Sermon for Easter April 18, 2021
Last Sunday, I watched the conclusion of the Masters golf tournament on TV. It is considered one of the most important and prestigious tournaments. It is always played on the same golf course in Georgia. The winner of the tournament was Hideki Matsuyama. Japanese golfers have competed in this tournament for many years but this was the first time that a Japanese golfer won. I am sure the victory meant a lot to the people of Japan. I think it was nice that an Asian person won the tournament in this time of strong anti-Asian sentiment. My attention was drawn to the winning golfer’s caddy. After the tournament, the caddy took the pin out of the 18th green and gave the flag on that pin to the winning golfer. That is a custom. The caddie took the flagpole and put it back in the hole. Then the caddy did something unique. He turned and faced the golf course, took off his hat and bowed to the course. You may interpret his actions in several ways. Clearly it was a sign of respect. Perhaps his actions signified his appreciation for the challenge of the course and maybe for the beauty of the course. I wonder if we might learn from this simple gesture. In a world of hatred, anger, and significant disagreement, can we find a way to appreciate our environment, respect our fellow humans who walk the earth with us and sometimes compete with us. I doubt the caddy was a Christian, but I think he gave us a way to think about our role as Christians. Today, as we reflect on Scripture, I ask you to consider how we are called to show our respect and reverence for the risen Jesus, to be a conduit of his healing work and to share the story of Jesus with others.
Let’s consider two different stories about the resurrected Jesus. Last week, we listened to a story about the resurrection from John’s gospel. In that story, Thomas was presented to us as the doubter. But Luke’s version speaks of several of Jesus’ followers who were uncertain and doubtful about whether and how Jesus had risen from the dead. Of course, Jesus comforted them and told them he is not a ghost. Jesus wanted the apostles to feel his human presence and told them to feel the marks in his body and even join him in eating fish. This is no apparition. Jesus has come bodily to be with them in the resurrection. They were filled with great joy and wondering even in their disbelief. Jesus is God made human who has defied the laws of death. As followers of Jesus, we are called to join in this experience.
The reactions of the disciples seem so realistic when I read the various resurrection stories. On Easter morning, Luke wrote that when the women told the men about the resurrection, the men considered the story to be an idle tale. Today, we learn that they were startled and terrified. They may have asked, “What will life be like for us now?”
We may not see Jesus personally, but we experience Jesus in our prayer life, in church, and in times when we are not expecting it. While we may have our own doubts, I hope we can encounter the risen Lord with awe, amazement and respect. Just as the apostles ate food with Jesus, we are encouraged to share a meal with each other, sharing in the love of Jesus as we share bread and wine. It may sound strange when we hear Luke writing about the body of Jesus in the flesh, appearing to the apostles. I think we should just sit in wonder and acknowledge that all things are possible with God.
Let me share this perspective. In his book Sacred Sense: Discovering the Wonder of God’s Word and World, William P. Brown charts wonder through the Bible, arguing that wonder “lies at the heart of biblical faith.” Wonder is not the same as unadulterated joy or a banal and passing interest. Instead, the astonishment of wonder can be coupled with both fear and desire: “On the one hand, wonder carries the unsettling element of bewilderment. On the other hand, there is the element of insatiable curiosity or the passionate desire to know. Wonder, thus, bears an inner tension.” (These words are shared by Cameron B.R. Howard in the web site Working Preacher). Let us see the wonder of the risen Jesus.
The reading from Acts also gives us an opportunity to experience the risen Lord. We enter the story in the middle. Peter and John came to the Temple to pray. As they entered the gate they encountered a man who was lame and begging for money. Peter had no money to give. Instead, Peter said to the man. “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” The man got up and walked. He was so excited to be walking that he leaped for joy. The people who saw it were amazed. Even though Jesus was not present bodily for this miracle, it is still the work of the risen Jesus to perform this healing. It gives us encouragement to know that Jesus is present with us and Jesus is ready to help us in our times of trouble.
Some in the crowd at the Temple thought Peter was responsible for the healing. But Peter did not take the credit. He told those who are gathered around that Jesus is the power that caused the man to be healed. Apparently, Peter and John were only the hands and mouth of God, the tools that Jesus used for his healing. The healing was a sign that God provided to glorify the name of Jesus for everyone. It is a miracle of Jesus even though Jesus was not physically present.
As today’s followers of Jesus we too are called to be conduits of his grace in the world. We share the grace of Jesus with others and sometimes marvelous things happen. We do not take credit for God’s marvelous works but are just thankful that we were able to provide a place for Jesus to help others.
Here is a story about kindness that reminds me of how the risen Jesus works even today. A young boy named Jordan was chosen as the hero of the week in his school. Jordan decided to share his love of reading with the other children. Reading is so important to Jordan because he is autistic. Reading has helped him to overcome some of his problems, particularly his stuttering problem. Jordan ended up recording a video and telling about his favorite book, a New Day by Brad Melzer. Jordan’s video went viral. By sharing the story, Jordan reminded us of the theme of the book, “With a little more kindness in it, every day can be a new day.” His commitment and effort were rewarded with kindness when he met the author of the book on a video feed. Seeing Jordan’s joy helps all of us to know how we can make a difference, how we can be conduits of the grace of Jesus.
Our life is more than just sharing kindness with others. The third message for today is about our calling. Jesus told his disciples that they were called to be witnesses. They had seen the resurrected Jesus and they were called to proclaim the name of Jesus to all nations.
We may be called to be witnesses as well. In 1st John, we are told that we are children of God. As children, we are not to simply live in wonder at the glory of Jesus. We are to respect sin and lawlessness. It is our wonder and amazement at the risen Jesus that helps us to put away our sins. We read that “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.”
Saint Augustine wrote about the power that we receive from Jesus. We are changed by his resurrection. He wrote, “The joyful news that He is Risen does not change the contemporary world. Still before us lie work, discipline, sacrifice. But the fact of Easter gives us the spiritual power to do the work, accept the discipline and make the sacrifice.”
Today is the last day our scripture lessons speak about the visits of the resurrected Jesus. I ask you to hold these experiences of the resurrected Jesus close to you. Let your heart be filled with awe and wonder. Let us respect the meaning of the risen Jesus. Let us be filled with hope and strength that we too can deal with all the work we need to do in this world. Just as Jesus was with Peter when he healed the man who was lame, Jesus is with us now and always. Amen.
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