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The Prayers of the People
Karen Hollis – Sermon Luke 24:36b-48 April 15, 2018
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Once upon a time in a not-so-far-away land, there was a kingdom of acorns, nestled at the foot of a grand old oak tree. Since the citizens of this kingdom were modern, fully westernized acorns, they went about their business with purposeful energy; and since they were at mid-life, baby-boomer acorns, they engaged in a lot of self-help courses. There were seminars called, “Getting all you can out of your shell.” There were woundedness and recovery groups for acorns who had been bruised in their original fall from the tree. There were spas for oiling and polishing those shells and various acornopathic therapies to enhance longevity and well-being.
One day in the midst of this kingdom there suddenly appeared a knotted little stranger, apparently dropped “out of the blue” by a passing bird. He was capless and dirty, making an immediate negative impression on his fellow acorns. And crouched beneath the oak tree, he stammered out a wild tale. Pointing upward at the tree and said, “we . . . are . . . that!”
Delusional thinking, obviously, other acorns concluded, but one of them continued to engage him in conversation: “So tell us, how would we become that tree?” “Well” he said, pointing downward, “it has something to do with going into the ground . . . and cracking open the shell.”
“Insane,” they responded. “Totally morbid! Why, then we wouldn’t be acorns anymore!”
With that, the knotted stranger without a cap, figuring he had nothing to lose, wriggled down into the ground and disappeared. The other acorns went back to their business, but the one who asked engaged him in conversation came back again and again to that spot, wondering if it could be true that he would become a tree. One day in that spot a shoot broke through the soil – the acorn dusted the bits of soil off that shoot and examined it all over, finally gasping – there you are my knotted friend! And the acorn believed.
This story comes from the Wisdom Tradition in the Christian church. This particular version is from Cynthia Bourgeault – I confess I took some liberties with the ending. Of course the acorns are going about their business asleep to their true identity. What they think is morbid and insane is the key to fulfilling their purpose. On the other side of the mystery and spaciousness that comes with death, it is sometimes a challenge to recognize the new life that comes out of that death. From the time of Jesus’ resurrection, new life out of death has grown to be a part of our narrative – as a Christian people we have faith that new life will come – but the first disciples expected death to be death. Some of them have the aha moment in the verses just before this morning’s scripture: they are walking with a stranger and invite him to dine with them. When the stranger takes the bread from the table and breaks it, the eyes of the disciples are opened and they recognize Jesus as he disappears. The disciples run back to Jerusalem to tell their friends, which is where this morning’s text begins. The scene at the dinner table happened so quickly that when Jesus appears then before them, they’re still not quite sure what is going on – is it a ghost?
They move from startled to wonder and disbelief as Jesus shows that even in this mysterious form, he has hands and feet, bones and flesh. We want to be able to say, well, he appeared before them because he’s now pure spirit, or his body looks different now, so they have trouble recognizing him. He’s still one who disappears and reappears; in other gospels he walks through walls. Jesus appears in the space where the physical and spiritual meet – some call this the Kingdom of God. Even there, Jesus’ body shows the scars from his crucifixion. What came before is not erased, it is not wiped away, it is not forgotten. Jesus retains the history and memory, even as it has been transformed in newness of life; they are a part of who he becomes. Jesus has come into the fullness of his purpose: to be the transformation of sin into new life and to offer that transformation for the life of the world.
Just as Jesus continues to have scars, we have our own wounds, our struggles and regrets. Christ appears not to show how wonderful it is that he is risen, but to show the power of what God does. God can and does transform death in Jesus and in us. When I was at my clergy retreat last week I heard a story of a first nations woman who was contacted by the pastor in a small town about billeting some folks for a large church meeting. During their first conversation the woman was adamant that her wounds from residential school were too deep to consider such hospitality. A few days later the pastor got a call from the woman to apologize for her unwillingness to help, and further, the woman found herself speaking quite openly about her struggles. Another week went by and they had another conversation. The next time the woman called, she said, “sure, I’ve got room, I’ll put some people up.” When the meeting had passed and everyone was back to business as usual, the pastor got another call from the woman. “It was a miracle,” she said. “A woman who billeted with me was a friend I have been trying to find from residential school. We are now reconnected and I am so grateful.” This is not a story to say, see First Nations should re-engage with the church and find healing. It’s a story to show how God works through our process to bring new life and healing. The wounds are not our destiny . . . they are part of each of our stories and they are part of what shapes our becoming.
This morning’s scriptures remind us that people know about the healing and transforming power of God to the extent that we share the message in the world. The first disciples were the only ones to know what it was like to see Jesus in risen form – they’re the only ones to know him in this way. Their witness to this event has sustained disciples for over 2000 years, but it is not just their witness that has kept us going. The United Church of Christ, the denomination I was raised in has a saying: “Never put a period where God put a comma . . . God is still speaking.” Our Living God continues to move in our lives – not 2000 years ago, but today – God transforms our lives today, and transforms the lives of people we know. But we will never know the stories unless we share them, so Jesus invites each of us to be generous with our experience of God’s work in our lives and the world around us. I’m not suggesting we have a sign-making party and stand on a street corner together. My father-in-law is an evangelist in the United Methodist church – when he traveled a lot he would often see people proclaiming the good news in airports. If he had time he would buy them a cup of coffee and inquire about the effectiveness of their approach to evangelism. Sharing stories with one another always seems like a good place to start. What is the resurrection news we see in our lives in this season? What is like a shoot coming up from the ground, saying I made it through the darkness?! We need the good news that is not just the witness of the church, but the witness of our lives – it is God’s grace made visible in this world. Amen.