Texts: Acts 3:12-19; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b- 48
You’re allowed to be a little clueless when you’re young. When I was just beginning to become independent in the kitchen, baking was my thing. With baked goods, you know they’re done when a toothpick stuck into the center of the pan comes up clean. Now, around our house toothpicks weren’t very plentiful. I don’t know what happened to them, but whenever I needed one there didn’t seem to be any to be had.
But I am resourceful and I had read that in the old days (pre-industrial revolution and therefore pre-pre-fab toothpicks) bakers would use a broom straw to test for doneness. So I’d go to the old broom in the corner of the kitchen and yank out a straw to do my testing. I like to think I didn’t use the used end of the broom straw, but it’s hard to remember for sure. And if I did, was that such a terrible sin? Judging by my mother’s reaction when she discovered my practice, it was. Needless to say, I use toothpicks religiously now.
You are allowed to be a little clueless when you’re just starting out, but eventually you should start catching on. This is just as true spiritually speaking as it is in life generally. Luke’s story of Jesus among the disciples after his resurrection is another account of how his followers doubted but were urged to experience, see, and believe.
This version is an even more intense encounter than last week’s story from John’s gospel. Here Jesus demonstrates his real presence by asking for food and consuming it. However mysteriously Jesus was present, it was not in a ghostly sense.
Jesus came to reveal God more intimately to humankind. He came to teach us that God is more than a character we imagine in our minds; more than a source of power that we can tap into to get us through difficult situations. Jesus taught us that God is not external to us, and not in us either.
Instead, we are in God. So God is not a projection of human desires and needs. Instead, all creation including humankind is a manifestation of God’s being and love.
This is the story that Easter tells with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are never done needing to hear this story and learning its significance for our lives. The first Christians told the story over and over, seeking to apply the lessons of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus everywhere they went and to every experience in their lives.
In Acts, Peter had just prayed outside the Jerusalem temple for a lame man who subsequently was healed. A crowd gathered around Peter wanting to make him a celebrity. But instead he insisted that the healing happened not by his own skill or power but through Jesus Christ. This beloved teacher was (though killed by the demand of the people of Jerusalem) still at work in the world giving life. Peter was only a conduit whose faithfulness made the presence and activity of Christ visible.
In 1 John, the writer of the letter explores another way God’s presence is made known through humankind. It is in the resistance to sin, and the persistence in doing righteousness. These words have become religious words over time, associated with proper conduct that draws a line between “nice” religious people and “bad” unbelieving people.
But in this letter, sin and righteousness are practical terms, applicable to all people. John carefully defined these words. Sin is lawlessness. Righteousness is doing what is right before God.
What is right is to value life as God does, and being life-givers rather than life-takers. When we offer ourselves out of love, God works through us, doing whatever is necessary for life to flourish. This takes every kind of form we can imagine, and some we have yet to imagine. So what is right, is not some vague culturally-driven set of moral behaviors.
As we go through life we are presented again and again with choices that ultimately show how we see ourselves, God, and the world around us. The foods we eat, the clothes we wear, the cars we buy, the schools we attend, the jobs we work, our legal justice system, our health care system among other things, all give us opportunities to exercise decisions that affect others and creation.
We can choose to make decisions for ourselves only, and disregard any concern for relationship with others and with God. It happens all the time. We’re free, after all.
But. If we say that we love God or follow God while our actions diminish life or lead to death in any way, then we make liars of ourselves and our profession of faith. 1 John says “No one who abides (remains) in him (Christ) sins.” This doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of sin. It means that the more we live in the fullness of our relationship with God the less we are tempted to sin.
On the other hand, the more we recognize ourselves as being within God, and celebrate it, the more clearly we see God’s presence and know God. The closer we identify with God and God’s way of being, the further we are from sin’s power. Since God’s ways always promote life, then the evidence of our relationship to God is by the way we become life-givers.
Jesus, in his resurrection appearance to the disciples not only showed them his physical reality, he also reminded them of his purpose in the world. To reconcile us to God. Christ came to fulfill all the promises of Moses, the call of the prophets, the songs and poetry of psalms, which tell us that from always life has come from God and exists within God and when we distance ourselves, God does not cease to urge us to realize again our intimate connection to God.
Luke puts it so well. He says that Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to understand the scriptures. Truly, only an open mind can understand and accept God’s ways. There are many clues around us that remind us that our lives are from and within God.
And fortunately God is patient with cluelessness as loving parents always are with their children. The story will keep being told, until we are finally ready to see ourselves as what we really are: creatures of God’s love. God knows we’re not nearly done enough yet, but God knows one day we will be. Amen.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.