pass through locked doors when we have accessed to the hiding, reaching those huddling in fear.
Luke’s Jesus tells his disciples in the locked room,You are witnesses to these things,
“these things interpreted through the light of the scriptures interpreted through the lens of resurrection. Resurrection stories, like the Creation stories, show death to be part of a larger story of the unquenchable fertility of life.Hence, the seed must fall to the ground and die to produce abundance.” Jesus must die so that God’s people--the church’s bodily presence--can increase.
The first question to witnesses is,Where is your presence needed in your walled-off communities of fear today?What closed rooms of denial and hopelessness can you access to bring the message of renewed life?
The second point of this narrative is that Jesus’s chosen people have a task to live this life NOW fully and abundantly for others. Mark Davis, the pastor of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA writes,
“The usual course of resurrection-speak lessens the value of life by positing that, since there is life after death, the reality of death is nullified into a simple passageway from a lower form of being to a higher one. That, in turn, diminishes the meaning [of this life into] nothing more than a necessary pilgrimage toward that passageway to heaven. In the end, such an approach to resurrection leaves us with no reason to care about the environment, or health, or justice, or anything beyond the one concern of getting through the door to resurrection... What Luke [instead proposes…] is the reality-bending story of the resurrection.”
Resurrection is the way of living wholly for God in order to have God’s spirit live in you.
Jesus has the disciples wait in Jerusalem for the arrival of Pentecost with his commission that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.
Remember that Luke often recounts Jesus taking meals with followers and the curious,
promoting the divine obligation of hospitality,“inviting us to still our hunger and thirst at his table.” This passage asks, With which hungering and thirsting can you take a meal as a way of living in the benefits and joys of proclaiming our hope?—
proclaiming the forgiveness that comes from repentance of past sins, entrusting them to the name of Jesus. The name of Jesus in the scriptures means the God-backed historical reputation of Jesus’s saving message, crucifixion, and resurrection that promise forgiveness for those who repent.
God will fulfill the promise backed by the name of Jesus.
That is our trust. Amen.
Here’s a philosophical suggestion from my simple understanding of the physics theory of relativity as it applies to the benefit of repentance--Relativity which relates time, matter, and light.
The scriptures speak of God as light: the alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet symbolizing the spiritual ground of eternity and the final end of material creation.God, though timeless and eternal as Spirit, is always coming toward us as historical, material beings at the speed of light,for God desires relationship with all. But we move away from God at the non-negligible speed of sin--the anti-spirit opposition to God’s good creation.
According to my understanding of relativity, our destiny in sin is not part of the future creation read at lightspeed, but its fallen past. Yet when we repent, we turn and move at some accelerating commitment towards God who is constantly coming at lightspeed toward us.
This addition of velocities, ours and God’s toward each other, allows God to see the condition of our advancing heart to read and transform our future, so that in turning we die to the old life and plant the seed for a new life. In this, God’s eternal alpha Spirit becomes merged in God’s people as omega matter.
God is always drawn to our better nature—
the outbreaks of godliness in our biographies,
the times before we turned away, and better, when we turn toward.
In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables the ex-convict Jean Valjean, under a new name,
had buried his past and became the prosperous mayor of a provincial town.
But one day he learned that in a neighboring village an old man arrested for stealing apples had been identified as the notorious and long-sought ex-convict, Jean Valjean.
That news precipitated a crisis in the soul of the real Jean Valjean. Should he keep silent, or should he reveal his identity and be sent back to the gallows? Should he remain in a false paradise and become a demon, or repent in truth and become an angel of real life?
A voice comes to him, saying, “Jean Valjean, there will be many voices around you which will bless you, and only one which will curse you in the dark.
All those benedictions will fall back before they ascend to God.”
He fights an awful battle with his conscience all night in front of his fire, until, in the morning, he goes to the court about to pronounce sentence.
There, the true convict stood up before the court and confessed, “I am Jean Valjean.” Some thought that he was mad, and others pitied him for the sacrifice he had made.
As he left the courtroom, he said: “All of you consider me worthy of pity, do you not?
“When I think what I was on the point of doing, I consider that I am to be envied.
“God, who is on high, looks down on what I am doing at this moment, and that suffices.”
Jean Valjean turns and moves toward God--
Through his trust in Jesus’ name—Jesus’ promise that God forgives, accepts and guides his future through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is Victor Hugo’s story of the power of trusting repentance.
Being sorry for sins is not enough.
Repentance is to be so sorry for sins that you’ve resolved to quit them.
Which leaves us Luke’s second message this morning,
proclaiming repentance learned through the teaching of the resurrection.
This is how Christ comes to live in us—
To live through all his Church by his various gifts and individual ways of being in the world for others.
The power of the resurrection is the power to plant the seeds of repentance to live this life fully and abundantly for others. The hope of the resurrection is grounded in the renewed experience of those first followers. Closed minds can be opened.
Today’s text challenges us to abound in and cherish the resurrection now, fully and fearlessly:
It has us pick up where the prophet Isaiah 43 says,
“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”
Progress requires forward movement and leaving behind old ways of being, thinking and doing. This is the path of risk and it risks the ridicule of the closed minded, releasing us from destiny in a prophetic way, so that God can guide our futures and join our material beings with his Holy Spirit for eternal life.
The word of God calls us to focus on Spiritual peace rather than material security.
Repentance in the light of the resurrection is the path of peace for those whom the past’s search for security is not an option. It is the path of the intrepid and courageous who perceive what God is doing for the future, where no one has ventured ahead except in the death-defying Spirit of Christ.
The word of our God is a claw hammer:
it either drives us forward or draws us away.
Let us gently hammer home Jesus’ pioneering work and healing on earth.
“Arise, shine, for your light is come!
Fling wide the prison door,
Proclaim the captive’s liberty
Good tidings to the poor…
Arise, shine for your light is HERE,
Rise up like eagles on the wing,
Bind up the broken-hearted ones.
God’s power will make us strong!" AMEN//
 Blakely, N. R. (2008). Pastoral Perspective on Luke 24:36b–48. In D. L. Bartlett & B. B. Taylor (Eds.), Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year B (Vol. 2, p. 424). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.
 Mark Davis, http://www.politicaltheology.com/blog/the-politics-of-resurrection-hermeneutics-luke-2436-48/ accessed 041414.
 Henri Nouwen.
 The text of the next two paragraphs is abridged and edited from “4968 Jean Valjean Could Not Remain Silent” in Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 1133). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.