Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Easter 3
April 23, 2012, 10:41 am
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at Holy Nativity, Knowle, Sunday 22nd April 2012

The Gospel story told by St Luke is in essence the same as that told by St John, which we heard last week. On the evening of the Resurrection, Jesus appears among his disciples with a greeting of peace. He invites them to see and touch his wounds, he eats and drinks with them. Both Luke and John want to emphasise that the resurrection was bodily. This was not a ghost, or an hallucination, or a dream: Jesus himself, who had only two days before been crucified, had died and been buried, was now not merely alive but able to come and go at will.

This immediately follows the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and here as there our Lord opens the Scriptures to explain that everything that had happened to him had been entirely in accordance to the pattern there set out. God’s plan is not brought about by success as the world understands it, but by what the world regards as abject failure. This is a very hard lesson for all of us to take in. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life,” the Lord says in the Book of Revelation. It is hard to be completely faithful, completely loyal to Christ’s teaching and completely trusting in his power, when everything we experience seems to point the other way. Jesus himself, as far as the world was concerned, was a total failure: whatever his message had been, it ended in an ignominious death. What the risen Christ says is that it had to be like that for him, or how would we ever accept it sometimes being like that for us?

We are called to be faithful followers of Jesus, Jesus who said that anyone who wanted to be his follower must take up his cross. The resurrection was revealed to the faithful few- at least, to those who loved the Lord, even if they had let him down- rather than being trumpeted to the world at large. In every age, men and women have to make a judgement, make a choice, almost take a chance: is the Gospel message true? Does Jesus really live? Is he truly the Lord?

Our Lord told those first disciples, still shell-shocked at his return from death, that the message of salvation had to be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. And it had to be preached by them: you are the witnesses! In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see Peter doing that, bearing witness. He reminds the people of Jerusalem of their complicity in the murder of Jesus. They had not recognised him as Messiah, to be sure, but they surely recognised that he was a good man telling them hard truths. Peter too adds that, through their blindness and even malice, God’s purposes were in fact being achieved. The Messiah had never been meant to be the “successful” figure of their dreams, he had always been destined to find glory only through suffering and disgrace.

The Gospel is the same today as it has always been, and the responsibility for spreading it rests on ordinary people like you and me, just as at the beginning it rested on a group of ordinary people. When they begin school, young children are often asked to “show and tell”, to bring something along and talk about it. We are asked- both by our Lord and by the world around us- to “show and tell” the Good News. Jesus asks each one of us to do it for him. The world challenges us not simply to “tell” about God, but to “show” them God. We can only do this if we ourselves, in our lives, are Christ-like.

The position of Christianity in today’s society is challenged, often misunderstood or misrepresented. The worst “misrepresentation” is when Christian people themselves, even Christian leaders and priests, live utterly un-Christlike lives. We all bear the shame of it, and the only way to counter this is to be as Christ-like as we can ourselves, to meet abuse and rejection in the same way that he did. Jesus is alive, in his own Person, always with us; he empowers us with his own Spirit, the Spirit of Divine Love. The Gospel went out “from Jerusalem”, that is, from where those first disciples actually were. It must go out again from where we actually are, and we are the ones who must be its witnesses.


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