3 Easter, Year B, RCL
1 John 3:1-7
If you haven’t been to my office, or spent much time there, you might not know that I have a small, but growing collection of “Jesus kitsch” sitting on one of my window shelves. Jesus kitsch, if you don’t know, is a growing industry of not-so-serious, but seriously funny Christian collectibles. Some of you may have come across some Jesus kitsch on your own – and perhaps have contemplated an inspirational, Jesus themed gift for a faithful friend or clergyperson along the way. Beware, however, that there is a fine line between thoughtful faith-inspired gift ideas, and things that fall into the kitsch category.
My collection is mostly of the poking-fun category. It includes a Jesus action figure, a “last supper lunch box,” and a glow in the dark cross – perfect for Christian rave dancing. It also has a special, dominant figure, a shockingly hot-pink statue of Jesus that has a unique feature. If you ask a question of Jesus, shake it and turn it over, you’ll receive an “answer” such as: “I died for this?” and “Let me ask my Dad, and I’ll get back to you…”
Thoroughly entertaining, and a little bit irreverent, I do wonder sometimes, just how perplexed and frightened I might be if Jesus were to appear in my office, as tangible as the images of him that rest there day in and day out, offering the familiar phrase, “Peace be with you.” Would I recognize him? Would I believe it was really happening in the moment? How might I respond to this companion and friend that I have looked to and known for so much of my life through scripture and community, through word and action...?
In the wake of Easter, gathered together in our familiar setting, with familiar faces, and hearing words, once again, of Jesus’ friends and followers, perplexed at what was being revealed to them by their teacher, Jesus himself appearing in the flesh, even after they had witnessed and known for certain that he had died. There they were, excited at the story of Jesus’ appearance to a fellow disciple, and yet frightened and doubtful at his sudden, solid, tangible presence amongst them.
I’m not going to spend time with you trying to explain how exactly Jesus did this. I don’t imagine I could comprehend the physics, or the biological or mystical concepts or means by which this event took place in the lives of our faithful brothers and gospel writers. But I’d like to imagine with you why Jesus appeared, and why it matters to us. The transcendental concepts of the situation, that is, those things that are not experienced, but perhaps are knowable – much like faith – that which is believed, but cannot be proven.
Jesus, spent his years of ministry walking alongside fellow men and women. As a man, he saw all the pains and hurts of this life. The horrors of disease and death, the use of the temple, a house of prayer for the God of creation, taken advantage of, and allowed to be a place of marketing and transaction. He saw women abused and trapped in an oppressive station of life, and children kept away from the center of the community. He was intimately aware that pain, and death were consistent with the human life.
And where was God in all of this? God, had called his people into a covenant, called upon the Israelites to be the chosen ones, the ones who would lead a path of righteousness for all to see, through prayer, sacrifice and pilgrimage, this family within all of creation would develop a relationship with God that would reflect God’s unconditional love for all of God’s children.
But time had gone by, and practices and closeness to the stories and understanding of them by the people and the leadership waned. The words of prophets spoken through the ages were still taught and passed down, pointing to a Messiah who would one day come. But complacency within the practice of the faith had taken its hold as well.
Aware of this, and aware of the impact Jesus had on his companions in life – the invitation to follow him and fish for people, the willingness he showed to open his arms and embrace all of God’s children – those diseased, those foreign, those deemed untouchable, his parable after parable, story after story of housing the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, forgiving the sinner…
Jesus lived into the unconditional love for all that God’s covenant tried to express. Jesus made clear again and again, what the scriptures themselves said, again and again: love God, love your neighbor, serve God by serving others, I am here to serve, not to be served… Jesus so fully lived and taught these truths of his own faith story, his own understanding and awareness of the one holy and living God that his story is still told today. The story of his life and the story of his death.
But his story didn’t end there. As frightening as it all was, what he was doing, how he turned society and all that was assumed about class and the status quo upside down, he managed to do the same thing with death. The death that his friends watched him die – the death of a criminal: tried, convicted, crucified… it was thought to be the end – but there he stood, reaching out his hands to touch them, eating a piece of fish before them, offering once again words of Peace, words of love, words of commissioning to his disciples that their work was not yet done – for they had a message to pass on, and a faith story to share – one that perhaps could not be proven, but was to be believed in.
The faith story that was given to me, is the faith story of the disciples. One that they did not know how to tell, or what to do with when it first happened, when they first found themselves in that moment with Jesus. In the next few verses of the gospel text the close of the Gospel according to Luke lets us know that after receiving this commission the disciples spent much time in prayer, were often found at the temple praying.
Considering it took more than 30 years for the Gospel stories to be written down, I’m certain its authors spent many years contemplating what they had experienced, what they had witnessed, in Jesus’ life, his death, and in his appearance amongst them.
So why did he do this, in this way? Why such a distant time and distant place did the incarnation of Christ take place in Jesus of Nazareth? I wonder, I imagine, perhaps Jesus gave himself to them, to touch, to feel, to experience in a tangible way, yet again, so that they might know that he meant what he said, that he would be with them always, even to the end of the age, he was truly there… really and truly.
Just as we have faith, that gathered here, gathered in this place, we can see and touch and taste and experience the life and love of Christ when we gather as a community, when we serve God by serving one another, when we look into the face of our neighbor in need and reach out a helping hand, when we open our hands and our lips and our hearts with songs of praise, and in the act of seeking and receiving holy communion – communion with one another and with God.
Perhaps the deepest truth of this story, of our faith story, is that it is a story of faith. Something that we carry on in our lives, in our actions, in our choices as members of a family and as members of a community – to have faith in the action of God to show us through Jesus that covenant we share, that promise of unconditional love, strong enough even to defeat the bonds of death – a love that strong, is a love that I am proud to have faith in, to know is true, to know that Jesus’ life, Jesus death and Jesus resurrection is where I place my faith. I wonder, where do you place yours? Amen.
Delivered: Sunday, April 26, 2009