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Sermon for April 14 2024

Gospel: Luke 24:36b-48. Sermon by Rev Lori Walton.

It was a while ago that Ron and I were in Minnesota visiting his mother, and we saw the most amazing thing.  Right outside of his mother’s front window was a tall, thin juniper bush. And in that bush, right at eye level, was a robin’s nest.  And in that nest were five baby birds and a momma bird.

Now, we stayed at his mother’s for about a week that time. And every morning Ron and I would get up and we grab our coffee or tea and we’d go to the window and we’d stand there and we would just stare, watching this momma bird and her babies.  The momma would fly off and she would return with the day’s food and she would flutter around her babies and take she would take care of them. 

Soon it was clear that the babies were ready to fly. One by one, the baby birds would waddle to the end of the nest with a mother right behind them.  And ever so gently, she would nudge them out and off they would go.  And they would fly, a little clumsy at first, but soon they’d start flying like they had always been flying.  For each maiden flight, the momma bird would fly near them until she was sure that they were going to be okay. And then she would return, and she would patiently wait until the next baby was ready to leave the nest.

It took about three days for all five birds to fly, and when they were gone, the mother bird flew off as well. She didn’t come back because her work was complete.

Today, we are given two stories that occur after Jesus has been resurrected that illustrate Jesus empowering the disciples, empowering us to fly. The first happens when the disciples are discussing the miracle of Jesus, showing up to break bread with Cleopas and his partner on the road to Emmaus.  And while they’re in the room talking about this thing that had already happened, Jesus appears to them as well, and he shows them the two undeniable signs of his identity so that there would be no mistaking of who he is. The first thing he does is he says, “Peace be with you”, which is the familiar greeting of Jesus.

“Peace be with you.”  And then he shows them the marks of his suffering, the wounds on his hands and his feet.

When they realize that they are with the risen Christ, he then offers to them the thing that Jesus offers to all of us, which is the invitation to let go so that Christ can be let in; to trust that with God they can fly.

And how does he do this?

He does this by opening their minds.  That’s a such a strange phrase, but such an important phrase.  He “opens their minds” to understand the scriptures. He opens their minds. And in turn, he opens their hearts. He empowers the Holy Spirit to move and to speak within them, to guide them towards this deep understanding that can only come when they let go and let Christ in.

I mean, this is how it works. We surrender to the living God, and Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit works in us and through us.  And then Jesus reminds the disciples that the reason for him empowering them is for them to tell the whole world about the forgiveness and love of God. That’s the whole reason. That’s the whole point of the resurrection –

to tell the whole world about the forgiveness and the love of God.

And this leads to the second post resurrection story in Acts. The portion that is given to us today, for some reason, the lectionary cuts out one of the most important parts of the story. You need to know about that in order for what we read in Acts to make some sense.

So just before Peter is talking to the crowds, he is actually with a paralyzed man to whom he says, “in the name of Jesus Christ, get up and walk!”  And what do you think happens? The man gets up and walks.  He jumps to his feet and he walks, and praising God, he follows Peter to the temple, jumping and dancing all along the way.

And when they get to the gate called Beautiful, as the story tells us, the crowds recognize this man as somebody who used to be sitting at that gate begging.  The crowds are then filled with wonder and amazement at what has happened to him. That’s where we enter the story. In a word, the crowds were astonished.

Peter has astonished the crowds by doing exactly what Jesus commanded him to do – heal others in the name of Christ.  Make this world a better place because Jesus made this world a better place. Witness to the presence of God in the here and now.

Now it’s important to notice that Peter makes it clear to those watching that the works that he does is not through his own power, but through the power of Jesus Christ that is now within him.  Peter has surrendered his life, his will to Christ, and in doing so he has more power than he would ever have alone.

Both of these stories demonstrate the power of God in the lives of those who not only believe, but who also make their experiences of God foundational to their actions in the world. The disciples, both in Luke and Acts, recognized Christ in their lives because they had the ability to set down their egos, their control, their fears, their uncertainty.

And then they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they are able to do the most amazing things.  And their lives became exponentially larger or not smaller, and they began transforming the world.

Richard Rohr, the great Franciscan theologian, says “When you see people going to church and becoming smaller instead of larger, you have every reason to question whether the practices or the sermons or the liturgies are opening them to an authentic God experience.[1]

We are meant to be larger, like those birds in the nest, who, with the love and guidance of their mother, spread their wings and flew.  Our time in this place is meant to prepare us, to form us, to be bigger, to be expansive in our actions and in our vision as to how the world can be.

If what we learn here, if what we experience here makes us smaller, like what Richard Rohr cautions, if it causes us to hold on to our answers too tightly or to reinforces our tendency to build theological walls and doctrinal gates, limiting access and therefore limiting our potential, then we are not living large enough.  We are not living into the purpose of the resurrection, that all people on the earth will be blessed, that Christ draws all things unto himself, that all things are restored and reconciled to the living God.

But, you know, sometimes we Christians, we sometimes think too small, forgetting that the Gospel does not privilege any one nation or people as exceptional.  It is one of the many issues that I have with our current culture. Christianity is being defined as the property of white people for the benefit of white people. A special religion for a “special” people. And you know, that’s about as anti-Jesus as I can imagine.

You see, when we look around us, when we look around the world, the gift of Christ is given everywhere for everyone.  It is found in the mansion on the hill as well as in a cardboard box under an overpass. Christ is found in the cafes and in the bars, in the church and in prison. Christ is found in India and South Africa, Iceland, Russia. Iraq. In cities and towns and farms. God’s love is shown by rich people and by poor people and by everybody in between.  Because the gift of God’s love is for all people. Period.

And Jesus Christ is the great equalizer. Not because he reduces us to a finite set of rules and doctrines, a book contained between two covers. But because he opens our minds and he opens our hearts, he expands, not constricts us. The Gospel is not dead and stale, but is alive and fluid, freely moving in and out and through creation, always growing, never shrinking.

When it comes to our faith, now is not the time to be timid. Now is not the time to be timid.

As tempting as it might be to back away from Christianity because of our current culture, now is not the time. Quite the opposite. Now is the time for us to run headfirst with all that we have into our faith, into the Jesus we know to be true, into the message that authentic religion builds people up, wraps every person in love and mercy and compassion.

I mean, how would it be if our actions as Christians astonished the crowds in the way that Peter’s actions astonished his contemporaries? How astonishing would it be if we were proud to say that we are Christians? And then we showed everyone the love of God, showed others that the Christianity that has been hijacked by a few is really not Christianity at all.  How would it be if we showed people that true Christianity draws a wide circle around the whole world, not just a small sliver of humanity.

How astonishing would it be if we were really to work to heal the world? How astonishing would it be if Christians came together to be a force of good instead of focusing on who is in and who is out?  How astonishing would it be if every path was clear, if every door was opened and if every altar was laden with food for a hungry world?

Just as Peter was able to astonish through the power of Christ within him, so can we. The power of God before us is greater than any fear, limitation, or uncertainty that we might have within us.  This allows us to fly.  This allows us to be expansive, to empty ourselves for the work of Christ in the world, so that in the here into now, the love of God is known to all people in all places.

In this Easter season and beyond May, each one of us have the have the guts to stand up for the true Jesus Christ.

And may our actions in the name of that Christ change this world.   Amen.

[1] Quoted from “Following Mystics through the Narrow Gate”, MP3, Center for Contemplation and Action Conference 2010