What Makes You Believe?

“What Makes You Believe?”
Luke 24: 36b-48

Sunday, April 15, 2018
Rev. Mark M. Vickers–St. Timothy’s UMC

Luke 24:36-48 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”[a] 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.[b]

41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah[c] is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses[d] of these things. __________________________________________________________

We live in a society that demands the facts! We want to be “sure” of what we see, what we hear, what we witness, and what we believe. There are certain professions in our society that seek to find the facts for a living. One might say those professions are quickly being called into question with the rise of social media infringement; “fake news”, proclaimed un-truths that have been noted by specific recordings or proof that what was said was really NOT said. We seek to find those things that cannot be questioned, that solidify for us a path on which we cannot deviate.

With this being true in our secular society, we also find it at the central point of our Christian faith. Every week I receive magazines, articles, emails, etc., that proclaim to have “the facts” about what the religious world, more especially the Christian world, knows is true and factual. Finding myself more deeply rooted in the contemplative and mystic format of journeying through the faith I often find these claims comical if not out right ridiculous. You see, the journey through the Christian faith is one of questions, riddles, allegories, and mysticism. Sure, there are facts, but most of the facts we lay claim to are facts that indisputable through many sources. This is the challenge of every Christian, every day!

We find this especially in our Gospel text this morning from Luke. It is the post-resurrection appearance story of Jesus to the disciples. We think, in our proclamation of Easter that by saying “Christ Is Risen!” we should be satisfied. However, Jesus puts a stop to that with this story of the visitation/appearance to the disciples. The disciples struggle with this! How can one whom we saw crucified and buried, yet risen, appear to us? How can Jesus be resurrected? Even if he said he would do so in three days? Then, he appears to the disciples in bodily form and puts them at wits end. What if you were dead, but not really dead?

Charles Hubbard, a Vietnam veteran received a letter from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2010 informing him that he was dead! And that his family would have to return thousands of dollars in benefits. Hubbard received the letter on his way out the door to the grocery store. On his way, he went by the bank to get money to shop. When he arrived at the teller’s window, (now realize, he was a frequent bank customer) he found that his checking account had been closed by the government. It took him four months to plead his case to prove he was alive. Upon the completion of his plea trial, the U.S. Government informed him that it would take eight months before he would “officially” be brought back to life and his benefits restored! A victim of identity theft, Hubbard was for all practical purposes dead and had to prove he was alive!

Jesus had a similar problem with the disciples! Trying to convince them that it was truly him that was standing in front of them. Even his voice startled them! Then he told them to examine his hands and his feet! Then he told them to touch him! It is here that Jesus puts all science fiction to rest! “for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Still, no response from the disciples. It is here that we must be reminded that every resurrection appearance by Jesus is a bodily resurrection. As Peter Marty puts it, “Resurrection is no metaphor.” Spirits and ghosts don’t bleed and it then becomes imperative that the disciples touch his physical body in order that they believe!

That didn’t work! This is where I believe the Holy Scriptures really make sense. What he does next is absolutely the best tactic ever. Jesus asks, “Have you anything here to eat?” He doesn’t pontificate about the nature of the spirit, nor the fact that this vision is a mirage of sorts, or that he is floating in the clouds. He asks, “got anything in the fridge?” He must have been hungry! Real hunger, no meal plan in the tomb, many days have passed since the Last Supper, a Big Mac would have done him well. Yet, the disciples saw the need for a “healthy diet”–broiled fish. Well, it really didn’t matter whether it was a Big Mac or broiled fish. Jesus was dealing with the physical nature of his body and his existence. One thing that we can lay claim to as Christians is that God has always dealt with the physical. From the formation of Adam (ada(m) “from the earth,”) to the breaking of the bread (from the grain of the earth) during the last meal with his followers, God and God through Jesus deals in the physicality of the world!

The author and practical theologian, John Updike reminds us in his “Seven Stanzas at Easter”:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle, the Church will fall.

It becomes clear to us in this post-resurrection appearance that the life of Christ, the resurrected life of Christ is revealed and made known through the created order, yet not bound by the created order. The resurrected body blends both the visible and invisible, matter and spirit, humanity and divinity. Jesus has a physical body but it is not subject to the natural laws of time and space. As one pastor puts it, “It’s not one or the other. It’s both. It’s a new and different reality.”

The resurrected life of Christ reveals to us that all of creation and every one of us is filled with God, holiness, and divinity. The resurrection brings to us an understanding of unconditional forgiveness, life and love. It becomes clear that the divine reality into which we are invited is not only to be obtained in the future but is alive in the here and now, in the present moment.

As we continue in our daily lives to seek those “truthful facts” and attempt to secure our belief systems, we must find solace in the fact that we are a lot like the disciples. Just because the disciples are witnesses to this resurrection appearance does not mean they now have all the answers. What it really means is that they are in the presence of the life that Jesus wants to give them and us! They are witnesses based not on what they know, but on who they are, how they live and their relationship with the risen Christ. Maybe, just maybe, in our search for the the facts, we might settle for the relationship that we have with Jesus and continue to develop that relationship to a point of understanding that what God has given to us is the correct answer.

As we decipher through our lives filled with “fake news,” inflated stock prices, things that are “stranger than fiction” and the like, let us take comfort in the fact that Jesus appears to us in order that we may believe. Sure, we may not get the “full body Jesus” appearance but I would venture to say that we get an appearance of Jesus somewhere in our daily lives in the physical sense that helps us to believe.

You will come to the Table of Our Lord in a few minutes, that my friend is an appearance of the physical kind! The bread of the earth, representing Christ’s body (another physical element) and being consumed by your physical body. This is the most common resurrection appearance that many of us experience, yet it serves as a constant reminder that God, in this present day and age seeks to reach us in the midst of a complex and complicated world that is filled with clutter. When we are busy seeking the facts, let us be mindful that Jesus comes to us in the present moment, with the fact that love, grace, and mercy are present for us in a very real and present fashion in God’s creation.

I encourage you to read this text again this week. To wrestle with it, pray with it and share your thoughts with me. Email me, text me, or come by the office and share your thoughts on this resurrection story.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.