First Congregational Church
April 18, 2021
Third Sunday of Easter
“The Resurrection as Reality”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Young students were asked to scientifically define some things in our world. In defining the law of gravity, one child wrote, "no fair jumping up without coming back down." Another said about thunderstorms, "You can listen to thunder and tell how close you came to getting hit. If you don't hear it, you got hit, so never mind.”
Another made a comment on clouds, "I'm not sure how clouds are formed, but clouds know how to do it, and that's the important thing.” One was asked to describe how rain happens. The student said, "Water vapor gets together in a cloud. When it is big enough to be called a drop, it does.” One defined a monsoon as a French gentleman. Another said, "When planets run around and around in circles, we say they are orbiting. When people do it, we say they are crazy.”
It is fascinating, learning how others see the world, especially when you haven’t seen it as they have, and it makes a difference in how you will then only ever see, hear or experience that thing in the future. For instance, when I was in college, one of my music professors taught me alternate lyrics to the song to “Let Us Break Bread Together on Our Knees,” and it still makes me smile when I hear it. “When I fall on my face, with my knees to the rising sun, O Lord, have mercy on me.” (Fall on my knees, fall on my face.) For each time you sing it in the future, you keep Shirley Schrader’s influence alive.
This morning’s passage is from that first Resurrection Sunday, Easter Evening. As the writer of Luke tells it, the disciples, for the most part, were huddled together in a room, hiding from the authorities, afraid that they, too, would be arrested for associating with the “notorious” Jesus.
The women had discovered the empty tomb, and there was the to and fro of the disciples looking at it. Perhaps needing to get some air, Cleopas and another of those gathered together, went for a walk toward Emmaus. They told the tale to their disciple friends, of the stranger who had joined them as they walked, and the peculiar warming of their hearts.
35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.
38 He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?
39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.
41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?"
42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
Thank you, Phil. The writer of Luke provides a little of the resurrection documentation, but not really that much. The writer actually spends a lot more time describing what happened later on that Resurrection Day and evening. Jin Young Choi, from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York, made a statement that seems to make a lot of sense out of Luke 24. She said, “Rather than looking to Luke to provide factual evidence of the resurrection, we can ask - in what sense Jesus’ resurrection becomes a reality - how, after the Ascension, Jesus is present with his followers in certain ways.”
There is story told out of Persia about a General who had the strange custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and the big, black door. As the moment of execution draws near, the spies are brought to the Persian General, who asks the question, "What will it be: the firing squad or the big, black door?" One spy, faced with this dilemma, hesitated for a long time. It was a difficult decision. He chose the firing squad. Moments later shots rang out confirming his execution.
The General turned to his aide and said, "They always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the undefined. Yet, we give them a choice.” The aide said, "What lies beyond the big door?” "Freedom," replied the general, "I've known only a few brave enough to take it.”
I’ve thought a lot about that sort of scenario over the years. I’ve wondered what it would be like for people to take the risk of choosing big doors over non-life, risks like full trust and life in God, rather than the life shortening way of life that is certain and what seems “safe.” That idea of living fully can play out in a lot of ways, sobriety vs. addiction, healing vs. the familiarity of pain, love vs. hate, and any of the other opposites of life.
I’m not sure how it could have happened, but a 12 year old boy found out about his father’s death in a car accident in the newspaper - before anyone could get word to him. (Maybe he’d been at camp and just come back?) The picture on the front page created not a sense of sorrow as much as a sense of guilt.
However many months before, the boy had managed to break his father’s thumb with a baseball at a family picnic. Most people would appreciate that it was not a planned event, but an accident, and accidents happen. For whatever reason, this boy wasn’t able to accept the accident nature of that event - and subsequently the death of his father.
Godcidentally, the boy had a good pastor, who sat down across from him and said:
"Now, Jim," that was the boy's name, "you listen to me. If your dad could come back to life for five minutes and be right here with us… and if he knew you were worried about that, what would he say to you?"
"He would tell me to quit worrying about that," Jim said.
"Well, all right," the minister said, "then you quit worrying about that right now. Do you understand me?” "Yes sir," he said… and he did.
That minister was saying: "You are forgiven. Accept the forgiveness… and make a new start with your life." The young boy did just that and years later, served a 9,000 member church in Houston. The boy’s name was James W. Moore, the author of over 30 books on Christian living.
I’m not suggesting that letting go of a guilt or sorrow or hurt will result in writing books with titles like, “Yes, Lord, I Have Sinned, But I Have Several Excellent Excuses.” Making a decision to take big, black doors can be scary. “I’ve never lived as if I’ve been forgiven. I don’t know how to live like that.” “I’ve never really been free of the guilt over that event back then. I don’t know how to live without it.”
Living In Resurrection Reality doesn’t mean there won’t be pain and burdens along the way. Some days, just because your saddle is brown instead of black, someone will say something that gets under your saddle and causes a blister that is raw for too long before it begins to heal up.
There will be days when a friend or family member dies, and we can get stuck in the valley of grief, and maybe we’ve never felt brave enough to make the big effort to get out of that valley. And it’s very understandable that the effort is too overwhelming or would require too much work.
Regardless of whether we choose the big, black doors or the certain deaths, the thing is, “While we are still talking about this, Jesus himself stands among us and says to us, "Peace be with you."
Peter denied Christ three times. Thomas had some certainty issues. All the disciples abandoned Christ. But Christ came back and says the word that is to replace fear and pain and anxiety: peace. His return offered them a reality that is not of this world. And Christ gives us that same opportunities for bravery and second chances.
King Duncan, over there at sermons.com, and yes, there is really a site with that name, asked these questions: “What difference has been made in your life by seeing the hands and feet of the risen Christ? Has it caused you to take more seriously your walk with the Man of Galilee? Has it had some effect on the goals you have set for your life? After all, if life is indeed eternal, some of our goals are going to seem awfully shortsighted and self-serving, are they not?”
And yes, we need a certain amount of common sense, or maybe it should be named uncommon sense in these days? The late Earl J. Fleming, an Alaska state biologist, was an investigator to objectively explore bears’ reputation for attacking humans. When Fleming encountered a bear, he neither ran nor shot. At the end of his unique study, he had encountered 81 brown bears, and although several staged mock charges, not one actually attacked. Living in Resurrection Reality doesn’t mean that we have to prove ourselves in exploring potentially dangerous animals.
Sometimes our acts of bravery may not seem like a big deal, such as the day that Laurence Housman took off his jacket at a proper English tea party so that a man who had just arrived in shirt sleeves would not feel embarrassed.
Black Bart was a professional thief who terrorized the Wells Fargo stage line. From San Francisco to New York, his name became synonymous with the danger of the frontier. Between 1875 and 1883 he robbed 29 different stagecoach crews. Amazingly, Bart did it all without firing a shot. Because a hood hid his face, no victim ever saw his face. He never took a hostage and was never trailed by a sheriff. Instead, Black Bart used fear to paralyze his victims.
Living In Resurrection Reality allows us to come out of hiding, out of the darkness and out of fear into the light of freedom and fullness and life. As the Resurrection sinks ever deeper into our souls and DNA, let us pray.
Holy God of Light and Love, thank you for giving us not only your son, but his life in all its fullness. Help all of us to more fully embrace the unknown paths that lie in freedom and the courage to make such decisions. May your life, lived out through ours, be the visual that others can see and through which they can life. For all that is light, love, grace and mercy, all your people say, Amen
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.