Sunday, April 19, 2015

"Eye Witness News" a sermon at United Church of Beloit April 19, 2015

Eye Witness News 

Psalm 4 (NIV)

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.

1 Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
2 How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
3 Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
4 Tremble and do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.
5 Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
and trust in the Lord.
6 Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”
Let the light of your face shine on us.
7 Fill my heart with joy
when their grain and new wine abound.
8 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

This Psalm, one written by the great King David, has quite the progression, doesn't it? Have you ever had trouble sleeping? This sounds to me like a sleepless night ...and yet it is not an endless night, there is a wonderful progression here...from “Answer me―to “in peace will I lie down and sleep” “Answer me when I call in distress!” that is so intimate and almost sounds desperate, even... disrespectful! Yet it moves on to 'how long”, then comes to realize that the people who seek false gods will not be rewarded, God's people are set apart...

and then David says,..and is he speaking here to others or even counseling himself?! {and the best story tellers or speakers do speak out of personal experience} “do not sin...when on your beds search your hearts and be silent' Elsewhere the Bible reminds us “Be still and know that I am God'. When we settle down and have some quiet, we can KNOW God is all around...

offer sacrifices & trust in the Lord..” means to read scriptures, to pray, to sing hymns and praise. To bring our offerings. And the psalmist is assured and assures us that God's light shines on us..and our hearts will be filled with joy...with that deep down understanding of God. And we will rest in safety!

{If you have trouble sleeping sometimes, I might suggest reading and praying this Psalm!}

Our Gospel lesson this morning is from Luke..this is one of the resurrection stories! The story takes place on that first Easter! Probably later in the day...
remember first the women went to the tomb to actually finish the proper treatment of the body for burial, and found the tomb empty! Then Peter and John went and also found it empty. There is much discussion, bewilderment, a touch of disbelief and how could this be?

So here is the next encounter with the Risen Jesus.. the disciples, are in Jerusalem, in the place where they had had the last supper with Jesus, and the house is locked up tight! as they are deeply afraid of being rounded up by the authorities for their association with Jesus!

Luke 24: 36-48 (NIV)

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

36 While they were still talking about this, {meaning the other appearances} Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
The Word of the Lord, thanks be to God!

Here again there is a progression..first the disciples think they see a ghost―don't you think they just freaked!? And He reassures them, hey it's Me!? See my hands and feet...touch me! It's ok! Now even tho Jesus has his human body...he has supernatural ability..he just appeared in the middle of a locked house!

so he shows them his hands and feet...the marks of the crucifixion.
Now they've progressed a Joy and amazement. They are still having trouble believing tho! And Jesus asks for something to eat! What is that about? It's another way of showing that his body is real...a ghost does not eat and drink...but there's more to it....Could it be a gentle reminder that in their excitement, there is still basic hospitality? Hey I'm a guest here...and resurrection is hard work! It's also a return to normalcy. Offering someone something to eat or drink is a mark of compassion and a chance to just relax together for a bit.

And then he reminds them scripture had to be fulfilled...
the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms. The threefold division of the Hebrew Bible. Jesus is saying that every part of Scripture bears witness to Him.
And he opened their minds so they could understand. They had to get past their own emotional reactions and fears, and take a step back. And only then could they FULLY understand―that Jesus was indeed the messiah, not a military ruler, not a conquering hero, but the Son of God living with humans, caring for them, sharing in the very basics of life!

This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.”
repentance for the forgiveness of sins...remember sin is anything that keeps us from God. Even simple distractions, worry, anger, as well as the 'big sins', stealing, murder. It's a real challenge to keep one's focus on God all the time! That's why we pray confession regularly, that's why we take communion, some religions practice daily communion! But God is slow to anger and quick to forgive...

This preaching will be to ALL nations...the word in the bible for nations means not just countries, but all's the word Ethnos from which we get the words ethnic and ethnicity. So Jesus will be preached to ALL people, everywhere. And he says “You are witnesses” You saw this YOURSELVES. With your very own eyes, you hear me with your own ears. You touched my flesh, you see the scars in my hands and feet..and touched them. You have heard and seen the evidence and you know the Truth!
You are the eyewitnesses...YOU now share your stories, help others to know the truth, to bring repentance to all people, everywhere starting right here where you are.

We are not eyewitnesses but we have the word of eyewitnesses...4 Gospels, written by either eyewitnesses or those close to them, who did know the eyewitnesses and heard their stories.

Remember in our Psalm, the progression from anxiety and sleeplessness to being able to rest in the sure knowledge of God ?
In Philippians chapter 4, “Do not be anxious about anything,  but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God,  which transcends all understanding,  will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

There is a progression in our faith life as well, that this story of the disciples spells out. We are shocked and maybe fearful and then we have amazement and joy, and then we are to share our stories...sometimes in a very ordinary way...we have something to eat together. We spend time together, sharing a bit of ourselves and encouraging the other to share themselves too. This is how we help bring the Light of the Lord, the Shalom, the joy and peace of God. That peace that gives us rest, that helps us connect and care for others. In solitude we can be silent before God and become more aware of God's presence. In community with others we can share our faith and help each other to enjoy the gifts of God, that joy and love and compassion.

Author Henri Nouwen wrote
Every time we forgive our neighbor, every time we make a child smile, every time we show compassion to a suffering person, every time we arrange a bouquet of flowers, offer care to tame or wild animals, prevent pollution, create beauty in our homes and gardens, and work for peace and justice among peoples and nations we are making the vision come true. We must remind one another constantly of the vision. Whenever it comes alive in us we will find new energy to live it out, right where we are. Instead of making us escape real life, this beautiful vision gets us involved. Henri Nouwen

Let's get involved, let's stay involved, in the vision of the Resurrected Jesus, whose Light shines on us, who fills us with Joy and that incomparable peace of the care and protection of God. And may we always bring that Joy and Shalom to all of God's children today and always. Amen. 

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