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Third Sunday of Easter, April 26th, 2009 at Bethlehem Lutheran Church

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Easter III April 26th 2009 at Bethlehem Lutheran Church

Acts 3:12-19 Psalm 4 1 John 3:1-7 Luke 36b-48

The Appearances of Christ

When we read about the appearances of the risen Lord, we usually ask ourselves, “Did that really happen?” It is hard to believe. Even the disciples in that day, when all these events were fresh, because they just happened, either ran away in fear and disbelief or could not believe because of their overwhelming joy. “It was too good to be true!”

In the Nicene Creed we confess the resurrection in this way: “On the third day Jesus rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.” I always wondered why we put it that way. Why say “he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures”?

Ah, when we read and study the scriptures in the Holy Spirit, we hear our God speaking to us and promising to be with us and save us. If you notice, in our appearance story this morning Jesus does a Bible study with his disciples. The risen Lord says, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:44). That’s just what we do in every Sunday morning service. Jesus does the same thing when he accompanies the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. After he opened their eyes and they recognized him in the breaking of the bread, that is Holy Communion, they asked each other: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:37)

Here in our lesson, Jesus explains how the Messiah had to rise from the dead on the third day so that repentance [leading to the ability] to forgive, be proclaimed in his name to all nations, to all people.

Let us turn to the scriptures limiting ourselves to Moses, because it would take too much time to go through the Prophets and Psalms as well. Remember how God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and called him to free the Hebrew slaves? God’s heart ached with compassion hearing their cry under slavery’s heavy oppression. God does not remain in divine heavenly glory, but love brings God down to be with God’s chosen people on earth. (Remember how in the cool of the evening God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve? But I want to stay with Moses.)

Then we read how the Almighty, almighty with love, empathy, and compassion led the people of the Exodus with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The pillar of fire gave them light and protection by night. God’s cloud would ascend from the camp in the morning and lead them to their new resting place for the night.

Now from the burning bush, God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” That name that is not a name, can also mean, “I will appear to you in whatever form I wish to appear in.” Thus in the burning bush that did not consume the branches, in the cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, God appeared in different forms. But the scriptures also say that God appeared to Moses and spoke to him face to face.

God did not appear to Moses in all God’s glory, because no one can see God’s face that way and live. But it was in these forms that God’s compassion, descended to be with the children of Israel. The scriptures record how God with us, Immanuel, God’s compassion came down to be with us, and even appeared to the people of Israel, to Moses and Aaron, who ate and drank together in God’s presence, just like we celebrate Holy Communion.

You see, it was in many and various ways God appeared to us, but in these New Testament times, God came down to be with us, Immanuel, by sending the beloved Son, Jesus Christ, who was born in a cradle in Bethlehem, died on that cross outside the walls of Jerusalem, who beforehand, had spread the love, empathy, compassion, and healing, in his marvelous ministry, which kept making the disciples ask, “Who could this person be?” and whose beloved Father in heaven awakened him from the dead, and he arose and now appeared to them as they worshiped.So in many and various ways God appeared of old, but now God had come in the form of a human being and was born and died as Jesus.

It was because they were so shocked, he bade them to look at his hands and his feet and see that he had flesh and bones. Here he did not show them his nail wounds, but that he was made of flesh and bones. Risen from the dead, he was no longer made of earthly flesh and blood, but was in his transfigured heavenly body. But to show them that he was no ghost, he asked for a morsel to eat and they gave him some fish and he ate it before them! I’m so glad we will still eat food in that heavenly banquet to come. I sure love to eat! There will be a great feast on that “great getting up morning” where I’ve got a robe, you have a robe, and all God’s children have a robe!

Well, Jesus had a lot of forgiving to do. He forgave his crucifiers as they nailed him to the cross: “Father forgive them they know not what they do!” Then all the disciples who denied, deserted, and betrayed him. And what a way we turned the tables on God. We chose a murderer Barabbas over God’s beloved Son. But God turned the tables on us by raising the beloved Son from the grave and having him appear to his disciples.

In these appearances, the disciples were changed into apostles. When appearing in the burning bush, God sent Moses, on that mission of compassion. He was to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” Now Mary, Peter, James, John, and all the others were also being sent. Death and the shadow of death did not make them cower with fear any longer. In the power of his faith in the risen Christ, for example, Peter heals a beggar who is a cripple right in front of the temple and preaches Christ fearlessly right in it; right smack in the temple! That is why John says, “The world does not know us just like it did not know him. [But] beloved, we are God’s children now and what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this; when he is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3: 1b-2). That means when Jesus appears to us, we turn into a Christ. You can see that Peter turned not only into an apostle but into a Christ, because God, who is coming again to dwell with us, will make this world the new creation. At that time, O God, Thy will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. God was in Peter, convicting those who had murdered the beloved Son, and Peter the new Christ preached a repentance that also leads us to forgive those who sin against us like we ourselves have been forgiven by God.

Thus the beloved community with its joyful economy of abundance begins to spread around us as we proclaim the Lord of life and trust him as our Lord and God. What can an economy of scarcity, what can an economic down-turn do to us who are raised up? What can the earthly empires do to us more than the Romans did to Jesus? They used that cross to control everyone by the fear of death, by the brutal torture and death of the cross. But God changed that cross into the symbol of the greatest love the world has ever known and trusting in the one who spreads forgiveness, opens the way to the first garden once more and where Christ reigns over us all with the love and trust from the streams of the river of life flowing through the new Jerusalem.

You see Adam and Eve were made in the image of God and the beloved Son, Jesus is the image in which they and all of us are created. So being the resurrection people as we were called yesterday at Lucille Davis’ memorial service, we too are raised from the dead in the presence of our risen Lord! We are lifted up out of the shadow of the valley of death into the sunshine from the mountain tops where the face of the Lord shines upon us and blesses us with the light of a wholly new day.

And God is raising up a new people for Christ. We, who are faithful, may be wandering for centuries through the wilderness, but Christ will lead the people of this world through our churches into the Promised Land, where Christ rules with love and trust and brings the promises of life in abundance. No longer will people lord it over each other and inflict death and spread the fear of torture and death for the sake of control.

Christ bids us proclaim repentance. We ought to declare a day of grief, mourning, and repentance throughout our land for the water-boarding and the other forms of brutal interrogation we used because what our government did has made us all guilty as sin. Look at the mass murders taking place in our society almost on a daily basis! How else can we change the pockets of death among us in which suicides continually pull many people into the abyss of death with them into the very opposite, into fountains of love, out of which marvelous new life spurts and splashes up happily like the geyser Old Faithful to spread the water of life over the Earth?

We will not learn war anymore in the beloved community, suicide bombers will be replaced by moving raptures of tender forgiveness and love. Hell will be vanquished as heaven takes hold of the earth. It will be the kairos time of love, trust, empathy, and tender-hearted compassion for the least of these and for all the oppressed of the world, as Christ lifts them up. It is no longer Moses leading the Exodus, but Christ, the light to all the nations, leading the peoples of the earth in many Exoduses and Passovers into the places of the resurrection where we all have learned the repentance that leads to forgiveness.

Now what about you? Is Bethlehem dead? Is it languishing under the valley of the shadow of death or will it be raised up in the light of the resurrection? Will you rise up with Christ on this “great getting up morning”? Will you all become the people of the resurrection in the overflowing grace of God? Will you let the risen Christ open your heart with the scriptures and open your eyes with his breaking of the bread? Will you make your stand and be Christ’s witnesses in this sorry world, in this place in Oakland? Will you shout together with me? Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Hallelujah! Amen.

Note: When reading the first books of the Bible, it is as if God is the main character, and this Immanuel is the one who became a human being in Jesus Christ. I just finished reading Juergen Moltmann’s, Sein Name ist Gerechtigkeit, (His Name is Righteousness), (Guetersloh: Guetersloher Verlaghaus, 2008). This book influenced my sermon a good deal.

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Written by peterkrey

April 26, 2009 at 5:47 am

Posted in 1, Selected Sermons

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