This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Are You the Guy?


Luke 7:18-35

(In which Jesus again mentions the marketplace, allowing me to dive in with yet another anti-market screed.)

I.
            Here is some hope for the doubters among us.  Those who are not sure about Jesus may gain some sympathy from this passage.  If you’re on the fence about him, wondering whether he has really made enough difference in the world to warrant the title of Messiah, or even God, this incident is something to which you should relate.  John the Baptizer, Jesus’ cousin, the one who baptized him and witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him, the one who said, “He must increase and I must decrease,” even he is still not quite sure about Jesus. 
            So he sends a delegation of his own disciples to visit Jesus and check him out.  They are supposed to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  Luke repeats the question twice!  He repeats the question because it is so often our question.  It is a question that disciples of Jesus have had to answer over and over again, throughout history.  Is Jesus really the promised Messiah?  Or is there someone else coming?
            It reminds me of the animated Disney movie The Rescuers.  It’s about a bunch of mice in New York City who get a distress call from a kidnapped girl, so they go all the way to New Orleans to rescue her, and when they get there she is glad that someone got her distress call, but eventually she looks around at these mice and says, “Didn’t you bring anybody big with you?” 
            John the Baptizer predicted and promised somebody big!  But the One who shows up… is only Jesus, an effective healer, to be sure.  But he hangs around with riff-raff, and he sure doesn’t look like the spectacular bringer of the wrath of God and the End Times.
            I mean, if Jesus is the Messiah – if Jesus is even God – then like how come the world is still in such a colossal mess?  Wasn’t the Messiah supposed to end war and injustice and violence?  Wasn’t he supposed to “take away the sin of the world”?  Well, the sin of the world seems to be going strong as far as I can see.  What difference did he make?  I mean, we had conflict, torture, plagues, disease, exploitation, hatred, and natural disaster before Jesus, and we have the same things after him.  Where’s the evidence that this guy is the Messiah who was supposed to change everything?
            It is a set of questions we who follow Jesus have to answer intelligibly now with more urgency, because many people have concluded that Jesus, at least as he is represented by his current church, is not “the way, the truth, and the life,” and they have decided to look elsewhere for their salvation, or enlightenment, or liberation, or healing.
            I mean, John the Baptizer himself anticipated someone baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire!  “His winnowing fork is in his hand” and “he will divide the wheat from the chaff.”  It is understandable that Jesus’ actual ministry doesn’t quite look like what John was expecting.  Jesus appears to be a disappointment to people who were expecting the last judgment and the end of the world.

II.
            So John, who is in prison, sends some of his disciples to go check Jesus out.  And they ask that question.  “Are you the guy?”  Jesus is basically being asked to prove himself.
            As it happens, he is right in the middle of healing a lot of people, which John’s disciples don’t appear to notice.  Luke says that “Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind.”
            So Jesus basically says, “Open your eyes and look at what is going on here.  You may not think that what I am doing is “Messianic” enough.  But it is Messianic enough for, oh, the prophet Isaiah, for instance.”  For, except for healing lepers, all of the things that Jesus talks about doing here are specifically mentioned by the prophet Isaiah as signs of God’s intervention in the world. 
            I envision Jesus walking around the vicinity pointing out and introducing John’s emissaries to people whom Jesus has healed.  In Luke’s Greek each example is a short two-word phrase that Jesus rattles off almost staccato fashion:  “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead raised, and the poor comforted.”
            Maybe Jesus says to them: “I love John, of course, and he may have his own idea of what the Messiah is supposed to do, and that’s fine.  As for me, I am too busy fulfilling Scripture to worry about it.”
            The activities Jesus highlights expand upon what he announced that he came to do in his sermon in Nazareth back in chapter 4.  That included bringing good news to the poor and recovery of sight to the blind.  Jesus colors in this vision of emancipation by including all kinds of healings, from lepers to even dead people.
            Jesus points to what he is doing.  It’s not theoretical.  It’s not an argument over the finer details of Scripture.  He doesn’t mention any of that stuff from chapters one and two, like how he was born in Bethlehem to a virgin.  That’s not what validates Jesus as the Messiah.  That’s not what he considers “fulfilling Scripture” to mean. 
            It’s not just that he’s doing good works and healing people either.  Jesus may have cured appendicitis, fixed broken arms, and healed gum disease, for all we know, but the things he points to and the things to which all the gospel writers refer are healings that fulfill the vision of the Old Testament.

III.
            There is our response to those who wonder whether Jesus really is Messiah and God.  We can point to Jesus’ ministry as recounted in the gospels, and that’s fine.  But it’s not enough.  People today have learned not to believe everything they read.  Neither does anyone care these days about something that happened 2000 years ago.  And they shouldn’t. 
            Jesus doesn’t talk about history.  He takes the messengers from John by the hand and introduces them to individuals whom he has healed.  We need to do the same thing.  We need to be able to point to people who have found healing and liberation by meeting Jesus Christ in this gathering of disciples.  We need people to talk about the difference Jesus Christ has made in their lives.
            Now, we might say that this is rather a tall order, since we have no memory of blind people receive their sight, the lame people walking, lepers being cleansed, or deaf people hearing, let alone people being raised from the dead.  We could make a case for our bringing good news to the poor, but that’s about it, we think.
            But think again.  Certainly Jesus healed physically and literally.  And he also healed figuratively and spiritually and morally.  When he talks about “the blind” he sometimes means people who cannot actually process light with their eyes; but other times he means people who cannot “see” the truth.  Maybe if we broadened our understanding as well, we would see that these are redemptions and healings that do happen around us.
            Do the spiritually blind receive their sight in the sense of gaining important new insights into their life?  Do we learn to see things differently and better?  What of people paralyzed by guilt or fear, unable to act or make a move on their own?  We don’t deal with many actual lepers, but we are able to welcome and embrace some of those whom our society deems unclean and impure and so treats like lepers.  Do we help people to hear the truth for the first time?  Can we open the ears of people’s hearts to receive God’s Word of grace and forgiveness?  May we not even be instrumental in bringing dead and shattered souls back to life?  May not people lost in the death of addiction or despair find new life in God’s Spirit here?  Finally, we are fully capable of bringing the good news of relief and release to poor people in our area.
            Jesus Christ gives every gathering of his followers the ability to transform lives in these ways, in addition to the literal healings that can happen.  We may not trust him enough to let the fullness of his power flow through us.  But I am positive that these are the kinds of things we are called to do and we should expect to see happening among us.

IV.
            When John’s delegation departs, Jesus talks to the crowd about him, noting that John himself only claimed to be a forerunner.  And the same people who were attracted to him, that is, the sinners, are finding a home and redemption in Jesus’ circle.
            And, on the other hand, the same leaders who criticized John for being too strict and ascetic, now criticize Jesus for not being strict or ascetic enough!  Indeed, they call him “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” With some people it doesn’t matter what you do, they are going to find a reason to hate you if you don’t fit into their organizational flow-chart of the status quo.  If you challenge, or even seem to challenge, their power, they will find some reason to hate you and spread propaganda about you.
            Jesus uses the analogy of “children sitting in the marketplace,” playing games.  And isn’t that mainly what goes on in the marketplace: childish games?  There have been many interpretations of Jesus’ example here, where the children call to each other: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not weep.”     
            We could envision petulant children getting angry that others – John and Jesus, perhaps – are not playing along with them.  John wouldn’t dance; Jesus won’t weep.  Neither will play by the rules of the market.
            Jesus and John both reject the market as a place where anything real and true is going to happen, and they avoid the games, rituals, posing, bluster, charades, ruthlessness, and hard-sell tactics of that world.  This earns them the ire of those who pretend to be all about the Torah, the law, the Bible, but who are really consumed and possessed by the values of the market: which are, “buy low, sell high.”  Make a profit.
            Opposed to the market, that childish, silly, theatrical, environment of lies and theft, Jesus and John both advocate values and practices based on sharing, generosity, truthfulness, and giving.  Back in chapter 3, John advised people about this.  And Jesus appears to have an agenda of putting physicians and pharmacists out of business by dispensing free health care.
            In fact, Jesus’ whole ministry appears to be based on the idea of everyone simply giving each other what they need.  It is a model that is finally and fully realized in Acts 2 by the early church.  We have to assume from Jesus’ own practice, that this was how his new, alternative communities were supposed to act all the time.  If someone is hungry, sick, poor, ostracized, possessed, in prison, or even dead, you address the need immediately.  You don’t try and sell them something.

V.
            “Nevertheless,” says Jesus.  “Wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”  There are the children in and of the marketplace, and there are the children of Wisdom.  It is the children of Wisdom, that is, those who follow the commandments and values and practices of Wisdom, who show by their actions that Wisdom’s ways are just and true.  In other words, Wisdom works.
            Jesus embodies and demonstrates and reveals the ways of Wisdom, and he does this in his healing and liberating and forgiving, redeeming, and transforming ministry.  This is what he shows to John’s disciples.  He may not be the Messiah some hoped for, anticipated, fantasized about, or expected.  But he is the real one.  He is the One prophesied by Isaiah and others, and he is the One who discloses the children of Wisdom.
            The church may not be what some want either.  If we think that this is where God does whatever we want, gives us the life we desire, makes us comfortable and satisfied, and takes away all pain and confusion, that’s not real.  But if we seek the place where God’s will to heal and free and welcome people – sinners – is enacted, then this could be the place.
            Jesus gives us the power to be this place, where “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, [and] the poor have good news brought to them.”  He gives us the Holy Spirit so these kinds of things may happen even among us.  And sometimes they do, as you know.
            But when someone asks us, is Jesus the One?  Is he the One who can heal me?  Is he the One who can liberate, redeem, forgive, or empower me?  Or should I look elsewhere?  We need to be able to say, “Look, meet this brother who was healed; meet this sister who has been set free; meet this broken soul who has been restored; meet this person whose life has been turned around.  Then you tell me if Jesus is the One.”

+++++++ 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stronger Than Death.


Luke 7:1-17

I.
            After Luke tells us about his representative sermon, Jesus goes back to Capernaum.  There he is met my some of the local elders, from the synagogue.  They tell him there is this centurion, of all people, who has a sick servant, and will Jesus please go and heal him.
            Their appeal is sincere, and, because it has to do with a centurion, that is, a commander in the occupying Roman Army, someone Jews were more likely to hate than not, they also give Jesus an extra character reference.  “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”  So, he’s a Roman soldier, but he’s a good Roman soldier.
            When the British had their Empire, and a British commander acted like this Roman commander is acting, they called it “going native.”  That is, he has fallen in love with the culture he was sent to conquer, subjugate, exploit, and destroy. 
            He is probably not a Roman himself, ethnically.  More likely he is from some nation that had been conquered by Rome.  He could be from Germany, or Tunisia, or Spain.  So there’s a good chance that he has in his background some experience or memory of what it is like to be part of a conquered, occupied, defeated nation.  So even though he has joined the winners, maybe he is still able to identify and sympathize with the losers.  
            Wherever he is from, he was recruited for the army, and he worked his way up to achieve the rank of centurion, an officer in command of a hundred men.  I don’t know the military very well, but perhaps that is like a captain or a major in today’s terms. 
            He is assigned to Judea.  But he comes to appreciate and admire Judaism and the Jewish people.  He would not have formally converted, but he observes Jewish life with respect.  He is the kind of person who would be attracted to the church a generation later, people whom Paul calls “godfearers.” 
            This centurion may actually have been retired, since historians attest that there were no actual Roman legions in Galilee at this time.  The Romans left governing to their puppet, Herod.

II.
            In any case, it is interesting that Jesus entertains this proposal of going to heal the centurion’s servant.  The recommendation he receives about him from the Jewish elders is significant.  The centurion does not presume to summon Jesus on his own.  That would have looked bad.  The huge power differential would have outweighed everything.  Even the most humble direct request could not help but sound like a command. 
            But he shows respect and humility by approaching the village elders as mediators.  And the elders recognize their debt to him and how fortunate they are to have a sympathetic centurion in town.  They transmit his request to Jesus, even using the word axios, “he is worthy.”
            So Jesus agrees and begins to make his way to the centurion’s house.  Jesus is not concerned by the fact that the man is not only not a Jew, but an officer in the oppressing Roman army.  As usual, Jesus’ only agenda is to heal someone who needs healing.  Men, women, Romans, Jews, Pharisees, prostitutes, tax-collectors… it’s all the same to Jesus.  He is happy to heal anyone. 
            I can imagine Jesus remarking to one of these elders something like, “So, let me get this straight, you guys who are always complaining about how I associate with tax collectors and prostitutes, now you want me to do a favor for a Roman centurion?  A Gentile?  An agent of the emperor?  Jewish sinners are unworthy of healing, but now you decide that a Roman centurion is ‘worthy’?  How does that work?”
            And while they are walking along, the centurion sends some of his friends – friends, mind you, not soldiers – and the friends bring a message from him.  The message is: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you.  But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.  For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go’, and he goes, and to another, ‘Come’, and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this’, and the slave does it.”
            This gets Jesus’ attention.  First of all, this imperial centurion refers to a Jewish holy man as “lord.”  That never happens.  Secondly, for all the protestations of the elders that he is worthy, he himself specifically admits that he is not worthy.  He is humbling himself before Jesus in a remarkable way.  The Romans maintained their authority mainly by terror and violence.  A centurion humbling himself before some obscure Jewish faith-healer would not have gone over well.
            But most strikingly, the centurion seems to assume that Jesus’ authority over diseases is analogous to the rule an officer has over his troops.  It is just a matter of making his will known and things happen.  Obedience is just assumed.  Say the word, and it is done.

III.
            And Jesus is amazed.  He says, “Woah, even my own people don’t trust in me the way this foreigner does.”  Jesus doesn’t even have to say anything at all.  He doesn’t actually give any orders.  The messengers return to the centurion’s house and find the servant completely well.
            So even a foreigner, and an enemy soldier at that, can have faith.  The message here is that anyone can trust in Jesus and find healing.  And it is about that trust, more even than anything Jesus himself says or does.  If we trust in him, his power can work long-distance.
            The next day Jesus is coming to another Galilean village, called Nain, with a large crowd following him.  Near the village gate they meet a funeral procession going the other way, out to the burial ground.
            This funeral was particularly tragic because the deceased was a young man whose mother was still alive.  His death, aside from the sorrow of having to watch your only child die, also meant almost certain destitution for her.  She is probably inconsolable with grief as she walks along with the cortege. 
            Jesus observes all this and has compassion on the woman, telling her not to cry, even though she has every reason.  I suspect that what he meant is not that she repress her grief, but to trust him.  For her not to cry would be somewhat counter-intuitive.  If there is ever any time when tears are appropriate it is as the funeral of your only child.  Indeed, we would wonder about the mental health of anyone not crying in that situation.
            Jesus is enacting his teaching from chapter 6 about how those who weep now are blessed because, in the reversal of God’s new order, they are soon to be laughing for joy.  His telling the woman not to weep is his way of saying, “Chill, this is all going to work out.  Trust me.”   
            Then he touches the stretcher on which they are carrying the body, which makes them stop, and probably put it down.  Jesus looks down at the dead man, wrapped in a white shroud, and says to him, “Young man, I say to you, rise!”  And the dead corpse begins to sit up and starts talking!  His life is restored to him.
            Another reversal.  Jesus brings life out of death.  Nothing is impossible for Jesus.  Not even death is too strong or terrible for him.
            Pulling linen cloth off the young man’s face, Jesus restores him to his mother.  The crowd, as they say, goes wild.

IV.
            The good news for us in all this is first that no one is excluded from Jesus’ ministry, not even a Roman centurion.  With humility and respect, without imagining himself worthy – but hoping that by his generosity he will be declared worthy by others, he demonstrates his trust in the Lord Jesus.  It is that trust in what Jesus can do that brings healing and wholeness into lives that may very well be ruined by a career of violence.  We can only imagine what the centurion was engaged in before he retired to a villa by the Sea of Galilee.  The Galileans did not have to imagine.
            Here is an individual for whom death and murder was likely a way of life for years.  He was an officer in the most ruthless and successful imperial army in history, to that time.  We know some of the brutal methods they used to subjugate conquered peoples, crucifixion being just one example.  How many crucifixions had this centurion supervised? 
            And yet even here, to this professional distributor of wanton death and destruction, life can come.  Repentance, a change of mindset and behavior, is possible.  One may trust in the love and power of this simple healer from Nazareth, and find salvation.  Even this warrior may know that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him,” as John 3:17 says.
            If God can release and welcome and serve the purveyor and perpetrator of death, God can certainly as well restore to life one who has been a victim of death.  Jesus Christ comes into the world to restore and revive our relationships.  The centurion does not ask for healing for himself, but for a beloved servant.  When Jesus revives the young man his purpose is to restore his relationship with his beloved, grieving mother.
            Death, of course, is the great destroyer of relationships.  Death appears to separate us forever from those we love.  Jesus heals this, the most potent and absolute rift in human existence.  He shows us that his healing power is not diminished or obstructed by death.  The centurion’s servant he heals on this side of death; the widow’s son he heals on the other side of death.  But in each case he heals.  He always heals.  He always liberates and releases.  He always restores us to our original blessed nature.
           
V.
            We are his restored and restoring community.  We cultivate the humility, the respect, the love, and even the grief and heartbreak we see in these two figures, the centurion and the widow.  We discover that when we empty ourselves and make ourselves transparent to God’s grace flowing into the world in Christ.  It is not just the physical form and sensory characteristics of the person that constitute their reality.  It is the spirit that we shared together in this life that continues to be shared even when they have moved on.
            In our experience, the sick friend is not always literally healed in the way we would like.  In our experience, the dead do not often  literally revive and come back to us on their way to the grave.  But Jesus’ message is that death is not the barrier we think it is.  Even when people are taken from us, as they ultimately always are, one way or the other, Jesus shows that this separation is not as absolute as we think.  First, we have memories to cherish and live by.  Second, we have a community that shares those memories and incarnates together the continued influence of the lost person.  And thirdly, we know that there is a glad reunion in the life to come.
            And through it all the Spirit shines and flows between and among us and within us.  In his resurrection Jesus shows us that the truth of who we are never dies.  At the end of Matthew’s gospel, he says, “And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  In him we are with each other always to the end of the age.  In him the Communion of Saints endures and shines and flows always.
            The church has always celebrated the memory of its saints, not on their birthdays, but on the days of their deaths.  Because that is when they started living as not just separate individuals, but in our hearts and souls forever.
            We are also called to raise people from the dead.  This may involve the resuscitation of people whose bodies have stopped functioning.  But it will always have to do with making people aware that there is something in us all that simply cannot be killed.  And in discipleship of Jesus, we come to live so conscious of that something within, that we know that just because someone’s mortal body is gone, their dance, their voice, their smile, their hope, and their love go on.  They were only vessels for that flow of life, which is from God and to God.
            Like the centurion and the widow, we have to feel the pain of emptying ourselves, losing everything we thought we “had.”  But what this does is allow what God has for us to flow in us and through us.  When that happens not only are we released from our guilt over the deaths in which we have been complicit, but we find that dead are raised to us, and we, as Jesus promised, never die.  We live on in the hearts of the gathering of disciples who expect and practice resurrection.      
+++++++ 
           
           
                 
             


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Matter Matters.


Luke 24:36-53

I.
            The disciples are gathered back in Jerusalem, probably in the same upper room in which they had celebrated the Passover with Jesus the previous Thursday.  It is now Sunday evening.  They are sharing some bizarre stories.  Jesus’ body has disappeared, and some of them are claiming to have seen him alive.  Peter said he met Jesus, and the two disciples we heard about last week recount their story about walking with him on the road to Emmaus.  Earlier in the day the women who went to the tomb reported that they had seen angels who said Jesus was alive.
            Sharing our stories is important.  It is good to get together and talk about the experiences of the Lord’s presence that we have had.  We can get a lot of insight and wisdom from hearing each others’ experiences.
            Unlike the two disciples on the way to Emmaus earlier in the day, they are now quite beyond trying to figure out the meaning of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and death.  Now there are enough stories of Jesus appearing alive for this new thing to be dominating their attention and conversation.
            I think that’s where our attention needs to be.  The entire New Testament is written from the perspective of the resurrection.  Obviously, the cross is also important.  But it is possible, and not that uncommon, to so over-emphasize Jesus’ sacrificial death that the resurrection is reduced to an afterthought, an incidental by-product of what happened on the cross.
            In reality, without the resurrection we are not sitting here today.  And without the strange rumors and experiences the disciples are having, they do not re-gather in the upper room to share what is happening.  They remain scattered, ruminating in fear over Jesus’ death.  It is the resurrection, before they even have a grip on what it even is, that draws them back together.
            Into the middle of this group, Jesus himself materializes.  He doesn’t use the door, or even walk through the wall.  He just manifests in the middle of the room, perhaps like he was beaming down from a starship.
            And he says: “Peace be with you.”  It is at the same time a common greeting, and a restatement of one of the main themes of Jesus’ ministry.  He comes to bring peace, to establish God’s shalom in the hearts of God’s people.  Paul will write that “through Christ God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven by making peace through the blood of his cross.”  It is his blood, that is, his life, that now connects and reconciles all things.   

II.
            The disciples, as we might imagine, are “startled and terrified.”  This is beyond normal experience for us as well.  The disciples apparently think they are seeing a ghost, literally, a “spirit.”
            Jesus reassures them by asking the rhetorical questions: “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”  I know why they were frightened and doubting!  A dead person just popped into the room!  Most of our minds would be short-circuited by searching for some rational explanation.
            The first thing Jesus wants to do is ensure that the disciples understand that it really is he.  So he shows them the flesh of his hands and feet, still ripped open from having been pierced with Roman nails.  It is Jesus’ wounds that constitute the continuity by which he identifies himself.  The wounds prove who he is, they are his credentialing device.  (I understand that today, in American Sign Language, the sign for “Jesus” is to point to one’s palms indicating nail-holes.)
            Jesus’ resurrected body retains the marks of his crucifixion.  He does not have some restored, perfected, ideal body.  He has the same body that was crucified.  This is important.
            Then he invites them to touch him to prove that he is not a ghost.  He is solid, physical, and material.  Even though he just blinked into their presence, he still has flesh and bones that can be touched and felt.  Then, for good measure, he points out those wounds again.
            Then Luke describes the disciples trying to wrap their minds around what is happening.  He says: “In their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” 
            Clearly they are in some liminal, transitional place where they could be both joyful and disbelieving at the same time.  Their emotions are contradictory.  All of the pieces have not yet fallen together in their consciousness.  They see enough to begin to let themselves be joyful, but part of them is holding back, still asking questions, still trying to figure something out that is essentially un-figure-out-able, still not trusting their own perception, still expecting to be let down by the facts when they are finally known, still looking around for “the man behind the curtain” who is pulling the levers and wires to make this appear to be real.
            In our jaded, cynical time we are acutely aware of the “too good to be true.”  We daily delete things that purport to be spectacular windfalls because we don’t trust them.  Our disbelief doesn’t even let us get to any joy because we know it’s a load of crap.  At best, these marvelous benefits come with many strings attached.  You don’t get the free vacation without having to endure hours of guys trying to sell you a time-share.

III.
            But what’s happening here to the disciples is an experience of unsurpassed joy while part of them is still looking around for the “catch.”  They are gradually moving from the “too good to be true” to the realization that this is too true not to be good.  It is in need the best and truest thing that ever happened.
            While their minds are stripping gears trying to adjust, Jesus… asks for something to eat.  In the entire literature of angels and ghosts there is no instance of one appearing to people and asking for a snack.  Angels and ghosts don’t eat.  Resuscitated bodies cannot simply appear out of the thin air of a room, even in Jerusalem. 
            Someone gives him a piece of the broiled fish left over from their dinner.  Jesus chomps down on it just like old times.  If they didn’t recognize him from his wounds, they certainly recognized him by his eating.  During his ministry meals were important times when significant teachings and actions frequently happened.  Jesus even compared the Kingdom of God to a wedding reception, the banquet part (not the hokey-pokey part).  The two disciples in Emmaus finally recognized Jesus when he sat down to eat with them.
            After eating the fish, we have no more mention of them not knowing who he is.  Apparently if he eats like Jesus then he is Jesus.
            The New Testament does not tell us precisely what Jesus is, at this point.  Even Paul’s magisterial chapter 15 in 1 Corinthians uses metaphor and simile to try and describe the resurrection body.  It is very clear though what the risen Jesus is not.  Our faith stands or falls on making sure we do not mistake Jesus for either a ghost, that is, the spirit of a dead person, or a resuscitated body, as if he didn’t really die but recovered from his wounds.  Neither of those solutions has the power to accomplished what was accomplished in Jesus’ name.
            It is important that the resurrected Jesus has a physical body, one that can even eat.  His life is the transfiguration and blessing of matter itself.  If he left all that behind, then he leaves us, and the whole creation, behind.  Jesus’ resurrection means that matter matters.  In his resurrection he reveals the truth and energy at the heart of creation, the uncreated light of which all things are made, which God spoke into existence on Day One of creation.  In other words, the resurrection of Jesus is the most literal, factual, historical, and reliable thing in the whole Bible. 

IV.
            Once that is settled, Jesus gets down to business.  And what does he do?  Bible study.  “Like I said during my ministry, those of you who were paying attention, everything written about me in the Torah, the prophets, and the psalms, that is, basically the whole Bible, had to be fulfilled.” 
            The continuity once again is really important.  The new thing Jesus is doing is rooted in and based on the Jewish tradition.  It is not out of the blue, as it were.  It is not accidental or random that God chose this particular people to be the ones from whom the Messiah would emerge.  It is in fact essential that Jesus fulfill the faith of Israel.  The church would have no Bible except the Old Testament for centuries.
            These are the Scriptures that Jesus “[opens] their minds to understand.”  And his summary, with more detail than we are told he gave to the disciples in Emmaus earlier that day: “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.”
            So he opens their minds to see that the pattern of death and redemption pervades the Scriptures.  The God of the Bible is always about deliverance.  God is always bringing life out of death, good out of evil, and light into darkness.  The people invent prisons for themselves, and God springs them out.
            Jesus also transforms the minds of the disciples, which is the meaning of the Greek word for repentance: metanoia.  It literally means having a new or changed mind.  The word for forgiveness literally means “release.”  So Jesus is charging his disciples with proclaiming a new way of thinking, and a liberation, freedom, and emancipation from our condition of sin, being at enmity with God and each other.           
            Thus Jesus gives them the same message that he preached from the beginning.  It has always had to do with repentance and forgiveness, even back with John the Baptizer.  This new, transformed mind is surely what is developing in the disciples right now, as they evolve to recognize the presence of the risen Lord with them. 
            And the release has to do with letting go of old ways of thinking and acting that had reflected and expressed their bondage to sin.  The new mind is a liberated and liberating mind.  It is oriented not towards sin and separation from God, not towards the fear, anger, and shame that sin spawns in us.  But the new mind, the mind of Christ Jesus, has to do with life in union with God.
           
V.
            Jesus sends the disciples out with this message of hope and peace.  But they are to wait in the city until the Holy Spirit descends upon them and clothes them with power from on high.  This whole thing has to brew and steep and simmer for a while among them.  They are not yet ready to embark on this mission.  They have not yet been fully equipped for this task.
            This necessity of waiting for the Spirit is something the church frequently disregards, unfortunately.  We want to charge ahead in mission!  We want to go out and tell the good news of the resurrection now!  The idea of waiting for something else to happen seems like procrastination.
            Maybe sometimes it is.  But maybe going out “half baked” as they say is an unconscious distraction because now we can still do this our way.  If we wait for the Spirit – and who knows how long that will take – it will have to be done God’s way.
            The disciples will invest the next 50 days in intensive study, conversation, prayer, organization, and reflection.  When the Spirit does come, which is not until the Book of Acts, Luke’s second volume, they know it and they are ready.
            Meanwhile, later that night, the risen Jesus leads the disciples out of the room, down the stairs, through the streets of Jerusalem, down the steep road through the Kidron Valley, the road on which he had entered Jerusalem a few days before, and up the Mount of Olives as far as the village of Bethany.  Jesus blesses them, and then he is visibly carried up into heaven and disappears.
            Ecstatic with joy, the disciples go back to Jerusalem and spend their days in the Temple in worship and praise to the living God.
            Their response is worship.  That’s how they get busy.  That’s how they get ready for the Spirit.  Maybe our worship as well would benefit from a consciousness that something, someone, is coming.  Maybe we too need the conviction that we will be clothed with power from on high.  Maybe we need to look for those gifts emerging among us, that equip us for our apostolic mission, our being sent into the world as emissaries of God’s peace and release.
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