April 19, 2015
Have you ever wondered why in the stories of the resurrection the angels at the empty tomb keep saying “Do not be afraid” and the risen Jesus in the upper room keeps saying, “Peace be with you”? The reason is simple: resurrection is a terrifying invasion of new creation into the old world. It scares Mary Magdalene, Peter, Thomas and the rest out of their minds. You could say they are scared to death by the invasion of Life.
Notice the words Luke uses today to describe their experience. He says they are “startled”, “terrified”, and “frightened”. Of course they are: not only has the safety of their locked rooms been invaded by Jesus’ scared body, but even more their familiar worldview has been blown apart.
Luke says Jesus opened their minds to understand the Bible. In the parlance of the sixties we’d say Jesus blew their minds so they could finally see what God is doing in Jesus Christ. It is the birth of the new creation into the old creation. As the Brits would say, Jesus’ resurrection is the thin end of the wedge that changes everything.
In less than a month, God willing, my grandchildren, 4 year old Ellie and 22 month old Margaret, will have their ordered, predictable world blown apart by the arrival of their baby brother. New creation always rocks the old creation.
The terrified disciples think about going back to fishing. They know how to fish, but they don’t have a clue how to live in the new creation.
So Jesus says, Peace be with you, and tells them what this all means for them: he says “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations—that is to every person in the world….”
Proclaimed by who? The disciples are going to be witnesses of Jesus and the resurrection, of the forgiveness of sins and the change of mind that happens when people know the love of the Father for them.
In other words, what Jesus was to Israel during his earthly ministry, disciples, then and now, are to be to the world. See N. T. Wright Surprised by Scripture
Back then Jesus came into Israel proclaiming, “the kingdom of God is at hand, change your mind, and believe the good news” and then he acts that out by standing with sinners and outcasts like us. Here and now we are to stand with the same kind of people who are screw-ups like us.
Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest who has worked with gangs in L.A for thirty years, says, “The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather in standing in the right place—with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.” Tattoos On My Heart, page 72
In 1987 Boyd’s Delores Mission Church declared it was a sanctuary for the undocumented after the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. A hundred or so undocumented men started sleeping in the church, which provoked one angry neighbor to spray paint on the steps, “Wetback Church.” The ladies church group that was heading up the project debated what to do about this.
Boyle said he’d get one of the homies to remove the graffiti. However, one of his quieter women stood up and said, “You will not clean that up.” She said, “if there are people in our community who are disparaged and hated and left out because they are mojados-wetbacks, then we shall be proud to call ourselves a wetback church.”
One prosperous member said he remembered the church before the gangs and the homeless and AA and NA showed up. He said, “You know, this used to be a church.” Others said it was finally becoming a church.
The Jesuit priests decided to face this head on so they talked about the issue in their sermons: They asked “What does this church smell like?” One person said, “it smells like feet.” “Excellent. But why does it smell like feet?”
“Cuz many homeless men slept here last night?”, says a woman.
“Well, why do we let that happen here?”
“It’s what we’ve committed to do”, says another.
“Well, why would anyone commit to do that?”
“It is what Jesus would do”, came the response.
“Well, then, what’s the church smell like now?”
A man stands and bellows, “It smells like commitment.”
The place erupts in cheers. New Creation breaking into the old.
Boyle writes that Jesus is not a man for others, but a man with others.
So now disciples know where they are called to stand.
So in Acts, Peter and John, just a few months after Pentecost when they are still smoking from their encounter with the Holy Spirit are walking into the Temple to pray and they see a disabled man looking for handouts.
Instead of avoiding the man, Peter walks up to him and says, “I don’t have silver or gold but what I have I give to you: in the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk.” Peter then grabs the man’s hand and immediately his feet and ankles are made strong. And the people watching are amazed. New creation breaking into the old.
In Acts Peter calls Jesus “the Author of Life.” When our world is invaded by the Author of Life then we realize we are not the author of our own story. We are characters in God’s story.
It’s the story about God standing with us in Jesus Christ–not ashamed to be seen with us, not ashamed of our smell, not ashamed to call us his sisters and brothers, the adopted children of God. New creation breaking into the old.
Of course not everyone has the big gifts that make headlines. Mother Theresa used to say, “We are not called to do great things for God, but to do small things with great love.”
Anglican bishop and preeminent New Testament scholar, Tom Wright had just such a small encounter in a taxi in London during rush hour. He was in his bishop’s outfit so the cabbie commented on the difficult time the Anglican Church was having with the issue of whether to allow women to become bishops. Bishop Wright agreed they were indeed having a difficult time. Then the taxi driver turned around to face him—the traffic was stopped—and said, “What I always say is this: if God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, everything else is basically rock ‘n’ roll, i’n’it?”
Bishop Wright says, “It was a great gospel moment, and I have dined out on it ever since.” Wright asks, How can we be New Creation in the midst of the old? We “…reach out our hands in love, wounded though they will be if the love has been true”. We…”invite those whose hearts have grown shrunken and shriveled with sorrow and disbelief to come and see …what love is doing, in our…works of justice and beauty that speak of God’s new creation, the works of healing and new life that should abound in our hospices and detention centers. Our schools and our countryside.” Surprised by Scripture: engaging Contemporary Issues, page 213 The risen Jesus can’t be locked out of any room. He also can’t be locked up in any room—not even our churches.
The church is that place that knows the Risen Christ has crashed our party and means to use us, scared and broken as we are, to make visible to the world the new creation that is still breaking into the old.