Presence, Proclamation, Power

Luke 24:36-49
3rd Sunday of Easter
Elizabeth M. Deibert

This past week, Tricia and I attended the presbytery’s mandatory sexual misconduct prevention seminar for pastors and educators. The psychologist who spoke to us was particularly concerned for those of us who are in committed relationships that we keep our relationships are healthy, because you know it is unhealthy relationships that often pave the way for infidelity. It is often people who are not maintaining healthy boundaries – working too hard, neglecting their own families, allowing a marriage or partnership to languish for lack of attention, who find themselves tempted to have an affair, who are caught looking for love in all the wrong places.

Now while it is not obvious how this connects with our reading today the third resurrection narrative, I think you will begin to see how they came together in my mind. Because I see in this holy encounter of Jesus with the disciples a lesson about all our relationships.

1. Jesus enters the room with a peaceful presence. He is very present to his friends and very sensitive to the fear and doubt they are experiencing. That’s the kind of non-anxious presence we need with those we love.

2. Next he talks to them. What is proclamation but talking about what is significant – telling the truth of life as we see it. In our relationships conversation about what is important to us is the lifeblood of intimacy. Apart from emotional intimacy, any other form of intimacy is hard to sustain over the length of years. Jesus takes that conversation further by interpreting the present through the witness of the past. He helps them understand scripture and the heart of the good news, which involves sharing it, not expecting people to come get it, but taking it out to them.

3. Finally he promises that power from God will come upon them, presumably the Holy Spirit who comes at Pentecost. The power of an intimate spiritual union comes to mind, a power when unleashed is wonderful, joyful, and overwhelming. So peaceful presence, to alleviate fear and doubt, proclamation to understand scripture and be able to share it, and power from on high. Presence, proclamation, and power. Watch for those as we read the scripture:

(Read Luke 24:36-49)

My brother woke up one night in his college dorm room and saw Jesus at the foot of his bed. I have never had such a direct visual encounter with the Lord as that, but I have felt the presence of God’s spirit in music, in receiving communion, in writing sermons and in hearing sermons of others, in participating in baptisms. I have experienced the touch Christ when praying in small groups with a kind of electricity, a spiritual intimacy is almost palpable in the room. What about you? Think hard because I’m going to ask you to share with another. When has the presence of Christ, or the Spirit of God been real to you? Have you ever been overwhelmed by the peace of Christ as if Christ himself whispered in your ear, “Peace be with you”? Maybe there’s a part of the worship service where you more often feel that God is speaking to you or moving your heart. Maybe when a child was born or a parent died. Think about that for a moment silently and perhaps jot down a note or two, and then I’m going to do something we don’t often do at Peace and that is we are going to turn to a neighbor and share with one another a time when we have sensed that God was present. Perhaps it was at sunset on the beach or viewing the mountains in their autumnal glory. (Give time)

Now that might have felt odd to you because those of us who grew up in mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches have not often been asked to talk about our experience of God. We have often considered it too private, but that’s what has gotten us into trouble with growth. Who wants to go to a church where no one is excited enough about the experience that they want to speak of it?

If we cannot speak with authenticity about our experience of God, then we cannot share faith. Then all we can do is invite someone to our church like it’s a social club. Hey, come to my church. There are a lot of important people you ought to know there. That’s how the mainline churches grew in the 20th Century, but not 21st. 21st Century people are more concerned with experience than with the social rewards of church membership, which have diminished dramatically as the church as institution has been questioned. So the churches that are filled with people unable to speak of their experience of Christ are not growing. Thank you for being courageous enough to learn to talk about your experience of the Lord.

So Christ was present and shared peace with the fearful disciples, and then, to aid their understanding, he shared scripture. So that leads me to my second point and that is our need to know scripture. Your experience of the presence of Christ is great, but you also need to have a foundation in scripture. Think to yourself in this moment. Do you have a habit of reading scripture daily or even weekly. Talk to Troy about his disciplined commitment to making his way through the Bible. Talk to Mickey about how you can sign up to receive the daily lectionary (a set of scripture readings) on your computer every day. Talk to me about the director of student activities, who when I was in college, encouraged me to memorize scripture verses which are still with me today.

When I talk to my children or to you, my friends, verses like “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm.” We could say that to Jo Allison, and after many months of waiting she was able to affirm last week, “Yes, the Lord does answer prayer.” We can say “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” to Catherine, who needs to know that no matter what college she chooses, God will be at work for good. We can quote the psalms in saying to someone struggling with an agonizing problem, “How long, O Lord? How long?” Oh, sure, there’s a lot in the Bible that I would NOT encourage you to commit to heart. There are many verses that are so culturally bound to a 1st Century mindset, verses about eating habits or warfare or the placeof women or sexuality that they do us little good and occasionally have done harm to people and to the true witness of Christian love. But there are other portions that have inspired tremendous faith and hope and generosity of spirit and forgiving love.

Talk to Sarah Rea and get her to recite the 23rd Psalm for you sometime this morning. Think about how meaningful that Psalm is once it is in your head and your heart. Talk to Richard about the 100 year old lady in Hospice care who can still recite the 23rd Psalm with a voice full of faith. In fact, get Richard to play his recording of that for you during fellowship time. There is a mysterious but real power in the words of scripture committed to heart, much like the mysterious but real presence of Christ at the communion table.

Notice that Christ’s call to the disciples and to us modern day disciples is to proclaim the gospel of repentance and forgiveness. To repent is to turn away from one kind of life and embrace another – that is a one time but also a continuing process of giving our lives over to Great Lover of us all. Giving ourselves over to love and forgiveness means relinquishing an attitude of individualistic rights, which is so central to our American identity. “Be generous, as the Lord is generous.” “Forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven you.” “Do not repay evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” Can’t you see how those verses shaped MLK and a movement for justice, rooted in peace?

Pick the scriptures you value and meditate and memorize and watch how it changes your attitude and your actions. “I have been crucified with Christ, such that it is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.” Christ in me is a much better person than Elizabeth’s striving to be her best. Repentant Elizabeth who knows she’s needs God’s forgiveness daily is a much better person than proud Elizabeth, thinking the world, the church and my family owe me something.
Repentant Elizabeth can speak of my own weakness and the gift of forgiveness, which unites me to every other human being. Repentant Elizabeth cannot hold on to grudges, but must forgive, as I am forgiven.

Presence, peaceful, re-assuring presence. Youth – there is nothing more powerful than a kid who is secure in the peaceful presence of Christ and can be that peace for other kids, who are swimming in a sea of insecurity and struggle for meaning and identity. You can model Christ’s peace when everybody around you is cutting somebody down and you have the strength to stand up for the person who’s being hurt.

Proclamation – we all have our story to share, but our story fits into a larger story of the people of God. The larger picture informs our understanding. And we share the good news, by our words and by our lifestyle that we have been raised from the deadness of despair and bitterness, from the deadness of prejudice and fear, from the deadness of self-centeredness and greed to a life of hope, forgiveness, love, and generosity.

And in all of this there is the promise of God’s power, that power that comes through the Spirit of the Lord all around us, a spirit that is present, a spirit that gives us courage to proclaim our truth in ways that don’t elevate us or deny others their own experiences. This Spirit leads us into the power of loving and faithful relationships. The power of that Spirit descends upon us as we commit ourselves to practicing the presence and the proclamation of Christ. Let us bow before the Spirit of God in silence.