Psalm 4
Luke 24: 36-49

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.  He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  Look 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.”

And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”

Then he 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.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 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, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  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.”

The Word of God for the People of God.

Thanks be to God.

Right at a month ago we spent time, in the heart of Lent, reflecting on gratitude.  This capital campaign that we are fully rolling out today is grounded in a vision of Making Room – literally and figuratively making room for a space that will open us to more fully to each other and to the broader community.  Regardless of the money we raise and the important campus improvements we make – this needs to be a project that includes every single one of us, whether we are in a position to give a gift or not, that touches us all in grace.  This project is even more about who God is, who God is calling us to be.  Grounded in gratitude, we move forward in faith, towards a vision of a community that has a space that draws us towards each other, that deepens faith, that provides room for classes and choices and speakers, to welcome the community and host key partners in ways we can’t right now.

Grounded in gratitude, what do we do?  We respond. We serve.  We do the ministry to which we are called, in all of the groups that surround you on the walls and so many more.  I am SURE in the making of lists I left something that is important to you off, and I’m very sorry about that!  Imagine it’s there.  But these posters in themselves are stunning reminders of extraordinary breadth of the ministry YOU DO, or said even more fully, that God does through you.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says at the beginning of today’s text.  His friends, the disciples, were startled and terrified, Luke says.  Even though some of them had seen him on the Road to Emmaus, had broken bread with him and their eyes were opened and they KNEW it was him, and they KNEW he was alive, much was unclear.  AGAIN – today is the third and final resurrection appearance in Luke – they were talking together, and Jesus shows up, moving towards them in love. Why are you afraid?  Look, as he walks, hands outstretched.  Their response – so honest and real – while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.  The translation is awkward, but it’s some combination of disbelieving, being without faith is the first word.  Then joy, delight, chara in the Greek, which is the same root as charis, grace.  And they marvel, they wonder, they are astonished.  He asks for a snack and eats the fish, proof for them that this resurrection is ‘of the body,’ as the Creed says.

Then he speaks his final words to them.  He reminds them of what they have done and seen, stuff he had told them, reaching back to Moses and the prophets – he helped them understand and find their place in it all.  Then he looks them in the eye:  “You are witnesses of these things.”  You are witnesses of these things.  You have seen and known and only begun to understand, but you have had a chance to be a part of this work, this calling.  Now your job is to tell people what you have seen.  Tell the story.  Tell what happened.  Tell how God has been at work in all this.  You are witnesses of these things.

We have three members who are this morning going to bear witness.  Grounded in gratitude, we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.  We serve, we care for each other, we learn and pray and nurture our spiritual lives.  We’ll hear from Pete McWilliams, then Eileen McAvoy, then Anna Meyer…

Peter A. McWilliams

The scripture in today’s gospel (Luke 24:36–53) reveals the hermeneutics of Jesus‘ life, ministry, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead. When he met for the last time with the 11 remaining disciples, he told them to preach the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins. Repentance is a word that meant to the Greeks a change of mind. But to the ancient Hebrews it had a slightly different meaning: a change of action. Blending these two concepts together, one may see that to repent means to change one’s mind or demeanor and to act upon that change.

But Jesus said something else, as well. He told his disciples to become witnesses “to all these things“ beginning from Jerusalem and extending to all nations. What is witness? To modern people this is a somewhat passive word. For example, I might be standing on a street corner when an automobile accident occurs. Two cars run together—with teeth, hair, and eyeballs all over the cement. In that instance, I was merely an innocent bystander; I did not do anything. But to the ancients the word “witness, “ contained a very active idea. It suggested the notion of doing something, becoming a participant, taking advantage of an opportunity, getting involved. This has come to be called the “Apostolic Mandate.“ It conveys the commandment for the disciples to preach the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins as witnesses of their faith.

So what is our mandate? In modern parlance we have a similar obligation to go out from our Jerusalem to the world around us in service to the church. “Service” is a word that has numerous definitions and uses. For example, one expects service from the waiter or waitress in a restaurant. It is good to break service in tennis. Many people, probably including many of you, have engaged someone to service your mortgage. My father was an officer in military service. Chris, Taylor, and Betty have given their lives in Christian service.

I am not one usually given to self-disclosure, but perhaps two examples from my own recent outreach activity will be sufficient to illustrate the point for us today. First, thanks to a recommendation from Chris, about four years ago I was asked to become a substitute teacher at the Durham Nativity School. For many people serving as a substitute teacher would be considered a daunting task, but for me it has always been a joy. I currently serve in that same capacity at Durham Academy. I love the interaction between teacher and pupil and the opportunity to be among our younger generation. As practically everyone knows, this church has played an active role in supporting the school both financially and otherwise. For example, it has been the recipient of special offerings that Westminster has collected for those in need in the community. Well, I was thrilled to be asked to serve in this role at Nativity. I took over for a teacher who was going out on maternity leave for seven weeks. The administration, faculty, and student body could not have been more welcoming and helpful.

A second opportunity to witness to my faith came about 10 or 12 years ago. Once again, Westminster reached out to me to serve for Meals on Wheels. Most of you know about the great service performed by this organization in the greater Durham area. Meals on Wheels, through her drivers, serve hundreds of meals per day to the elderly, physically challenged, and others. In my driving opportunities, I have encountered wonderful clients of all ages and with varying needs. Some of the clients were quite elderly, some could not readily manipulate kitchen utensils, and one apparently had been wounded in a drive – by shooting, and so on. I so enjoyed working with these people that I invited members of my basketball team to join me. I often had several players ride with me. Instead of serving as a driver, there are several other ways to become engaged in the charitable work of Meals on Wheels. One, of course, is to make a financial gift. Another is to donate goods. For example, right now Meals on Wheels are soliciting bottles of Ensure. Another immediate need is for people to go out in teams of two to install doorbells on the residences of clients who have no doorbells or whose doorbells are in a state of disrepair. All that is needed to do this job is a power drill and a couple of screwdrivers.

In conclusion, this is our mandate: to go out into the world that is beyond this sanctuary, our Jerusalem, to bear witness to our faith in service to the larger community. Perhaps this is best stated in the words of a hymn that we sang on Maundy Thursday, “An Upper Room Did Our Lord Prepare” (number 202). Part of the third stanza goes like this:

“In Christ our joy shall be made complete; sent out to serve, as he was sent.”

This journey as Easter people is not easy.  Sometimes, I must confess, I wonder how much of its worth it.  I don’t know if preachers are supposed to say that, but I wonder, with so much hurt in front of us, and around the world.  We are weary.  With our fear and joy and terror and amazement and disbelieving and STILL wondering.

But somehow, in the stories told by these witnesses, and by you, and so many others, Jesus Christ keeps showing up.  I take great comfort in this rich language in the gospels, and the fact that the first disciples didn’t really know what to do with it either sometimes.  We are called to be those witnesses, of the good news of the One who came and walked among us, and lived and died and rose again.  No matter what, in the midst of the weight and our lives, God is faithful still.  God is faithful still.

All praise be to God.  Amen.