Sermons That Work

Duh Has Become…, Easter 3 (A) – 2002

April 14, 2002

“Duh” has become a word that indicates that we can’t believe that people don’t get it! Perhaps the hint of ridicule associated with “Duh” means that we shouldn’t use it at vestry meetings! It’s heartening to find that even Jesus’ closest friend and associates didn’t always get it. After the Resurrection some of the disciples asked Jesus whether he was now going to revive the political state of Israel and drive the Romans out. Jesus had spent a good deal of time describing the sort of kingdom he wished to establish. He’d told them that the kingdom was not of this world. He’d said that it was “within you.” They didn’t get it!

One can imagine the disciples’ brows wrinkling as they tried to absorb words that didn’t seem to make an awful lot of sense. Like most of the rest of us, we have enough of a job trying to figure out the things we see, feel, and touch. Things “not of this world,” “kingdoms within us,” are beyond what we think we experience. It’s easy for the “religious” part of religion to become a sort of Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, comforting tales but not anything we expect to experience.

The lessons today focus our attention on how the first Christians thought about and experienced Jesus. These accounts were written many years after the events described. Almost inevitably, when one tries to write down details about something that happened in the past, one includes a good deal about what has happened since.

In the lesson from Acts, St. Luke, the non-Jewish historian, seeks to translate into the experiences of Gentile Christians things that happened when the infant church was completely Jewish. St. Peter tells the crowd that “this Jesus whom you crucified” is both “Lord and Messiah.” It’s very hard for us to get into our heads what “Lord and Messiah” means. We don’t have kings or lords in the United States. We fought a Revolution about all that! People who say they are messiahs often need treatment.

To Gentiles the word “lord” meant the Emperor in Rome who claimed to be a god. By calling Jesus “lord” the church was telling the Emperor that Jesus was their emperor, their supreme ruler. “Jesus is Lord” was both truth telling and a challenge to the ruthlessness of political power.

The word “messiah” was used in a number of ways to describe a unique person who would bring to a head everything God planned for his Chosen People. By calling Jesus “messiah” the church was announcing that God had finally revealed his plan for the human race in and through Jesus.

All this is pretty heady stuff. How does it relate to us all today, as we struggle with relationships, work, and a world at war? In the account of Peter’s great sermon and in the Gospel for today, St. Luke brings things down to earth for us. When Peter stopped preaching, those who believed gathered for the breaking of bread and the prayers. They were unified and energized as they gathered in the “apostles teaching and fellowship.” Somehow all the teaching about who Jesus was and is comes to life when thought about and prayed about together and particularly when we share the bread and the wine. So often we think we have to understand and apply the faith alone, in some personal way. When we think like that, the church becomes something we attend, or leave, or grumble about. Perhaps we think of the church as a place to entertain and instruct our children. We “church shop” for a place that suits our needs.

In reality the church is a gathering of “called and chosen” people, who seek to understand the faith together, share the journey together, and obey the commandment to “tell others” their experiences of Jesus as Lord and Messiah.

After the crucifixion some disciples were walking away from Jerusalem. They were shattered. They’d put their hope and trust in the man from Nazareth. After years roaming the country with this man who seemed so good, he’d been arrested and executed. The disciples had now to go back home and face their friends, who might well say “Duh.” Now they’d have to “shop” for another sort of religious experience.

A stranger approached them and asked them why they looked so gloomy. They told him! The stranger began to explain how everything that had happened was meant to happen. He might have begun by saying “Duh!”

Perhaps the disciples were now beyond sermons, beyond “Bible Study” and “Enquirers’ Class.” Just like Episcopalians, they hadn’t lost their good manners. When the party arrived in the village, they invited the stranger to join them for dinner. When the stranger broke the bread and gave thanks for the wine, “they knew it was the Lord.”

Ever since that time, Christians have found that in gathering together around the Lord’s Table they meet the Lord and Messiah. This doesn’t mean all their questions are answered or their problems solved. Some questions can’t be answered and some problems can’t be solved. That’s hard for us to believe.

Yet in the fellowship of the church what we hear read to us sometimes warms our hearts. In the communion of saints our hearts are often warmed as Bread and Wine become for us the very Presence of the Living Jesus who is the Lord of all and the Savior of all. Together, in the energy of Jesus’ being, we gain the strength together to tackle the problems of our wider communities.

Table-faith revives our church fellowships. In that revival we speak faith to those who have no faith, justice to those who suffer from injustice, healing to those who are no longer whole. We feed, shelter, and love those who can’t manage the complexity of modern life. Then we discover that the Jesus we meet in bread and wine comes to us equally truly in the shape of the poorest outcast, repulsive in shape, wracked with disease.” I was hungry and you fed me,” he whispers. We know it is the Lord.

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Christopher Sikkema


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