Sunday, October 14, 2007

Luke 24:44-53, Mission Fest, Mt. Calvary Lutheran, Brookings SD

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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 and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:44-53, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“You are my witnesses of these things.” Jesus said to them.

Well, it was easy for them to be witnesses wasn’t it? After all they had seen Jesus, right there in the upper room. He miraculously appeared standing in the middle of them, even with the doors locked. It was easy for them, they had walked and talked with Jesus for 3 years, seeing all that He did, great signs and wonders, healing, multiplying food, casting out demons, walking on the water. It was easy for them, He told them about all about what would happen, in fact, He told them just how it would happen. It was easy for them because they were eyewitnesses. They were there with Jesus the whole time. It was easy for them, wasn’t it?

It’s not easy for me. I’m afraid I’m not a very good witness. I sweat just thinking about it. I can’t mention Jesus to my neighbors; I’ve already had a fight with them about the trash in their yard. I’ve already called the cops on their dog. It’s not easy for me; I’ve known my friend for years and we’ve done some things together that I can’t talk about in church. Now I can’t mention Jesus to him, he wouldn’t believe that I believe. It’s not easy for me. I don’t know what to say. My tongue gets tied up in knots and what I do say doesn’t make sense. It’s not easy for me. I don’t know the bible well enough to tell the story. I haven’t cracked the pages of it for years. I haven’t seen Jesus like the disciples did. It was easy for them. It’s not easy for me, is it?

When it comes to being a witness of these things, we often think that the disciples had all the advantages. It’s easy to think that they were good witnesses because of what they had seen, because they saw Jesus in flesh and blood. It’s not unusual for Christians to think that their faith would be stronger if they could just have a boost, if something miraculous would just happen to them. We can all think that if we had seen Jesus our faith would have been strong. It must have been easy for the disciples to believe. They had seen Jesus. The lived then and there when it all happened. But, St. Luke really tells us a different story. Throughout his book he makes it very clear that the disciples had a very difficult time believing. They failed Jesus. The abandoned him when he was arrested. And on Easter Sunday when he rose from death, they seem to forgotten all the times that he said he would do just that. Right before this text for today, in fact, Several people have seen Jesus, and they hurry to tell the disciples. But, instead of being filled with faith, they were filled with fear and doubt. On the day we remember as Jesus great victory over death and the grave, the disciples weren’t joyful at all. They were hiding in a dark upper room. Doubting the stories they were being told. Jesus appeared right there in the middle of them when they were talking about Jesus appearance to the disciples on the Emmaus road. He offered them peace, but peace wasn’t what they were thinking about. They were afraid: startled and frightened the text says. They were afraid of the very thing they were just talking about. They thought they were seeing a ghost. Here they were followers of Jesus, not believing that He was alive even though He stood right there in front of them. Jesus asks them why they were afraid, why did they doubt. “Look it’s me!” He says, “but don’t believe your eyes, touch me, and handle me. I’m really here. Here are my hands. These are the very same hands you saw heal the sick; the very same hands you saw raise the dead; the very same hands you saw pinned to the cross.” And even though they wished it to be true, still they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Jesus even ate some fish to show that He was really there and not some kind of vision. As if to say “See, Ghosts done eat fish!” The disciples had all the advantages we sometimes wish for and yet on that first Easter Sunday, the disciples of Jesus had trouble believing.

We don’t see Jesus like they did. And sometimes we have trouble believing. It’s easy to have doubts especially when we are wracked with troubles. “If Jesus is really God, why do I have to suffer?” We say. “God if you’re really out there, help me through this!” “If I really believed what Jesus did for me I be a bold witness in this community.” We think we that our doubts are because we don’t have Jesus to touch and feel. We think we have doubts because Jesus doesn’t seem real to us. He’s only a story that we’ve heard. We want to see Jesus, like the disciples did. But in spite of the popular saying, seeing isn’t believing. Remember Easter Sunday, the disciples had all the seeing they could handle. Yet, doubt reigned there. We need more than seeing, the disciples needed more than seeing. And gracious giving God gives us exactly what we need.
Listen to the Witness, St. John’s words about Jesus:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4, ESV)

Notice how he uses all the senses. He heard, he saw, he touched… But that’s not how he says that we can believe. It’s the Word that we hear that brings us faith. In fact that’s what Jesus told the disciples that Easter Sunday, too. Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, (Luke 24:45, ESV) Jesus taught them how to read and understand the Word of God. “It’s all about me and what I have done to bring forgiveness of sins to people.” We come to faith by the work of the Word of God, not by seeing but by hearing. It’s comes to us through witnesses telling the story of Jesus Christ. We just heard that again a moment ago.

But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17, ESV)

Jesus told the disciples they would be His witnesses of these things. That’s the word that we have heard that brings us faith. It’s the word that tells us that Jesus Christ died to bring us forgiveness of sins. That He lived and died and rose again to bring us Peace. You see, seeing isn’t believing. But hearing is believing.

“You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:48, ESV)” Jesus didn’t just say that to that room of frightened men that first Easter. He says it us you and me. But… it’s hard for me… we say… because I haven’t seen Jesus, like they did. But we aren’t called to witness to things we’ve seen; we are called to witness to what is written. “These things” are right here in God’s word. That’s the things that we are to witness about. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17, ESV) That’s the way that God works to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. You see our witness isn’t about who we are or what we’ve done, you don’t have to have some miraculous event in your life to take about, because that’s not what our faith is about. It is about Jesus Christ. It’s about who He is and what He has done. It’s about proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins just like Jesus told the disciples. It’s about telling people that Jesus lived, died and rose again for them.

But still we think it would be easier if we had seen Jesus. We think we don’t have the advantages of the disciples. But is it really true that we don’t see Jesus? I’m not sure about that. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him all over the place… in you. Aren’t we, God’s baptized children of God? The body of Christ? Just look around you and you see Jesus. He’s here in the physical touch, friend to friend at the hospital bed. He’s here in the less than confident teaching of a Sunday school teacher. He’s here in the warm handshake for first time visitor. So maybe you haven’t seen Jesus exactly the way the disciples did but you’ve seen Him here in your brothers and sisters in Christ. And on top of that, ever time you hear God’s Word in this very room, Jesus promises to be there present in it. He comes to you in that Word, telling you again and again of His great love for you. It’s that story of forgiveness of sins that Christ won for you! To take care of your sins, your failures, and your shortcomings. And just when you think God has given you all there is to give he gives even more. His addition is to give you everything and then give you even more. Jesus comes to you in his Word connected to water. Holy Baptism is coming into contact with Jesus. You are connected to all that Jesus did. His life and salvation are given to you, and your sin is given to him, washed away. He also comes to you in, with and under bread and wine. It is Jesus way of saying to you “Look it’s me!” Jesus says, “This is my body. This is my blood. Touch me, and handle me. I’m really here for you, for the forgiveness of your sin.”

Really when you think about it we’ve got all the advantages that the disciples had. Jesus does appear to us in miraculous ways every time we gather here in this place. These might even be bigger miracles the the disciples actually saw.

There’s a piece of art that I really like. It’s a picture of the crucifixion. Jesus on the cross, his body bloody and beaten. In the foreground is John the Baptizer. What I really like about the picture is what John is doing. He’s a witness, holding a lamb and pointing to it. It’s simple. Without saying a word he’s pointing to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. That’s how you and I are to be witnesses, too. We don’t have to be eloquent. We don’t have to point to great big changes in our life to prove Jesus is working. We just point people to Jesus.

Is it easy to be a witness to Jesus? Not always. But you don’t have to be walking down the street screaming it at the top of your lungs either. You can start small in the ways and places that God has given you. Can’t tell your friend about Jesus? Well, maybe you can invite him to church, where God’s Word can do what God promises it will do. Can’t witness to your neighbor? Well, maybe you can change your relationship from antagonism to friendship. Start by lending a helping hand. Maybe that will lead to an opportunity to share what Jesus did for them. Don’t feel comfortable telling the story of Jesus? Start by tell the story to children, perhaps your children or grandchildren. You see, the power isn’t in you. It’s in God’s Word. You aren’t supposed to witness to you anyway. You are witness of these things that God has done, and is doing right now. Amen.

The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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