April 15, 2018 Sermon

Third Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2018, Lectionary B


The Rev. Dr. C. Clark Hubbard, Jr. Rector                                           Scripture: Luke 24:36b-48


“Stretch out your hand [Oh, Lord] to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  Acts 4:30


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Let us pray.  Heavenly Father, send now the Holy Spirit to raise our expectations as to what we might experience and accomplish, even the miraculous, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever.  Amen.


In his book, Finding a Faith That Makes Sense, Scott Colglazier writes that he “recently saw a news report about an Army veteran named John Crabtree who had been receiving benefits from the government. Evidently he had been wounded in Vietnam and was now on permanent disability. One day, out of the blue, he received an official notification from the government of his own death. Needless to say, this was quite a shock to John.


Mr. Crabtree wrote the government a letter stating that he was indeed very much alive and would like to continue receiving his benefits. The letter did no good. He then tried calling the government. (Have you ever tried to call the government? This required the patience of Job and the persistence of Noah!) The phone calls didn’t change the situation either. Finally, as a last resort, the veteran contacted a local television station, which ran a human-interest story about his situation.


During the interview, the reporter asked him, ‘How do you feel about this whole ordeal?’ The veteran chuckled and said, ‘Well, I feel a little frustrated by it. After all, have you ever tried to prove that you’re alive?’”(St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1996, 116-117)


Luke’s account of the resurrection is now the third we have heard—the first being Mark’s on Easter Sunday.  In Mark’s original account, known as the short-ending account, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome find an empty tomb.  Not seeing the resurrected Jesus, they were told by a young man in white that Jesus has been raised.


In John’s account of the resurrection last Sunday, we heard that: “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews (when) Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” However, Thomas was not with them at that time. Later, when Thomas was told by the disciples of Jesus’ appearance, he replied, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”


This morning in Luke’s account of the resurrection while there are certainly parallels to John’s account, there are differences as well.  “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.”


Missing from Luke’s account is that of Thomas’ absence and Thomas’ subsequent doubting that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  Yes, Luke does note that there was doubt in the hearts of some, but it was not because Thomas or any of them had been absent when Jesus appeared.  Unlike in John’s gospel, there is nothing in Luke’s about it being blessed to believe without seeing. Indeed, Luke’s account might make us feel a little better if we have doubts about the resurrection.  The burden of proof and having faith are not on us. Neither Thomas nor any of the other disciples are rebuked by Jesus for lacking faith. Luke, it would seem, wants to make a different point—the resurrected Jesus was not a ghost. The other three gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and John, make no suggestion that Jesus’ appearance might have been a ghost.


Luke’s account of the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ sudden appearance after having been dead for three days is probably akin to how we might have responded.


If you or I were to see our dead grandmother suddenly pop into our living room after she had been dead for three days, we, too, would have thought the image before us was a ghost or hallucination.  We would have been frightened just like the disciples. This, though, was not the first time the disciples had thought they were seeing a ghost when in fact it was Jesus. Both Matthew and Mark record that the disciples thought it was a ghost when they saw Jesus walking on water. They, at least Matthew and John, had also seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.   For whatever reason, they did not see Jesus’ resurrection as being analogous to Lazarus’ resuscitation. Perhaps, that was because of Jesus’ uncanny ability after His crucifixion to suddenly appear out of thin air.


This discrepancy between the gospel writers might give us pause.  Indeed, why the difference? As just intimated, Matthew and John had been eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus, including His crucifixion and resurrection.  Mark, it is believed, had learned what he knew about Jesus from Peter. Luke came later. It might be suggested that he was somewhat of an investigative reporter in addition to being a doctor. We can read in the book of Acts, also written by Luke, these words:


The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3 To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days.”  That first account to which Luke refers in Acts is the Gospel of Luke.


Doctors are trained to be keenly observant.  We might remember that Luke was a gentile, a Greek, and had probably been trained in Greek thought—Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Luke’s worldview and method of analysis would have similar to our own.   He was an empiricist–no speculation for him. The facts are the facts. What were the facts? Jesus was standing before the disciples and said to them, “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.


That might have been enough compelling evidence that Jesus was not a ghost, but Luke’s account takes the evidence a step further.  As we heard, “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.               


Needless to say, ghosts do not eat fish or anything else, do they?  On the other hand, does a resurrected body eat or even need to eat? At Jesus’ return, known as the Parousia, when we receive our resurrected bodies, will we be able to eat any and everything; as much as we might want without it doing us harm?  Now, wouldn’t that be heaven?


Jesus’ eating of the broiled fish might lead us to various ponderings about the exact nature of Jesus’ resurrected body (our future bodies) which had the ability to appear and disappear at will, not deterred by walls or any other physical limitation.  What about that piece of fish He just ate? Was it transformed into the same substance, whatever that is, as Jesus’ resurrected body? Could the fish, too, suddenly pass through solid walls or would it be left behind? Would the fish be fully metabolized, eliminating the need for elimination?


It may be some time in distant eternity before we can answer such questions for as trivial and as trite as they may seem.  They do, however, highlight a particular emphasis on the part of Luke’s account of the resurrection that is perhaps other than or without as much characterization as given by Matthew, Mark, and John.  Not only did Jesus’ resurrection signal His victory over sin and death for you and me, who believe in Him; it also signaled a new reality for you and me. We will not just become ghosts, phantom disincarnate beings, after we die.  Rather, we would still maintain, as did Jesus, our humanity in our resurrected bodies. It goes without saying that humans, you and I eat, and perhaps will eat when we are resurrected from the dead.


In other words, the resurrection signals that reality for us is other than it used to be.  And, this is where in the here and now of our everyday lives the resurrection makes a difference.  One observer has suggested in respect to the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ resurrection that: “In that dramatic moment when Jesus appeared to them, they could not recognize the activity of God. This is important for us to keep in mind when we are searching for signs of God’s presence or “proof” that God is with us. In the midst of the chaos of our lives, we sometimes miss God altogether. God may be trying to speak to us, but we may not be able to hear or understand. It can be difficult to remember that God has promised always to be with us. We may not recognize God. Our first response when things go wrong or the unexpected happens may be doubt or panic or even terror.


This is nothing new. It’s always been that way — ever since Jesus was born (and even long before that, if we look in the Hebrew scriptures). The Gospel of Luke tells many stories of surprising God-encounters. Jesus enters into people’s lives; that changes everything. Nothing seems familiar. It would be like any of us trying to drive somewhere new without a map or GPS. We can feel disoriented and even afraid.”


While what this observer has said is true when Jesus enters into people’s lives, everything changes and nothing seems familiar, this is only part of the reality.  When the resurrected Jesus comes into our lives, our lives are other than they had been, not only in perspective or attitude, but in fact. The following story might be one example.


Corky Siemaszko reported this story for NBC on April 13, of this year.  “A former Miami Dolphins cheerleader claims that she was discriminated against by the team and the NFL for talking about her Christian faith — and mocked after she admitted that she was a virgin.

Kristan Ann Ware, who cheered on the Dolphins for three years, charged in a complaint filed with the Florida Commission on Human Relations that the workplace turned hostile after she told some of her fellow cheerleaders that she was waiting until she was married to have sex. It got even worse, Ware charged, when she posted an image of her baptism along with a Bible verse on social media.

‘Let’s talk about your virginity,’ cheerleader director Dorie Grogan allegedly said when Ware arrived for an interview for returning dancers in April 2016, according to the complaint. ‘As far as we are concerned,” said Grogan, “you have taken something that was once upon a time pure and beautiful and you’ve made it dirty.’ Ware, who is no longer with the Dolphins, is now seeking arbitration from the Florida commission and a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. She said female cheerleaders should be allowed to express their faith publicly the way the male players do.”


No, we may not be surprised that being a Christian and the change it brings about in our lives can be met with hostility or ridicule.  Is there more, much more, though, to what the resurrected Christ can bring into our lives than a change in perspective, attitude, or lifestyle? Let me first qualify that question with a quote from Biblical scholar Leander E. Keck, who talks about the public “art” of reading Scripture.  He notes that “far too much of reading Scripture in worship simply dares the Word of the Lord to occur.” (The Church Confident. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993,102.)  Dares the Word of the Lord to occur! Is Keck suggesting that the word of God should occur, even now, and to what degree?

“St. Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419) was a Dominican preacher from Spain.  At age 40 he became seriously ill. During his illness he received a vision from Christ instructing him to “go through the world preaching Christ.”  When the vision ended, he discovered that he had been miraculously healed. Immediately, he set out preaching and teaching throughout Europe, with miraculous signs following.  Vincent is often described as one whose words ‘struck terror in the hearts of sinners’—so much so that he often had to end his sermon prematurely because of the overpowering cries of his audiences, with some even falling under the Holy Spirit’s power.


When Vincent was preaching in the Netherlands, so many miracles were wrought that an hour had to be set aside each day just for healing the sick.  The blind he gave sight, the deaf he gave hearing, the dumb he gave speech, and the dead were raised to life. Many times and often he multiplied bread and wine so marvelously as to supply two thousand, four thousand, and even six thousand people from a single loaf of bread and a single pint of wine.  What was left over was greater than the original quantity” (Brewer. Dictionary of Miracles, 150, citing K. P. Pradel, Vie du Saint Vincent Ferrier: MM 120).


Have you and I been short-changed?  Has the Church short-changed us with its words, its music, its rules, and its doctrines?  Jesus’ resurrection inaugurated our lives to be other than they had been. We did not just receive the Holy Spirit as a mere deposit toward a future reality.  The reality, that new reality that Jesus issued in for us is now, today. Our faith need not be relegated to a meal of Bible-reading, church services, prayer groups, or fellowship.  Yes, they are important, but we have to admit that they are not compelling enough or inviting enough to the general public. Can we blame them?


Remembering the story, I told at the beginning about the Army veteran named John Crabtree, who had been informed by the government that he was dead, we, too, need to stand up and say, despite what the Church might say with words that would pretend otherwise, we are not dead.  We are resurrected with Jesus. We have been given a new body, a new life, a new reality, and yes, the power to heal, prophesy, and raise up the suffering. We are a church of miracles and not mere metaphor.


Let us then pray and ask that we might reclaim our inheritance, as a people of God, followers of Jesus, who even today do the miraculous, as did He.  Did Jesus not tell us in John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father.”


My brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s start expecting miracles at St. Elizabeth’s.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.