3 Easter (B)
Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4: Luke 24:36b-48
This text is bad news for those who believe that how we feel about the resurrection of Jesus Christ has any real significance. It’s also bad news for those who want to analyze it and make sense out of it.
Jesus seems to be saying to all of us in this resurrection appearance, “Yeah, yeah, I know; you’re terrified, frightened, doubtful, joyful, disbelieving, wondering, whatever. Hurry up and check it out. Take a look, touch me, watch me eat this fish. See? Now, let’s get on with the important stuff.”
So he opens their minds to the scriptures, basically that his death and resurrection didn’t just happen randomly, but were the culmination of what God had already been doing for centuries: bringing the kingdom of heaven to a broken creation. And now, these disciples are witnesses of all this. They are the ones who are about this kingdom business, one of the keynotes of which is repentance and forgiveness.
I find it very significant that Jesus didn’t tell them to BE witnesses or to get busy about this witnessing work. He tells them they ARE witnesses. Now. Already. Done deal. He has chosen them. That’s it. They are, by virtue of what they’ve experienced, witnesses of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and of repentance and forgiveness in him name. Period. How they feel, believe, or think about it doesn’t enter into the picture. This is just the reality of it.
If there’s ever a description of the church in scripture, this is it, as far as I’m concerned. By virtue of the experience of our baptism into Christ, we are witnesses of the present reign of God, the victory of life over death, the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness. Period. Done.
How many are thinking to themselves, “Uhmmm, not me. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed to anyone about any of that. I rarely talk about Jesus to co-workers, it’s been years since I’ve actually invited anyone to church, I refuse to pass out those “Plan of Salvation” tracts down in Belmar or on the 16th Street Mall. Not only that, but then there’s this whole repentance and forgiveness thing. There are things I need to repent of that I haven’t gotten around to repenting of yet. Other things I haven’t really even thought about whether or not I need to repent of yet. What’s more, there are people I need to forgive that I just can’t seem to forgive. I’m really not a witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus; not even much of a witness to repentance and forgiveness of sins.”
Like the original disciples, how we feel about it, what we think about it, how we analyze and interpret all this doesn’t have a lot to do with it. We ARE witnesses. Jesus lives, comes to us, forgives us, makes us new. So instead of analyzing all the ways we AREN’T witnesses to the reign of God in Christ, perhaps we should be considering the ways we ARE witnesses to these things.
Some of the key pieces of the reign of God—those things most identifiable with God’s kingdom—are: forgiveness, compassion, and generosity. We could probably argue for more, but certainly these are among the basics. We have experienced each of these, which influence our witness of these things. As we embrace and recognize how we’ve experienced forgiveness, compassion, and generosity, we can more readily acknowledge our witness in those same areas of the kingdom of God.
That doesn’t mean we are perfect witnesses.
Forgiveness, for instance, is a process, not an instant feeling. Forgiveness begins with our being forgiven in Christ, and then continues with that playing out in our behavior toward others. Forgiveness is not about liking someone who’s hurt us. But it is about behavior that removes barriers between us. It begins with God’s forgiveness of us, and continues with considering how that experience of forgiveness plays out as a witness in our own lives.
We have the opportunity to do that today, to see how we are witnesses to the reign of God in Christ. There are three “Witness” stations set up around the worship area. In just a minute you’ll have time to go to any, or all, of them and consider your witness there. Simple directions, simple process, so don’t be anxious about it. But the idea is for us to experience those things that shape our witness, and then to recognize some ways that we already are witnesses.
At the Forgiveness Station, you’ll experience God’s forgiveness through individual absolution that I will pronounce to you at the baptismal font, then you can consider who you need you need to forgive and who you need to ask forgiveness of. Simply place a cross to represent those people. No names, just place a cross for each person or situation.
At the Compassion Station, think of your experience of receiving compassion—when someone did something kind for you, and just write the date of that kindness (as close as you can come). Then as a witness to compassion, name a place where LCM’s compassion has made a difference.
At the Generosity Station, draw a quick picture of a meaningful gift you’ve received, one way you’ve experienced generosity. Then you can place an offering in one of the offering plates as a witness of your generosity.
“Thus it is written, 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 from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Simple. Take a moment to consider your experience of God’s kingdom in Christ, then how you are witnesses to that. We’ll take as much time as we need, and continue when everyone is done.