Touching Jesus

Passage: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Date: April 26, 2009
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Vischer
Guest Preacher:

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Sermon

 "There is a truth past knowing; there is a joy past hope. "  A poet expressed this mystery of our faith.  Do we really know the good news of God's love and forgiveness?  Do we live it?  Maybe it seems to us just too good to be true.
    The Reverend Harold Kurtz, part of our Westminster community,  tells a powerful story of  his ministry in Ethiopia.  Harold tells the story in a grand way; I can't tell you the story with as much vividness, but I'll share this:  Harold  had been invited by some young people to come and speak to them.  This was an area in which the Gospel had never been proclaimed.  Harold arrived at the school in the afternoon, and  was told that he'd speak that evening.  All day people gathered from all over, young and old.  Then Harold proclaimed the Gospel: the pouring out of Jesus upon the cross and of God's love and the power of the resurrection, the invitation to follow Jesus.   When he was done speaking, there was a pause.  An old man, spokesperson for the tribe, thought about  what he'd heard, and then he said,
     "What you have told us about God is what we'd always hoped." 
            There is a truth past knowing; there is a joy past hope.
    All  hope the disciples had for a redeemer of Israel-- died as they saw  one they loved--Jesus-- tortured, killed and put in the tomb.  The disciples had been told that the Son of Man would die and be raised again.  At the beginning of Luke 24, just before our reading today,  the women reported that they saw Jesus, alive,  at the open tomb.  Then, two of the disciples saw the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus.   Jesus appeared to Simon Peter, too.   But they couldn't believe it really happened.   Despite all of these appearances, even as the disciples were talking about it--Jesus appeared to them.  They were terrified.
     Jesus showed them that he was the same Jesus who suffered; and that he was real! 
  "See my wounds.  Touch me and see.   Give me some fish to eat, I will show you.  Ghosts don't eat."
      As the befuddled, terrified disciples gave Jesus fish, they "disbelieved in their joy." 
    The entire Gospel of Luke sings a message of God's love breaking open the world. . . Open tomb; open doors, bread broken and eyes opened, the disciple's minds opened to the meaning of the scripture. . . This message of a crucified Christ and of  full acceptance of  the "outsider" into fellowship without distinction. . .this message has been a challenge for us to believe--from the time of the first Christians,  to today.    
             It is too good to be true!
    To touch Jesus is to live in joy that seems too good to be true.  Joy that comes from God's forgiveness.  Love that calls us and causes us to honestly admit where we have separated ourselves from others.  Separated ourselves from creation and wisdom.  Where we have turned away from God's justice and love.    We proclaim the Good News when we live authentic lives, centered on God; when we try to love others as the self and trust in God to magnify our lives.  St. Francis said, "Proclaim the Gospel always; if necessary, use words."
        There is a truth past knowing; there is a joy past hope.

    Have you ever received a gift which has given you such joy--you can hardly believe it?
On Thursday, I returned from another ten days with  the Benedictine sisters of Our Lady of Grace Monastery  and nineteen other Protestant clergywomen, in Beech Grove, Indiana.   During that time we spent five of our days in silence and prayer.  We prayed through creating art.   For me, there were moments of unbelievable joy, in the midst of pain and yearning. 
    Today as you leave the sanctuary, I invite you to see some of the art I created there.
     Part of that time with the clergywomen, we spent in small groups of five, our covenant groups.  Each time we met, one of us shared some situation in our life in need of discernment, support or accountability.  I won't go into the details of what I shared with the group.  But I will say that I made myself vulnerable--sharing honestly of something hurting in my own life.  I felt both embarrassed and ashamed.  Part of what I shared was my repentance.   The four women listened intently and without interruption.    They gave me time to get through my story.  And then, after a long silence, amazingly, what their response was accepting, honest,  forgiving, and  loving.   I felt embraced by Jesus.
    There is a truth past knowing; there is a joy past hope.
      Flying home from Indiana, I sat next to an RN who told me how bitter his work had become.  He stilled loved the nursing--but the management of his organization had changed from one that valued the employees, to a system that seemed to constantly remind employees that they were expendable--and they better not mess up--or they'll be fired.  As I listened, I heard disappointment, anger and shame.  He wondered:  Is there any hope for this situation anymore?  It couldn't possibly improve, could it? 
    Whether it is because of a toxic work environment, a death, depression, lost job, divorce, broken relationship, or illness--most of us bear wounds that at times, seem unable to be healed. 

    In the lobby of the monastery is a large painting of the risen Christ.  He is showing the wounds on his hands, his face full of compassion.  His arms are outstretched.  The Jesus who knew what it is to suffer pain, humiliation and death--is the risen Christ who embraces us in our suffering, and heals us that we may witness to God's love.
     Every third Saturday evening at Westminster, there is a dedicated team of people, including musicians, the prayer team and the worship committee who light the candles, prepare the music and open hearts and minds to Christ's healing touch.  The Taize service of Healing and Wholeness is a quiet, but potent reminder of good news.  As we offer our wounds and broken places to God, as the prayer team lays on hands for healing, we trust that Christ will touch and heal in ways that we may not even be aware.  
    It is mystery.  There is a truth past knowing; there is a joy past hope.
    The appointed Psalm for today, Psalm 4:7 reads  "You, O God. . . Have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound."  There is mystery here:  Somehow, in the midst of suffering and loss, we are graced with God's love and joy.
    We are hesitant, aren't we, to give ourselves to joy?  We can understand all too well the disciples' "disbelieving in joy."  We think:  if it's too good to be true, than it probably isn't. 
We'd rather be in control and skeptical than vulnerable to joy.
    Last Sunday evening, during my retreat with the clergywomen, we were led in worship with communion by some of our Protestant sisters, in the Our Lady of Grace Monastery chapel.  Susan, a Lutheran pastor from Portland, preached a powerful sermon.  But the highlight of the service for me was the communion.  There at the table--where for Catholics, only male priests are able to preside-- there we were served by two clergywomen:  Haeran, a United Methodist Korean pastor and Mary, an Episcopalian priest, of African American and Native American descent.
    Receiving the bread and cup from their hands, made me think of the wounds of  race, sexism, divisions across faith denominations.  I was "disbelieving in joy" as their hands touched mine; as I received the wine and bread.  I was filled to the brim and overcome with gratitude for the reconciliation and peace embodied by their service.
   
        There is a truth past knowing; there is a joy past hope.
 
    What would our lives be like if we opened ourselves to that truth and joy?
What if we truly believed in the depths and breadth of God's love and forgiveness? 
    What if we could see and name in our own lives, our repentance and God's forgiveness? What if we proclaimed that to the world, each and every day?  What would our church, our community, our planet, be like, then?