Easter C Sermon (2007)

The Resurrection of Our Lord
Texts: Acts 10:34-43;
Luke 24:1-12; 1 Cor. 15:19-26


The various pieces of this sermon were coming together in my mind, but I was having trouble coming up with a theme to unify them all together. Then, there it was … laying on the kitchen table. A DVD the boys had rented waiting to be taken back to Blockbuster: “Monty Python’s And Now for Something Completely Different.” Don’t worry. It’s not a Monty Python bit that you’re about to hear as the theme for this sermon. It’s the title. It’s perfect for Easter: “And Now for Something Completely Different!”

What happened that first Easter was shockingly new, completely different. First off, why would the angels appear first to women? That’s all wrong, right from the start. In the patriarchal cultures of the ancient world, women were not considered reliable witnesses. How could you believe them? With women as the first apostles, it’s as if God is saying, “And Now for Something Completely Different.”

And there were so many other things shockingly new about this whole affair. Such a resurrection would mean that Jesus is the Messiah. But they had just witnessed this Jesus executed on the cross as a criminal, as a traitor to both the Jewish and Roman authorities. Why would God grant him the resurrection life of the Messiah? Understand this about the First Century Judea in which Jesus lived: Messianic pretenders were a dime a dozen, constantly attempting to lead military revolt against Rome. And the criteria for knowing they were pretenders was simple: they ended up on Roman crosses. Yes, if God had sent Jesus to die on the cross as the Messiah, then God was doing something completely different than what God’s people were expecting.

And if the raising of a crucified Messiah was shockingly different, there was something different about Jesus even in his ministry beforehand. Especially in Luke’s gospel there came an immediate connection of this new resurrection life to something quite familiar in Jesus’ ministry — namely, his table fellowship with all kinds of people in ways that tended to break the rules. Luke follows up his story of Easter morning with one of Easter afternoon and evening, a story we won’t be reading this year during our seven-week Easter celebration. It’s that marvelous story of two grieving disciples on the way to Emmaus. All of a sudden Jesus is walking the road with them, but they don’t recognize that it’s Jesus. For hours they converse with Jesus, with Jesus opening up to them whole new ways to read the scriptures, but they still don’t recognize him. It isn’t until they arrive at Emmaus and invite him to dinner, that we read this: “When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30-31b).

What was it about being at table with them that they finally recognized him? I think it’s a hint of something that was already completely different about Jesus life and ministry with them before he died. He ate with sinners. He ate with those who others considered outsiders. He even risked it on a hillside with thousands of strangers, feeding them with five loaves and two fish. Being Kosher as a good Jew meant not only eating the right foods prepared in the right way, but perhaps most important of all was with whom you ate. Jesus broke loads of kosher rules by the folks he chose to eat with. His table fellowship was already a sign of something completely different, the kind of inclusiveness that is an affront to every patriot of one’s own culture and community.

This something completely different from God is also at the heart of our First Lesson this morning. In Acts chapter 10 it is likely several years after the first Easter, and the new day which Easter brings is still dawning on Peter. He begins his sermon, ‘Hey, I’m finally getting it! God shows no partiality! God isn’t as choosey as we human beings are.’

But I need to fill-in a bit what has led up to this “Aha!” moment for Peter. If it wasn’t for the note before the lesson in our bulletin, we wouldn’t even know who Peter is speaking to — and it still might not be clear to us. The bulletin tells us that Peter’s sermon is a bit of a command performance “at the home of Cornelius, a Roman army officer.” But do we realize what this means without thinking about? Cornelius was a Gentile! And not just any old Gentile, but an army officer of their most bitter enemy, Rome, their overlords and oppressors. Talk about eating with the wrong people! Not even Jesus went quite that far.

And what has preceded the moment of this speech is one of the more comical moments of the New Testament. To get Peter to even consider going into the home of a Gentile, God has to give Peter some bizarre dreams. It’s like a seen out of that TV show in recent years, Fear Factor. I never actually watched the show, but if you watch any shows on NBC, you have to suffer through previews at the commercial breaks. With Fear Factor we were treated to glimpses of people eating bizarre foods, like raw slugs, and other stuff so repulsive that I don’t even want to know what they are. Well, Peter has that kind of dream, or nightmare. Peter, kosher Jew, has to sit down at table and eat all manner of unkosher foods. The dream only makes sense as a dream from God when he receives a  message to go to the home of a Gentile. The dream signals how completely different this experience is going to be for Peter, and he begins to realize that the Risen Jesus is at the heart of it. The Risen Christ is calling him, and us, to something completely different, asking us to break down all our ordinary boundaries between kosher and unkosher, clean and unclean, insider and outsider.

And, yes, there is a Fear Factor involved. It’s something completely different, shockingly new, remember? Oh, God isn’t going to ask us to eat any disgusting foods like on the TV show or in Peter’s dream. No, God is asking us, with our Risen Lord in our midst, to reach out to folks who are different from us as central to the new thing that God is doing in this world. If God is fulfilling the promise made Abraham and Sarah, that their ancestors would be a blessing to all the families of the world, then all the normal boundaries between our human families need to come down. We are to finally become the new human family that God created us to be.

This Lent we’ve been blessed during our midweek worship to focus on a family story found in Luke 15. It’s Jesus’ wonderful parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s that story of a son who comes to his father, and essentially says, ‘Drop dead, Dad, and give me my share of the inheritance.’ Amazingly, instead of kicking him out without giving him a penny, this father complies. And sure enough the son goes out on his own and wastes the whole of his inheritance. When the son decides to go back home to his father and be treated no longer as a full member of the family, but as a servant, the father will have none of it. Now, what this son has done to his father was considered a most grievous offense in those days, and even the neighbors would have been within their rights to run the son off as a complete outsider to them. But when the son returns home, his father forestalls that scenario by running out to meet him before even the neighbors can get a hold of him. And what does he do? He welcomes him back as a son and invites the whole town to party in celebration. For his son was dead and is alive again. He was lost but is found. In short, it’s another example of Jesus throwing out the usual rules about who eats together as family.

Twice during Lent I’ve also shared what happened to me three years ago when I led a bible study on Luke 15 in a central city parish with those in that community, most of whom lived in poverty. As we explored together the main characters in this story, imagining who we might relate to, it became apparent that many of the folks there that day weren’t relating to any of the central characters in this family story, not the prodigal son, nor the father, and not even the older son. No, as folks living in poverty, feeling like outsiders in our modern American society, they identified most closely with servants in the story. They didn’t feel like part of the family. I left that bible study feeling crushed, that such a parable of grace could still be experienced as something else. I didn’t fully recover until going through the Holy Week a little time later and experienced that story of our Lord himself, the true Son of the Father, who let himself be made as the worst of outsiders, executed as a criminal. It is in his being raised again by the Father that we have the promise that God’s Holy Spirit continues to work with the Body of Christ in this world to continue lowering all those boundaries that divide us as human beings.

And it is as we celebrate this family meal of God’s all-embracing family that we are fed and nurtured to continue this work in the world of reaching out the power and grace of God’s life to all people. Hosted by our Risen Lord, this meal continues to be something completely different, a banquet so inclusive that it reaches out across time and space to include all those around the world who share this meal today. It is so far reaching across time and space that it even joins us with our loved ones who have gone before. And yet there are those who still are left out, and so our work, our mission continues. Today let us eat and celebrate and be fed with this holy food that makes us into one family. Tomorrow we get back to work, to the mission that reaches out to include all people in God’s family. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, April 8, 2007

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