The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
April 18, 2021
Third Sunday of Easter
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Lord Jesus Christ, the light of your love shines on, illuminating the places where you are present. As the bewildered disciples pondered the stories of your appearance, you penetrated the darkness of their fear and doubt with your word of peace. You showed them the appalling marks of evil pierced on your hands and feet. You opened their minds to understand why you had to die to defeat such evil and death. Increase our understanding, we pray, and open our minds and hearts to receive you, Lord. Speak your word of peace to us and let your love shine on any dark areas in our lives. May this worship which we offer in your name be a worthy response to your love and your sacrifice for us. Amen.
PRELUDE “Christ Is Eternal” Bradshaw
CALL TO WORSHIP
God has been gracious to us and heard our prayers.
God has put gladness in our hearts.
We shall live in peace;
for God alone is our dwelling place.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
The resurrected Christ has come into our midst inviting us to repentance and forgiveness. Our journeys have taken us far from God, but the hospitality of Christ welcomes us home. Let us confess our sin.
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
Welcoming God, we confess that we have journeyed far from you. We have traveled far from your love and justice. We have neglected the stranger in our midst. And we have been doubted your presence with us. Help us to see the way you have set for us in Christ. Restore us to a life of mutuality, love and justice for all. Amen.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The welcoming grace of God is sure for each and for all. Our dwelling place in God is secure. Receive the forgiveness of God and be restored to right relation with God and one another. Thanks be to God.
RESPONSE “Gloria Patri”
PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
In sharing the peace of Christ, we express the reconciliation, unity, and love that come only from God, and we open ourselves to the power of God’s love to heal our brokenness and make us agents of that love in the world. Since God has forgiven us in Christ, let us forgive one another. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
ANTHEM “He Loved Them to the End”
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
God of the Word, open our hearts and minds, and give us the courage to hear your Word as we read the words of Scripture today. By the power of your Spirit, illuminate our paths. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Luke 24:36-48
36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look 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.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then 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.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
“Is it possible to imagine Christianity without Christ?”
The novelist, Flannery O’Connor thought so. As many of you know, Flannery O’Connor wrote so many engaging pieces, with great insight and subtle humor. O’Connor loved to poke fun at life and culture using deceptively backward Southern characters. Her writing made the strong point that all life – even the most awkward and grotesque – is infused with grace and with God.
In one of O’Connor’s novels, entitled Wise Blood, she writes about Hazel Motes, “a preacher of the Church Without Christ.” This is what Hazel Motes says: “Well, I preach the Church Without Christ. I’m member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way. Ask me about the church and I’ll tell you it’s the church that the blood of Jesus don’t foul with redemption.” (Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood, p.105)
“The Church Without Christ.” That may strike us as both humorous and bizarre, just as O’Connor intended. But Hazel Motes’ understanding of the gospel – where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way – may not be so far from how we experience life.
Here we are two full weeks after Easter. The Easter colors are here. The Easter themes continue with Easter hymns. And our Scripture today comes again from the day of resurrection.
Listen now to Luke 24. Again, this is Easter day, according to Luke, and Jesus is walking along the Emmaus Road, talking to the disciples, but they do not recognize him. Then they arrive at Emmaus, and they sit down at a table to eat. Jesus takes bread, blesses it, gives it to them, then their eyes are opened and they recognize him. But, it says, he vanished from their sight! So the disciples went back to Jerusalem and told the others how they had encountered Jesus, that indeed, he had risen. Then we get to verse 36:
36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look 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.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then 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.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
It appears that on that first Easter morning, and understandably so, the disciples were trying to be the Church Without Christ. They were wandering aimlessly. They were not seeing very well, not even recognizing their beloved Savoir in their midst. And take note of the numerous descriptions in this passage: “they were startled and terrified,” and Jesus said to them, “why are you frightened and why do doubts arise in your hearts.” Startled. Terrified. Frightened. Full of doubt. The Greek words here imply much more vividly the state of the disciples – sincerely troubled, emotional turmoil, cognitive confusion, hearts full of conflict and despair.
I think we – you and I – know a bit about this state. Even though we are just two weeks removed from Easter, we can quickly fall into feeling sincerely troubled, into emotional turmoil, into cognitive confusion. And before we realize it, we find ourselves in the Church Without Christ – where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what is dead stays that way.
Here is the deal: When the husband draws up a property settlement and says he wants a divorce, and the wife texts me, saying, “can we talk?” All of that indicates sincere trouble, and emotional turmoil, and plenty of doubts about where Christ might be.
Or, when the body gets so frail, and the voice gets so weak, and the doctor comes in and says let’s keep things simple and keep him comfortable, and everyone knows that time is running short, all of that can generate fears and uncertainty that make you wonder where Christ might be.
When the challenges continue, . . .
when the thoughts keep racing through your mind, . . . .
when all you can think about is – well – the pain, the illness, the loss, . . .
and you cannot sleep, . . .
and you toss and turn for yet another night, it is easy to wonder where Christ might be. Sincerely troubled. Emotional turmoil. Cognitive confusion.
And, when every day we have increasing worries about our world. . . .
Will the pandemic ever end? . . . .
Will racial relationships get better?…
Will the chaos ever end? . . .
Can the earth sustain the rapidly growing population & intense climate issues? . . . See, we easily can find ourselves in a life without Christ – where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.
But Luke, the gospel writer, wants to lead us in the ways of faith and life, toward the Kingdom of God. Could it be more urgent for us?
Jesus, the Christ, shows up! And Jesus, the Christ, ushers the disciples, and ushers us, one more time, from fear and doubt toward confident, perceptive faith, AND from wandering confusion, and emotional turmoil to living faithfully in the world.
Jesus, the Christ, shows up and speaks with love and compassion, with a verbal offer of “Peace.” Some scholars think this message – “peace be with you” – was added to earlier manuscripts, leaking in from John’s gospel because Jesus speaks this word “peace” several times there. But he seems genuinely concerned and empathetic to the disciples’ plight on that morning, asking “why are you startled? Why do doubts arise? It is really me, . . . look at my hands, my feet.” All of this intends to assure them that the risen Jesus is the embodiment of life, the person, the self, the identity that they knew prior to his death. He is no dis-embodied spirit. “Touch me and see – a ghost does not have flesh and bones.”
And to make the point even more emphatically, Jesus asks if they have anything to eat. The verse says “They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he ate it.” Now, the gospel of Luke is full of stories of Jesus having meals with people. He dines with women and outcasts. He dines with tax collectors and sinners. But this is the ONLY place where it says Jesus actually eats something. This is to make the point for real that Jesus, the Christ, is truly in their midst. It also points to the new life of the disciples – they will be hosting others, serving others, sharing his hospitality, feeding his sheep, in Christ’s name, going forward.
And then Jesus, the Christ, encourages them further with his teaching – “everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and psalms must be fulfilled.” And the whole message, Jesus says, is about “repentance and the forgiveness of sins.”
And then on that Easter morning, when the disciples realize he is risen, and he is standing among them, Jesus says, “this is to be proclaimed in his name to all the nations.” There it is – the reminder that disciples are to carry on Jesus’ same, loving, caring, healing, justice seeking, peace-building work in the world. And Jesus says, “You are witnesses of these things.”
See, everything is to be moving toward the promised and coming reign of God. The promised reign of God looks like gracious acceptance; it looks like wonderful inclusion – not just for a few, or certain people, but everyone. It looks like mercy and kindness. It looks like gentleness and compassion. It looks like peace and building peace near and far. So critical for life! It looks like honesty and integrity. How much does our world need that!? It looks like light, not darkness. It looks like life, not death. It looks like community and caring, not separation and alienation. “You are witnesses,” Jesus says. You are to live this way. You are to embody this message with how you live. God is God. God is always at work. God never leaves us. God wins over illness and tragedy, evil and despair, heartache and death. You are to be witnesses. Live this way. Love this way. God’s promised reign is surely coming. Live into it. That is the message from that Easter morning.
Author J. Randolph Taylor puts it this way: “Christ is alive, and, because he is, so are we. These witnesses to the resurrection were absolutely convinced that life is an exciting gift of relationship with him and that death is no break in that bond. That is very different from the popular attitude that life is misery and that death, rather illogically, is an even greater disaster. . . . We are given by God’s grace the biggest news in the whole world. For if Jesus rose again from the dead, that is the most important thing that has ever happened.”
“You are witnesses of these things,” says Jesus the risen Christ.
No matter where we are, or what we are dealing with, or our troubled world, may we live with grace and conviction, with integrity and justice, with worship and work that WITNESSES to the God Who gives life and light, –Who raised Jesus from the dead, –Who rules and reigns forever, and –Who will never let us go.
You are WITNESSES of these things.
“this is to be proclaimed in his name to all the nations.”
Commentary provided by Alex Evans, J. Randolph Taylor, Samuel Cruz, Scott Hoezee, Jamie Clark-Soles, Nancy Rockwell, David Lose, Karoline Lewis & Sarah Heinrich
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
God of grace, our journeys have taken many twists and turns. To be sure, we have not traveled on the same roads. Some of us have taken the main road, others have taken the back road and a lot of us have gotten stuck on the road. But our risen Lord has journeyed in our midst unbeknownst to us. He has journeyed in the stranger that we didn’t recognize — the one who asked us many questions about our faith; questions that challenged us to grow deeper. Then as we got to know the stranger, we were awakened to the fact that they were the risen Christ in our midst and our eyes were opened. Help us, O God, to be ever attentive to welcoming the stranger who invites us along the road less traveled — the road of love, justice-seeking and peace.
Liberating God, in our post-Easter journeys we are reminded that you saw, knew and experienced the suffering of enslaved Hebrews in Egypt and you summoned Moses to liberate your people. We are also reminded of Isaiah’s poetry about the servant who suffered unjustly, but whose suffering awakened the pursuit of justice. Through these stories we see the crucified and risen Christ who enters into our enslavements of the world in order to bring liberation and awaken people to the way of justice.
God of resurrection, in our post-Easter journeys we have encountered Christ when we have extended and received hospitality amid the crises of the pandemic, the racial reckoning and ongoing economic disparity. We’ve also encountered Christ when white privilege has been challenged and new ways of being your community have emerged. Empower us to become your beloved community and enable us to welcome the stranger to the table so that we can break bread together. We ask all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray saying, Our Father…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
The flowers are given in the glory and honor of God by Janet and Jesse Edick and Family in loving memory of Emily Hanson and Mary Brookhiser.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
God has given us the gift of our lives and the resources for living. Most important of all, God’s grace sustains us in life, death and everywhere in between. Let us celebrate God’s life-giving presence by bring our gifts in joyful response to the many gifts that we have been given.
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
O God, giver of all good gifts, these gifts are a symbol of our lives dedicated to you and your ministry in our midst. May we be ministers of your peace, love and justice in our community and our world. Amen.
As God’s own, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness and patience, forgiving one another as the Lord has forgiven you, and crown all these things with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Amen.