Sermon by Elizabeth Rowlandson 18.04.2021

Sermon: Luke 24.36-48

by Elizabeth Rowlandson

18.04.2021

 

My name is Elizabeth, I’m a licensed lay minister at St Peter’s and in my working week I teach RE across St Peter’s School.

It’s great to be with you, let’s pray.

 

Gracious God, as we open your Word this morning, by the power of your Spirit alive in us, would you reveal to us the living Word, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

Amen.

 

Just over a year ago, a few weeks before lockdown, I went to pick up an order from a shop at Farnborough Gate.

It was late afternoon and quite dark.

As I made my way out, a figure came rushing past me, the alarms started going off and I watched as that figure jumped on a bike held by a companion and pedalled off into the darkness.

I realised I’d witnessed a theft and felt I should go to the desk and say what I’d seen.

But as I stood there, waiting for a pen and paper to be found, I realised that I didn’t actually have that much to say.

There was a man…and a bike…and a friend?

 

Being a witness isn’t straightforward and to do the task effectively, remembering and recounting details can feel like a huge responsibility.

But this is the call of Jesus to his friends, here in the text but also to us.

I wonder how we feel about that?

Do we long to share our relationship with God or dread being asked about our faith?

What does it even mean to be a witness to the risen Jesus?

I believe our text can really help us to find an answer to that question – one that’s rather less intimidating than we might expect.

So let’s dig in.

 

It’s still that first Easter Sunday as we join the disciples in Jerusalem, and what a day it’s been!

They’re discussing the empty tomb and the Emmaus road encounter.

And then they’re terrified when – just two days after the trauma of watching his crucifixion - they see Jesus.

There’s no frame of reference for that, is there?

It’s not surprising they think he’s a ghost.

But Jesus meets them in their terror and doubt, not with rebuke but with reassurance.

He invites their touch as they realise that, however impossible and illogical it may seem, Jesus is back and he’s real flesh and blood.

And then we have this gloriously mundane detail that imbues this passage with a deep authenticity – he proves that he lives by eating a bit of fish in front of them.

 

This story is still hard to believe – we all know people who can’t accept its truth – maybe that’s us even.

 

So what are the ‘reach out and touch him’ moments that we’ve known – those times when Jesus has been so close and so alive with us that we can’t deny it.

Perhaps in a time of trauma or despair, of grief or fear.

Maybe he’s spoken or given us pictures or dreams.

Maybe we’ve known him weep with us or carry us.

 

And what about those ‘broiled fish’ moments.

The times which haven’t been dramatic but everyday, when we’ve felt peace when we could have worried.

When things have just worked out or had a lucky escape.

When we’ve looked at a view or felt an inexplicable joy in sharing bread and wine with one another.

These authentic encounters with the risen Lord are what so many are crying out for - even if they seem mundane or insignificant – and they’re a far more powerful witness than me or you trying to explain theology.

What if we were to rehearse those witness statements, maybe even write them down, simply and straightforwardly.

And we need to be praying for each other to know those real moments of encounter too.

 

But Jesus doesn’t leave it there, we see next that he opens the disciples’ minds so they can understand Scripture.

To truly understand it, we must read Scripture in the power of the Spirit, allowing the Spirit to interpret both the Word and the world so that we can identify God at work.

And when we let the Spirit into our minds, we learn to notice where God is at work and can be ready to interpret to those around us.

We do well to discuss and debate with our church family, to explore the difficult questions.

Our home groups and our prayer partners, our private and corporate prayer, our own study of Scripture and our reflections on what we see happening around us, can allow God in.

My home group are currently studying unanswered prayer through Pete Greig’s Prayer Course II and two weeks in, I know that the open and raw discussions we’ve had will enable us all in our witness.

And this open-minded, open-hearted wrestling for understanding can mean that when we are with those who are crying out for answers or those who have heard a little and assumed a lot, we are ready to discuss, to share, to be honest about the God we’ve encountered.

 

Finally, you may have noticed that in this particular resurrection appearance, Jesus gives no command to make disciples.

‘Repentance and forgiveness will be preached’ or ‘proclaimed’ and, in the verse following today’s reading, the disciples will ‘receive’ power from God.

There is no mistaking who’s in charge – God is doing a new thing and that anticipation is almost tangible.

Nothing is going to stop the salvation of the world and the coming of the kingdom.

In RE in school we talk about the whole of Scripture as God’s Big Rescue Plan.

It’s a picture I love because not only does it speak of Scripture as one story but it also puts the momentum firmly in the hands of God, where we know it belongs.

But how often do we forget that, how often do we fret and worry that we’ve let God down or failed to convert people.

Hear this if that’s true for you.

There’s an episode in 2 Chronicles 20 where Judah faces a great battle and God speaks through the prophet Jahaziel:

‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's’.

The battle is God’s, it’s his rescue plan, our part is faithful witness, sharing our real experiences of Jesus and allowing the Spirit to deepen our understanding so we can meet others in their doubt.

 

On that day when I was such a lousy witness, there was someone else who responded in a different way.

One member of the sales staff ran after the fleeing thief, chasing him so hard and so fast that he dropped all he’d taken and fled empty-handed.

She returned triumphant, laden with the clothes and with a eye-witness account.

In our reading from Acts, Peter, previously that most reluctant of witnesses, has thrown himself into the work of God, witnesses to what he is doing and reveals God’s plan.

It seems to me that we have a choice about how we witness.

Will we stand on the sidelines or will we see what God is doing and throw ourselves into it too?

Do we want to be witnesses who observe or witnesses who participate?

If we believe that God is at work to bring salvation and establish his kingdom, what can we do to be part of it?

Where is he working in our lives, who is he calling, what transformation is he bringing?

Are we praying and reflecting and noticing what he’s doing among our family members, our friends, colleagues and neighbours?

Do we feel his prompting to be part of that?

Are we ready to drop everything and set off in pursuit so that we too can be part of the Big Rescue Plan?

Amen.