04/15/18 – Nothing to Fear

NOTHING TO FEAR

April 15th, 2018
3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:12-19; Psalm4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

This scripture passage comes at the end of a much longer passage, which tells the tale of a pair of Jesus’ followers leaving Jerusalem after the crucifixion and traveling to the village of Emmaus. They have heard rumors of Jesus’ resurrection. They, Cleopas and an unnamed companion, meet Jesus on the way but do not recognize him. That is very odd because Luke takes great pains to describe a flesh and blood man, not an apparition. Luke tells us “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” What a strange explanation. Was this just a literary technique to give Luke the opportunity to explain the importance of this holy encounter? Does it mean they were so sure that Jesus could not have been resurrected that they could not see the truth standing before them?  Christian writer, Anne Lamott warns: “the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty.”

Through the conversation between the three travelers we learn that the risen Jesus has been seen in different places in Jerusalem. It was these post-resurrection appearances that turned a small political, social and religious movement – a mere blip on the radar screen of history, into the Christian church.

The point at which Cleopas and his traveling companion realize this man, who has been walking with them to Emmaus, is the risen Jesus is when they stopped to share their food with him. Luke uses Eucharistic imagery. “30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” By the time Luke’s gospel was written, the ritual of the Eucharist was well established in Christian worship.

Just as an explanation for using the word, Eucharistic. The word comes from the Greek word, “eukharistia,” which was formed from the Greek words for good, “eu” and “kharizesthai,” meaning “to offer graciously.”  To use the word as an adjective, it becomes the word “Eucharistic.” You just cannot do that with the term “the Lord’s Supper” or Holy Communion. From a grammatical and literary perspective, it is necessary at times, and it is not outside the Reformed tradition, to use the term “Eucharist.”

We pick up the story today at the point, which Cleopas and his companion go back to Jerusalem to find the eleven remaining disciples and testify to their experience encountering the risen Christ. So, we are back in that room where we heard, last Sunday, the gospel of John’s account of Jesus appearing to the eleven. Luke begins this part of the story with Jesus entering the room. His first words to the eleven are “peace be with you.” Seeing they are frightened, he assures them he is not a ghost by showing them the scars from the nails on his hands and feet and spear on his side. He did suffer the pain of his crucifixion death, like any human body, but his appearance proclaims his resurrection – an act of God. Then he asks for something to eat, this basic human need, which becomes holy in this setting. The fish the disciples give him reminds the audience of the holy miracle of feeding the 5000.

Why does Luke tell us the disciples’ first reaction was fear? Luke uses the phrase “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” in his gospel more than any other book of the Bible. Fear is that basic instinct, from our “reptilian brain,” that causes us to respond with one of the three f’s – fight, flight or freeze. Each of these reactions prevents us from following Christ’s way. Jesus’ first instructions to what will become the Christian church are “Don’t be afraid.” ‘Relax. Do not treat me as a stranger who does not belong. Touch me and see. Invite me to eat with you.’

Fear permeates life in our society.  We are now in “fight” mode with other nations and we are fearful where this will lead. There are so many other things we fear. The fast growth of technology renders workers fearful of being replaced; makes us suspicious of privacy violations; and gives us news of more things to fear 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

With the rollercoaster stock market and the threat of trade wars, we fear what will happen to our economy and how changes may affect us. We worry about the effects of climate change, a toxic environment including water shortages and water toxicity. We worry about children’s safety, as schools are targeted for mass shootings. We worry about nuclear war. We worry that privilege and greed will create world oligarchy and global-wide poverty. There is so much in the world to fear.

Fear causes us to look for enemies that we can get rid of to bring us back to a more secure mindset. We create enemies by finding something that is different about them and demonizing that difference. Fear can also cause us to “freeze” – to sink into despair and hopelessness, making no effort to make positive changes. At that desperate point of “fight, flight or freeze” we become selfish and our sense of community, which is central to our faith, is lost.

But, Jesus tells us, disciples, there is another way, a way that brings peace and destroys fear’s hold over us. Luke would have appreciated FDR’s famous words: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” By showing his disciples his wounds, Jesus acknowledges there are real things to fear. The peace he offers is the kind South African anti- Apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela, described when he said: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it… The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Jesus knew his disciples would face fear-inducing obstacles. He offered his presence and his love as antidotes to toxic fear. Christ had conquered humanity’s greatest fear…death. He offers us a share of that great victory.

Recently, former president, Barak Obama, addressed those attending the National Prayer Breakfast with these words about Christ:

“His love gives us the power to resist fear’s temptations.
He gives us the courage to reach out to others across
that divide, rather than push people away. He gives us
the courage to go against the conventional wisdom and
stand up for what’s right, even when it’s not popular.
To stand up not just to our enemies but, sometimes, to
stand up to our friends. He gives us the fortitude to
sacrifice ourselves for a larger cause. Or, to make tough
decisions knowing that we can only do our best. Less of
me, more of God. And then, to have the courage to admit
our failings and our sins while pledging to learn from
our mistakes and to try to do better.”

So, I say to you: Concentrate on welcoming strangers and inviting them to join you. This was the first stage of Jesus’ revelation and the disciples’ becoming witnesses. On that road to Emmaus, the truth began to dawn on the disciples who had left Jerusalem in despair. The first step of being the church was welcoming the stranger and make him or her a friend. It still is. The second step is feeding our faith at the table of grace. It is there that Christ meets us and we join with one another. There are no strangers at Christ’s table, we are one – all children of God. There is no privilege at Christ’s table – all are fed, and all are all loved. Secure in Christ’s presence and God’s love we can cast off fear and go out into the world to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, lift up the oppressed, release the prisoners, and heal the broken. In the blessing and breaking of bread, the pouring of wine into the cup Christ bids us to come to nourish our faith and find peace.

All power, honor and glory to our Triune God!

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois