Like Jesus

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Easter 3B, April 19, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 3.12-19; Psalm 4.1-8; 1 John 3.1-7; Luke 24.36b-48.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Last week we read in John’s gospel the story of Jesus appearing to his disciples that first Easter evening. Today we read of a similar appearance of Jesus in Luke’s account. If these two stories report the same incident, Luke adds some new details that John omitted, details that give us further insight into Jesus’ resurrection body and what it foretells. But why should we care? What difference does Jesus’ resurrection make for us who live almost two thousand years later? One hint comes from our epistle lesson. John tells us that when Jesus is revealed we will be like him for we will see him as he is, and this is what I want us to look at briefly this morning.

As Luke makes clear in our gospel lesson, the risen Jesus was no spook or ghost. Jesus suddenly appeared to his disciples and Luke tells us they were terrified, thinking they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus was no ghost as he went on to demonstrate. Ghosts remain dead. Jesus was demonstrably alive. Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones as Jesus had. Neither can they eat food as Jesus did. And it is to the glory of the gospel accounts that they clearly reject the false notion that equated the risen Jesus with being a ghost.

Neither was Jesus’ body a resuscitated corpse in the manner of Lazarus or the widow of Nain’s son, both raised to life by Jesus. Their mortal bodies, while being brought back to life, would die again because they remained mortal and powered by flesh and blood. Luke, on the other hand, makes it clear that things were somehow different with Jesus’ body. To be sure there was continuity with his mortal body as demonstrated by the fact that his hands and feet still bore the wounds of the nails that had pierced him on the cross. And yes, Jesus was able to consume food the way we do. But there were significant differences. First, Jesus appeared to them suddenly, apparently out of nowhere, suggesting that his new body had properties that made it equally at home in heaven (God’s space) and earth (our space). Once heaven and earth are fused into a new creation as Revelation 21.1-7 promises, there will be no need to flit back and forth between the two dimensions as the resurrection narratives in the gospels clearly indicate Jesus did. How else to really explain his sudden appearances and disappearances?

Second, Jesus’ resurrected body was not always recognizable. Despite the fact there were some in the room to whom Jesus had previously appeared, no one apparently recognized him at first. This was also the case with Mary Magdalene in the garden, with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and with the encounter by the Sea of Tiberius. Why weren’t the disciples able to recognize their Lord immediately? Was there something manifestly different about his resurrected body? We aren’t told. But it remains a distinct and reasonable possibility. And Jesus himself suggests this is true when he said to his disciples, “While I was still with you.” Jesus was obviously with them at that moment, but in a fundamentally different way. Clearly Jesus had gone through death and emerged on the other side in a way nobody else had done previously, and in doing so had inaugurated the in-breaking of God’s new world on the old.

This, frankly, is just as hard for us to wrap our minds around as it was for the first disciples of Jesus. Like them, we really want to rejoice in this new reality but are terrified to do so because this concept is so radically different and new from our current worldview that is shaped by sin and death, and it poisons us. The resurrection narratives also fly in the face of much current false teaching about what constitutes an afterlife and heaven. The resurrection accounts flatly contradict the current gnostic and/or Platonic teaching of our day, sadly found in some Christian churches, that eternal life is all about a spiritual, disembodied existence rather than a new creation in the manner of Jesus’ resurrected body, or the various versions of reincarnation that deny the NT’s clear teaching about eternal life in God’s new world where heaven and earth are joined together, and where there is a real future and a hope.

I can hear some of you now. That’s all well and good, Fr. Maney. Fascinating even. But who gives a flip? What’s the point? The point is this. As long as we keep the resurrection disconnected from its source, namely Jesus, its promise and hope will appear to us empty and ridiculous. But when we connect the resurrection to Jesus as our Lord himself attempted to do for his disciples when he opened their minds to what the Scriptures said about him, we can start connecting the dots and this brings us back to what John says in our epistle lesson: We will be like Jesus, even if what that is hasn’t been revealed to us fully. But we do have some clues.

First, as we just stated, we will be like him in his resurrection body. This doesn’t mean we will share Jesus’ body with him but rather when our mortal bodies are raised from the dead and we are reunited with them, we will have a new body patterned after Jesus’ body. It will be impervious to sickness, infirmity, madness, sin, and all the other maladies that currently afflict our mortal bodies. So why is that important (besides the obvious)? Because it means creation matters to God. We matter. God created us with a body, mind, and soul and each dimension counts in God’s economy because we are redeemed in toto. And if creation and we matter, it means there is a built-in purpose for living. More about that in a moment. Bodily resurrection also means that one day we will get to look into the eyes of our Savior who loved us and gave himself for us so that we could share in his present reality and future hope. What a moment! Not only that, we will also get to look once again into the eyes of those we have loved but lost for a season. Think about it. Don’t we all long to see our loved ones again, to see them smile, to hear their voice, and to embrace them? Who among us wouldn’t give everything we have for the opportunity to look once again into our loved ones’ eyes as well as the one who made it all possible in the first place—Jesus? We don’t know if we will be able to do this during the intermediate state between our mortal death and resurrection. But John tells us plainly here that we will get to do so when our Lord Jesus is revealed and the new creation comes in full.

And for anyone who has suffered a serious illness or watched a loved one waste away from a deadly disease or struggle with infirmity or madness or addiction or dementia, with all of its dehumanizing and degrading effects, think about what the hope of resurrection promises with its vision of a sin-free, evil-free, and perfect world inhabited by God and us with our transformed and beautiful human bodies? Here is real hope for the future, and hope is not to be sneezed at because without hope, we shrivel and die. So our lessons today give us a glimpse of our future reality as it breaks in on this sad old world that is so badly marred and damaged by sin and evil. Once we can wrap our minds around the reality of this promise and connect it to Jesus so that we know it actually happened and will happen again on a much grander scale, we no longer have any reason to fear or disbelieve, but only to rejoice in the goodness, love, mercy, and power of God the Father who created us in his image and redeemed us to be his people forever.

But that’s the future. What about now? Both John and Luke tell us. Second, when we make Jesus the center of our world, we are transformed, not only physically as at our resurrection or when we are healed, but also spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and morally. As John tells us here and elsewhere, we really are God’s adopted children by virtue of Jesus’ blood shed for us on the cross. And because we are bought with Christ’s own dear blood, our call is to become like him. John has spent a good part of this letter warning us not to be deceived and to encourage us in our new life in Jesus. He has warned us not to be deceived by those who claim that there is no such thing as sin or that sin doesn’t really matter, or by liars who deny Jesus is the Messiah and the antichrist who denies the Father and the Son (1 John 1.6, 2.22-23). He warns us not to believe those who claim that we can know God without knowing Jesus because they deny that Jesus is the very embodiment of God. In short, John warns us not to be deceived by those who do not know God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and who therefore try to make up their own reality that suits and justifies their evil and/or misguided ways.

John warns us about these things, not so much to tear down the deceivers but to help us see their teachings as the false and empty things they really are. And now in today’s lesson we see John starting to encourage us. Why settle for tofu when we can have the choicest filet?? No, John says. Because we are God’s children bought with the price of the Son’s blood, we will share in all that Jesus has so that when he appears we will be like him. This is why John goes on to make the remarkable (and troubling) statement that no one who abides in (i.e., no one who has a real relationship with) Jesus sins. This is true because Jesus does not sin and we who are tied to him become like him. John clearly doesn’t mean that Christians do not sin. That would contradict what he previously said about sin and flies in the face of experience. It also contradicts what he tells us elsewhere, that when we do sin we have Jesus as our Advocate. Rather, what John has in mind is that as we are transformed by Jesus in the power of the Spirit, we abandon our sinful patterns of living and start to imitate Jesus, so that he and his will are at the center of our decision-making and lives, not our selfish and proud ambitions and desires.

This should make perfect sense to us in light of God’s promised new world. If we are being shaped to live in that world by virtue of our relationship with Jesus, it means we have to learn new patterns of living characterized by love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and the like that are compatible with God’s new creation rather than clinging to our old patterns of living in God’s good but fallen world and characterized by anger, hostility, pride, mercilessness, and the like.

This is why Jesus tells his disciples and us to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his Name to all the world. We are to do this because we are the recipients of God’s forgiveness and by the healing and transforming love of Jesus are enabled to leave our former unproductive lifestyles for a new one that promises our transformation and healing. We see this played out in our NT lesson. Peter and John had just healed a paralytic to the astonishment of the crowd and now they are telling the crowd their secret. It was not by their own power but by the power of the Author of Life, Jesus of Nazareth, and faith in his name. For you see, whenever we let Jesus get ahold of us, transformation of all kinds always follows. Sometimes it happens in immediate and spectacular ways as when the paralytic got healed (and some of us do). But more often than not, it happens in gradual and almost imperceptible ways. And there’s an additional bonus. Living our life in the manner Jesus lived his means that we will always find meaning and purpose for living because we are living in ways that God always intended for us when he created us, as well as how we will live in God’s promised new world when it comes in full.

A moment’s thought ought to help us see the reality of this truth. Think of the seemingly intractable problems in our world with its hatred and war and injustice. In every case we hear voices clamoring for us to believe that it is the fault of one side exclusively. But that is never the case. The problems in the Middle East are not caused exclusively by Jew or Arab. Both sides contribute. And until there is repentance on the part of both sides, i.e., until both sides admit their hard-hearted and stubborn refusal to acknowledge their role in the dispute so that each has a basis to forgive the other, the warring madness will continue. The same thing is true with race relations and the emerging issue of religious liberties versus gay rights. Or consider those families who refuse to forgive a killer, even when the killer is executed. There can be no closure or healing where there is no forgiveness and we see this expressed consistently by those who are asked if the killer’s execution brought them closure. We can also see it on the faces of those who steadfastly refuse to repent and forgive because they are fueled by their own anger, for whatever reason. There is a hardness to their features that develops and they tend to grow old before their time. It is a sad spectacle to watch. No wonder the Bible warns us consistently about the deadly effects of sin! It literally does make us sick and kill us. But as Jesus’ people who are powered by our Easter hope with its call to repentance and the forgiveness of sins, we are to bring his healing love to bear on these people and situations (and others closer to home), both through our prayers and in our words and actions, all the while proclaiming that in no other Name can real healing and transformation occur. By Jesus’ life we find life and so can the world.

None of this is easy, of course, because the human condition is very complex and because there are sworn enemies out there who hate us and want to deceive us (and worse). To counteract the dark powers and their minions as well as the various circumstances of life that beat and weigh us down and cause us to become so distracted that we forget our resurrection hope, Jesus himself reminds us what we must do to keep him at the center of our world. We are to search the Scriptures regularly and diligently to learn the story of how God is rescuing us and his world from evil, sin, and death, a rescue that finds its culmination in and through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are to search the Scriptures to remind us that Jesus is also our risen and ascended Lord who rules over his world, mysterious and improbable as that seems to us at times. We are to feed on our Lord at his Table each week and find him in our fellowship and worship. Doing these things will allow us to stop and take the time to reflect and remember that we are Easter people who have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.