First Congregational Church
April 19, 2015
Third Sunday after Easter
“Everything You Need to Know about Jesus”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
An older nun, who was living in a convent next to a construction site, noticed the coarse language of the workers and decided to spend some time with them - to correct their ways.
She decided she would take her lunch with the workers and talk with them. She put her sandwich in a brown bag and walked over to the spot where the men were eating. She walked up to the group and with a big smile said "Do you men know Jesus Christ?"
They shook their heads and looked at each other. One of the workers looked up into the steelwork and yelled "Anybody up there know Jesus Christ?” One of the steelworkers asked why. The worker yelled "his wife is here with his lunch".
I had to laugh when choosing this morning’s sermon title, because it seems like a rather ostentatious one, no matter who or what you are. But the more I thought about it, the more it made some sense, and hopefully to you all, too.
One of my recent favorite graphics is of a little bird with it’s head tucked into its chest, in an obvious rain storm, and it says, “Sometimes you have to pray, put your head down and weather the storm.” The more I thought about it, this morning’s message has to do with weathering of storms, in an odd fashion.
Sure enough, the title is a take-off of Robert Fulgham’s book, “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Before Mr. Fulgham ever wrote the book, a good many of us learned that we were to 1. Share everything. 2. Play fair. 3. Don't hit people. 4. Put things back where you found them. 5. Clean up your own mess. 6. Don't take things that aren't yours. 7. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. 8. Wash your hands before you eat. 9. Flush. 10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. 11. Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some. 12. Take a nap every afternoon. 13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. 14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. 15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we. 16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - look.”
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to family, life, work or world, and it holds true and clear and firm. What a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then lay down for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together. (At this point, some of you will recognize that thing we do at the end of the service - will receiving the benediction!)
Our passage from Luke doesn’t first appear to be such a clear list as that which Robert Fulgham created, but the points are there. It was late on the second day after the discovery of the empty tomb. After the women told the men about it, Cleopas and another disciple went from Jerusalem to Emmaus, the distance from here to Benzonia, when Jesus appeared to them. After realizing who he was, the disciples went back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples about recognizing the Christ.
Luke 24:36-48 NIV
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 Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
Thank you, Dale. The first thing we need to know about Jesus is that he 1. brings peace to the anxious. Odd way to start. Anyone who has ever been anxious knows this idea must be too simple or ethereal, if not a downright fantasy. But if we think about the anxiety in the scene of our scripture passage, maybe we get closer to the truth.
Remember that the country and people were in such turmoil, and they were hoping, needing, wanting a miracle worker - someone around which a political coup would occur, and that was before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. It is in that same political storm-fire, plus the addition of grief, confusion and loss, that Jesus says starts a conversation with: “Peace be with you.” As Jacob Myers wrote, author of the article from which this sermon idea came from, “Jesus inaugurates a peace that arises out of - and sometimes in the absence of - faith.” Our job, in those absences of physical security - is to believe, i.e., trust that God will take care of what needs taking care of, so that we are left with a sense of peace.
2. Jesus’ presence ought to haunt every fellowship worthy of his name. When Jesus appears to his followers, they think they are seeing a ghost. They are “terrified” and “filled with fear.” We get that: dead stuff is supposed to stay dead! And yet there stood Jesus, all resurrected. In another sense, Jesus’ resurrection means that if what he said was true, and if he was not bluffing about his resurrection, we need to trust that Jesus really meant what he said about other things, like how his followers are to treat others, especially the marginalized.
3. A third important thing to know about Jesus is that God really resurrected him from the dead. There were a number of theories floating around about the lack of a body in Jesus’ tomb, and one was that someone stole his body. Another one came from the idea of Docetism - the thought that Jesus really did not possess, or inhabit a physical body. That theory asserts that he only "appeared" to have a body, so he didn’t actually die, so he could never have really been raised. The writer of Luke tells us that Jesus pointed out - with his hands and feet - that he was no ghost; that Jesus had real flesh and bones, as the men on the road could see for themselves. Interesting: that God squashed those rumors so quickly.
The fourth thing to know about Jesus is that even as the resurrected Christ, he continues to bear the marks of his suffering for us. If you would hold that thought for a moment, a little definition detour would probably be helpful.
Jesus is the Hebrew word that means God delivers (God’s) people. Christ is actually a Greek word that was used with Jesus primarily after he died, that is more of a title than a last name, the title meaning “the Messiah.”
Focusing on those names would make easy mental tangents of Jesus being the real promised Messiah from the Old Testament prophecies, leading into a lot of other historic and etherial thoughts and discussions. But Jesus reminds the men that day - and brings us back to the subject, that he wasn’t just an idea, but a real man, too; a real and divine embodiment of God’s love for us. He’s not either/or, he’s both/and.
5. And that thought helps us realize the next thing to know about Jesus, that we best understand the Scriptures through the lens of his life, ministry, and resurrection. Luke Timothy Johnson writes, “It is the risen Lord who teaches the Church to read Torah properly.” (Torah is the first five books of the Bible - the Hebrew Bible.) In other words, without Jesus, the Bible becomes much harder to comprehend and understand.
6. And then Jesus commissions us to bear witness to his life, ministry, and resurrection. We don’t just get Jesus and that’s that. We also get a mission: to “preach” and be witnesses to Christ’s life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. We do our jobs, not just through our reading of this morning’s scripture passage, but as witnesses to what God has done for us in Christ. It’s not fancy, nor is it complicated. We get to tell the story of Jesus, which actually changes us, and then we get to share the forgiveness, peace and everything else we find in Christ.
7. For today, the last thing to know about Jesus is that his good news is for everybody. It’s the same good news for the “unknown” Cleopas as it is for the great apostle Paul. He didn’t say, Peace be with the rich. Or the famous. Or just white people. Or those who look like or live like us. He said “Peace be with you.” Period.
Now all of you can relax, because there won’t be a written test on any of this. But here’s the real point of what it seemed God was asking us to remember - at least for today. We don’t have to work so hard.
We already know the answer to questions of what to do. Cleopas and the other man on the road that day didn’t really have any idea of what do after Jesus’ death. So they put one foot in front of the other - literally. So often I get people saying that they don’t know what to do - especially after a spouse or significant other dies. The two men on the Emmaus Road probably didn’t know what they would do, either. But they took a step. And then another. And maybe while the storm of grief was pounding on them, perhaps they prayed in a fashion, putting their heads to the wind and weathering the storm of unknowing and insecurity.
It’s true for us, today, too. Life may be good at the moment, and that’s reason for giving thanks, as Kate Edwards reminded us so wonderfully last week. It may not be like that tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after that. But God - in Jesus - is still granting peace and understanding - no matter what happens. Sometimes the next step forward may seem like a long time in coming, but it will happen. God will see to it. So we can rest more during the storm, rather than struggle and become weary.
So let us pray. Loving God, we thank you that you sent your Son that we might know what we need to get about in this life. We thank you for his humanity and for his divinity - that mix that makes him completely unique among all your creations. Help us to lean into those truths when the storms seem to be pressing in, as well as on the days when the way is sunny and blue-skied. Thank you, God, for your love, so graciously and freely offered to each and every one. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.