Easter 3b

April 16, 2018

Jesus In The Flesh

Luke 24:36b-48


36b While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 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.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 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.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 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, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.


In spite of the relentless attempts to define the Christian faith in very narrow and particular ways the essence of faith in Jesus Christ is experiential. What I mean by this is that to follow Jesus Christ is not just to hold a particular set of beliefs or to follow a clear set of rules. To follow Jesus Christ is to engage with the world in a unique way. To be a faithful Christian we can’t just to show up regularly for religious services – we’re to live in a way that reveals our trust in the presence of the living Christ.


Jesus didn’t instruct his disciples to have all the right answers to the theological debates of his day. Jesus instructed his disciples to practice the most important commandment. Jesus was very clear about what was most important – he said we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves. This was the one rule Jesus espoused, and he spent his time doing things and telling stories that illustrated what that meant. Ultimately he revealed what love for God and others looks like by surrendering his life – which was an event that left everyone speechless and paralyzed, but his death was not the end of the story. He showed back up. In fact, according to Luke he showed up hungry.His disciples didn’t just experience his life and death, they experienced his resurrection, and that’s why we are here today.


The thing that keeps the church alive is the thing that set it in motion – it’s the way in which we continue to experience the presence of the risen Lord. I don’t think any of us have experienced the risen Lord as clearly as the disciples did when he showed up and asked for a fish to eat, but I think this story does speak to the experiential nature of our faith. This story illustrates the way in which we encounter Jesus in the ebb and flow of life and we are reminded of our need for repentance and forgiveness. These are the elements that allow us to experience and to share the presence of our resurrected Lord.


I’ve been going through boxes of files and papers that I’ve accumulated over the past 30 years. It’s an interesting process to go through the archives of my personal history and to recall the various experiences I’ve had in ministry. My career in ministry has put me in touch with a lot of people, and I’ve had some rich experiences. A rich experience – that’s what you call an experience that you survived, but that nearly squeezed the life out of you. As I say, I believe our faith is essentially experiential. And they aren’t just sweet experiences.


One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in ministry occurred while I was the Director of the UALR Wesley Foundation. It happened during the summer that we built the yurt. Some of you haven’t heard the story of my yurt project, but a yurt is a big round tent looking thing. It was an economical and interesting way to add some additional programming space, and getting that thing done was it’s own rich experience, but the richest part of that experience began when Randy entered the picture.


Randy came riding up to the Wesley Foundation on a bicycle one hot July afternoon as we were working on the yurt. He was a man in his fifties who had clearly been travelling by bicycle for a long time. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and he was about as brown as the descendant of a European can be. Leathery would be a good way to describe him. My friend Charles Zook would go on to nickname him, Grissel, which seemed quite appropriate.


I really wasn’t in the mood to address the needs of a man who was obviously transient – I was focused on my yurt project. I tried to keep him moving by offering him nothing but food and directions, but he wouldn’t leave and he asked if there was anything he could do. I had a huge pile of debris in the back yard of the Wesley Foundation, and I was wanting to put that pile on a trailer to haul off, so I told him I would be happy for him to load all that debris on the trailer. Given the fact that it was close to 100 degrees I thought surely that would get him moving down the road, but it didn’t. He put that huge pile of construction waste and roots on that trailer, and at that point he had my attention.


I was also at a critical point in the construction of the yurt and the truth was that I needed some help. I told Randy I would let him stay the night at the Wesley Foundation if he wanted to stick around and help me the next day. He said he would and he did. We got to work early the next day, and he and I worked well together.


We’ll that one day turned into a week, and I had never worked around anyone who was as focused and diligent on doing whatever I needed him to do. Assembling that yurt was a really interesting and labor intensive project, and Randy was an excellent helper. He didn’t pretend to know what needed to be done but he would do whatever I asked him to do. Randy became critical to the process. I told him I couldn’t pay him, but our deal was that he could sleep at the Wesley Foundation and I would keep him fed, and that suited him.


Randy and I became very familiar with each other that week, and he was an interesting man. He had been riding his bicycle for about 18 months. He began in Minnesota, he had ridden to the east coast, he then went down to Florida, he made an inland tour of Alabama, and then over to Biloxi where he had worked at a UM hurricane recovery center, and then he came to Little Rock. His journey had been shaped by an interest in the Civil War, but it was made possible by the United Methodist. His mother had raised him in the United Methodist church and United Methodist institutions were always the 1st places he checked for food, work or shelter as he made his way around the country.


Had Randy left after that first week I would consider him to have been nothing but an angel who had come to Little Rock on a mission from God. But he didn’t leave after that week. We continued to work together for a couple of weeks, but classes began to meet at UALR and as I often heard him say, he wasn’t a people person. I came to realize that there was a theme to most of the stories he told, which was that most of the relationships he entered into concluded with some kind of train wreck. And that would be the case with me as well.


Randy’s capacity to work hard was rivaled with his capacity to drink hard and we had a number of incidents – two of which involved the campus police. I han told him he couldn’t drink at the Wesley Foundation, so Randy set up a chair just beyond our dumpster that he came to call his office, and Randy proceeded to become a problem.


I decided it was time for Randy to go, so I acquired a really good used bicycle for Randy a friend, I pulled together some money, I wrote him a nice note, and I told him he had to go. He said he wasn’t ready to go and he proceeded to use that money to get really drunk and belligerent, so our next to final day ended with him in a stupor and me calling the police. They showed up, told him he was never to return to the UALR campus and they hauled him off to somewhere.


A student called me the next morning as I was on my way to the Wesley Foundation and told me Randy was back. I genuinely thought he had returned to attack me in some way, so I arrived from a different direction, and when I saw him I hollered at him from a safe distance. It turned out that he was sober, and apologetic. He was also broke and his bicycle had been stolen. He said he was willing to leave but he needed a bicycle. Fortunately a student who was standing nearby and aware of the situation heard what was going on and offered to give him an old bicycle and a ride to the edge of town.


I’ll never forget my final conversation with Randy that day. He told me I had been a good friend to him. I pointed out that I had called the police on him on two different occasions, and he said, Yeah, that’s what I mean, you only called the police twice.


This story didn’t end with angels rejoicing in heaven, but I can’t help but believe Jesus had brought us all together. Randy was a badly damaged person in some significant ways, but he wasn’t just a damaged man. As he often told me, I’m a Methodist.  He wasn’t an exemplary Methodist, but the church had made an impression on him and he frequently turned to the church for help. And he didn’t just take from the church whatever he could. Randy offered what he could as well, and when he was in his right mind he sought forgiveness and reconciliation.


I believe we are called to engage in the messy work of reaching out to one another in gracious and redeeming ways and to always understand that we don’t even know how God will use us to do the work of reaching lost souls. This calling to follow Jesus can put us in some uncomfortable situations, but I believe the risen Christ is on hand to redeem the difficult circumstances that we often find ourselves within. The primary message of the resurrection of Jesus is that God doesn’t abandon us when we encounter the terrors of life.


Jesus didn’t offer nice lessons about how we are to understand the meaning of life. He didn’t provide us with the answers to the great mysteries of life. He told us to love one another and that requires us to get involved with one another. He didn’t offer easy outs – he offered rich experiences.


The gift that Jesus offered to his disciples was an encounter with his damaged flesh and the good news that God is always with us when we reach out to one another with love. The supremacy of God is the message that comes to us in scripture from the very beginning, but the power of this truth was made unmistakably clear through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.


The resurrection of Christ is a call for us to be reoriented around the good news that God is supreme and that Christ is alive. It’s a message that reminds us to repent and to forgive. We don’t have to live with fear or resentment – we can experience reconciliation with God and one another.


This is the nature of the rich experience that has brought us together this morning. Most of us have nearly had the life squeezed out of us in some way, but somehow God has managed to reach out and bring us back to life. You never know who going to come riding up in to your life or where those relationships will take us, but we can always trust that God is with us when we reach out to one another in love and that good will come from our most feeble efforts. This is how God chooses to be in our midst – in the flesh.


And thanks be to God for this.




One Response to “Easter 3b”

  1. Earl Says:

    So true, faith is an active daily path not a passive Sunday attendance on a particular day of the week.

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