Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Sermon: April 22, 2012

Chaplain Mel Baars
April 22, 2012
Luke 24:36b-48

“Commission and Confession”

Alleluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia.

After last week’s mention that Easter is actually seven weeks long and not just one, glorious Sunday morning, I decided that I should actively celebrate the seaon for its entire duration, all fifty days. My brain storming session on how to actually DO this resulted in a few COAs (An Army acronym for “Courses of Action”). My first thought was keeping my pink, sequended bunny ears out and even, to attempt wearing them around camp. This would surely get people’s attention, though where the Command Sergeant Major is concerned, perhaps not the right kind of attention I am hoping for. I also happened to notice quite a few left over Easter cards in the ministry center. I didn’t have time to send any Easter greetings early enough this year that they would arrive, “snail mail,” by the first day of Easter. However, with 50 days to work with, I have plenty of time to get them in the mail.

So, here we are, week three and it’s still Easter Day according to our gospel. While our last two gospel texts have been from John, today we hear an account from Luke’s perspective. In many ways, the Ressurection story is the same across the gospels. Jesus, who has developed an uncanny ability to beam himself around Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, has been making himself known around town-- to the women who showed up to anoint his body, to his disciples who are scared out of their wits, hiding being locked doors, and to strangers along the road, through the breaking of bread. Despite disbelief, despite fears, despite doubts, no one is beyond Jesus’ reach on this Easter Day.

While there may be some obvious similarities between our Easter gospels, Luke’s particular signature is all over our text today. Jesus’ question, “Have you anything here to eat?” is about as “Luke” as it gets. Our author has an affinity for the physical body, and an inquiry about food is a direct way to emphasize how bodily Jesus is in this moment. He may be transporting himself around, appearing through doors and disappearing from dinner tables, but there is no question about his humanness-- for what could be more human than hunger?

Jesus’ request still comes across a little bizarrely. He has just appeared to his disciples for the first time. They had all just watched him die a brutal death and yet, three days later, here he is before them, showing his scars and asking for a bite to eat. It’s as if Luke wants us to know, really know, that, like the rest of us who spend a good portion of our day preparing food, eating food, and cleaning up after food, Jesus is no different. After a long Easter Day of appearing to many, he is in need of a good, hearty meal.

The other aspect of Luke’s Easter account worth examining is that here, Jesus seems to take things to the next level. He seems to up the ante. While both John and Luke emanate a message of “Peace,” which gently quells fears and helps transcend the need for security, from a chronological standpoint, this text is actually Jesus’ first commissioning of his disciples to go out and share the gospel with every nation. The Great Commission, as most of us know it, is found in the very end of Matthew. This is when Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20).” But, it takes place in Galilee, sometime after Easter. While we don’t know what day exactly, we have to assume, given antiquity’s transportation situation, even if the disciples ran without resting, it would have taken them at least a few days to get from Jerusalem to Galilee.

Luke’s commission comes first. Its focus is a little different. While it may not have gotten the same kind of attention as Matthew’s, this first commissioning should not be overlooked. Jesus says in these verses, “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 (Lk 24:46-47).” Even though I went to school for quite a few years, studying the Bible and theology, I don’t think I ever understood these verses as a parallel to the Great Commission. But, in many ways, they are. This is not the first time that I have realized I should have paid closer attention in my New Testament class. These verses in Luke are a description of what evangelism should look like. If one wants to witness Jesus to others, to the whole world, one must proclaim repentance and forgiveness. This is at the heart of sharing the gospel. And, it starts with each one of us.

I can’t help but wonder if Matthew’s Great Commission is better known not because it’s any greater than Luke’s but because it’s not quite as challenging. Baptizing and making disciples may imply one’s own personal repenting and forgivness, but because the words are not spelled out, many of us skip over that harder part and go straight to the good stuff. I don’t deny that in Christian history, people have been persecuted for baptizing and disciple making. There are places in the world, even now, where such acts are punishable by imprisonment or even death. But, especially in American church culture, “sharing Jesus,” and “saving” friends often comes across more as a trendy or even popular fad than a decision which demands our souls, our lives, and our all. 

Admittedly, as a pastor, doing baptisms is one of the most joyful aspects of ministry. One of my best days ever was a Sunday in South Africa when I got to baptize 37 new Christians ranging in age from infants to young adults. Even though I butchered a few of their names and one of the little girls tried to bite me, still, it was an incredible experience, one that I will never forget. I couldn’t help but wonder, as I placed the sign of the cross over each of their foreheads, blessing them and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, what would become of their lives. They were all born into an African ghetto. Most of them had only even known hunger, poverty, and an AIDS epidemic. An encounter with gang violence was a more likely occurrence than completing secondary school. Their baptism was certainly grounding into a faith tradition replete with resources which might help them gravitate toward the light despite the surrounding darkness. But I wasn’t sure if baptism, by itself, was enough to help them turn from the literal death that threatened to undo them to the life which Jesus proclaimed through his resurrection.

To repent is to turn—to turn away from sin toward God and God’s ways, to turn from the ways of death toward the ways of life. But the thing is, repentance is not something that gets projected onto us. It is not a oneway street. To turn back toward God is to respond to God’s grace. It is a choice that we each make-- but with God’s help. We can’t do it on our own, but we also have a part to play. Repentance begins when we see the planks in our own eyes, when we find courage to confess our places of brokeness and hurt instead of burying them and pretending that we are well, that we can do this alone. Part of proclaiming the gospel is actually living it out in our own lives, turning away from our delusions, from our self-righteous piety, and getting down on our knees, the old fashioned way, confessing what we have done and what we have left undone and asking our gracious God to forgive everything between, making us whole once again.

The Sacrament of Penance, nowadays referred to as Confession, particularly in the Catholic Church, is an ancient practice which dates all the way back to the early church.  It is a process of both repentance and forgiveness. For as much as sin is confessed and brokenness acknowldged, the other piece of this sacrament is the pardoning and absolution. These go hand in hand, one with the other, never without the other. Until I started planning worship myself, I didn’t realize how much our liturgy helps us do just this every week that we gather here: to repent and be pardoned, to confess our sins before God and one another and then be reconcilled to God and to one another. Repentance and forgivness, through these we proclaim God’s gifts of grace and mercy in our lives, and we teach others what it looks like to turn back toward God.

As a good Episcopalian, I learned my prayers long before my bible verses. However, recieving Jesus’ commission through our text this morning, I can’t help but hear echoes of the prayer of confession that I started praying each week in church, long before I knew how to read the words from the page, before I even knew what all the words meant. While we have already said our corporal confession, I want to close with this prayer, acknowledging that through Christ’s commission of repentance and forgiveness this Easter Day being grafted upon our hearts, we are shaped into witnesses of the gospel, ready, willing, and able to share God’s love with the whole world.

Let us pray:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.[1]

[1] Book of Common Prayer

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