Now, I can totally relate to the Jesus we hear about today in the Gospel of Luke. See, that would be me… went to hell and back, and all I can think about is – what’s for dinner? Jesus spends time in the tomb, and when he comes out, well – he is one hungry savior! Now that is savior I can get behind – one who has a hearty appetite (though I have to admit, broiled fish would NOT be what I would want to eat after all that time without food, but I am guessing a good juicy burger with a side of fries from Tierney’s wasn’t readily available). But does he fry himself up some fish? Does he go to his local Taco Bell? No, he goes to his friends, and he eats in their company.
Jesus was hungry. Hungry to share a meal. Hungry for companionship. He was, and is after all, the Lord and savior and could have made a meal happen anywhere. But he chose instead to meet up with his friends where they all felt safe. Sort of a place like “Cheers” – where everybody knows your name, and instead of shouting out “Norm!” that night, they would have shouted out “Lord!” – if they weren’t so dumbfounded by the whole experience. And who can blame them?
After seeing him, and touching his hands and feet, it is said that “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…”
“…disbelieving and still wondering.”
So often people start to confuse faith with fact. The Church throws so much doctrine around that we often get lost in it – and start to think that a true believer has no doubts about anything. But as I have said before – faith without doubt isn’t faith – it’s fact, it’s certainty, but it isn’t faith. Not one person (other than Mary Magdelene) got it right away about Jesus and his being raised from the dead when they saw him after he emerged from the tomb. No one said “hey, we knew you were coming back!” So, why shouldn’t we be challenged by it too?
“…disbelieving and still wondering”
It doesn’t preclude them from being chosen! Isn’t that fabulous! Jesus doesn’t storm out of the room, throwing his hands up at these dumfounded folks. Even Jesus knew that doubt was essential to faith. Wonder appears to be an essential element of being a disciple. Disbelief doesn’t mean discontinued membership in the body of Christ. And that is a good thing because war, economic disarray, violence, death…might make us all doubt. It might give us all pause to think about how God works or doesn’t work in the world, and the good news of Christ is that if you do, you don’t get disqualified.
The Church can never be a place where those who are disbelieving and in wonder are unwelcome. Jesus is making that abundantly clear in who he chooses to share a meal with after his resurrection – the ones who denied him, fell asleep on him, ran away from his cross, failed to understand who he was – the ones who still stand in joyful wonder and disbelief, even while experiencing something believers in later centuries would only hope to see.
No, Jesus isn’t there to chastise them for their disbelief, but to share a meal with them, to be fed by them, and to feed them in the context of community. Essentially, he is continuing in that moment what he did in his ministry – feeding the community, the community near him that is hungry for what he has to offer – hungry for love, hungry to know they are children of God, hungry for companionship, hungry and thirsty – for food, for drink, for love, and for something beyond their experience.
Jesus returns to his disciples not in some cosmic grandiose way, although walking through walls as is said he did last week is pretty awesome. No, he comes to them so that they can know more about themselves, rather than about him. Yes, the resurrection is important, but that is not his focus here. After eating his fish tacos, he opens their minds so that they were able to understand something so important, so powerful, so amazing…he helped them to understand who they were, and what power they have – not for themselves or of themselves, but from God for God – to change the world. After this moment, Jesus tells them, “You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
And so we hear in the Acts of the Apostles today, written by this same author of Luke, that they have done as Jesus expected – after receiving the power of the Holy Spirit – a moment we will celebrate at the end of Easter on the day of Pentecost – they are doing the work of Christ in the world. But here’s an odd sort of twist…they say to those who saw them heal the lame man “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?” Or essentially “What you lookin’ at…are you lookin’ at me? I say, are you lookin’ at me?”
Well, I would want to answer Peter with “you bet I’m lookin’ at you…and for the same reason you stood in disbelief and wonder when Jesus appeared to you after he was crucified. Take that oh great denier of the almighty” Oh how quickly those who believe in something can forget what it is like for those who don’t yet. But more than that, we can in our desire to be strong in our faith look upon moments of doubt and disbelief in ourselves and others as signs of weakness, as a sort of poorer version of a person of faith. Nothing could be further from the truth – and Jesus knew that.
What Jesus asks of us is not certainty, but witness. And sometimes the best witnesses are those Jesus called to his side – children. Why? Because they aren’t afraid of disbelief, of wonderment, of uncertainty, of doubt. And often they ask the questions others wish they could ask. I want to share with you a story a pastor shared online. It is a bit long, so I hope you don’t mind, but it is important, I think, to understanding what Jesus wants us to do, as we hear in the gospel today.
This pastor was doing a children’s service in the church, and this is what she related happened next in her own words: “At the end of the little geese line [of kids making their way up the aisle] was a new child wearing a name tag that said: Ryan. Ryan was a head taller than the other children and his eyes were dark and deep, like wells you can look into but never find the bottom of.[…] [We started the lesson and sang and danced] and then we quieted ourselves and went into our still, small place in our hearts where we can listen for God. Then half way through our quiet minute: [Ryan] motioned to me in a way that said: can you come here? But can you not make a big deal about it? So I went over to Ryan but I didn’t make a big deal about it. I just casually sat down next to him and kept facing forward so he could take his time telling me whatever he needed to tell me. Finally, he tapped me on the shoulder and I leaned down close. He looked around the big sanctuary and he said:
“Excuse me. Is God coming?”
Then Ryan looked around again, like he was expecting God to show up here like Ronald shows up occasionally at McDonalds. And I just stared at this little man who had just asked me the question that every single human being who has ever looked around a fancy sanctuary or a busted up family or a hurting friendship or a shocking diagnosis or a messy world is thinking:
“Excuse Me. Is God Coming?”
I swallowed hard and I said: “Ryan. That is the best question I have ever heard. Just the best one.
I looked at my friend and tried to respond. I babbled, really. I said, “I don’t have an answer, no one does, really. But here’s my hunch. I think God’s already here. I don’t think we wait for God to come as much as we bring God to each other. I think God is inside me and you, Ryan. It’s like… you know how cookies have sugar in them and that’s what makes them delicious? We have God in us. That’s what makes us delicious. And I think God sent US to be here for each other because God’s inside of us–so God knows that if we show up–God’s here too. God sends us to each other. Because we are all God’s family and sometimes family members send each other. You know how sometimes your daddy sends your mommy to pick you up and sometimes your mommy sends your daddy?” And all the [other] little ones raised their hands and nodded except for Ryan. I stopped and looked right at him. He said, “My daddy doesn’t pick me up. My daddy’s in heaven.”
I froze because suddenly those deep eyes made perfect sense and all the kids got really quiet in holy reverence for Ryan and his daddy and his questions[…] And I let there be silence for a bit, and then when I finally pulled myself together, I silently prayed PLEASE GOD HELP ME BE PRESENT FOR THIS AMAZING BOY YOU SENT and after a moment I started speaking really quietly to him. I said, “Ryan, your daddy is in heaven?” And he nodded. And I said, “I see. Well my guess would be that God and your daddy are together there, and that God sent me and your teachers and these friends to be here with you today. So that we could love you for God. I think that God loves you more than you can even imagine. And I love you too, Ryan. I can’t believe how lucky I am to know you. I think that God sent you here for me, Ryan. Because you are just one of the most special people I’ve ever met. You have beautiful questions about God and you are honest and kind and I just think that you are my gift from God today, Ryan. Thank you for showing up here. I’m glad I showed up, too. Magic happens when we go where God sends us, doesn’t it? It’s like God sends us places to meet God in others. And to be God for others.”
And then I just went out on a big limb that appeared in front of me. “Ryan, I don’t know how you can know if God is here or not. But here’s what happens to me when I notice that God is with me. My hearts starts to feel bigger. It feels like it’s swelling up. It feels like it’s getting so big it might crawl up through my throat. Like right now, next to you—my heart feels huge. Like somebody pumped it full of air. I think this heart swelling is sometimes how God reminds me that God is with me.”[Just then] Ryan’s face—the face that had been so serious and so sad—broke into a smile that made it abundantly clear that God used the heart swelling trick on him, too. But he just didn’t know it was God doing it. And then he said quietly, “I know what you mean.”
Is God coming?
I know what you mean.”
The witness that pastor gave that day wasn’t about forcing belief, was it. It wasn’t about doctrine or dogma. It wasn’t even about erasing doubt. It was about witnessing…and witnessing to God’s love requires letting God do the heavy lifting. In the reading from Acts, Peter makes it clear that they did not heal the man, God did. This pastor pleaded with God to help her know what to say, and boy did she ever listen well. And her witness wasn’t about some creedal formula – it was about God’s love – and most importantly, the love that is found and carried forward in community. That is what Ryan found out that day in church. That is what Jesus returned to his disciples to teach. That is what we are called to witness to today.
Is God coming?
We know God is here…let us share that good news.
Let us be open to the questions of others, and of our own hearts.
Let us allow for wonder and disbelief.
Let us open our doors too and go forth into the world to establish a wider community fed with love.
Let us do this so that everyone can say, “I know what you mean.”
Amen.[Sermons as written may not be as delivered on any given Sunday]
Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge
April 19, 2015
The Third Sunday After Easter
1st Reading – Acts 3:12-19
2nd Reading – 1 John 3:1-7
Gospel – Luke 24:36b-48