Posts Tagged ‘witnesses’

This Is What I Have Witnessed 4-15-18

In this sermon, taken from Luke 24:36b-48, I explore another resurrection appearance of Jesus in which he charges the disciples to serve as witnesses to what they have experienced.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-is-what-i-have-witnessed-4-15-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

We get some weird weather here in Iowa don’t we?  Over the course of the past couple of winters, we’ve seen…or perhaps heard would be the better word…thunder-snow…which seems like an oxymoron just to say…but we’ve witnessed it haven’t we?

Well Friday morning I was listening to the weather report in the car and heard the weather man say “today we’ll experience spring like conditions…with Omaha temps possibly even reaching 80 degrees. With the warm air swirling around, there is a chance of developing tornados.  But then tomorrow we’re in a winter storm watch.” I heard this crazy forecast and thought to myself….well now I’ve heard of everything.

But the craziness didn’t stop there. A little while later, I was sitting in my office pondering on today’s text, and I noticed the wind had really come up…not unexpected with the crazy weather systems moving around…but as I sat there looking out my window…I heard something rattling and looked down to see a empty tall boy Bud Light can come rolling up the parking lot…I sent a text to a friend of mine about it…and he called it Small Town Iowa Tumbleweed…which made me laugh but also seemed pretty fitting…and as I was laughing, wouldn’t you know it, a second one came rolling by as well…and I thought to myself…well now I’ve seen everything. (pause)

And the more I thought about it…the more fitting it seemed.  It was crazy…it was certainly unexpected…but I can’t deny that I saw it…This is what I’ve witnessed…beer cans LITERALLY rolling uphill. (pause)

Now its this idea of witnessing some truly unexpected and out of the ordinary things that I connect us into today’s gospel. Here we are, the third Sunday of Easter…and as we’ve done for the past couple of weeks, we continue hearing from different accounts of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ…God in human form…the word made flesh which dwelled among us…this being that is fully human and yet fully divine, who was betrayed…who was tortured and hung on a cross where he died…who was buried in a tomb for several days before the unexpected happened…and he was alive again.

Now maybe, just maybe, you thought today’s resurrection appearance of Jesus sounds kinda familiar…and I wouldn’t fault you if you did…because it does sound an awful lot like what we hear a week ago out of John…a story in which the resurrected Jesus appears not just once but twice, somehow appearing within a locked room…showing the marks in his hands and side, offering a literal word of peace to the astonished and frightened disciples, not to mention singling out Thomas…that’s what we heard last week.

And of course, this time around Luke isn’t far off…but let me set the scene…here in Luke…its still the same day of the Resurrection…we’ve had a couple of weeks go by since we celebrated the empty tomb…but for everyone involved here in Luke…things are still up in the air…Early in the morning the women go to the tomb…they find it empty…angels have told them what’s going on and sent them to the disciples…the disciples utterly disregard what the women share…they pretty much ignore their testimony…then a little later that same day…Jesus has appeared along with two of his random disciples as they trudge along the road between Jerusalem and a nearby village of Emmaus that lies about 10 miles away.

Now those two individuals failed to recognize him for who he was…but as they’re together he opens the scriptures to them…helping them to understand how the written law and the prophets, what we would call the Old Testament, all points towards the Messiah…and then finally, in the evening, once they’ve reached their destination Jesus breaks bread with them…their eyes are opened to see him for who he is, and he promptly disappears…they pick up and run back to the city where they find the disciples…everyone’s in a great big tizzy over this…

And then…once again…this same night, as they are all locked away together trying to make head’s or tails of this whole deal…Jesus is standing among them. (pause) Now the same thing happens here that we have come to expect…because we know the story…but if we stop and think about it…if we stop and place ourselves in the disciples shoes in this moment…this is the last thing that should happen isn’t it?

He’s dead…we all saw it…we saw his tomb…we know he was buried and all logic tells us that there’s no coming back from that. Regardless of what the women said this morning…regardless of this crazy story that Cleopus and his companion are telling us from Emmaus….there’s no coming back from the dead.

And yet…in the midst of this crazy exchange…here he is…standing among us…and his first words “Peace be with you.” (pause) Now I don’t know about you…but if I was in a locked room and a dude that I know was dead is suddenly standing here talking to me…peace is probably the last thing on my mind…If it happened me today, I’m guessing my response would be pretty colorful, and not really appropriate to repeat here in the pulpit…I’ll let you fill in the blanks there.

But yet, this is what’s going on…and as we hear, the disciples are UTTERLY freaked out…thinking that they’ve seen a ghost…and rightly so…the guy was dead. But Jesus isn’t going to let their minds stay there is he…and he takes steps to prove that the opposite is now true.

Now EARLY Christian scholars…going back to about the 2nd century have written about practices that a person goes through to prove something like this…which in itself is odd…but apparently people were commonly mistaken for spirits in the first century…and two of the proofs are right here in the texts…

The first one is to prove that you have bones…because apparently ghosts have no skeleton…and consider…what are the boniest parts of the human body? Your hands and feet right? And what does Jesus say “Look at my hands and my feet.” He shows them…and then he takes the second step which is to eat in their presence…the whole first part of this encounter is Jesus slowly convincing the disciples that he is…in fact…alive.

He was dead…none of them dispute that…and now, somehow, he’s alive again…and gradually their fear and astonishment turns into belief and joy as Jesus opens their minds to understand what the scriptures have said about him…and not only that but then he gives them a mission…that the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in the name of the risen Jesus throughout all nations, beginning right there where they were…in Jerusalem.

And then he gives them an important reminder…You are witnesses to these things…Now that’s a big statement…because I don’t think Jesus is talking about this amazing moment, although that’s included…I think he’s talking about this whole deal starting all the way back at the beginning.  I can’t help but notice that the message of repentance and forgiveness sounds a bit like John the Baptist and his message when the gospel’s begin…so maybe just maybe Jesus is saying “hey guys…you’ve been along for this whole ride…you’ve seen the miracles…you’ve heard the teaching…you’ve seen lives changed…you’ve seen boundaries crossed…you’ve seen me die and you’ve seen that I’m alive again. You’re witnesses to all this. Now its about time for you to do what witnesses do. Testify.” (pause)

Here’s the thing…Luke pretty much ends right here…there are only a couple more verses after this, in which we hear about Jesus’ Ascension to heaven and that the disciples remain in Jerusalem…but Luke’s writing isn’t done yet…because he also wrote the book of Acts…in which we see the disciples start living up to the title of witness…and through their work…through their testimony of what they have seen and experienced…God gives the growth this earliest church…God grows the body of Christ through the activity of humanity.

Now here’s the big thing that I think is so important about all of this…I believe that Jesus is showing the disciples…and not only them, but us as well…because of the ongoing witness of those who have come before us in the ever-growing body of Christ which still exists 2000 years later, and also through the testimony of the scriptures we continue to find the divine work of God going on in and through the human.

This is the mindblowing thing about the gospel which we find in the midst of all of the scriptures…Everything up to this point has reminded us that the divine is UTTERLY other than the human…that humanity is broken and flawed and sinful…and we are, I’m not disputing that in the least way…and because of this reality, that which is divine is separated…and it would seem that our brokenness hinders our encounter, or our ability to experience the divine.

But what if the Christ event…which includes the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus, who is both fully God and also fully human…what if this is God’s way of showing us that the brokenness which permeates our creation will not stop the presence of the divine?

What if the life death and resurrection of Jesus, is culminating here in the once fully dead and now fully not dead Jesus showing us his human form as a way of reminding us that the divine can and DOES exist within humanity as well?

Let us never forget that each and every member of the human race is created bearing the divine image of God…and that our very existence…our creation begins from a place of love and delight on the part of the divine…and the brokenness which is present, doesn’t come about until the 3rd chapter of our existence…we may be broken but we don’t start there.

And whatever it is that God is up to here in our reality through Jesus Christ…it has SOMEHOW overcome that which separates our existence from the one who made us in the first place. And that whatever this ongoing divine action is here in the world…we are witnesses to it, and as witnesses we are called to do the very same thing that the original disciples were called to do…to testify. This is what I have seen…this is what I have experienced. Come and see for yourself.

We are called to do this because that is how God is continuing to draw all people to himself…by the ongoing testimony of flawed and broken people who can testify to the fact that we have a God who has claimed us despite that very brokenness…and that through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ this same God has laid claim on every member of the human race….and there is NOTHING that will stand in the way of that claim…not even death. (pause)

Now remember, that Jesus gave a bit of proof to this new life by eating something…and in a few more minutes, we’ll do the same…because we will share together in a meal in which we hear the words that Christ’s body and blood were broken and shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Do this for the remembrance of me.

Eat it…drink it…and remember it, and know that this is what you have witnessed to be true…and that you are called to testify that it is true.  Amen.

Behold 4-16-17 Easter Sunday

In this Easter Sunday sermon, I explore Matthew’s account of the Resurrection, found in 28:1-10. We see a lot…and we are intended to. The tomb is open so that we can be witnesses to what has occurred.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/behold-4-16-17-easter-sunday

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The first of my grandparents to die was my grandpa on my mom’s side.  He and my grandma had moved to the Phoenix Arizona are when I was 5 years old…and they were still living there in the midst of my junior year of college, when Grandpa, quite suddenly had a serious health problem. He hung in there for a while…long enough for my mom to get down there to see him…but shortly after that he died. There was a small funeral for him, attended by those who could make it…but the timing was off for me, happening right in the midst of college mid-terms and sadly, I was unable to attend.

Then about three years later…I was finished with college. My wife and I had been married for about 18 months or so, and we decided to fly down to Arizona to visit my grandma…and while we were there, the three of us hopped in the car and visited the cemetery where my grandpa had been buried.

Now of course, I had mourned my grandfather when he died…but when we walked up to his grave and I looked at his tombstone, I just…lost it. I can’t explain why this happened, but I learned an important lesson that day. There are certainly things that you just have to see in order to fully experience them…and in this case…it was the grave of my grandfather.

(pause) Now, perhaps it seems a little strange to kick off an easter sermon by talking about death. Admittedly, I sort of thought the same thing as I sat at my desk on Friday, working my way through the preparation of this message.  As you likely realize, Friday was, of course…Good Friday…and I struggled with this message because my head was in two different places…I was thinking about Good Friday and our worship service that was coming up that evening…and at the same time I was thinking about this morning and the joy of Easter Sunday…and I was stuck in that tension between the two…I was stuck in thoughts about death while I was trying to think about new life.

But then I read today’s gospel lesson again and I realized that this is exactly where the story of Easter begins…with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb…and rest assured, they know where to find it.  If we back track just a little ways, we hear that these two women have been witnesses to all that Jesus has endured. They are among the women standing there when he dies on the cross…and they are watching when his dead body is taken off the cross and laid in this very tomb.

And so, as the action picks up…early morning on this random Sunday 2000 years ago…these two women are walking to see the tomb.  That’s an interesting point here in Matthew’s gospel…there are no spices in tow…and nothing about going to anoint his body…the tomb is closed…he’s dead and buried…they are simply going to see the tomb.

Now I pondered on that fact for a while…and then I remembered what happened to me at my grandpa’s grave…sometimes you’ve got to see it…and maybe, just maybe they were going there in order to try and feel a tiny little bit of connection to this man that they had known and loved.

Isn’t that what we do when we visit a cemetery…when we walk up to the grave of someone that we loved in this life…when we sit there and talk to them…what is it that we are doing, besides trying to have a tiny little bit of connection to this beloved person who has crossed the boundary that death creates.

Make no mistake…we all know, as we walk up to that tombstone…that in no way are we going to see the person again. We know that if we talk them, they aren’t going to talk back again…we all know about this division…this boundary created by death…and the two women knew it too.

They knew he was dead…but yet they went to SEE the tomb…and make no mistake…they saw the tomb…but they saw a whole lot more than that…Interestingly enough…the phrase “to see” or “to behold” is all over this short passage today…and there is a lot to behold.

They went to behold to tomb…and BEHOLD…there was an earthquake….and BEHOLD and angel descended from heaven and rolled the stone away. The angel greets the women, telling them fear not…You are looking to Behold Jesus who was crucified…BUT BEHOLD…he is not here…come and see.

The angel has a message…and a command…go and tell the disciples…he has been raised…but go into Galilee and there you will BEHOLD the risen Christ…this is so amazing…also frightening…but with joy the women run away from the tomb…and wouldn’t you know it…BEHOLD, there’s Jesus….who tells them the very same thing…don’t be afraid, but go tell my brothers to go out into Galilee and there they will BEHOLD me. (pause)

If the old saying is true…and seeing is believing…then we’ve got a lot to believe today don’t we? But what is truly amazing to me, is that what the women expect to see is the polar opposite of what they experience. They went looking for the tomb…but they found a whole lot more…and so…do…we. (pause)
Now…I don’t even need to tell you that Christ is Risen do I? I mean, of course he has…but you already know that…you’re already here today…clearly the Resurrected Jesus is something that is prominent enough on your radar that you are already here.

But imagine if you didn’t know that…because that’s the situation the women found themselves in. They went expecting death…and interestingly enough…but what they experienced included and earthquake, and an angel opening up the tomb…and then the angel pointed something out to them…not the Risen Christ…they didn’t find him there…the angel pointed out the lack of a dead Jesus. You are looking for Jesus was crucified, but see he is not here.

Here’s the amazing thing about that angel’s message and action of rolling away the stone. He didn’t show up in order to let the risen Jesus out of the grave…somehow that had already happened, even with the stone blocking the entrance…he moved the stone to let the women…and to let us IN…so that we can BEHOLD that the tomb is empty…that death didn’t get the last word…and that somehow, some way, there’s more to this story.

Now in it in their fear AND great joy…experienced at the same time mind you…as they follow the command of the angel to go and tell the disciples what they experienced…that’s when they encounter Christ…not among the dead, but out there in the world….and his command, repeated to the women in order that they might share it with the disciples is the same…tell my brothers that they must go out into the world and THERE they will see me. (pause)

This is the big deal about today…like the women, we expect to find death…and sure enough, we all experience it…and I’m not just talking about physical death…but something I tend to call little deaths…because this world is not perfect…and our lives are not perfect…and simply being followers of Christ in whatever capacity we find ourselves today does not excuse us from that.

We come to worship this morning…expecting the empty tomb…expecting trumpets and joyful proclamations…expecting the Resurrected Jesus…BUT…we come bearing all sorts of little death…you know what they are in your life. Those things that you struggle with…those voices in the back of our heads that tell us that we aren’t good enough…that we aren’t smart enough…that we haven’t done and will NEVER be good enough. We all have those hardships…those trials…those things that stand in the way of joy. (pause)
BUT…the tomb is empty. (pause) Death doesn’t get the last word…and what we experience…what we see…what we BEHOLD in the empty tomb is that we have a God who can…who has…who DOES create new life out of death…and as we go forth…out there into the world, bearing the news that the tomb is empty…bearing the knowledge of our experience…of our own story about what we have seen God do in our lives…when we are out there….that’s where the joy of the resurrected Christ meets us…and as we share this news as WE have experienced it…just like the women…just like the disciples at the end of the gospel…that’s where we find the Resurrected Lord….not in here…because here today…we find an empty tomb…but out there…as we bear this news that the tomb is empty…that death doesn’t get the last word…as we look in the face of the beloved child of God that we share this news with….that’s where we see Jesus….and maybe, just maybe, they’ll see him too. (pause)
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, for he is risen…and that’s something to behold. Amen.