4/19/2015 Third Sunday of Easter The text is Luke 24:36b-48.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The other day, just for the fun of it, I picked up an old photo album and began thumbing through it. You know the type – the kind of album you kept when you were a kid. Plastered in the pages of this book are fading and out-of-focus pictures of classmates, the dogs and cats I had in my youth, and, of course, the pictures of my teachers in statuesque poses. As I looked at each photo, vivid images of the past flooded my brain until I either smiled, sneered or shook my head and giggled. Of course, that didn’t happen with all the photos. Over the years, the names of some of the people and their connection to me have been forgotten. But for me that was not true when it came to the photograph of Mr. James.
Ah, Mr. James…when I think back upon my high school years, Mr. James was one of those teachers that I don’t think I will ever forget. He wasn’t anything special to look at. He wasn’t even an especially eloquent speaker. No, Mr. James was one of those teachers you never forget because he taught you something, whether you wanted to learn it or not!
As it turned out, I happened to “luck out” (or was rather unlucky, depending on how you see it) when I drew Mr. James as my freshman year English teacher. All the upper classmen I knew groaned when I told them I was going to have him. They warned me about how hard he was and the awful things he’d make me do in his class – terrible things, like memorizing his infamous 20 grammar questions which had to be recited and used throughout the year. After all these years, I still remember one of them – name the six questions one can ask, which are who, what, where, when, why and how – and if you had the other 19 questions in front of you, I bet I could still answer them all.
Yes, in Mr. James’ class you learned. You were challenged. In Mr. James’ class you were given the tools to work in an English speaking society. Your mind was opened and you left his class empowered to read and write for he took time with you and used his skills to give you what you needed to succeed. You were never the same after having Mr. James as a teacher. For like all good teachers, he left a lasting mark on the lives of his students. But a master teacher, like Jesus, leaves more than a mark on an individual. The impact that Jesus had on his followers’ lives changed an entire world.
When Jesus touched people’s lives, he changed them for the better. He empowered his followers for living through life’s challenges. He gave them the tools they needed for living out their faith. But when Jesus died, the disciples were left disheartened and fearful. They were unable to put into practice the lessons they had learned, for they had forgotten, or never fully understood, or dismissed as a pipe dream, the hope of resurrection. But Christ is risen! He is rise, indeed!
To convince the disciples, the teacher came to his students, bringing them his peace. Their teacher, their rabbi, who was dead, was alive and with this the scriptures were fulfilled. But, of course, all this was too good to be true and the disciples doubted that which was before their very eyes. So it would take some convincing before they could believe that a crucified and buried Jesus had come back to life.
But, then, how do you prove you are alive? I remember seeing a news report about an Army veteran named John Crabtree who had been receiving benefits from the government. He had been wounded in Vietnam and was on permanent disability until one day, out of the blue, he received an official notification from the government of his own death. Needless to say, that was quite a shock! So, Mr. Crabtree wrote the government a letter stating that he was indeed very much alive and would like to continue receiving his benefits. The letter did no good. Then he tried calling the government, but the phone calls didn’t change the situation either. Finally, as a last resort, the veteran contacted a local television station, which ran a human interest story about his situation. During the interview, the reporter asked him. “How do you feel about this whole ordeal?” The veteran chuckled and said, “Well, I feel a little frustrated by it. After all, have you ever tried to prove that you’re alive?”
Jesus, knowing that his disciples couldn’t believe their eyes and thought they were having some sort of mass hallucination by seeing a ghost, did what he could to confirm that he had risen – he had risen indeed. First, he showed them his hands and feet to prove his identity and then, in order to confirm that he was alive, he did something that only a living person could and would do – he took a piece of fish and ate it in their presence. Jesus went the extra mile for his followers and in seizing this as a “teaching moment”, he opened their minds once more to help them understand the scriptures concerning him and the work that they were to carry on in his name. For his disciples were not to remain behind locked doors. They were witnesses of the good news and as witnesses, only six questions remained – namely the who, what, where, when, why and how of it all.
For what were they to do? Bear witness to what they had seen and heard, spread the good news of Jesus Christ, and proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. Who were they to go to? Sinners in need of repentance. Where were they to go? First to Jerusalem, to their own people, their neighbors, and then to all people, including Samaritans and Gentiles – people with whom they shared nothing in common, yet everything in common through Christ. When was this to begin? After the Holy Spirit empowered them for their work. Why were they to do it? Because the world needed to know – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! And how were they to do it? With faith and trust in Jesus. For, my friends, none of us, no matter how eloquently we speak, no matter how hard we try, can convince a person that Christ is risen (He is risen indeed). My friends, no one is asked to convert people – not even the eleven locked behind closed doors were asked to do that. For that takes faith and faith is the work of the Holy Spirit and gift from God.
As followers of Jesus, we have been given all the tools that we need to be witnesses of his grace. The peace of the risen Lord has been bestowed upon us and we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to Christ, sharing the good news and proclaiming the gifts that we ourselves have received from him. In witnessing to Christ, we become teachers to a new generation – perhaps not with the confidence of a teacher of many years, and the well-developed skills and lesson plans of a Mr. James, but with the gifts of forgiveness and love. Remember, Jesus did not command the whole world to go to church. Jesus commanded his church to go to the whole world, beginning with our own neighborhoods and communities. We are sent to the hurting, the lonely, the sick, the sinner and the saint, all in need of God’s grace and mercy. We are sent as witnesses to the things that God has done in our lives through his son who suffered and died and rose again.
God relies on us to carry forth this message of Jesus’ reconciling love to a world in need of a faithful teacher and life-giving lessons. As students become the teachers the Word changes in the lives of people, one person at a time. For the message is clear. Christ died for us and all people. Christ rose for us and all people. Christ died and rose so that all might be forgiven, blessed, empowered, sent and find life peace in his name.
So spread the good news of Easter. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.