April 15, 2018 (The Third Sunday of Easter)
Service for the Lord’s Day
Indian Hill Church
Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine
24:36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:36-48, NRSV)
Let us pray: Sisters and brothers in Christ, God invites us to bring our doubts and our fears, our joys and our sorrows, our concerns and our praise, and offer them to the Living God. So, we pray that you will open our hearts and our minds to keep the faith, with the faithful and doubting ones who have gone before us, that our witness may be as bold, our love as deep, and our faith as true. Amen.
Imagine trying to convince someone that you’re alive. What would you do to prove that you are actually a living, breathing, human being and that you’re not dead. What do you say? What do you do? Here touch me? Cut me and watch me bleed? Listen to my heart beat?
This was the situation that Retired US Navy sailor Charles Hubbard of Austin, Texas was facing in August 2014. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs declared him dead. But he was very much alive. He survived the horrors of the Vietnam War, returned home, was living a good life for over 40 years coming home and living a good life only to have the government bureaucracy that he served declare him dead.
He realized something was wrong when he tried to pay his rent and he found out that his checking account was closed. He asked the bank and they stated that they received a letter from the VA declaring him dead and to close his account. He called his daughter and granddaughters to ask for their help, but first he had to reassure them that he was who he said he was because they received a letter from the VA notifying them that he was dead. Once he convinced them that he was alive, they got together and assumed that it would be a simple procedure to prove to the VA that he was Charles Hubbard and that he was really alive. The letter from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs said that he was dead and that his family needed to return thousands of dollars in benefits.
Little did he know what a task he had trying to prove to the government that he was alive. He made his case and that is when the VA told him that it would take at least eight months for him to be officially brought back to life and have his pension benefits restored.
The resurrected Christ has a similar situation as he tries to convince his disciples that he is alive. What can he say? What can he do? To prove to them that he is alive? He begins by inviting them to reach out and touch him. He shows them his scars and wounds. He speaks to them and they hear his familiar voice. Yet, they remain skeptical at best and terrified at worst, because they believe that he is a ghost. It is an interesting fact that all four of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) have many fascinating variations in their account of Jesus’ resurrection, but they are consistent in one thing: no one believes the good news of Jesus’ resurrection when they first hear it. No one. In fact, the first doubters of the faith were the disciples, the ones closest to Jesus. But how can we blame them, only Lazarus has ever come back from the dead and Jesus himself performed that miracle. If this is really Jesus standing in front of them then it changes everything….
The disciples must be wondering, if someone can be raised from the dead then what else can happen? When you are standing next to the very one you saw die only a few days before it calls everything into question. It upsets the natural order of things and it causes you to lose confidence in pretty much everything you thought you could count on. Remember the famous saying that Benjamin Franklin, who once wrote to a friend, that are only two certainties in this world: death and taxes. Now becomes one, taxes. The disciples shock and fear at seeing Jesus is the beginning of doubt, which is a good thing.
I hope that you noticed that doubt starts with the disciples! Remember they doubted the testimony of the women who first went to the tomb on Easter morning and saw the risen Lord. Except now, it is not just their testimony, they doubt; now they doubt their own eyes, and ears and hearts because they doubt that it is really Jesus standing in front of them.
Doubt is not the opposite of faith, instead, it is a very necessary part of faith. Faith by its very definition is trust in spite of a lack of evidence. Faith is not knowledge. Faith is not facts. It is trust when everything says no way.
Faith is a key component of the Confirmation process, and we are a few weeks away from Confirming this year’s confirmation class. I have been so impressed by the maturity of the questions they raise and the depth of the wrestling that they do with the teachings of the church and the realities of their own lives. A few in the class have really wrestled with what the church teaches and what they know to be true. I and the other mentors, (Jennifer, Blake, and Ellen and their peer mentors Anna, Amanda, Caroline, Davis and Ingrid) have encouraged them that doubt, questions and disbelief are welcomed, encouraged and celebrated as part of the life of a Christian. Let’s face it, in light of all the death and trauma and disappointments and tragedy that we live with every day, if you don’t have at least some difficulty believing the promises of God and the outrageous claim that God not only raised a person, Jesus, from the dead, but also promises new life and second chances and forgiveness and grace to all, then you’re probably not paying attention to the Bible. It is full of stories of people who doubt and don’t believe.
I believe that this is exactly what the Gospel writer Luke is getting at in telling his version of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Luke was living in a time in which the sacred center, the focal point for religious people had been taken away. For the Hebrews, the Temple in Jerusalem was the sacred center. It was more than just a building; it was the dwelling place of the Most High. The closer you got to the center of it, the closer you got to the Holy of Holies, the closer you got to God or Yahweh. The temple was the earthly representation and presence of Yahweh. However, in 70 AD the Temple was destroyed, and the Hebrew people were left without a visible, tangible sign of the presence of God. The destruction of the temple sent a shock wave through all of Judaism, and as a result many Jewish people lost their faith because they lost their focal point, the Temple.
Christianity has a similar story. Christianity found its sacred center not in the Temple, but in the person, the life and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. You can imagine, then, the shock waves that the disciples and other followers of Jesus felt when Jesus was crucified. It appeared that the sacred center for Christianity had been destroyed as well. The people who at first anchored their relationship with God in a temple, and who had later found that center in a person, were left with neither temple nor person. Where did they turn? When the sacred center is destroyed, then what?
Luke wants us to realize where we find our sacred center? When we want to find God, where do we go? If the temple is destroyed and gone and Jesus of Nazareth is crucified, dead, and buried? Now what?
Now if it is facts that we need, I don’t think I can come up with any. If it is examples to share, they can always be countered and disproven. So, I would like to offer another way to deal with the post Easter, post Resurrection Jesus.
I think Luke and the other Gospel writers are challenging us to ask ourselves what if what they say is true? How would your life and my life be different if this appearance of Jesus was more than a ghost, more than the desire of some grief-stricken people, who desperately wanted their leader to be alive and their movement to carry on.
So, stop for a moment and think…
What if it is true that God raised Jesus from the dead…
What if it’s true that God promises to renew the whole creation and grant us new life…
What if it’s true that nothing, nothing I have done, nothing you have done, nothing in all of creation…can separate us from the love of God…
What if it’s true that God will not turn God’s back on any of us but always reaches out to us in grace, mercy, and forgiveness…
If any of this – let alone all of this – is true, then how might we live our lives differently this afternoon, tomorrow, this week?
How might our faith, not our knowledge, not cold hard facts, but our faith impact our lives, our loves, our hates, our relationships, our work, our play, our politics, how we use our resources, and how we look to the future?
For me, believing this unbelievable story of Jesus being alive means that death has not and will never win. It means that grief is never the last feeling we have. Darkness lingers for a night, but joy comes in the morning. It means that nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God. It means that nothing is impossible with God.
Can I prove it?
No, but I believe it. With all my mind, my heart, and my soul.
Let us pray:
 The Reverend Dr. David Lose