Sermon on April 8, 2018

SERMON Easter 2b 2018

By Pastor Leo E. Longan

What would you do in their shoes, the disciples on Easter Day:  there was big news coming their way. Was it good news or was it fake news?  Actually it could have been bad news for the men who deserted Jesus and let him die alone: “He’s come back from the grave and he’s looking for you”  What were they to believe? How would you handle mind-bending news like that?


Do you think they jumped with excitement and joy and ran into the streets to tell everyone that God had raised Jesus from the dead and now everything was wonderful?  No, they hid in the attic and locked the door. Scripture says they were “seized with fear.” Good or bad, the news was impossible. Therefore it must be fake … who is spreading fake news and why? (Does that sound like a familiar question?)  No wonder they were frightened; they were scared shoeless.


Speaking for myself, I think I would have been just as scared as they were.  The one to whom they had devoted their lives was dead, victim of a gruesome judicial murder.   What were they supposed to do now? Who were they without Jesus? And now the women were claiming he was back from the dead?  We’re used to it; we’ve heard this story all our lives. For them, it was as weird as walking on the moon.


Then, suddenly, as they were brooding behind a locked door the resurrected Jesus walks through it and pours love on them: “Peace be with you” is all he has to say.  It means: I love you, I forgive you. Undoubtedly they were expecting a stinging rebuke for their faithlessness and cowardice. Of course they were blown away to see Jesus at all; how much more were they surprised by his greeting, his words of love.


Let’s step into their level of surprise:  Imagine if Dr. Martin Luther King – whose 50th anniversary of assassination was observed this week – should walk through the door this morning; we would be surprised, wouldn’t we. Probably we wouldn’t believe it right away; it must be a hoax or an impersonator or somehow fake.  But would it not be even more astonishing if, after all that happened to him and with all his work still unfinished 50 years later … would it not confuse and amaze us if he brought the same message that Jesus brought: “Peace be with you. I love you; I forgive you”?


How would that feel?  The comparison is not so far-fetched.  Here you have two men – two young men – who both gave their lives, each in his own way, to building the kingdom of God.  Neither of them finished their work. Their lives were cut short by brutal murder by jealous, insane men. Both were acclaimed as prophets of God, drew followers, and since their deaths have seen their movements produce very miscellaneous and conflicted results.


“Peace be with you.  I love you. I forgive you.”  Knowing what we know of Jesus, we can easily believe that he said this to his disciples.  And knowing what we know of Dr. King, we can’t imagine him saying anything else to those who followed him, and those who betrayed him.


But for me, the real question is “Who are we now?”  “Who are we on the other side of this radical forgiveness and love?”   It sounds good, but is it real, or is it just more fake news? If that forgiveness and love is real, then everything is upside down: death is dead, hell is empty, the walls are down, the bridges are open, fear is over and gone.


That day, the disciples had to decide who they were going to be and what they were going to do.  They could sit in a room and wait, meanwhile enjoying each other’s company; or they could hit the streets.   Their fate was sealed when Jesus breathed the holy spirit into them; they took their word out into the world.  The rest is history, Here we are. Still, please note, unfinished. Still working.


With Dr. King, who was not the Son of God, his followers have the same question to face:  Who are we without him? Do we just declare victory and go home, or do we keep up a hard struggle that has, still, even now, a long way to go?


I know the answer I would like to see operating in the church and in society, as the hymn says, “ You come to break oppression, to set the captive free, to take away transgression and rule in equity.”*  That oppression breaking, captive freeing, transgression removal and fairness in government that the hymn speaks of sounds like the work of the gospel to me.


But this is not an abstract question.  The story we read in today’s gospel is about us: “These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  (John 20:31)


So today the question really is not “Who were the disciples?” or “Where does the civil rights movement move next?” as much as it is, “Who are we?”  If we have heard Jesus say to us, “Peace be with you. I love you. I forgive you” and that is not ho-hum fake news, church-on-Sunday blah-blah-blah, if we have heard and believed what difference will it make?  What will we do now?


The choice for us – and we have some choices coming up at Trinity – is not really so much different from that faced by the disciples on Easter Day.  We can hear the news, sit down, and enjoy one another’s company, or we can engage with the world around us, and do a bit of oppression breaking, and captive freeing, and heart healing … in public, where people can see it.


What choice, what choices will we make a Trinity?  How will we live into the future that God is preparing for us?  Either the gospel is fake news, or it is real power that comes from God.   Jesus died and rose and returned and forgave and said so. Our question is the disciples’ question:  Who are we? What shall we do?


Let us pray.