Sermon Preached the Third Sunday of Easter
at Christ the King on April 26, 2009
Acts 3:12-19 + Psalm 4 + 1 John 3:1-7 + Luke 23:36b-49
Jesus appears to the disciples and says, “Peace be with you.” They thought they were seeing a ghost and were scared half to death. Jesus continues, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over. It’s me, I’m here. Look at my hands; look at my feet—it’s really me. Touch me. Look me over from head to toe. A ghost doesn’t have muscle and bone like this” he says, showing them his hands and feet.
In the NRSV translation of the next part of the story says: “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” I have a minor issue with this translation of the Greek. Their continued unbelief (apisteo) and amazement (thaumazo) indicates that their ‘joy’ comes from unbelief… joy from unbelief? something that just doesn’t seem to make sense. Perhaps this is better translated as “it seemed too good to be true” which is how the Revised English Bible states the phrase.
Scholar and Pastor Brian Stoffregen points out that the other instance of “not believing” (apisteo) in Luke (24:11) occurs when the women tell the disciples about their experiences at the empty tomb. “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them”. In the next verse, after Peter has been to the empty tomb, he goes home “amazed (thaumazo) at what had happened.” Both the empty tomb and Jesus appearing to the disciples today produce only unbelief and amazement, two emotions that seem to get in the way of believing.
Interesting, maybe? But some of you may be thinking… “so what” or “why does this matter” you may be asking? Well I think that the reaction of the disciples: joy, amazement, stunned silence and inactivity does little to build belief. And if I interpret their reaction as thinking Jesus being there seems too good to be true, I immediately wonder, what happens next?
- What is beyond the appearances to the disciples?
- What is beyond the resurrection for you and me?
- What is beyond hearing this story and our gathering today?
If we too react with unbelief and amazement, if it seems “too good to be true” to us, then it appears that things really are getting in the way of believing.
If we as Christians are Easter people, people who live in the resurrection glow, joy, amazement, and unbelief, what’s next? Well if your house is like mine, it’s largely back to normal routines as if Easter never happened. Oh there may be a stray piece of Easter candy hanging out or a couple colored eggs that probably should be thrown away in the refrigerator… But the reality is that signs of the resurrection are fading. Even here at Christ the King, , the alleluia bells have been packed away until next year, the lilies around the altar are wilting and the Baptismal garden at the back of our worship space has started to droop.
Real Fish, Real Jesus
What happens next in the Gospel is that Jesus addresses what gets in the way of the disciples believing. Even though they still didn’t seem to believe what they were seeing, thinking it was too much—seemingly too good to be true, Jesus continues. Amazingly, Jesus in the flesh, the risen Christ who had just walked into their reality, stands among them and does what a lot of guys would do… asks them for something to eat. Remarkable!
Like a teenager complaining that they’re hungry, rummaging through your refrigerator, or raiding the cookie jar, Jesus breaks through their disbelief and asks what they have to eat. And the disciples do what they are asked and serve our Lord and Savior leftovers! I guess having avid fishermen in their midst, a piece of leftover fish makes sense. Jesus then eats the fish and the disciples see something that not only appears to be too good to be true, it is true—and they are witnesses to it.
Since I started working with the text this week, I just can’t get the image of a certain McDonald’s commercial that ran non-stop during Lent out of my head. If you are not familiar with it, there is a man eating his fish sandwich and a stuffed fish, mounted on the wall comes to life and asks for the sandwich. All week I’ve wondered what our reaction would be to Jesus standing here among us saying: “give me that Filet-o-fish, oh give me that fish.” Real fish, real Jesus!
Real Invitation, Real Participation
After eating the fish and inviting them to believe, Jesus brings them into the Word. In a sense Jesus holds a Bible Study with the disciples, telling them that everything he said while doing ministry together has to be fulfilled. They heard the Word of God from Jesus in the flesh, who also pointed to what was written about him in the three parts of the Hebrew Bible: the Law of Moses, the writings of the Prophets, and in the Psalms.
Jesus then opens up their understanding of God’s Word. He gives them more scriptural insight allowing them to see how it is written that the Messiah suffered, rose from the dead on the third day and that a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. Jesus teaches about the fulfillment of scriptures and the disciples see something that not only appears to be too good to be true, but is true and they are witnesses to it.
This proclamation started with the disciples as they were the first to see and hear it as witnesses. It continues with you and me, the body of Christ for a needy world. Real invitation, real participation, real Jesus!
Real Repentance, Real Forgiveness
The repentance and forgiveness of sins proclaimed in Jesus’ name, is the mission statement for the disciples. They are to proclaim two things: repentance and forgiveness of sins and they are to do so in the name of the Messiah, the one who makes forgiveness possible. This too is our mission, to bring reconciliation and peace by proclaiming God’s Word.
Here in New Hampshire where the population has the highest percentage of disbelievers in the country, we have our work cut out for us. But even here in this place are people who believe that Jesus lived, suffered, died, and was raised… but don’t experience the forgiving and freeing power of that life. For unbelievers and even believers, resurrection life does not always match the experiences of real life.
Our mission as the church is to be both a place to point out, recognize and repent of sins, but more importantly to be a place of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus name. While repentance is part of our mission, we can’t turn ourselves, God turns us. We come to this place seeking repentance, but it is God who turns us into repentance as we are washed, immersed and fed through word and sacrament.
Real forgiveness is what we are called to proclaim, and also what we all are in need of. In order to live out our mission, we need to have experienced the repentance that leads to forgiveness of sins in Jesus name. Our witness and proclamation begins here, right where we are gathered in this place. We need forgiveness to begin here with us, gathered as the body of Christ because we can’t proclaim what we haven’t experienced.
Real repentance, real forgiveness, may appear to be too good to be true, but is true, and to witnesses to it… we need only to look at what God is doing to and through us. Real repentance, real forgiveness, real Jesus!
Real Resurrection Life
Our Holy One, Holy Three becomes one with Creation. God doesn’t just create the world, God joins the world. God in the flesh tells us he’s no ghost, or mirage that appears too good to be true. Following death and resurrection, our good and gracious God says “yo! It’s me, standing here in flesh and bone… so what have you got to eat, I’m really starving!”
God in the flesh munches some fish, and then shows the scars and wounds he bears for you and me. He’s not some distant, esoteric God of mind over matter… He’s standing with you, the God of mud and blood, the incarnate God for a fleshy, earthy and very real world. The resurrection opens a new reality of life, one that is unfolding for us and for all creation…
- A reality where we live in a world of impossibilities… made possible because death does not have the last word;
- A reality in the real presence of the risen Jesus Christ… even if at times it all seems difficult to fully understand;
- A reality where repentance is proclaimed so that sins might be forgiven in His name… by folks who live with the messiness of being both saint and sinner at the same time;
- A reality where we are the work of God, the hands of God, and the Word of God… because the Creator made us, Christ chooses to live in us, and the Holy Spirit provides breath and voice to share the good news.
- A reality where alleluia, Christ is risen… He is risen indeed!