Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(Japanese yellowtail, broiled and served with teriyaki sauce, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I had supplied for the Presbyterians this morning, and was asked for a copy of the sermon, so I decided to post it.  Here 'tis!

3rd Sunday of Easter—First Presbyterian Church, Kirksville, MO
April 22, 2012
Acts 3:12-19—Psalm 4—1 John 3:1-7—Luke 24:36b-48

“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”
  Have you noticed that so many of the Gospel stories about encountering the resurrected Christ initially seem to be full of fear, confusion, and doubt?  Last week’s Gospel centered around Thomas desiring physical evidence to believe this was, indeed, the risen Christ.  (Now personally, I never thought Thomas was a doubter.  I prefer to think he was the first pathologist because he needed to document the wounds.)  This week, our reading in Luke illustrates that Thomas was not the only one who desired physical proof to move from doubt to belief.  The fact remains, recognizing the risen Christ doesn’t appear as easy as one might think it would be—which begs the question, “How many times have we failed to recognize the risen Christ, or act like we’ve just seen a ghost when we did?

Let’s examine the process of this particular encounter.  The New Interpreter’s Bible describes the framework of this story using five words, all starting with the letter E:

Encounter (the disciples encounter Jesus)
Explanation (or really, the lack thereof)
Eating (Jesus proves he’s corporeal, not ghostly, by eating some fish)
Enlightenment (once the disciples believe Jesus is real, their minds are opened to receive knowledge)
Exit (Jesus departs, but not before charging them to fulfill the Scriptures.)

This outline might well parallel our own encounters with the resurrected Christ.  Let’s look at these one at a time.

Encounter.  I think it’s safe to say that generally speaking, that discovering someone alive that we were certain was dead is…well…kinda startling.  I remember some while back, my dogs Boomer and Little Eddie were carrying on over a motionless possum.  Now, I wasn’t sure that possum was dead, or just playing possum.  I waited what I thought was a sufficient amount of time to declare it dead, then I went out and grabbed that possum by the tail to go fling it in the ditch.  (Ok…you know what’s going to happen here…)  Yep, that possum started wiggling and hissing, and there I was, holding it by the tail.  I let out a yell and flung that possum into the pasture—and let’s just say I’m certain the name of Jesus Christ was uttered.  Now, I am normally not afraid of a possum.  Why was I afraid that time?  Because I was absolutely certain it was dead.

Likewise, in those times we encounter the risen Christ, it can startle us just as powerfully because we carry our own “certainties” (and I’m going to use that word certainties in quotes, here) about that.  The certainties of our mind about what’s alive and what’s dead make it hard for us to wrap our brains around a Jesus who is both startlingly alive and fatally wounded, who lived two thousand years ago, yet lives in the present moment.  Our culture has taught us that Jesus looks like that guy in the truck stop gift shop—the picture I call “Jesus’ high school graduation picture.”  So, again, it should come as no surprise that when we catch a glimpse of the risen Christ in another person, particularly if that person is “not like us”—that it confuses us.

Explanation.  Like the disciples in our story, we have none.  Honestly, our cerebral cortex has a hard time distinguishing the difference between a resurrected Christ and a resuscitated one.  Our brains are too small to conceptualize a Christ who is more real than our concept of physical reality.  A few of us have been lucky enough to see a resuscitated person, but it’s a pretty safe bet that none of us, in our lifetimes, will ever see a three days dead person extricate himself from his burial trappings and walk out of his tomb, not just resuscitated, but transformed.  

However, lack of an explanation does not preclude interpretation of its effect.  It’s interesting to note that the Greek word for “believe” comes from the same root word as the word for “creed”—credo—and that word, until the last three hundred years or so, almost always meant “belief in another person” rather than “belief in a concept or fact.” Believing in a person is much different than believing in a process.  Our Gospel writers were faced with the impossible task of documenting the experience of a resurrected Christ with their equally too-small brains.  Very likely, all human language pales in the face of that experience.  But I know from our Gospel accounts, the book of Acts, and the Epistles that this experience was enough to cause those disciples to go out in the world and be martyred in his name for it, and that the reality of the Resurrection began to spread throughout the world.  That is pretty doggone real.

That brings us to that third “E”—Eating.  In our Gospel, Jesus illustrated his reality to the disciples by eating a piece of broiled fish.  One of the ways Christian communities have demonstrated the reality of Jesus to others, almost since day one, is to feed people who don’t have enough to eat.  You folks at First Presbyterian continue that tradition in several ways, through endeavors like the Christian Community Food Bank and Food 4 Kids here in Kirksville, and through your generosity to my friend Susan Presley’s work with Micah Ministries in Kansas City.  You illustrate it liturgically in your communion service.  You definitely illustrate it in your delicious coffee hours!  (One of my favorite things about supplying for you all is to enjoy your coffee hour, then hot-foot it over to Trinity for another delicious coffee hour.)

But all kidding about coffee hour aside, this is the place where, as we grow in faith, it becomes impossible to keep Jesus only inside our head, between our two ears.  Encountering the real and resurrected Christ seems to trigger something in us that calls us to feed others, both physically and spiritually, and it’s a call that only gets louder as we draw nearer to Christ.

Next is our fourth E—Enlightenment.  Enlightenment is not just for the Buddhists.  As we move from doubt to belief, when we no longer look at Jesus like he’s a ghost and accept the reality of Christ being present among us, in the here and now, our hearts open in new ways, and we have no way of predicting what those ways might be.  We might discover the strength to make a big decision or accept a big hardship in our life.  We might find the beginnings of common ground with people and things “not like us” or “not our kind of people.”  We might give up a bias or prejudice.  Enlightenment brings with it intense feelings—not just intense wonder, joy, and awe—but also intense remorse, grief, or sorrow.  When the disciples finally recognized Jesus for who he fully was, that must have been full of intense feelings—joy, disbelief, tears, maybe even anger.  But when they were able to release those intense feelings, they were able to better hear and understand what Jesus was telling them.  As we grow in faith, we too, discover that this isn’t a process where everything becomes la la peachy keen hunky dory in our world, but rather we can coexist with the intensity of a broken world in a new way.

Finally, we arrive at that last “E”—Exit.  Not only does Jesus himself exit, in the Ascension, he reminds them that they are witness to the fulfilling of Scripture and charges them with the job of proclaiming it.  They are also to exit.  As good as it must have felt to be in that place, at that time, with Jesus upon his return, he pointed out that there was much left to fulfill in Scripture and that staying put in the enjoyable moment wasn’t going to get it accomplished.

Fear and doubt are natural initial responses, when we first encounter the reality of the risen Christ.  I think sometimes, we, too, look like we had just seen a ghost when we see Jesus in all his reality.  But fear and doubt are responses based on our life experiences with finite resources and times of scarcity.  So many times, when we are presented with a challenge of proclaiming the Good News in Christ, we see very quickly what we are NOT.  We know our faults and foibles all too well, and we fear we are “not sufficient” to carry out the task.  But perhaps our comfort is in our Epistle reading today—to remember that “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”  Now THERE’S an interesting thought—what if the possibility exists that, just as God’s love is infinite, God’s power to begin to shape and form us NOW into who we will become as inhabitants of Heaven is ALSO infinite, when we accept the challenge of bringing the Kingdom of God closer to the reality of now?

Oh, we may well have seen a ghost—but perhaps that ghost is only a snapshot of ourselves—the shadow of the glories of who we can become when we accept the invitation to live more fully in the belief in a real and resurrected Christ.  AMEN.


Good sermon, Doc. Well done. I'm sure the Presbys loved it - and, you. And, the line about the Jesus high school graduation picture cracked me up.

I learned that one from one of the best!



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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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