Our Witness (w/audio)

. Posted in Sermons

Luke 24:36-48


We have an order of worship here virtually every Sunday, which is found in many churches—especially of the Presbyterian variety—that begins with a hymn of praise and moves to a time of confession. This time of confession is marked by a prayer that we all say together, then a time of silent confession when we can be specific about the sins that have held us in their grasp—things like, “I lost my cool with the kids or my husband or wife because I wasn’t feeling good about myself.” Or, “I cut some corners and didn’t tell the whole truth at work or with my family.” Or, “I worried myself into quite a state this past week because I didn’t turn to you and seek your help and guidance, Lord.” Or, “I blew it again by doing what only leads to my hurt and the hurt of others.” Or, what was it that we prayed in the silence here in this worship this morning?

It was not for the purpose of wallowing in negativity, beating ourselves up for our imperfections, and the like. It was for the purpose of opening ourselves up to forgiveness. It was for the purpose of being remade by grace again. It was because we know that central to our faith is a God who is always in the process of making right what has gone wrong. And many of us who are gathered here have experienced that in our own lives on countless occasions. God has forgiven us. God has made right what has gone wrong in our lives.

There is a little scroll in the basket on the desk in my study that was given to me by one of you after a time I spent in the hospital about a year and a half ago. On it are the words I recognize as originating from Frederick Buechner: “The worst things are never the last things. ”This is the gospel for us. “The worst things are never the last things.”

This is the message that is central to the good news of the resurrection. As the gospel of Luke tells it, there was a time when the disciples of Jesus were struggling to come to grips with the rejection and torturous death of Jesus on the cross. As two of the them had said on the road from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus where they were headed—their heads down, barely able to hold the tears back, feeling as if everything good in life had been lost: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Such hopes. Now dashed. This was the worst thing.

But soon these two disciples were to discover the presence of the risen Jesus. And, when they went back to Jerusalem and found the disciples of Jesus, they heard that the risen Jesus had appeared to Peter as well. While they were talking to the disciples about these experiences, suddenly something amazing happened, Luke tells us. The risen Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But, in spite of the good news stories they had been hearing about Jesus appearing to Peter and to the two disciples who had been on the road to Emmaus, the disciples were spooked. They thought they were seeing a ghost. They thought that they were seeing some kind of apparition. Some kind of spirit of someone who was dead. They were startled and terrified.

Jesus seemed impatient with them—with their fears and their doubts. “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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. ”Then he showed them his nail scared hands and feet.

Wow. Their hearts were full of joy, while still they were disbelieving and wondering about his presence in their midst. So Jesus asked for something to eat. And they gave him a piece of broiled fish, which he ate in their presence. This was not a spirit or a ghost. This was Jesus, the one who had lived and taught and healed and died, now alive in their midst. Whatever the good news of the resurrection, it was not that the spirit of Jesus lived on. It was that Jesus, the man and the body, had been raised. He was alive in their midst. The worst thing was indeed not the last thing.

Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you know? What has happened to me is taught in scripture. This is the way God acts. God brings death out of life. God makes right what has gone wrong. God is always bringing life out of death. Think about the scripture. Think about the stories there. Think about our people, up against it in Egypt—no hope, no possibilities for the future, no power to get out of the jam they were in—and God delivered them. Think about them in the wilderness, trying to move from slavery to freedom, with no water and no food and no direction home. And God made a way, and he gave them water and food along the way. Think about our people who were defeated by the Babylonians, taken into captivity, Jerusalem and its temple destroyed. And God made a way out of no way. Those years in captivity were some of the most creative the people of Israel have ever known. Much of our scripture comes from those days. And a way was finally made for them to go home and resettle and rebuild the homeland that once had been defeated and destroyed. This is the way God acts. And it is in keeping with the way God has acted now in raising me from the dead.

“So now you are witnesses of these things. You are witnesses that the worst things are not the last things. You are witnesses of a God who is seeking to make right what has gone wrong. So proclaim to the world, starting here in Jerusalem, repentance and forgiveness of sins.”

So that is what the disciples did, starting in Jerusalem and moving out to the rest of the world—they shared their witness. They proclaimed repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name.

And in the strength of the Spirit that is still our witness—repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. It is our witness, as it was the witness of the first disciples of Jesus, that God makes right what has gone wrong. That in the power of God’s grace the worst things are indeed not the last things.

I was reading about one of the more prominent candidates for County Mayor in the paper this past week. He describes himself as a “problem solver.” And, as a trained accountant, he is used to reconciling budgets. He hopes that by addressing the needs of education in our community, “the county can reconcile people’s human dignity with their circumstances, helping them address their ‘lack of hope,’” he said.

“But reconciliation isn’t ‘just some political soundbite,’” he says.

The paper reported that in 2005 he remarried his high school sweetheart, who accused him in 1999 of being serially unfaithful and having a gambling problem, among other issues, according to court records from their divorce.

In the years that followed the divorce, this candidate for County Mayor said he came to realize “there is a God who loves me and a God who forgives,” and began working with his wife and church to gradually reforge their relationship.

Now, he said, he and his wife look at their relationship as a ministry to others and have counseled with other couples and shared their story at their church.

This is our witness. That God can make right what has gone wrong. That repentance and forgiveness of sins is possible. That all the stuff that ruins our lives and our relationships can be made right when we turn to the God who resurrected Jesus from the dead.

It is no secret that President Donald Trump has been a boon to the ratings of late night comics. And I imagine Jimmy Kimmel is one of them, except he went more than a little off the rails recently in making a joke about Melania Trump, who was reading books to children on Easter. Kimmel showed a clip of Melania reading to children. After the clip, Kimmel mocked her accent.

Alas, Sean Hannity, one of the President’s chief defenders on Fox News, saw Kimmel. On his show he reacted, “Brutal. Liberal Jimmy Kimmel making fun of the First Lady of the United States and her involvement in the White House Easter Egg Roll. Even her accent. Jimmy, you are a despicable disgrace… Mr. Kimmel, that’s her fifth language. How many do you speak?”

Well, you can guess what happened next. Kimmel had to have a come back. After some thought, he had some choice words, which I best not share with you now.

Then of course the two, Kimmel and Hannity, took their feud to Twitter for all their followers to read and add their ugly comments.

Of course this sort of thing goes on and on, one nasty remark followed by another nasty remark in response, followed by another one.

At least until someone stops the cycle.

And that’s what Kimmel did. He did this amazing thing that we don’t hear much about these days. He wrote an apology. “After some thought,” he wrote, “I realize that the level of vitriol from all sides (mine and me included) does nothing good for anyone and, in fact, is harmful to our country.”

What was Hannity’s response to Kimmel’s apology? Hannity invited Kimmel to come on his show so they could have a polite discussion about policy. Then Hannity claimed that his religion (he’s a Catholic) has taught him to accept apologies, and so he accepted Kimmel’s apology.

I know. It wasn’t any big thing. But amidst all the vitriol and ugliness, the angry words followed by more angry words, it was a small example of someone, Kimmel (who I am told is a Catholic as well) seeking a better way, making right what had gone wrong.

This is our witness. “Thus it is written,” Luke tells us, “that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. ”What is this repentance and forgiveness of sins that we are to proclaim? Is it not that God is in the process of making right what has gone wrong? Of raising Jesus from the dead. Of raising you and me from the messes that we create for ourselves and for others. Of raising us up from the ugly tit for tat actions that often characterizes the way we live.

Things are what they are. Yes. But they do not have to stay that way. People can repent. They can be forgiven. They can begin living a new life through the power of the same One who brought Jesus from death to life. The worst things are never the last things. This is our witness. Thanks be to God!

—William E. Warren, Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Germantown, April 15, 2018

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