Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 22, 2012

2012.04.22 “In Repetition, Grace” – Luke 24: 36 – 48

Central United Methodist Church

“In Repetition, Grace”

Luke 24: 36 – 48

The 3rd Sunday of Easter

April 22nd, 2012

        “While they were saying all this, Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you.” They thought they were seeing a ghost and were scared half to death. He continued with them, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over.  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.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. They still couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It was too much; it seemed too good to be true.

        He asked, “Do you have any food here?” They gave him a piece of leftover fish they had cooked. He took it and ate it right before their eyes.

        Then he said, “Everything I told you while I was with you comes to this: All the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms have to be fulfilled.”

        He went on to open their understanding of the Word of God, showing them how to read their Bibles this way. He said, “You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations — starting from here, from Jerusalem! You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses.” – Luke 24: 36 – 48, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

The Gospel on this third Sunday of Easter may remind us of the movie, Groundhog Day; do you know it?  In it, Chicago’s own, Bill Murray, plays a TV weatherman sent out on Groundhog Day to cover the famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. Mysteriously, he finds himself repeating the same day over and over again in an endless loop.  Deja vu all over again!

For us who have come to worship, it may begin to feel like our own liturgical Groundhog Day. It’s the third Sunday of Easter, the third Sunday we have heard stories of what happened that first Easter. Yet on this third Sunday, the story we hear this week from Luke’s gospel sounds a lot like the story we heard last week from John’s Gospel. In both stories Jesus appears to the disciples; but they are afraid and unbelieving, until he convinces them he is risen from the dead.

In the repetition of this, we find grace. Because not just three Sundays but twenty centuries later, the truth is, we still have a hard time believing.  Not only might we say, “Now, tell me the story again,” when we do hear it, it is a comfort to hear that most of all, Jesus’ own disciples did not believe it, and when confronted by him, risen from the dead, they still did not believe it. These stories were written, that future generations of believers like us might hear and share, not only those first disciples’ doubt, but also their faith.

So that, even as we hear the story over and again, there is always new grace to be found.

For example, in Luke, chapter 24, you will remember that Luke tells two stories, different but similar. In the first story two disciples from Emmaus return from Jerusalem, convinced the women’s report was an idle tale. They encounter a mysterious stranger and tell him what has happened. The mysterious stranger (who, of course, is Jesus) explains to them what happened and is happening as well as what the scriptures say. They invite this stranger to eat, and in the breaking of bread they are enlightened; their eyes are opened, their hearts burn within them, and they realize they have been speaking with Jesus. Instantly Jesus exits.

The two disciples return to Jerusalem (distance of 20 miles), and tell their companions what happened. As they do, the pattern repeats itself: Jesus’ disciples encounter Jesus but again do not understand what is happening, and think he is a ghost. They are filled with confusion and doubt, until Jesus explains what is happening by offering them his body to touch and feel
Next, just as he did at the table in Emmaus, Jesus eats a piece of fish. That dying and rising stuff makes a man hungry! He opens to them the scriptures to show that everything they have learned and taught before his crucifixion led them to this moment.  Interestingly, Luke does not tell us if all of the disciples believed.  Did their hearts burn as well?

So, the stories follow the same pattern:
* Encounter — failure to recognize
* Explanation — interpreting the resurrection through the lens of the scriptures
* Eating — Jesus breaks bread or eats fish
* Enlightenment — the disciples eyes are opened, hearts burn, and Jesus is recognized
* Exit — Jesus departs
To this, in today’s story, there is one significant addition: although Jesus did not send the two disciples on the Emmaus Road out as witnesses, that was exactly what their encounter caused them to do. In the second story, Jesus directly tells the disciples that they are to be witnesses. They are to tell of repentance and forgiveness that will come in Jesus’ name. (with thanks to Lucy Lind Hogan, at Working Preacher.org)

It is here where we enter the story. Do we recognize ourselves in it?

Each week, we come to worship with our doubts, confusions, fears and misunderstandings. May I speak for you, as I speak for myself, when I confess that there is rarely a week I don’t come to worship as a needy person? With doubt, confusion, fear, and misunderstanding?  According the Gospels, that’s OK.  We don’t have to be perfect, any more than Jesus first disciples were perfect.  For us, as for them, Easter and the spiritual journey it sets us on are a work in progress.

Each week, in worship, we encounter the risen Christ. We may not always recognize him, and it may not always be in the same way or place in the service each week, but it happens. In the singing, in the word, in the prayers, around the table, Christ is among us.  “Where two or three are gathered in my name,” he said, “there I am among them.”

In the reading of the scriptures and the preaching of the Word, we are offered explanation, proclaiming the good news of what God has done and is doing. Each week I do my best to speak to you, to explain, to apply the Gospel to our lives.  I will tell you that sometimes on the way to church my prayer is that of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” Some Sundays it is the prayer of Anne Lamott: “Help me, help me, help me, help me.”  There are even some Sundays where I think of the 16th century German reformer, Martin Luther’s sacristy prayer:

“Lord God, you have made me a pastor in your church. You see how unfit I am to undertake this great and difficult office, and if it were not for your help, I would have ruined it all long ago. Therefore I cry to you for aid. I offer my mouth and my heart to your service. I desire to teach the people. And for myself, I would learn evermore and diligently meditate on your Word. Use me as your instrument, but   never forsake me, for if I am left alone, I shall easily bring it all to destruction. Amen.”

And of course, then comes the favorite part of most of us, eating. We eat with Christ, breaking the bread of the resurrection in the Eucharist. The sermon, we may not understand; but eating, all of us do. Maybe that is why from Jesus’ day until now, we do so much eating in the church. “Where two or three are gathered in my name,” he said, “a dish is passed.”  As the Gospel of Luke makes clear, it is comfort food, in the truest and very best sense of the word. We are perhaps, fortunate, that the Eucharist did not include a fish every week, as well as bread and wine.

In all of this, the Spirit brings enlightenment, opening our hearts and minds, as with those first disciples, setting our hearts afire. That’s holy heartburn, not the other kind that most of us have. Sometimes, it’s not in the form of heartburn, but tears.  Through word, or music, or even in silence, we know the Spirit is working within us, when the tears begin to flow.

Finally, it is not Jesus who exits, but us; sent out into the world to be witnesses of what we have seen and heard. It’s nothing special, it’s what we do about everything else.  We talk about, we tell people about our favorite restaurants, our favorite stores, our favorite products, about great experiences. Why not tell them about this amazing experience of what happens here at church. At it’s best, it’s an alternate reality. Come see what we don’t always see out there in the world, where people of all kinds and colors and ages gather to respect and care for one other, and where everyone is welcome around God’s table and in God’s kingdom. Where else will you see this?  It is a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

Just as Jesus’ disciples did on that first resurrection Sunday, this is what we do here every Sunday.

We Encounter the Risen Christ

We Explain, through the lens of the scriptures
We Eat with Christ (our favorite part)
We are Enlightened — our eyes are opened, and our hearts burn, as we recognize Jesus among us
We Exit, to serve him in the world.

In the repetition of this, we find grace.

Until February of 2010, Gordon Atkinson was the pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, a small Baptist church in San Antonio, TX. But in December of 2002, he started an anonymous web Blog by the name of “Real Live Preacher,” which attracted thousands. Just like pastors imagine what it might be like all of our worshipers came to worship at once, Atkinson once imagined what it might be like if all the people who read his Blog got together. What he imagined, is what I imagine happens here at worship each Sunday, as we follow the pattern described.  Says Atkinson:

It’s completely impossible, but it would be fun if we could all get together just once. I would reserve a huge banquet hall and fill it with round tables. The tables would be loaded down with wonderful bread. French loaves, doughnuts, fresh baguettes, cinnamon sticky buns, croissants, every kind of bread you could name. And there would be homemade jam, fresh churned butter, and honey too. There would have to be wine, of course. Bottles and bottles of it. More than anyone has ever seen in one place. There would be other drinks, sodas and coffee and tea. Plenty for everyone.

Children would run and play among the tables, handing out bread and getting pats on the head. After the wine had flowed, the conversation would flow as well, and just for one night we would all believe in neighbors and friendship and love . . . .

After a time I would step up to a microphone. You would hear a faint, “ding ding ding,” as I tapped my fork on my glass. I would be a little nervous because for the first time I would see how many of you there actually are. Here is what I would say:

Many of us have traveled a long way to be here tonight. Some of our journeys were of the geographic sort, but others were journeys of the heart and the soul and the spirit. Some of our journeys are so personal that we never speak of them. Sometimes you have to travel a   long way to find food and family. I know something about this kind of journey . . . .

. . . . And that is why I say that we have journeyed long and far     to be here together tonight. For those of us who are Christians, the bread and wine are symbols of something old and rich and meaningful.  The bread nourishes more than our bodies, and the wine loosens more than our tongues. This meal is a celebration of the redemption we have always hoped for, always sought, and desperately needed to find.   We consider ourselves to be a family in this faith.

Those of you who are not a part of our spiritual tradition are nonetheless welcome at these tables. The bread is freshly baked. The wine is rich and heady. As you share in this meal that means so much to us, perhaps you will tell us of your own journey to find meaning and to find your place in the world.

Laugh and talk and drink and be loved. Feel at home here, for the food is good and you are among friends. Eat as much as you want. Stay as long as you like. I’ll turn out the lights when everyone is gone. That’s all.

Then I would step down and you would not hear from me again, nor would you be able to find me. If you looked for me at the microphone stand, all you would find is a hat and a denim clerical shirt folded neatly and laid over the back of a chair. I would be gone, lost    among the tables, just one of the children, just another son in this human family.

The laughing and the noise would go on into the wee hours of the morning. Slowly people would leave their new friendships and make their way to the doors. All would be comforted to have found that kindred hearts are all around us. How sad it is that we haven’t taken the time to get to know each other.

Then, when no one was left and all you could hear were the crickets, one small man would turn out the lights, lock the door, and   walk alone into the parking lot. He would turn his face toward his beloved stars, wipe the tears from his eyes, and say, “We did this; and   we remembered You.” (Open Communion, April 25, 2006 Real Live Preacher)

Groundhog Day?  No – in repetition, grace.  Amen.

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