The Sanctuary Sermon for
The Sanctuary Sermon for 4/11/21
“Got Fish?” Luke 24:36-43
The disciples are in the upper room behind locked doors when Jesus suddenly appears to them. Let’s jump right into the story.
36“Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
I have some wonderful news for you this morning. Jesus is on the loose! At least that’s what my old college roommate told me last Sunday before he abruptly hung up the phone. Jesus is still on the loose and locked doors and shuttered lives can’t keep him out. Most think Easter is over when we’ve managed to vacuum up the last of the thin ribbons of green plastic Easter grass off the carpet and the children have come down from their sugar highs. But long after the White Sales at Macy’s have ended, we’re still celebrating Easter.
And you’ll notice that for a holiday that is supposed to be about new life and resurrection and the Glory of God and for some reason bunnies, we really get very little of that in the resurrection accounts. What we do get in the stories of Jesus appearing to his disciples after the resurrection is a great deal of fear and doubt and wounds and bread. There aren’t a whole lot of answers in these post resurrection texts, but for some reason there is a lot of broiled fish.
Here we find the disciples gathered together 3 days after Jesus died and what they knew was that their friend, teacher and Lord was dead. Mary had told them that she had seen Jesus alive but in the face of loss, everything they knew was changing—they were scared and they were doubting. And this is understandable. And it was here that Jesus suddenly stood among them. And in their fear and disbelief he doesn’t judge them, he doesn’t rebuke them, he doesn’t try and convince them of the truth…he just offers himself. See my hands. Touch my feet. I am here. Peace be with you. Don’t be afraid. Let’s eat some broiled fish.
The truth is that Jesus is scary, because, as he makes clear to the disciples, you can’t know him at a distance, on your own private terms. You cannot think your way to knowing Jesus through the answers you find in your own private Bible study, or through spiritualizing him as an otherworldly symbol. He wants to get up close and personal.
You can’t know Jesus by spiritualizing him. Not the guy we read about today who turns to his completely freaked out friends who have no idea what this all can mean and asks them the really crucial and deeply spiritual question of; “So, do you have any food?” I wonder if what this text is saying to us is that if you get all transcendent and spiritual, floating above the disappointingly broken physical world, you may just miss Jesus all together because that’s him over there at the snack table. Which is an embarrassing place to have the Lord hanging out. But despite all our attempts to spiritualize, cleanse and middle-class Jesus up, he just stands there eating broiled fish with his bare hands, holes and all.
Reading this story this week and about how the disciples were scared and doubting and really wanting some answers and getting nothing but broiled fish I was taken back to the very first funeral I officiated over. The senior pastor was in the hospital following surgery and the funeral fell to me, the happy-go-lucky youth pastor.
And how terrifying it was to think that I, at the wise old age of 24 would be the person people expected to come up with a satisfying answer to why their husband, father and loved one had suddenly passed away. It’s hard to forget.
I managed to get through the funeral, offering hope to the family, albeit somewhat sweaty while pulling on my shirt collar the whole time. As the family gathered around their beloved for one last time before the coffin was closed, I was thinking of what I would say at the graveside when the widow launched herself onto the deceased with great wailing and gnashing of teeth. I was stunned. What should be done? The funeral home director was throwing shade at me while emphatically nodding his head toward the swaying casket. I was like, “What?” I swallowed and stepped forward offering words of condolence to no effect. Eventually the widow’s son and I helped her down. I poured her a glass of water from a pitcher on the hospitality table and offered her my handkerchief. Patting her on the back I wondered, “What good am I doing here?”
It just didn’t seem like enough.
People wanted answers that day, or maybe it was just me who wanted answers, but I soon learned that all I had to offer was my presence, a glass of water and my handkerchief. Only later did I realize—that’s just what Christianity is.
As many of you know, there has been a lot of shade thrown our way with illness, unexpected and lengthy hospital stays, too many surgeries and chemo treatments of late. Through that, I’ve observed how you lift one another up with your words of encouragement, emotional and spiritual support. There are times though when words are hard to come by. There have been instances in hospitals and funeral homes when I found I just didn’t have much to say. Honestly, I’ve had to fight the urge to say something even if it was stupid just so I could feel like I had said something at all. But that never helps.
You hear a lot of nonsense in hospitals and funeral homes. God had a plan, we just don’t know what it is. Maybe God took your daughter because he needs another angel in heaven. Stuff like that. But when I’ve experienced loss or am troubled, the last thing I need is a well-meaning but vapid person to say when God closes a door he opens a window because that then makes me want to ask where exactly that window is so I can push them the hell through of it.
This is the nonsense spawned from bad religion. And usually when you are troubled about the unknown and someone says something so overly optimistic to you, it’s about them. It’s about the fact that they simply cannot allow themselves to entertain their own mortality, so instead they turn it into a Precious Moments greeting card.
This isn’t exactly uncommon. In moments of bad news we are afraid and doubting and we want answers just like the disciples did 3 days after Jesus died. But all anyone can really do is be with us and make some casseroles. And when that’s all we have to offer it can feel like it’s not enough, but the truth is that is Christianity. Presence and stories and meals and defiantly believing that death is simply not the last word. A pastor once said that Christianity isn’t spiritual, it’s material. You can’t even get started without a loaf of bread some wine and a river.
Jesus comes to his followers, then and now, in our fears and uncertainties and doesn’t always give answers. In our fear and disbelief, he doesn’t judge, he doesn’t rebuke, he doesn’t try and convince us of anything, he just offers himself. He stays with us. See my hands…touch my feet. I am here. Peace be with you. Don’t be afraid. Got fish? Let’s eat. And as the Body of Christ this is what you do for each other as well and for the world that God loves so madly. Your Facebook messages and PM’s and texts to #melastrong and others while they are fighting the good fight are a witness. It’s a witness to a God who promises to be with us and in those prayers for them, we don’t offer any answers, we just claim the promise as our own. I’m looking forward to the day when we can all share a meal together again.
We might think that knowing Jesus means not being fearful and not having doubt, but you can’t know Jesus by spiritualizing him. He is made known when we gather and tell the story and share food at his table. It’s common. It’s simple. And it really, really is enough.
Good morning. Now go home.
And we’ll see Jesus.
This is the word of the Lord for the day.