The text for this third Sunday of Easter is: Luke 24:36-48. You can find the manuscript for the sermon after the jump. Below the sermon are youtube links for the two songs I reference at the end of the sermon.
I was on retreat this week with a group of Presbyterian pastors from the northeastern part of the country. We have two mentors who have both been pastors for some time now and there are nine of us who have just graduated seminary and been ordained within the past year or so. I’m really getting to love these sisters and brothers and am very blessed by their friendship and prayers. The program that this is a part of was started by the denomination because so many new pastors burn out and leave the ministry in their first five years. There are groups like this for all different parts of the country for each year’s new seminary grads and the groups meet on retreat like this twice a year for five years.
After spending this with my colleagues this week, I was really struck by what a blessing this program is. I’m grateful to the denomination for starting the program – it’s called Company of New Pastors – and I’m grateful to the session here for being willing to let me head out of town for a few weekdays a couple times a year for these retreats.
We hadn’t seen one another since September when we had our last gathering, so one of our priorities was to check in with one another and update everyone on how things are going in our lives and ministries. Don’t worry. . . I only said glowing things about you guys and I meant it. I realized as I gave my update that it’s almost a year since I first interviewed and preached here. I’d like to think that in that time, I’ve learned to trust you all, so today I’m going to tell an embarrassing story. In the interest of full disclosure, I did ask my sister if I could share this story and she said that it was fine, but she asked me to try to make us still look cool. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell this story in a way that makes my sister and I look cool.
From the time we were little kids, my sister and I have been huge Star Trek fans. (Like I said. . . no way for us to come out cool on the other side of this story.) A few years ago, I flew down to Florida to spend a few days with her. We had a great weekend together. We ran a 10K – a great race and a personal record for me that still stands, went to Universal Studios, ate sushi. . . and we went to a comic book convention. (We just keep getting cooler and cooler, here.) We went to the comicon – as those who go to comic book conventions affectionately call them – to meet some of our heroes. We met the actors who played Worf, Troi, and Riker on Star Trek the Next Generation. They were really great, down to earth people who we got to chat and get photos with. The highlight of the day, however, was meeting the top-billed actor at the convention that day. . . none other than Captain James Tiberius Kirk himself – William Shatner. We. . . were. . . stoked. . .
While we waited in line, we came up with really clever stuff to say so we wouldn’t seem like a couple of star struck nerds.
We waited in line with our 8x10 glossy photos of Captain Kirk in our hands. . . still not getting any cooler. . . and finally security pulled back a curtain, and there he was. . . I didn’t realize how long we had just stood there, silent and slack-jawed until I felt my brother-in-law give me a gentle shove from behind to get me moving. I made my way forward until all that was separating me from the one and only Captain Kirk was a single table for me to set my photo on for him to sign.
I watched in amazement as he scribbled what I assume is his name on it and thanked me. “Thank you, Mr. Kirk, uh. . . Shatner sir. . .” is all I managed to get out to say to him in return. Sarah didn’t fare much better. After we got over the excitement and finished admiring our fabulous signed portraits of a childhood hero, we realized what dopes we had been. We spent the rest of the day see-sawing back from sky-high excitement about meeting him to reminding each other what big nerds we were and how silly it is that we couldn’t think of anything to say. We had planned really clever things to say! What happened?!
What is it that causes us to be star-struck when we meet someone famous? I think for Sarah and I it had always been easy to think of Captain Kirk and even William Shatner in the abstract. But then there he was. . . right in front of us. He was a real person. A real person who needed to have a bottle of water on the table and who was probably sick and tired of scrawling his signature on a million 8x10 glossies handed to him by anxious, sweaty-handed, star-struck fans.
When someone or something steps out of the abstract and into the real world, it does weird things to the people who witness it. In our gospel story today, the disciples are star-struck, in a way. Jesus had been talking for a while about this victory over death and redemption of all creation, but now here is the resurrected, really alive Jesus back from the grave right in front of them! And just to make sure they really understood that he wasn’t a ghost, Jesus ate with the disciples. You don’t get much more alive than that.
This gospel passage is from a different gospel than we read from last week. If it sounded familiar, that’s because it’s another account of Jesus appearing in the locked room. We’re back to the same story but told by another gospel writer. As in most of these stories we have in more than one gospel, there are some subtle perspective differences that we see. Our passage last week focused on how Jesus converted Thomas. He changed his mind. This week we see that all the disciples were in need of a transformation. They were scared and hiding in a locked room. And once Jesus joined them in that room, the abstract had become real for them and that’s scary. They had no idea what was going to happen now that Jesus had risen from the grave.
So Jesus came and “opened their minds.” We can’t do the work of God in the world around us unless our minds have been opened by Jesus and here Jesus exemplifies that as he enters the locked room full of fear and changes the mindsets of the disciples.
Jesus doesn’t shame the disciples for being fearful, just as he doesn’t shame Thomas for his doubt. People get scared. It’s a natural thing. There’s not a one of us in this room who wouldn’t have been a little wigged out like the disciples. Jesus acknowledges their fear without making fun or diminishing it. He gently says, “Peace be with you.” Then he asks why they are afraid. He knows why they are afraid, but he also knows that in having to name their fears, the disciples will be better able to get out from under that fear. In that moment of Jesus asking them to name their fear and to touch him and see there is nothing to fear, their minds are changed and they are ready to be witnesses in the world.
Just as Jesus opened the disciples’ minds, we need Jesus to open ours to understand scripture, God’s work in the world, the people around us, our faith. The disciples needed this transformation to prepare for Pentecost– the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and empowered them to spread the Gospel to the whole world. We too need this transformation to prepare for Pentecost. We cannot get involved in the work of the Spirit in the world around us – in the proclamation of the Gospel – unless we allow Jesus to open our minds.
There is a lot of fear in this world and it stands in the way of Christians living out their calling. Personal fear like illness, loss, abandonment, financial instability. There are corporate fears: terrorism, changing culture, changing church and worship life. Whatever the fears are, they hold us captive. But under the rule of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, we no longer have to live under the tyranny of fear.
We can’t pray our fear and negative circumstances away in some flimsy self-help book mind over matter power of positive thinking way, but we can name it. In naming our fear, we take away its power. And then having named it, we can hand it to Jesus and ask him to transform our minds. Nothing changed in the physical circumstances for the disciples in this moment that Jesus come to them, ate with them, spoke to them, and opened their minds. But they changed. Their fear didn’t rule any more.
Life with Jesus is not safe. The disciples were called to some wild stuff after this incident. It’s a life lived with our spiritual doors unlocked and ready for anything. It’s not safe, but it is also not meant to be a life lived in fear. “Peace be with you!” Jesus says before asking the disciples to lay out their fear and stop living scared.
We prefer to avoid fear, to pretend it’s not there or it’s not a big deal, but when we admit it, when we give it a name that we can turn over to Jesus, it loses its hold on us. What fears are holding you captive? Where are you struggling in your life of faith and what fear is behind that struggle? What do you need to name and pass over to Jesus as an individual, as a church, as a nation, as humanity? I’m going to play a song for a few minutes while we contemplate this and name our fear. Whatever it is. What are you worried about in your own life, in the church, in the world around you and what is frightening about it? Name it. Don’t let it stand between you and God’s work any longer. You can name it out loud, on a piece of paper, quietly to someone sitting next to you, or in silent prayer. After the song, we’ll move straight into our next hymn: Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us. We will name our fears, turn them over to God, then ask that he would open our minds and lead us to do his work in the world. Let us pray.