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Luke 24:36b-38

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches, does he?

The Risen Lord, by He Qi

Here the disciples are, deep in shock and mourning because their Teacher, their Lord, the man they thought was their Savior, is dead … and two of their group are telling them this fantastical story about how they met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus, and boom! There’s Jesus … right … in … front … of … them!

Good Lord, they thought they were seeing a ghost!

How can this be?!

They saw (although from a distance) Jesus die on the cross!

They saw (again, from a distance) Jesus’ body laid in a tomb!

They’ve been in hiding for three days – three days! – because they know the Romans are really good at rounding up “known associates” and hanging them on crosses, too – just to teach the rabble a little lesson, don’t you know …

And, boom!

There’s Jesus, standing right in front of them!

And how does he comfort them?

But telling them, in essence: Your turn!

You are the witnesses, he says, to all these extraordinary things that happened when I was with you.

And you are the witnesses to the fact that here I am with you now, raised from the dead.

I’m not a ghost, he says, not a dream.

I am risen!

And now it’s your turn …

So go on. Get out of here. Go tell the story.

You.

And you.

And you.

You are the witnesses.

And I, the Risen Lord, am counting on you.

• • •

I am confident this is not what the disciples wanted to hear.

When you get right down to it, they have never been the ones to do all the work, have they?

After all, Jesus performed the miracles.

Jesus preached.

Jesus taught.

Jesus healed.

And now he’s telling them it’s their turn?

Their turn to tell the story, to witness to all they had seen and heard and learned and experienced?

Their turn to perform miracles?

Their turn to preach?

To teach?

To heal?

Them?!?!?

• • •

For us sitting here, 2,000 years after the fact, this sounds like a no-brainer, I know.

It’s easy for us to say, “Yeah, c’mon, disciples, go do your job! Go tell the story!”

And it’s just as easy for us to say, “Well, we know they did, because if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be sitting here today. So good job, disciples!”

It is easy for us to say all that, and to sit back with a bit of satisfaction and perhaps even some smugness.

“Yep, those disciples. Didn’t get it at first, but man, when the Risen Lord challenged them, they finally got it, finally did what Jesus told them to do. A bit slow out of the blocks at first, but after that, yep, they did a good job, don’t you think?”

And then, of course, we can walk away from all that.

Because the job is done, right?

It’s over with, right?

My friends, the good news is that indeed, the disciples did  get over their shock, they did tell the story, and as a result, we are here today.

Sounds like the end of the story, doesn’t it?

Alas, I am here today to tell you:

No it is not the end of the story.

It’s just the beginning.

Sir Winston Churchill

As Winston Churchill said at the end of the Battle of Britain, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning.”

And at the end of the beginning, it is now our turn.

Our turn to be the witnesses.

Our turn to tell the story.

Our turn to perform the miracles – to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, proclaim the good news that God indeed does love us … to make the blind see and the deaf hear and the lame walk and the mute sing with joy!

Our turn to teach and preach and tell the story.

Make no mistake, my friends.

The Risen Lord is not just talking to the disciples 2,000 years ago.

He is talking … to us.

Because we are the witnesses.

Now I know that a lot of people these days – perhaps even some of us sitting right here today – are not interested in preaching and teaching about the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. We are not interested in going throughout the world and proclaiming, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!”

Not outside the doors of this church, at any rate.

But we really do not have a choice in this, do we?

Because Jesus, because the Risen Lord, the one we are here celebrating this very day, has given us our marching orders.

He is saying to us, right here, right now:

You are my witnesses.

So go on … go tell the story!

You.

And you.

And you!

• • •

Let’s do a little experiment.

Let’s figure out a way for you … for each of you … for each of us … to tell the story.

(Warning Number One: This is a little lesson in evangelism, which is part of mission, which is the very reason for which God created us. As Jesus said, “What are you afraid of?” It’s just a little evangelism …)

(Warning Number Two: I’ll tell you about that in a minute.)

Do you see these flowers here?

These are pansies.

Cute little things, aren’t they?

Harbingers of spring …

You see them all the time, all over the place.

Hardy little buggers, aren’t they?

I bet you did not know that in addition to being pretty, you can eat them.

Yes, you can.

You can pull the flowers right off the stem and eat them.

Mmmm, mmmm, good, as the commercial says.

(eat … eat … eat)

(Warning Number Two revisited: Before you go outside and starting pulling up flowers to eat, know this: You can’t eat most of them. Make sure you’re eating pansies, OK? Nothing else …)[1]

Now … if one of you were to call someone who is not at church today to witness the preacher standing in the pulpit eating pansies and told that someone that the preacher indeed did stand in the pulpit and eat pansies … do you think that person would believe you?

Most likely not.

I’m fairly certain this is not happening in a lot of churches this morning.

So if one of you were to call that one person and tell that person about what I’m doing, that person most likely would think you were doing nothing but telling a fantastical story.

You might even scare that person (who would be wondering, I assure you, not about me, but about you and your sanity).

Now, what if two of you were to tell the same story to the same person?

Do you think that person might believe two of you?

No?

Well, what if say, 10 of you were to tell the story … the exact … same … story?

That person might … or might not … believe you.

But … what if everyday here were to call that one person who is not here, and told the exact same story?

Would that person believe you then?

And what if all of you were to tell everyone you met … today, tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday … that your preacher stood in the pulpit and ate pansies?

Wouldn’t that be a great story to tell?

Wouldn’t that be a whole lot easier story to tell than just walking up to a friend (or heaven forfend, a stranger) and saying, “Listen, let me tell you about Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord”?

Wouldn’t you rather go up to a friend, or heaven forfend, a stranger, and say, “You’re never gonna believe what happened in church this morning? The preacher stood in the pulpit and ate pansies”? Doesn’t that make for a much easier story to tell?

Because then folks are going to ask you, “Where do you go to church?” And you can answer, “I go to St. Martin’s … you know, over on Jamestown road … right near the place that serves breakfast, lunch and antiques.”

And doesn’t it then give you the opening to tell the rest of the story?

I’m telling you:

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches.

The Risen Lord is standing right here in our midst, and telling us, in no uncertain terms:

You are my witnesses.

So go!

Go tell the story!

If that makes you nervous, fear not.

You can start by telling them about pansies in the pulpit first.

Heck, if you want, you can even eat some pansies yourself.

I guarantee you, people will listen.

So remember:

It’s our turn.

We are the witnesses.

And we’ve got one heck of a great story to tell.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Easter, 22 April 2012, Year B, at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Williamsburg, Va.



[1] Yes, you can eat other flowers. I know this. But for the purposes of talking to folks in the pew in church, the warning is simple: If it’s not a pansy, do not eat it!

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John 20:19-31

Last Wednesday night, I was at an Episcopal church for the installation of the new rector. I sat in a pew with the rest of the clergy, and at one point during the service, the priest next to me reached over and pulled out a card that had been filled out by someone and returned to the pew holder. It was a newcomer’s card – you know, the kind where the parish welcomes you and asks you to share some information about yourself. These cards are supposed to go into the offering plate, but this person put it back in the holder. Because the writer didn’t actually offer the usual information.

This note was actually a plea:

The Doubt of St. Thomas, by He Qi.

“Can anyone tell me if Jesus is real? (it read).

“Can anyone prove to me that Jesus is real?

“I’m sitting here surrounded by people who believe, people who have faith … and I don’t know if I can believe.

“I want to believe, but I can’t.”

This plea was written on Sunday morning, on the first day of the week – on Easter morning. There this person sat, in the third pew on the Gospel side, surrounded by hundreds of other people shouting, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”, not knowing how to believe!

I do not know who wrote this note – it was signed, “Anonymous.” Below that, the author had written, “I’m learning to believe.”

I do not know if this person was male or female, black or white or Latino or Asian, young or old, gay or straight.

All I know is that on Sunday last, on Easter, Thomas showed up at an Episcopal church and in the midst of celebration, surrounded by believers, said, “Wait just a darned second …”

We call today “Doubting Thomas” Sunday. Poor Thomas. Just because he wasn’t in the upper room when the Risen Lord first appeared to the disciples, we mock Thomas for wondering what was going on, and we hang an epithet on him – “Doubting” – as though nothing else he had ever done – none of the faithful following of Jesus, none of the declarations of “let’s go also, that we may die with him” – ever happened or even matter.

But a little warning here:

Nowhere in John’s presentation of the Risen Lord’s appearances in the upper room does the word “doubt” appear.[1]

The Risen Lord does not say to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe.”

What Jesus says, instead, is that Thomas is apistos – without trust or faith. He was just like those other disciples, who had been apistos as well. They were untrusting just like Thomas (remember, when Mary Magdalene came to them that very morning with the news of the Resurrection, they for darned certain didn’t trust or believe her, because if they had, they wouldn’t have still been huddled behind locked doors in that upper room, praying no one would find them!). They had not been pistos – faith-filled – until the moment the Risen Lord had bid them his peace and showed them his wounds.

So when Jesus showed up the second time, a week later, what Jesus literally says to Thomas is, “Do not become untrusting (or faithless) but trusting (or faithful).”[2]

So you see, it’s not that Thomas doubted. It’s that he wasn’t quite ready to trust again – not this soon.

Remember, Thomas had been with Jesus for a large part of Jesus’ ministry. He had walked with Jesus, heard him preach, seen the miracles, felt the hope, saw the love, reveled in the joy …

And then …

Well, then, Jesus was arrested, tortured, killed.

And all those words, all those miracles, all that hope, that love, that joy … all of that had died on the cross and been laid in the tomb, and now … now … just three days later, the other disciples want Thomas, who has given up all hope, to hope again? They want Thomas, who saw his trust violated, to trust again? Just three days later?

You know what Thomas was thinking, right?

Give me a break!

Thomas needed more than just the word of the other disciples – because he had believed once and been burned, and he wasn’t going to get burned again, at least not that easily. It took another appearance by the Risen Lord to convince him.

Sounds just like that person who showed up at that church on Easter Sunday, doesn’t it?

Can anyone prove to me that Jesus is real?

Thomas two thousand years ago … an anonymous person on Easter Sunday 2011 … they’re asking the same questions, they’re caught in the same bind.

They want to believe.

They just can’t.

Which leads to the question:

How many witnesses do you need to believe the truth?

How many witnesses do you need?

Let’s do a little experiment in faith, shall we?

Let’s see what happens when together, we do something rather unbelievable, and you have to convince others – let’s say, the people at the 8 a.m. service, because I wasn’t here for that – that what is about to take place actually took place here this morning.

Do you see these flowers here?

They are pansies – I know this because I went to a nursery yesterday and specifically asked for them.

They’re pretty, are they not?

They’re lovely harbingers of spring.

They come in an assortment of colors, which I have carefully chosen, because believe me, colors make a difference.

Why?

Let me show you …. (eat pansies)

Mmm … quite tasty, actually.

And yes, just to let you know, it is perfectly safe to eat pansies. Not so much other flowers, but pansies are fine.

Now … if one of you were to call someone who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and tell that person, “You’re not gonna believe it! The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!” that person probably would not believe you.

Because unless I’m sorely mistaken, preachers do not normally eat pansies in the pulpit. It simply isn’t done.

But that’s what I’m doing, isn’t it? (eat more pansies)

Now … if, say, ten of you were to call that same person who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and tell that person, ““You’re not gonna believe it! The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!” there’s a good chance that person still won’t believe you. Because, after all, ten of you could be pulling off an elaborate joke, right?

But what do you think would happen if all of you were to call that person who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and proclaim, “The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!”?

Do you think they would believe? Because all of you were witnesses, and all of you proclaimed the truth?

My friends, I assure you: If enough of you testify to the truth, others will believe.

And the truth is, this morning, I am eating pansies in the pulpit.

So again, the question: How many witnesses do you need to believe the truth?

Going back to the Scriptures and the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, how many witnesses do you need to believe the truth of the Lord’s Resurrection? Because we have witnesses. We have lots of witnesses.

We have the women who went to the tomb on the first day of the week and met the Risen Lord.

We have the disciples, hiding in fear in the upper room.

We have Thomas, who eventually did trust enough to believe.

We have the various other followers of Jesus, who met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus … in their villages … out in the open …

We have the 500 to whom the Risen Lord appeared at once …

And then we have Paul, who then was still Saul, who was on a murderous mission to persecute those who claimed to have seen the Risen Lord, and who met the Risen Lord while sitting on his butt in the middle of the road to Damascus …

Exactly how many witnesses does it take to convince you that the unbelievable is believable?

What does it take to make us move from Thomas’ “I do not trust your story and therefore will not believe” to Thomas’ proclamation, “My Lord and My God!”?

Do I need to eat more pansies to make the unbelievable believable?

Because I will, if that’s what you need.

Just as the Risen Lord made many more appearances to his disciples, which John did not write in his book, because that’s what those disciples needed.

To have their trust restored, to be able to believe again, to become pistos again, Jesus came back, again and again, so that his disciples could know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that he was raised from the dead.

My friends, we are not the witnesses to the actual Resurrection.

But there were witnesses – lots of witnesses, hundreds of witnesses – who saw the Risen Lord, and because of that they became pistos – they trusted again, they believed again.

And because they trusted and believed, we trust, we believe.

That’s why we’re here this morning – because we trust and believe their eyewitness accounts, the ones they have been passed on to us.

So what are we going to do with this trust, this faith that we have received?

How are we going to tell the story in such a way that those who do not yet believe – like that anonymous person who wrote that poignant note last Sunday – can indeed learn to believe?

How are we going to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus?

We don’t get to hear the story of the Resurrection just so that we can put that story in our back pockets. We hear the story, we become pistos, so that the whole world can hear the story, so that all can become pistos.

It’s kind of like me eating these pansies in the pulpit.

It’s a good story, but it doesn’t mean much if you don’t do something with it.

So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go home and pick up the phone and call someone from the 8 o’clock service (let’s call him “John”) and I want you tell him that the preacher ate pansies in the pulpit. I want you to convince him that this really happened.

And then, I want you to talk a little Gospel. Talk about where you have seen the Risen Lord in your life, today, and everyday. Convince him that the Lord is risen indeed. And talk about where he sees the Risen Lord in his own life.

I guarantee you, there are more Thomases out there. Thomas might even sitting right here this morning. Any one of us could be Thomas.

Whoever Thomas is, wherever Thomas is, he needs to hear from us. He needs to hear that the Lord is risen indeed.

Our mission is to tell the story in such a way that those who are apistos can become pistos, those who aren’t sure, who don’t trust, who want to believe but can’t quite get there, become certain, dare to trust and do believe.

I’ll even give you some pansies, if that will help. (eat pansies)

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Easter, 1 May 2011, Year A, at Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Dunn Loring, Va.



[1] This discussion is based on Brian P. Stoffregen’s Exegetical Notes on Crossroads Christian Resources, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john20x19e2.htm, accessed 26 April 2011.

[2] Stoffregen’s translation, along with The new Greek-English InterLinear New Testament, United Bible Societies’ Fourth, Corrected Edition, 404.

 

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