Going to Blow Your Mind

Luke 24:36-49 | April 18, 2021

I suppose most us of might have trust issues when it comes to being willing to hand over vitally important responsibilities. Like the friend of mine who, back in the Fall, turned over the responsibility for his photography business, while he and his wife homeschooled their primary school children as they spent this COVID year living on a sailboat and sailing the islands of the Caribbean. He was always a bit jealous of my taking Sabbatical and so he has designed his own. I have to figure that it took a lot of faith to turn over his second-generation business to his assistant manager who has been working with him for only a relatively short time. I knew he was thinking about it, but did not figure he had actually done such a thing until he was not returning my text to meet me for dinner in Chicago. He finally got back with me and said, sure, we can have dinner, but I’d need to meet him at their next port of call in St. Thomas. Looks like he found a way to not worry so much.

I still remember when my high school girls basketball team made it to the state final in Jackson. Four of these young women were all well over 6’ tall and had grown up playing basketball together in a small town outside of Batesville. With those 4 superstars, there was no better team in the state, maybe even the nation. But we all gasped for air as the best among them took a hard fall on the court and was taken out of the game with a twisted ankle in the second half. The game was close. That left the coach with the only choice he had to play a young rookie player who was about 5’6”. We were absolutely sure we now had no chance to win until we saw her strategically handle and pass the ball to the more experienced players, one of whom made the winning shot at the buzzer. The place went wild as we celebrated the win and that young player who was carried off the court by her team. But we were not so sure how this was going to work out without the team star leading the team.

In our scripture today, we have an appearance by the resurrected Jesus to His disciples. I have to tell you, I would not feel so confident if I were Jesus and faced with leaving this ragtag group in charge. They do not seem to be ready to take charge of anything. The truth be told, resurrection appearances are rather sparse in Luke’s gospel. We do not see Jesus at the tomb as you do in John’s gospel. Rather, two angels tell the woman at the empty tomb that Jesus has been raised. They tell the male disciples who don’t believe them because they thought the women were talking nonsense. Luke, the gospel writer who has a habit of lifting up the status of women, makes a point of letting us see the folly of men questioning the power and authority of women. Then we have one of the wonderful stories in all of the New Testament, Jesus’ appearance to two disciples as they are walking on the road to Emmaus. They see and believe when Jesus breaks the bread, but when they tell the 11 disciples, we are told that they are still confused by this and trying to figure it out.

That bring us to the scripture we have read together today. The disciples are still discussing this most recent news from the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, when Jesus appears out of thin air. He does not knock on the door. He is not there one second and the next second He is. It might not surprise you that this throws the disciples off and they are having trouble wrapping their minds around the reality that Jesus is really right there with them. They are startled and terrified – which is what I suspect any of us would be.

Jesus then says, “Why are you afraid and why do you have doubts in your hearts?” We might have any number of reasons we would be afraid and have our doubts, starting with the fact that people don’t just appear from thin air and dead people don’t come out of their graves. By the way he tells this story, I suspect that Luke is doing his best to teach us something. You cannot keep the risen Christ out of any of the places we live. That includes our places of hurt and pain and loss and confusion. God comes to us and we only need to overcome our fear that God can be so close and involved in our life and our doubt that God really can be present to overcome whatever obstacle we face.

But, of course, the disciples are not getting this, like we don’t get it. They are filled with joy and, yet at the same time, they have their doubts. The good news is Jesus is just human enough to understand them and loving enough not to shame them. Jesus does a few things to help them calm down and get their heads on straight.

• First, He showed them the signs of crucifixion in His body. No, I am not a Jesus impostor; “I bet you don’t know anyone who looks like this and is standing around talking to you.”

• Then He asked them for something to eat and they give Him a piece of boiled fish which He swallows right in front of them! Dead people and spirits cannot do that!

• But still, they don’t understand and He intuitively knows they need more. They have been on the edge of having their minds blown wide open and now Jesus lights the fuse. Jesus blows their minds. Jesus shows them how all that is happening in front of their eyes has been God’s plan all along. He goes through their Hebrew Scriptures and tells them what has been happening in their life together and that His death and resurrection have been God’s plan all along. These things, even the awful parts, have been what God knew would happen. God has a way of turning spoiled milk into buttermilk, squashed grapes into vibrant, powerful wine, and human evil into love.

Then Jesus tells them that they are to go into all the world and be His witnesses. He is now entrusting the whole enterprise to them. That may be the most difficult part of this story to believe. Is it really possible that God would entrust so much in human beings like us who have limited capacity for good and love and faithfulness? What sort of credentials do we have to be entrusted with such an important task of bringing compassion, justice, and love to this broken world? Crazy, just crazy.

It might not make any sense if Jesus did not end with telling them to wait a while before rushing out the door and getting started with their mission. He tells them to stay just where they are. Don’t make a move until the time is right. I am sending you my Spirit, and my Spirit will guide you and empower you to do what needs to be done. Jesus knows they are bubbling fools for Him (fools for Christ – Paul calls them Christians) and they cannot face the world alone. He is going to inspire them or “in spirit” them with His own mind of thoughts, heart of compassion, and wisdom of how to act.

I have to tell you, I need constant reminders of that the Spirit of Jesus is actually in the room with us. I can get so worried about the church in the world these days. Over the past 40 years, I have watched God’s church which I love continue to decline in influence and numbers. My heart is broken when I see so many Christian churches and leaders go astray, lost in fear, trumpeting gun rights and the use of violence, the fear and hatred of people of different races and creeds, and buying into all sorts of conspiracy theories, and following false messiahs. I worry about our little beloved flock, who I love so much, and how we are going to come out of these strange times and move into the future. I need to be reminded that we are not finally in charge of this endeavor. We do not own the church. God does. If my worst fears would come about and the church in this world as we know it were to come to an end, God would still provide a way forward.

This past year, I lost one of the most beloved people in my life, Rev. Ed Woodall, to COVID-19. As my youth director, Ed use to read to us from this wonderful book called “The Way of the Wolf.” I want to share with you a portion of one of the art forms to be found in that book called “Rag-Tag Army.”

I think God must be very old and very tired. Maybe He used to look splendid and fine in His general’s uniform, but no more. He’s been on the march a long time, you know. And look at his rag-tag little army! All he has for soldiers are you and me. Dumb little army. Listen! The drum beat isn’t even regular. Everyone is out of step. And there! You see? God keeps stopping along the way to pick up one of his tinier soldiers who decided to wander off and play with a frog, or run in a field, or whose foot got tangled in the underbrush. He’ll never get anywhere that way. And yet, the march goes on….

…If God were more sensible He’d take his little army and shape them up. Why, whoever heard of a soldier stopping to romp in a field? It’s ridiculous. But even more absurd is a general who will stop the march of eternity to go and bring the soldier back. But that’s God for you. His is no endless, empty marching. God is going somewhere. His steps are deliberate and purposive. He may be old, and He may be tired. But He knows where He’s going. And He means to take every last one of his tiny soldiers with Him. Only there aren’t going to be any forced marches. And, after all, there are frogs and flowers, and thorns and underbrush along the way. And even though our foreheads have been signed with the sign of the cross, we are only human. And most of us are afraid and lonely and would like to hold hands or cry or run away. And we don’t know where we are going, and we can’t seem to trust God-especially when it’s dark out and we can’t see Him! And He won’t go on without us. And that’s why it’s taking so long.

Listen! The drum beat isn’t even regular. Everyone is out of step. And there! You see? God keeps stopping along the way to pick up one of his tinier soldiers who decided to wander off and play with a frog, or run in a field, or whose foot got tangled in the underbrush. He’ll never get anywhere that way! And yet, the march goes on…

I sometimes comfort myself by singing a song my friend Ed us to sing with us and have us make up new verses to it as we sang. It’s a song I still find comforting and hope you will as well:

“He’s got the whole world in his hand. He’s got the whole world in his hand. He’s got the whole world in his hand.

He’s got the little bitty babies in his hands. He’s got the little bitty babies in his hands. He’s got the little bitty babies in his hands. He’s got the whole world in his hands.

She’s got you and me sister in her hands. She’s got you and me brother in her hands. She’s got you and me sister in her hands. She’s got the whole world in her hands.”