(A sermon based on 1 John 3:1-7 & Luke 24:36b-48 for the 3rd Sunday of Easter)
I grew up with, attended church with, and roomed in college with a guy named Randy. His father was named Roscoe and my father was named Champ; the two of them died within a few weeks of each other in 1979 and we held each of their funerals in the legendary Midway Baptist Church on City Pond Road four miles outside of Barnesville, Georgia. We both married Mercer girls who were good friends, he Jennie and I Debra.
After losing contact as we lived our respective lives, we all happily reconnected a few years ago. Neither Randy nor Debra do Facebook but Jennie and I do and our spouses participate vicariously through us. Not long after we reconnected, Jennie put a picture of Randy and her on Facebook; the last time I had seen them we were all quite a bit younger. When I saw the picture, I sent Randy an email that said, “Jennie is beautiful. You are Roscoe.”
Not long ago, I put a picture of me with my dog, the well-known public figure Rainey Jane Ruffin, on Facebook, and another old hometown friend, this one named Debbie, commented, “I could have sworn I was looking at Champ Ruffin.” I’m pretty sure she was talking about me and not about the dog, given that my father, as is the case with all Ruffins, was extremely good looking. Come to think of it, so is Rainey Jane.
Anyway, Randy and I do look like our fathers. I imagine that sometimes, when Randy does something or says something in a certain way, his mother sees Roscoe—and I imagine that my mother would see and hear Champ in my mannerisms and words were she still with us.
Some family connections shouldn’t be denied.
Some family connections should be celebrated.
Some family connections should be cultivated.
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him,” wrote John the Elder (1 John 3:1). In God’s love, God has made us the children of God. Because we are God’s children, we bear a family resemblance to God. How can that be? Well, Jesus Christ the Son of God was the image of God and the fullness of God in the world and so we who are the children of God are the sisters and brothers of Jesus; we look like Jesus—or at least we can look like Jesus—in the ways we think, talk, and act.
John the Elder said that the world did not know Jesus and so the world would not know us because we look like Jesus. Maybe what he meant was that the world did not like the way that Jesus looked—the way that he thought, talked, and acted—and so the world will not like the way that we look—that is, the world will not like the way we look when we think, talk, and act like Jesus did.
Or maybe the problem was that Jesus did not think, talk, and act like they thought God should and would think, talk, and act. And maybe the reason that people these days don’t have much of a problem with the Church is that we don’t think, talk, and act very much like Jesus did. Maybe the world knows us and likes us just fine because we fit in just fine with the world’s ways of domination and manipulation that revolve around the exercise of power and the worship of money.
Take a moment and think about it—what’s the difference between the way you deal with problems and with people (which can be the same thing) or with success and circumstances (which can also be the same thing) and the way that people who don’t claim to follow Jesus or who don’t claim to take their following of Jesus seriously deal with them?
Do we in our day-to-day really bear witness to the suffering, crucified, and resurrected Jesus that we say we follow and that we say is present in and among us?
Jesus told the disciples to whom he appeared on the evening of the day he rose from the tomb, “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. You are witnesses of these things.”
How were they to bear witness to him? How were they to testify to a Messiah who suffered, died, and rose? How were they to testify to the forgiveness of sins? How were they to testify to the presence in their lives of the resurrected Christ?
How are we?
They were to do so and we are to do so by becoming more and more like Jesus, which we can do because he is in us and among us. As John the Elder put it, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
In other words, we are not yet what we will be when we become just like he is but we are—we really can be—well on our way to becoming like he is.
Interestingly, John said that we would one day become like Jesus because we will see him as he is; that is, when Jesus returns we will become all that we are supposed to be. To a large extent, though, we have already seen him as he is—we have seen him in our Gospels as the suffering, crucified, and resurrected Son of God. We have even seen him in a few—perhaps a very few—Christians that we know bear witness in their lives to who Jesus really is. So we can even now be well on the way toward becoming those who follow Jesus through giving ourselves up in suffering, sacrifice, death, and resurrection.
Perhaps one way to consider the kind of witness to the resurrected Christ we need to become is to consider the kind of witnesses to him that make us uneasy; perhaps they make us uneasy because we see in them what we know down deep inside we ought to be but are afraid of becoming.
Are there people whose witness to the crucified and resurrected Christ makes you uneasy? What about those Amish witnesses who forgave the killer of their children? Or witnesses like Mother Teresa who tend to the lepers and other outcasts? Or witnesses who live simply without slavish ties to technology? Or witnesses who point out and challenge corporate (or corporation) evil as well as individual sin? Or witnesses who live out the ways of reconciliation and peace rather than the ways of conflict and war? Or witnesses who remind us about our connection with all other people and with all other living things?
Well, let’s look at Jesus one more time as he stands there in front of his disciples on Easter evening and as he stands here before us one more time, his wounded hands stretched out for us to see. What do we learn from what he showed of himself to his disciples and from what he is again showing us? How did they and how do we bear witness to him?
First, be real. Jesus said, “Touch me and see.” We need to be real to ourselves and to others; we need to be the body of Christ to each other and to the world; we need to be the presence of Christ with sinners and with saints. We need to be available and vulnerable.
Second, be wounded. Jesus said, “Look at my hands and my feet.” His hands and feet bore the wounds of his crucifixion. We need to accept and to bear the wounds that come to us when we show love and grace and mercy. The earliest Christians understood the words of Isaiah 53 as descriptive of the kind of Messiah Jesus was: “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account” (v. 3).
Jesus was so wounded that he was hard to look at. I wonder why the Church today is so easy on people’s eyes.
And third, be alive. Resurrected folks who serve a resurrected Lord ought to be more alive than we’ve ever been before. Of course, Jesus shows us that real life is found only on the other side of the kind of death to self that leads to purposeful and intentional sacrifice.
What kind of Christian life are we living? To what kind of Messiah are we bearing witness?