24:44 Then Jesus said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."
24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
24:46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,
24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
24:48 You are witnesses of these things.
24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
24:50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.
24:51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
24:52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy;
24:53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
YOU are witnesses.
“The Nurturing Place” in Jersey City is a daycare run by Catholic sisters for children of homeless families. Like the families that some of you helped care for this past week through Families moving Forward, a program that houses homeless families in churches, the children of these homeless families did not have many opportunities; none of the little ones had even been to the beach – even though it just was a short distance away. So one day, the sisters took the preschoolers to the Jersey shore and then shared what happened.
Can you imagine: The little legs of the 3 and 4 year olds scrambling up the sandy dunes, falling down in the sand and then giggling as they climbed back up again. It seemed like climbing a mountain. Finally, they reached the top of the dunes. And then… they could scarcely believe their eyes: there it was - the ocean – with water as far as they could see.
Those little preschoolers – as eager as any child would be - slid down the hill and ran towards the waves, running in and out of the water, laughing, splashing. What happiness! What joy! The children played and played until the sisters said it was time for lunch.
They left the beach and went to a park – not far away. But, after lunch, the children begged to go back up the sand dunes. No sooner had the sisters said yes than One little boy named Freddie took off. He outran the rest and climbed his way to the top. He looked out, then turned to the others and shouted, “It’s still there!”1
It’s still there. In Freddie’s young life, so little was “permanent” that he wasn’t sure that anything would last – not even an ocean.
We may not wonder about the ocean… pretty sure that is going to be there… but with melting glaciers we may wonder about the ocean levels -- or about the stability of other things. With 40 tornadoes pounding the heartland of the US in May and blizzards hitting us – last year in April and this year in May… the weather feels less predictable, less certain than in the past. The whole world feels unsettled… not only in our country but also the world – I mean, what’s up with Brexit? In our ever-changing world, it sometimes feels as if we are walking on shifting sands.
The disciples may have felt like they were walking on shifting sands too. They had been following Jesus for three years, watching as Jesus healed people; listening to his teaching; rejoicing in his triumphal ride into Jerusalem; then despairing as Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. But …Easter morning, they suddenly hear reports that Jesus is alive – and Jesus appears to them.
It is no wonder that the disciples are unsettled …to say the least. Perhaps they were afraid. After all… some of them had run away when the Romans came. Others had stood at a distance. Maybe they felt complicit or anxious… certainly confused... and clueless as to what was coming next…
Into this anxiety of unknowing, Jesus does three things:
First he opens the scriptures, like he did for the disciples who had been on the road to Emmaus. and like he had for them time and time again as they were traveling with him. So Jesus interprets for them – and shows them how his death and resurrection fulfills the prophecies.
Secondly, Jesus proclaims repentance and forgiveness, beginning in Jerusalem…with them. Jesus knows their fears and anxieties and forgives them. Remember… they were standing there… certainly blaming themselves –and probably each other for letting Jesus down. But Jesus wipes all that away and proclaims forgiveness, not only for them and for all those in Jerusalem who had condemned him but for all the nations.
And then… Jesus proclaims to them… and to us: You are witnesses. You are witnesses. What does that mean?
The role of a witness is to tell the truth, to proclaim to others who have not seen, who have not heard – like Freddie telling his friends, “It’s still here!”
Being a witness means you can’t keep silent. You have a responsibility. As it says on my cross, “Christ is counting on you.”
So did Jesus’ make a PR mistake? I mean… counting on a bunch of fishermen? I guess they were turned around. But what about today? Is Jesus really counting on people who have been taught – at least culturally - that faith is private, personal – live and let live- don’t bother your neighbor… don’t make waves… ?
But maybe Jesus’ didn’t make a mistake. Have you ever heard the legend of the invention of chess? The story goes that the emperor was so pleased with the inventor of the game of chess that he said to the inventor – “Name your reward!”
The man responded: “Oh emperor, my wishes are simple. I only wish for this: Give me one grain of rice for the first square of the chessboard, two grains for the next square, four for the next, eight for the next and so on for all 64 squares, with each square having double the number of grains as the square before.“
The emperor agreed, amazed that the man had asked for such a small reward. Until, the next week when his treasurer came back and informed him that the reward would add up to an astronomical sum, far greater than all the rice that could conceivably be produced in many many centuries!”
The legend of the grain of rice is the story of how sharing the Good News of Jesus works. After all… who has been a witness for Christ in your life? I’m not asking who was the first person who told you about Jesus. I’m asking, who have you seen living a life of faith?
For me, it has been many people – certainly in the beginning my mom Marilyn and dad Ardell and my grandparents, Mabel and Spencer, Martha and Albert, and my Sunday School teacher Elsie Olson and my pastors Rube and Dave and Anne. But that is not all. The witness that I have seen continues with my family and friends and with all of you. After all, what are you doing? You are showing up to worship, encouraging me – and one another. By living a life of faith, you ARE a witness.
This is what it means to be a witness. It means “practicing” your faith inside these walls, but not just inside these walls. It also means taking it outside to the places where you live and work and play.
Maybe Jesus did not make a mistake in entrusting the message to his disciples – and they, in turn, to each person that they met. After all… if one grain becomes two… and two becomes four… soon 1000 becomes 2000. Good News can multiply too.
Jesus did one more thing: he blessed his disciples. They responded - not with dread or anxiety because of the weight of responsibility that Jesus placed upon them, but -- with joy, blessing God.
Jesus blesses you and me too and sends us out to bless others. In the words of the song we are about to sing, we join heaven and earth in responding with JOY “for in your life and mine is shining the glory of God; your life and mine unite in the love of God and your life and mine will always bear witness to God.”
Thanks be to God!