Sunday, April 22, 2012





Witnesses
Acts 3:12-16; Luke 24: 36-48
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Acts 3:12-15.
When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, "You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

Luke 24: 36-48
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.  He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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.”
And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
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.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”


Well, Illinois has made the national news again with yet another government scandal. Fortunately, it wasn’t in Sterling, but a suburb of Sterling – Dixon. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the accusations against the city comptroller, and about the unfathomably large amount of money she is accused of stealing. I’d imagine that you are asking the same question I am: How could she have gotten away with it for so long? How could they not have noticed? And while I have no idea what the accused did to cover her tracks, I can answer with some confidence that the people who might have discovered it didn’t -- because they weren’t looking for any wrongdoing. We generally see what we expect to see.

I would bet that in the coming days, we’ll hear a lot about the red flags, we’ll hear about what might have been “tells” to point to the embezzlement, if only people had been watching more carefully. But we see what we expect to see. They didn’t expect that a trusted city employee, someone who had worked there for 30 years, someone they thought they knew, might turn out to be someone else altogether. That’s why eyewitness testimony is so unreliable. People tend to see what they expect to see.

George Zimmerman’s brain filled in information about Trayvon Martin based on Zimmerman’s beliefs and prejudices. He saw what he expected to see.

Someone shows you a poster and it says “Find the mistake” and you look and look and look, and never notice that the word “mistake” is spelled wrong.

The magician’s words and movements distract you, so that you see what you expect to see, and don’t see how the coin is palmed, or the scarf is concealed.

Our brains fill in information that is not there, and our eyes reverse letters that are out of place. Our memories of a scene become more real than what was actually there.  We see what we expect to see.

When Jesus appeared to Cleopas and his friend on the way to Emmaus, they were on their way home after the crucifixion. They didn’t recognize him, because they were not expecting to see him. As far as they knew, he was dead. It wasn’t until he broke the bread for them at supper that their eyes were opened, and they were amazed.

That what the disciples were talking about, at the opening of our reading today. “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

Here’s the amazing thing about this story. They are TALKING about Jesus’ appearance at Emmaus, that the Lord is not dead, but resurrected. And then at that moment, Jesus shows up and says “peace be with you,” and how do they react?
“They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”
THEY THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD!

His closest companions, friends with whom he had lived and traveled, thought he was dead.
He had told them over and over and over again what was going to happen, that he would be crucified and raised after three days, but they did not expect to see him alive again. NO! They thought they were seeing a ghost. They have seen what they did NOT expect to see!

I wonder sometimes if Jesus was teasing them with what he said next: “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  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.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

Now listen to this next line: While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering,…
even when he assured them that he was alive, not a ghost, they were disbelieving and still wondering. They wanted it to be true, but this was not what they expected, so they were still disbelieving, still wondering. So he asked for a bite to eat! They didn’t expect that they would ever see him again. And when they did, they certainly weren’t expecting to see him eat.

While he was with them, the scripture says, he opened their minds to understand, and he taught them. Just like their friends at Emmaus, their eyes were opened, and they heard and saw Jesus in an entirely new way: fulfillment of the law and prophets, his suffering and his resurrection, his call to repentance and forgiveness, to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. They certainly weren’t expecting any of this.

But Jesus is always doing the unexpected, surprising us like that, showing up where we don’t plan on seeing him, doing what we didn’t think he could or would do. The last time you saw that guy, he was a stumbling drunk, never sober long enough to keep a job or take care of his family, not a guy you wanted to be around for long. Then Jesus shows up, and that same guy is working a program, making amends, looking for work.

You still can’t believe the way your friend behaved, the things she said, the lies she told, the betrayal. Then Jesus shows up, and she’s asking for forgiveness, asking for your prayers.

You sat there that night, alone, weeping in the darkness, wondering if anything you’d ever done was worth anything, wondering if life is even worth living. Then Jesus shows up, and even though your troubles aren’t whisked away, you know that daybreak will come, and that you will laugh again.

You hang up the phone and your hands are shaking, and you can’t take in the news you’ve just heard, even though you know it is true, and that your life has just changed forever, and then Jesus shows up, and you know, deep down, for certain, that you will be okay.

Trey and Sarah’s baby boy Hudson was born the day after Easter. The night he was born, he suffered from massive seizures. The doctors told Trey and Sarah that the seizures would probably cause permanent brain damage. But then Jesus showed up, and Hudson is going home now, with MRIs comparable to any other newborn. And while I wasn’t there in person, I’m a witness to a miracle.

That’s the power of the resurrection – Jesus shows up, and we are witnesses to it. We witness resurrection in the first small signs of spring, in the thawing and melting of cold hearts, in the blooming of new friendships and the warmth of great love.

We witness resurrection in the outstretched hand, in the voice of a friend who says, “I know who you are I know what you have done. Take my hand and let me walk with you a while.”

We witness resurrection at the font, as we hear the words of pardon, and we witness resurrection at the table, as we receive the sign and seal of God’s mercy in the body and blood of Christ.

We witness resurrection at the graveside, when the sun breaks through the clouds, or the funny story reminds us of the one we loved so much, and we laugh through our tears until we are crying again.

We witness resurrection as the people of God lift up their prayers, as we stretch out our hands to our neighbors, as we worship, and as we study scripture.

Jesus keeps showing up,revealing to us 
wisdom we never could have gained on our own,
grace so amazing that we could not have dreamed it,
miracles beyond our wildest hopes,
love that exceeds our most passionate desires,
joy and life abundant that is deeper than our deepest yearnings.

We see what we expect to see.
Expect Jesus to show up, and show us the unexpected.
You are witnesses of these things.
Amen.





No comments:

Post a Comment