Witnessing Something Unexpected

Readings for the day (3rd Sunday of Easter, Sunday, April 15, 2018):

Acts 3:12-19

Psalm 4

1 John 3:1-7

Luke 24:36b-48

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

The calendar says spring.  The church calendar says Easter.  But a look outside still stays winter!  Things do not always go the way we intend them to go.  Babies don’t always come when we expect them to.  Planters sometimes need to be unhooked from tractor in order to move snow in April.  A president issues a tariff and the markets go haywire.  Things do not always go the way we want them to go.

The Easter story is no different.  Up to the end, the disciples still thought that Jesus was talking about leading an uprising in Jerusalem.  That’s why the ear of the high priest slave was cut off when Jesus was getting arrested.  His disciples figured this was the time the uprising was going to begin.  But instead, Jesus, their leader, ends up being hung to a tree to die a criminal’s death.  So it is no surprise that on that first Easter, the disciples are still pretty bummed.  It’s like Monday morning after a Vikings loss – bummed and disappointed that things didn’t end differently.

To their wonder and amazement, Jesus appears to them, standing among them, in the flesh and says, “Peace be with you.”  That was certainly not something they were expecting.  They saw their leader and friend crucified and laid in a tomb.  No wonder they were frightened when Jesus appears before them, in the flesh, and says, “Peace be with you.”  And to eliminate their doubts of Him being a ghost or a hologram of some kind, Jesus shows them His hands and His feet.  He invites them to physically touch Him to see that He really is alive.  And since they were still wondering if He really was alive, standing in their midst, Jesus asks if they have any food for Him to eat?

Our world is hungry.  Not just physically hungry for food, but spiritually hungry for something better; something that can overcome the darkness.  With tariffs and unstable markets.  With the uncertainty of world leaders and countless shootings in schools and businesses.  The world does have a lot of darkness.  And although I have many complaints about Hollywood with the movie and TV industry, there is something surprising that is coming from Hollywood.  Many of the real popular movies have strong Christian themes in them.  In some cases you can simply replace Jesus with the main character and you’ve got the Easter story.  Especially in the Star Wars franchise and the super hero movies, there is one common theme throughout – hope.  Hope that the darkness will not win.  Hope that light will conquer darkness.  Hope that the light will be victorious.  Our world is spiritually hungry for this hope.  Yes these movies are popular because they are visually stunning.  But they keep making these movies with different storylines but the overall theme is still the same – hope.

With all of the darkness in the world.  With all of the bad news and unpleasant forecasts.  Everyone is longing and searching for something to hope in.  And because people are frightened and terrified of “the church” (meaning organized religion), they are finding their hope in the movies that Hollywood produces.  And Hollywood does an excellent job of telling people that the light will conquer the darkness.  Evil will not win.  Millions of people know this; they know (at least in a movie) light is victorious.  Except they miss one very important detail.  The light will conquer the darkness, because Jesus is victorious!  Jesus is the missing piece to their puzzle.  They have it mostly figured out.  They are just missing the fact that Jesus is the light.  He is the light of the world.

And this is not just something that we see in a movie.  Jesus is the light of THIS world!  He is our light, shining in the midst of our darkness.  He is our hope.  He is alive.  And we do not need to be like the disciples, disbelieving and wondering where He is or if He is alive.  For we can touch Him and see Him, in Communion.  Just as Jesus appeared to the disciples in the breaking of the bread, He comes to us in a very real form of bread and wine.  So that we can touch and see that He indeed is alive.

We also encounter Jesus in the people we encounter.  I saw Jesus as I visited with nine high schoolers on Wednesday night at youth group.  We were discussing their most recent fundraisers and what we were going to do with the money raised.  Before Lent, we discussed the importance of tithing and not keeping everything for ourselves, but giving a portion of that back to God for the sake of His kingdom.  At youth group they were imagining how many tie blankets they could make for the children’s hospital with ALL of the money they raised – not a portion of it.

Our God is gracious.  And many times, God’s plan for us happens in ways that we did not intend for them to go.  Like seeing your teacher crucified on a tree and three days later standing in front of you talking with you and eating your fish.  Or like seeing a group of high schoolers not thinking about themselves, but rather graciously thinking about others and their needs.

Jesus told His disciples that they are witnesses to these things.  Meaning, go and tell people that His death did not go the way they thought it was going to go.  Today we, too, are witnesses.  We weren’t there to see our Lord crucified and then raised.  But if we open our eyes, we do encounter Jesus all the time.  We see Jesus in our children and grandchildren.  We see Jesus in our friends and family.  We see Jesus in our classmates, teachers, coaches, employers, employees.  And we see and touch Jesus in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  The One who is the Light of the World.  Who shines bright to chase out the darkness – removing all fear and doubts.  So that we can be witnesses and say confidently and boldly, “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

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God’s April Fools

Readings for the day (Resurrection of Our Lord Sunday, April 1, 2018):

Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Acts 10:34-43

Mark 16:1-8

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Jesus is dead.  Satan won.  Death is the end.  Game over.  April Fools!  Jesus isn’t dead.  He’s actually alive.  Satan lost.  Death is not the end.  And this isn’t “Game over.”  It actually is only the beginning.  For many though, this Easter simply means a day off from work, some chocolate eggs and a fluffy bunny.  But we know this day to be something more, something bigger, something that is much more important.  This is the day of God’s ultimate prank on Satan.  Satan thinks that he won.  He thinks that he has achieved final victory.  He actually convinced God’s own chosen people to turn away from Him and to murder Jesus, the Son of God.  But the joke’s on him.  God could not and did not stay dead.  Breaking the chains of death, He rose to new life.  Once and for all defeating death; defeating Satan.  Jesus isn’t dead, but alive.  Alleluia!

For the three women who went to the tomb on that first Easter morning, this ultimate prank was not the least bit funny; it was terrifying.  Since they are forbidden from doing anything on the Sabbath, the women had to wait until the next day to go and carry out the ritual burial customs of anointing the dead with spices.  They get up early on the first day of the week to do what they needed to do.  When they arrive at the tomb, they expect to find a dead body.  Instead, they found no body.  God’s ultimate prank was not funny, at all.  It’s terrifying!  No wonder Mark says that these women fled the tomb and said nothing to anyone.  They were terrified.  They were afraid.  Jesus was supposed to be dead.  That’s what happens when you witness something dying.  They are supposed to stay dead.  But there’s not a dead body and they are told that Jesus has been raised.

What are you afraid of?  The most common fears that people have are a fear of heights, a fear of flying, a fear of enclosed spaces, a fear of snakes, and a fear of needles.[1]  And what is the church afraid of?  Decreasing involvement?  Fewer pastors?  No, our greatest fear is sharing the Gospel.  We can relate to these three women who fled the tomb, for terror and amazement seized them and they said nothing to anyone.  We do a good job of being like the women in this story, saying nothing to anyone.  But you know what, here’s another April fool’s.  The women did say something.  They did go and share this Good News with the disciples.  Otherwise we wouldn’t be here today.  If the women had never said anything about Jesus’ rising from the dead; the disciples would never had known.  Which means that they would have never heard the young man’s command to go to Galilee to meet Jesus.

After being raised from dead, Galilee is exactly where Jesus went.  Why Galilee?  Because that is where He said He would meet the disciples.  And where is Galilee?  Or more so, for these women and the disciples, what is Galilee…home.  Galilee is where they live.  It is where they work.  It is where they play.  It is where they study God’s Word.  The young man in the tomb told the women, “…[Jesus] is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”[2]  Jesus is not going to be found among the dead, but among the living, and specifically, He will be found where you live, where you work, and where you play.

Jesus is with you wherever you go.  When you are at home, Jesus is there.  When you are at work or at school, Jesus is there.  When you are out riding your snowmobile or on the lake fishing, driving the tractor or on the golf course, Jesus is there.  Jesus is not found among the dead, but among the living.  Wherever you go.  Wherever you run.  Wherever you rest.  Jesus is always right there with you.  So there is no need to fear sharing this Good News with others.  Through His crucifixion and death, Jesus has taken away your sins and has reconciled you with God once again.  Therefore you need not fear your future or the future of Christ’s church.  Satan thought that he had won.  He thought that darkness finally conquered the light.  But it was just one big April fool’s prank.  Satan does not win.  Darkness does not win.  Death claims no victory.  Because by Jesus’ resurrection, He defeated Satan, proving that light snuffs out the darkness, and we celebrate our Lord’s victory over death.

The best April fool’s prank of all time, Jesus not dead in a tomb, but alive; for your sake.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-01/ten-of-the-most-common-phobias/6439210

[2] Mark 16:7, NRSV