Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter 2016 - Listen! God is Calling! - Luke 24/Acts 10

It had been a difficult few days and as a result the disciples had fled for their lives and Peter had had to lie and claim he didn’t know Jesus in order to save his skin.  But somehow they were able to find each other and so they huddled together afraid and uncertain.  Now what? What’s next?  What do we do now? All their hopes and dreams had been dashed.  Maybe they should just go back to their old lives.  But in fact, not all the disciples had come together in the safe house.  In Luke there are two distinct groups of Jesus’ followers – there are the disciples of Jesus, the students which is one large group of both men and women; and then there the apostles, the sent ones, the original12 (now 11) who had been Jesus’ inner core group and who had been chosen for a specific purpose – that is they are the ones sent to proclaim the Kingdom of God come into the world in Jesus, the Messiah.  But now that was all over.  It didn’t matter anymore.  So these 11 apostles are now fearfully hiding behind locked doors.  And others of the disciples had begun to disperse.  Luke tells us of two of that group who had decided to leave it all behind and head out of Jerusalem and possibly return to their old lives.  And so, they left the city and they took the road to the village of Emmaus.
But on Sunday strange things began to happen.  The women disciples returned to the safe house in the morning and announced that “Jesus is Risen” and that an angel had met them at the empty tomb. “Nonsense” thought the disciples.  And then those two disciples who had left and taken the road to Emmaus suddenly appeared back in Jerusalem with the news that not only had they heard that Jesus is risen, but, they had actually met him!  He had joined them on their way and they had recognized him when he broke the bread with them at supper.
Jesus is Risen!  Could it be true?!  Jesus had told them he would rise again on the third day, but they had not believed him!  Actually they hadn’t really believed or expected that he would be crucified either. But resurrection!?!  That would change everything! And what would that mean for them and their lives? Well it would mean that the powers of oppression, the powers of violence, the powers of fear – all the powers that came together in order to crucify Jesus have been defeated! It would even mean that the powers of darkness and death have also been defeated!  It would mean that the Kingdom of God is affirmed and that God’s love for all of humanity is confirmed!  And it would mean that the sent ones, the Apostles AND the disciples – of all ages - have work to do – and still have a mission to accomplish.  And that mission: to proclaim – Jesus is Risen!
Now, I want to make sure at this point that we understand what this word “proclaim” means for the Gospel writers.  When we use that word I think for the most part it means to us to preach, to announce, to use words to declare something important – for example – we say, “preachers are called to proclaim the Gospel” which means they give sermons and talk about Jesus! But this is only a part of what the word “proclaim” means in the Gospel context.  When the Gospel writer Luke and other NT authors use the word “Proclaim” it brings with it an imperative for actions and deeds to go along with the words.  In other words, it is not enough to simply talk about and announce with words that God has brought “good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind.”  With these words must also come action in order to put these words into effect and to reach out in order to provide for the poor, to do everything that is possible to release captives from whatever it is they are captive to, and to touch and provide sight to the blind.  The words of proclamation must include actions that work towards the realization of the words.  And so when we proclaim that Jesus is risen from death, these are not just words to which we can all nod in agreement; these are not just words that make us feel warm and comfortable and happy; these are not just words that affirm us own attitudes and preconceptions, rather, these words also bring with them a call for us to review and to reject our old attitudes and prejudices, they call into question the comfortable tenets of faith that allow us to keep Jesus at arms length and keep us from enacting our faith! When we proclaim the Gospel that Jesus is Risen we are rejecting fear and violence and stating a commitment to get to the Gospel work reaching out and loving and caring for others in Jesus’ name.
And it certainly had this effect on the disciples.  The proclamation that Jesus is risen changed the lives of the apostles and the disciples forever.  And the book of Acts tells the story of what difference this proclamation made in the lives of these men and women.  Throughout Acts, one story after the next shows us how the boundaries are constantly being pushed and broken, and how comfort zones are being invaded and changed as the disciples and apostles seek to live the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection.  This proclamation of “Jesus is risen” brings with it a new reality; things are not at all the way they were before; things are no longer the way they are “supposed” to be.  Philip, for example, finds himself proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus crucified and risen to an Ethiopian eunuch of all people; Stephen finds himself proclaiming this Gospel by serving the poor and hungry and lonely and ill and is stoned to death for his work; and Peter, in our Acts text for today, finds himself in the home of a Roman Centurion, who not only wants to be baptized but expects Peter to eat with him, which was something that observant Jews simply didn’t do.  And not only that but the meal is to include all kinds of things that are forbidden and impure. But God makes it clear to Peter that when you proclaim that “Jesus is Risen” it has consequences and means that things are going to be different; that relationships will be different; and that life now will be characterized solely and completely by love, acceptance, compassion and humility.  “Surely I now see that God shows no partiality,” says Peter.  God’s love extends to all – even beyond the phony boundaries and categories that we have set up and continue to set up to keep ourselves apart.
Jesus is risen!  So, what does this mean for you? What difference does this mean for your life?  For your priorities and attitudes, for your relationships, for the way you spend your time, for the way to care for others, and how much patience and compassion you show to those who are in need. Jesus is Risen - that means we are never to give in to fear or hate or violence; and that loving our neighbor is our primary calling!  In fact, loving our neighbor is non-negotiable for those who proclaim Jesus is risen – no matter how uncomfortable, how unpopular, how counter-cultural, or how politically incorrect.  Jesus calls upon us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves – this is what it means to be a follower of Jesus; this is what it means to be a Christian!  So, what does that look like for you? 
Jesus is Risen!  He is Risen indeed! So What ultimately is the meaning of Easter? The great New Testament scholar N.T. Wright answers this question in his book “Surprised by Hope.” He writes, The Gospels and the New Testament are clear – “Easter has a very this-worldly present-age meaning: Jesus is raised, so he is the Messiah, and therefore he is the world’s true Lord; Jesus is raised, so God’s new creation has begun – and we, his followers have a job to do! Jesus is raised, so we must act as his heralds, announcing his Lordship to the entire world, and making his kingdom come on earth – through words and actions!

Jesus is Risen!  He is Risen indeed! – Time to get to work!
Banner made by Rodney Rolfing with the stand by Marvin Gielow for Peace Lutheran Church, Steeleville, IL.