First Reading: Acts 3:12-19
12[Peter] addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
17“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”
Psalm: Psalm 4
1Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause;
you set me free when I was in distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
2“You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory;
how long will you love illusions and seek after lies?”
3Know that the Lord does wonders for the faithful;
the Lord will hear me when I call.
4Tremble, then, and do not sin;
speak to your heart in silence upon your bed.
5Offer the appointed sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.
6Many are saying, “Who will show us any good?”
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.
7You have put gladness in my heart,
more than when grain and wine abound.
8In peace, I will lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me rest secure.
Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-7
1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
Gospel: Luke 24:36b-48
36bJesus himself stood among [the disciples] and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look 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.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
44Then 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.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.”
I’m going to read a famous poem about six blind men having an argument.
THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT
IT was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me!—but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: “Ho!—what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘t is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:”I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!
The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“‘T’ is clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
Our text today looks at Easter evening through the eyes of Luke as the disciples and friends gathered behind locked doors discussing the events of the day. We know that by this time Mary Magdalene has encountered the risen Christ – but no one believed. Peter has encountered Christ but we do not know the details. The two on the road to Emmaus have returned to report their encounter. This gathering is like our six blind men from Indostan who have had an experience and are trying to put their stories together – but just like Jesus’ parables, the meaning is not very clear. I would imagine that conversation was very animated. According to Luke, Jesus appears in the midst of the chaos.
“Peace be with you.”
Can you hear your parent telling you, “Now just calm down and tell me what happened.” I had twins and so I had to make sure both sides shared and of course, they never agreed. The followers are disbelieving and confused when they enter the room but when Jesus appears, they become startled and terrified. Are they seeing a ghost? As I write this sermon, we are preparing to go for an MRI. I admit there is anxiety in the pit of my stomach. But I also know that when we see the doctor in a few weeks to hear the findings, I will be scared. We sit on the edge of anxiety as a culture today regarding so many things. What will life be like for the Queen and her empire after the burial of Prince Phillip? What will be the outcome of the attack on Iran? Will violence erupt again when the verdict comes in on the Minneapolis trial? Those are larger issues that subtly nibble away at us in the midst of our own personal challenging circumstances. Jesus appears in the midst of these times and says, “Peace be with you.”
I looked up “peace” on Bible Gateway and they give 340 mentions in the Bible, 163 of which are in the New Testament and Luke mentions “peace” at least 12 times, doubling John and quadrupling Matthew and Mark. After a healing Luke often has Jesus dismissing the person by telling them, “Go in peace.” The peace Jesus gives is not the “peace” that signals the end of conflict in the Middle East nor the “peace” I might feel for getting vengeance with my enemy and not even the “peace” of sitting back knowing my barns are full from a good harvest. Bonheoffer was famously known for having amazing peace as he was led to his hanging.
Our six men from Indostan argue about who has the best understanding of an elephant and each wants to be heard and be right, there can be no peace. But if they turn over their individual understandings to a greater power and if they listen to God’s voice, a new kind of wisdom directs their lives and helps them see. It is not that the circumstances change but perspective changes. Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world! (John 16:33)”
There is also a peace that comes when we give up the right to control our lives and understand everything. Jesus comes to Mary in calling her name. Jesus comes to the people on the road to Emmaus in scripture and breaking of bread. Jesus comes to some like the trunk of the elephant and to others like the leg. As we sit back and learn from others, we can gain a better picture of what is happening and release our deep expectations on how an event should unfold and what the implications are for the future. The peace Jesus is talking about is not peace as we expect in our lives today but something deeper and more pervasive.
But first things first. The disciples think they are seeing a ghost. Jesus invites them to trust their senses. The test of a ghost was to feel arms where bones can be felt so Jesus extends his arms. Jesus asks for food. The resurrected body is obviously different from our worldly body as it just appeared but it also has characteristics familiar to us. As we calm down, as we come to peace, trusting Jesus to lead us and inform us, we are able to understand reality better. Jesus is not a ghost, not a story, not a fulfilled prophecy but a real resurrected incarnation of perfect humanness that will walk into our future with us.
He opened the Scriptures
After we calm down, take a deep breath, and count to ten (sometimes 20) we are able to listen and receive an improved interpretation of reality. Believing Jesus is risen is only part of the blessing of Easter. The resurrection provided Jesus’ followers with a new lens to interpret the Old Testament. A new interpretation of their history was given as Jesus explains scripture. The present trajectory of their lives was changed. The resurrection changes our understanding of events today as well as events of the past or some promise of heaven. People thought Jesus was coming to restore the Jews to their former glories and shake off the domination of the Romans. Jesus came to bring in a new heavenly kingdom that would include all people. His suffering, death and resurrection were predicted and not a mistake. Our suffering, death and resurrection is likewise promised in Scripture. We do not need to think God has lost control because we have problems. Nor has God stopped loving us.
Today we grieve the unexpected death of a member of our congregation. Death never arrives on the right day and a sudden death is even more shocking. The resurrection of Christ means that the story of life does not end with death, relationships are not ruptured forever, and that in the midst of grief there can be hope and peace. Not as the world gives peace but peace in Christ.
Repentance and Forgiveness
Luke now turns and faces the future. The resurrection is not only a fulfillment of prophecy that Jesus would need to suffer, die, but he rose again and the God-story continues. The resurrection informs our future. People had been thinking in terms of military confrontations to restore the Jews to their former glory. Their concept of a Savior was informed by their past and their present. The Jews fought to gain control of the Promised Land and won many battles with great leaders like Joshua, Saul and David. Surely the coming of the Messiah would mean the defeat of Rome.
Luke now adds a big AND or BUT. “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” We have come full circle to baptism by John the Baptist at the river Jordon. Preparation for the coming Messiah was preceded by repentance and forgiveness of sin. Preparation for the reign of the kingdom of heaven needs to be preceded by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness. A new lens, a new directive is here given even as at the last supper Jesus gives a new mandate that we are to love one another. Our faith is not only about our past separation from God and our future promise of heaven, but it is also about how to live today in the midst of other people.
Repentance and forgiveness are big words we don’t hear in the news too much unless there is a money tag attached for reimbursement for past injustices. I might even say that the our present desired change that has led to demonstrations and confrontations with power, sounds awfully familiar to the Jews anticipation of a military victory to remove the Romans.
We love the stories of the battles of David, Saul, and Joshua that brought glory and fame. But the resurrection is bringing about a “change of plans.” The way forward is through repentance and forgiveness.
Repentance and forgiveness are a humbling ourselves beneath a higher judge who sees and somehow orchestrates the events of our life. We talked about this when we talked about Jesus saying, “Peace be with you.” Peace and the kingdom come when we repent of our self-centered lives, of our sins of omission and commission, and admit our limitations and blindness. We are the creature and God is the creator. We are finite and God is infinite. We cannot see all of reality. He is the one who holds the whole world in his hands. We must come to grips with our limitations. But we must also forgive. That is admitting the limitations of others also. They make mistakes, sin against us, and don’t see the whole picture. When we harbor grudges and shortcomings of others, the love of God cannot work in us and through us. We become frozen in our lesser self and the world is frozen in wars, rumors of wars, and broken relationships. The message of repentance and forgiveness must be preached, not victory by confrontation and righting all the wrongs in the world.
Whew, we don’t hear that on the news. The resurrection is pivotal in history. Yes we have a new lens to understand our past and see the hand of God forming the events of our history. Yes, someday we will rise after death and join eternity with other believers. But also the resurrection ultimately means that we are witnesses to doing life in a new way given us by the incarnation and resurrection of Christ.
You are witnesses
Jesus closes with the affirmation that we are all important because we can all witness to the resurrection. We are witnesses not because we were there that Easter evening arguing like the Indostans over just exactly what happened but because our lives have been changed by the presence of a risen Savior helping us to meet the daily challenges of life.
For some Jesus is a wall of protection from the abuse and evils of this world.
For others Jesus is a spear that helps them tackle the challenges of life.
Some think of God as a snake, winding its way through their life and they are not sure if he is good or bad.
Many experience God like a tree that can be climbed to get higher and get a better perspective on life.
Jesus is always a fan that helps us calm down when the going gets rough.
And in all cases when we come to the end of our ability to cope, God is a rope we can tie a prayer knot in and hang on to during the ride.
We need not argue over who is right, we need only witness to God’s truth in our lives. Jesus is risen and present in our world today. Amen!