It really is a joy
to get to dwell with these texts for an extended period of time.
One of the reasons that I love this preaching thing is that I get to just sit
with these wonderful stories for a week or two,
and often in reading and thinking and pondering and studying them,
I’ll come across little gems that shine new light on me…
You don’t have to be a preacher to do that, of course.
I recommend this practice to all of you, not just reading scripture in one sitting
And then letting it go
But maybe taking a bite size chunk
And letting it work on you for a while, making the connections
With other things you’re experiencing from day to day.
As for today’s reading
I found at least two of those little gems I want to share this morning:
First, Kristen Bargeron Grant tells a story about when she was in Kindergarten:[i]
One of my favorite activities was “What’s in the box?”
The teacher cut a hand-size hole in a box,
and placed some mystery object inside.
You could reach in the box. You could smell the box.
You could shake the box – everything… but open the box.
Each one of us would take a turn with that box,
and share what we discovered with the class.
We tried to guess the right answer: “It’s kind of fuzzy.” “Is it a teddy bear?”
“It feels like a ball, but it’s pointy on the side.”
“Is it a football?”
We thought it was just a game, but our teacher was trying to show us
HOW to explore the world,
How to ASK the right questions
Put together clues
Hold back wild guesses
And be patient,
Waiting for the right conclusion to emerge.
Grant was writing about what it was like to learn how to learn.
Maybe it can be first clue for today’s reading, too,
a beautiful image for the kind of pedagogy that Jesus uses
as he leads the disciples into exploring the post-Easter world.
There are some major differences, of course.
Unlike an eager bunch of Kindergarteners,
the disciples are, well, in a different emotional place all together.
They are scared, right?
given that the leader of their movement was just arrested and executed.
Our emotions sometimes impact how it is we learn, how we see what is true
And how we value accuracy over speculation.
And then there’s something else:
the disciples are pretty sure
that they ALREADY KNOW what they are seeing.
Sometimes, being so sure that we already know the answers
Keeps us from seeing what is right before our eyes.
After all, there are only two ways to explain why this man
who looks and sounds an awful lot like Jesus is standing before them.
One is that Jesus hadn’t died at all.
But as much as they wanted to believe that, they knew that couldn’t be true.
They had SEEN the cross, the body, the sealed tomb.
They had all the evidence of THAT that they needed,
and so there was only one other conclusion:
this was a GHOST, and ghosts are not generally signs of good news.
BUT Jesus (kinda like a good kindergarten teacher, take note!)
Jesus gently coaxes them toward a third, unconsidered conclusion…
Jesus doesn’t EXPLAIN resurrection. Did you notice?
No. Jesus encourages them to DISCOVER it for themselves.
Look….my hands, and my feet. Where I was nailed to the wood.
Yup, that’s right. I did die.
A ghost? Are you sure? Is this what a ghost feels like.
Go ahead. Touch for yourself. Discover. Think. Consider.
Jesus. Jesus woulda been a great kindergarten teacher…
And then Jesus comes to us with this:
“Do you have anything to eat here?”
Is it just me, or are you surprised, too, to find those words on Jesus’ lips?
Again, he had been murdered — we say “crucified”
so often the impact of that reality has been lost on us.
Jesus had been murdered, or crucified, and put away in a tomb.
And his friends were huddled in fear and confusion,
wondering what had gone wrong.
Why had things turned out as they had?
This was not at all what they had expected.
And Jesus opens the mystery by inviting the disciples
to touch and feel and discover who he was, standing before them….
And then Jesus tells them that he’s hungry…
That leads me to the second gem of a story I read this week,
this one by John Bush:[ii]
A number of years ago we lived in the neighborhood
a little boy whose name was David.
When we knew him, he was about six, and his life had been pretty rough.
He was born with a heart defect
and his parents had been told he wouldn’t live very long.
There had been several operations to repair the problem,
but life was still pretty precarious.
His mother couldn’t take it anymore, and she deserted the family.
So, he and his brother were being raised by their father.
Dad didn’t have a very good education,
but he did the best he could for his family.
His love for the boys was obvious.
Well, children don’t live in our neighborhood very long before Sara Bush
(that would be John’s wife)
discovers them and takes them in.
David became a regular after school visitor at our house.
Sara fed him his first scrambled egg, and his first warm biscuit.
One day, he arrived from school
just as a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies was coming out of the oven.
David had never experienced that smell before.
Sara sat him down with a glass of milk and his very first a warm cookie.
David didn’t know cookies could be warm, and David was delighted.
Next day David came bounding in the back door,
anticipation written broad on his little face.
“Can I have another one of those nice warm cookies?”
Such disappointment — to learn that cookies don’t stay warm forever.
But then, the realization that Sara Bush’s chocolate chip cookies
taste pretty good,
even if they aren’t still warm.
It was something to eat,
and it was SPECIAL because, to David, everything
was surprisingly NEW and FRESH.
This is the second week in a row that the lectionary planners have us look closely
at these post resurrection appearances of Jesus.
“And as they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them.”
Often, what fascinates me about the way the writers of the Gospels
handle these resurrection appearances of Jesus is their restraint.
They give us no description of the resurrection itself.
No explanation of what happened between when Jesus was laid in the tomb
to when he was discovered missing hours later.
What we have are these reports about an empty tomb,
and then the risen Christ just starts showing up among them.
He greeted them as he USUALLY did:
“Peace be with you.” “Shalom Alekem”, in the Aramaic.
This isn’t how Steven Spielberg or JJ Abrams would tell this story.
The authors don’t attempt to overwhelm us or to coerce us into believing.
Jesus simply APPEARS to his disciples.
Never to unbelievers or to the general public –
Christ is apparently intent on confirming the faith of his followers.
And look at these believers to whom he came.
See how realistically they are pictured to us?
The narrative says that when they heard it,
the disciples took the resurrection stories with a grain of salt;
idle tales, too good to be true.
Could it really be true? Could this really be Jesus? No. Not possible.
Yes. It’s true; Look! he is here. Shalom. Peace be with you..
And then the author says
“in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”
Or, as another translation puts it: “they disbelieved for joy.”
“They disbelieved for joy.”
“In their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…”
What do you make of that sentence?
I love that sentence. It is among my favorites in the whole Bible.
Disbelief. Not UNbelief.
Not an absence of faith,
but rather that alternating between believing and not believing.
Being of two minds at the same time.
The threshold of knowledge of understanding.
Not knowing what to make of it,
but at the same time having your soul SEARED by a new reality
that you do not understand but do not dare ignore.
Maybe this is the point for us:
It is rare to face a choice so clearly defined
between the possible and the impossible.
Most of the time we just go along, doing the best we can to get through
whatever circumstance it is we face at the moment,
having neither the time nor the energy to think much about the meaning of it,
or where this task or that might be leading us.
We don’t have the luxury of seeing life whole and complete
so we could make sense of it all at once.
At best, we must deal with fragments of it, little pieces at a time.
Bits of happiness and sorrow or of joy and grief.
Little shards of grace and ugliness.
And we have to put them all together –
glue them and paste the pieces together as best we can,
so that finally we might — if we are lucky –
begin to catch some meaning from the whole
that has been patched together.
And the cracks, the seams,
the imperfections and the gaps will nearly always show.
They, too, are part of the reality, part of the whole.
And so they were “disbelieving for joy.”
And so, sometimes, when we’re honest, do we.
And AS they were disbelieving and wondering,
do you remember what he said to them?
Something entirely unexpected, completely off the wall.
“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them,
“Have you anything here to eat?”
Here they are,
Jesus’ friends, struggling to make sense of the appearance
of their teacher and friend once dead and yet….
here, in the flesh, in front of them, and
sure, he offers to allow them to touch and discover for themselves
who he was, like a good teacher would, but then…
Is that what you would have expected?
“Anybody got an extra fish sandwich you’d share?”
The point, of course, was to say to them and to us,
“Look, friends; this is for real. I’m not a ghost. Ghosts don’t eat fish.”
So, “they gave him a piece of fish and he took it and ate it before them.”
This living Christ, the story is saying to us,
This living Christ, present with YOU now,
is part of the reality you must find a place for in your life.
Just as real as the pain you have experienced, the suffering, the death.
In fact, its more real,
because now death is swallowed up
and life has taken on new dimensions forever.
“Do you have anything here to eat?”
The Gospel writers are trying to convey both how mundane the resurrection was
AND how powerful it was.
MUNDANE—Jesus enters their midst through an ordinary Shalom,
an everyday “hiya.” “What’s up?”
Jesus asks them to eat, TOGETHER…something they had done
time and time again.
POWERFUL – Jesus does ALL of this not JUST as the teacher they knew
but as the risen one, the one they witnessed upon the cross.
His appearance confirms all that his life, his teaching, his acts of mercy
and they allow his disciples
to transform their fear, their confusion, their anger,
into the ministry that would become body of Christ on earth—
into the church.
The EXPERIENCE of the individual believer—of you and of me–
and the EXPERIENCE of the community of believers
is the foundation of our faith.
Where the Lord’s physical hands and feet are no longer present,
the ministry of the hands of countless saints in simple and sincere ministries
continue to bear witness to the Lord’s living presence, HERE, TODAY.
Although he may not appear in our midst to eat broiled fish,
his presence is tangible in soup kitchens, around the kitchen table—
through scambled eggs and warm freshly baked cookies—
just as it is around the communion table.
Literary theorists pay a lot of attention to how a story opens, and how it ends.
Well, they pay attention to a lot of things, but the closing is a big deal.
This gospel text is almost at the very end of Luke.
And after Jesus appears, and asks them for some simple food,
and shares another meal in their midst,
Jesus sends them out to be witnesses to his LIVING presence.
Jesus shares a meal, then sends them out….
“Do you have anything here to eat?”
Yes. There is something here to eat.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.
Whoever comes to me shall not be hunger;
whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Keep your eye on those who come among us hungry,
hand reaching out for what we might give,
for they may be offering us the opportunity of a lifetime.
Maybe it is you? Maybe you are more hungry than you realized?
“For I was hungry and you gave me food; thirsty and you gave me to drink.
I was alone and you came to me; in prison and you visited me.”
“Lord, when ever did we do such as that?”
“Inasmuch as you have done it to the very least among you,
you have done it to me.”
“Have you anything here to eat?”
A can of soup for Harvesters?
A casserole up at Cherith Brook?
Maybe a cup of coffee as you talk over
all the stress your friend is going through?
And perhaps for some standing there on the lake shore that day
it all came flooding back,
a memory brought to life in that simple question:
“Have you anything here to eat?”
“And he took bread and broken and gave it to them saying,
‘This is my body which is broken for you.’ …
‘Do this, remembering me.’”
And suddenly, everything is surprisingly new and fresh.
Suddenly everything is EXCITING and HOPEFUL and POSSIBLE.
“Have you anything here to eat?” “Lets eat a meal, you and I, together…”
Thanks be to God…
[i] “Fresh Evidence” in The Christian Century, April 19, 2003.
[ii] The source for this story is lost to me. I originally included it in a sermon of the same title preached on April 26, 2009.