Third Sunday of Easter – 18 April 2021
Written by Pastor Bryan Niebanck
He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? ~Luke 24:38
Country singer Scotty McCreery published a song called “Five More Minutes” in 2018. He paints the picture of various moments in life where we wanted another five minutes to enjoy the present. At eight years old, when he down by the creek with a friend, “Lines in the water watchin’ those bobbers, seein’ that red sun sink; Mama’s on the porch yellin’, “Supper’s hot, y’all come and get it.” We yelled, “Five more minutes.” At eighteen, turned my helmet in and walked to the fifty-yard line. Just the coach and me after we lost eighteen to nine. And I cried, “Man, next time to get in here, I’ll have to buy a ticket. Can’t you give me five more minutes?” At eighty-six my grandpa said, “There’s angels in the room.” All the family gathered ’round, knew the time was comin’ soon. With so much left to say I prayed, Lord, I ain’t finished. Just give us five more minutes.” But as he writes in the refrain, the clock does not stop, time keeps rolling on, and we do not have a pause button.
Mission trips have been a key part of my church life. I went on four mission trips with my church in high school and three more through my Christian college through 2017 to have seven straight years of mission trips. At the beginning of each of those weeks, we were embarking together with many of us being strangers to one another. Yet at the end of those weeks, we had formed a bond with one another that was so deep that we wanted to stay together. Of course, when the week ended, we went our separate ways and never connected in the same way again. Many of us would be wishing that we could have five more minutes, or if we are honest, five more weeks. I have saved many of the cards that we wrote to each other at the end of those weeks, even though I have not been able to stay connected with the people who wrote them to me.
When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples were scattered and did not know what was next. As suddenly as Jesus had come into their lives, Jesus was gone. They had learned so much from Jesus about the proper way to live one’s life, called to love others and spread nothing but kindness to others. I can imagine some of the disciples knowing that there was much more for them to learn, wishing that they could spend another five minutes listening to Jesus. Despite all the time that we had, it never seemed like enough. This is how Zoom break out rooms work as well; when we are forced back in to the main session, we are all typically left wishing that we had more time to talk things over. If you have been on a timed zoom meeting, you know what I mean, as you watch that timer tick down whether you are done with your conversation or not. If you have not, you may have had a timed thirty minute visit at a nursing home, or only a certain amount of time in a class, and you may have wished for that five more minutes to finish your thoughts.
The key to using that final five minutes best, however, is not to wait until there are five minutes left to get serious about getting to the real conversation that you have wanted to have. Truthfully, we may always want more time no matter how we spend it, but if we can plan for it, we may be less anxious at the end. One of my classmates said that if she knew how long the timer would last from the beginning, she would never need more time at the end. But that is not true for all of us. It is a reminder, though, that if we have thirty minutes, we want to use all of that thirty minutes as best we can. If we have thirty years, we want to us all of those thirty years as best we can. Most of us, however, do not know exactly how long we have to do the work that we want to do, and so it is hard to plan it out. The point, then, is not to engage in small talk until we know the time is almost out. The point is to do God’s work each and every day no matter how much time we have or do not have, because we will never truly know. Even when we feel like we are at the end of our lives, there is still time on the clock. On our high school mission trips, we did use all the time as best we could, and we were still sad when they were over, but we could be satisfied at the amazing work that had been done every minute of that week.
Now it is time to reach out to others and spread the news of Christ. In this Easter season, we are studying how we do this. First, see the word; we declare what we have heard and seen. Second, teach the word; be witnesses to what Jesus taught. Third, live the word; spread the love that Jesus shared with you. And lastly, believe the word; accept that we and you are pardoned as one of God’s children. This is the work of the church that we are called to do, together. Today, we can begin to teach the word. We teach the word by modeling what we witnessed our leader Jesus do in his lifetime.
N.T. Wright wrote about how we still do the work of the resurrection today. He writes, “The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.” Just as the work that Jesus left us with has carried into God’s future, our work that is done in Jesus’ name also carries into God’s future. We participate in the resurrection. (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, HarperOne.)
Even the disciples were tasked with the work of the church while Jesus was still with them. They still were startled and terrified when Jesus appeared to them. They still had doubts in their hearts. Jesus had to appear to them to remind them that their task was to proclaim repentance and forgiveness, to teach others that they could be forgiven and that they are loved. Even if we had been one of those with Jesus himself, we probably would still have had the same doubts and fears. We might have been found hiding behind a locked door, scared of what the world might do to us if we tried to speak out. Do we need Jesus to appear to us to remind us why we are here?
Luke tells us what Jesus reminded the disciples: “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” (Luke 24:46-48). Like them, we are also witnesses to what God has done in our lives. As a community of believers, there are three things that we are called to make happen in order to preach repentance and forgiveness, for we need actions that will help us to stay connected to and trust God.
First, we need someone to help us to be freed from repeated sin. We will always be in the presence of sin, while on this earth, but we do not have to let it have any power over us. God is stronger than any power here on earth, and the resurrection shows us that. When we turn to God, we are protected and saved from God. Though life may not get easier, God is always helping us to know and believe that we are not slaves to sin. Without other Christians in our lives to reassure us, it is easy to forget this truth. God really is more powerful than any worry, doubt, or fear that we may find in this world. Yet we need others to help us trust in that power. Who needs help trusting that God is more powerful than what they are dealing with? Can you be that friend? Most times, it requires showing that God is more powerful, not simply telling.
Second, we need blessing. We need to bless and to be blessed. Blessings are given all throughout the Bible; it is a natural thing to bless another to ask that God be with that person in their travels. When I felt like I received a true blessing from my friends at seminary, as they prayed over me, I felt like God was more present to me than ever. It also equipped me to learn how to bless others. Saying to someone, “You are tough; you can get through this” is not a blessing. But telling someone, “May God guide you through this, may God hold you and comfort you, may God bless you and keep you” are needed blessings. Even when one is not in a time of trial, blessings are used. We had a blessing at our graduation service to send us into our callings. Isaac blessed his son Jacob when he knew that he was about to die. John Ortberg wrote about blessing, telling us, “Blessing is not just a word. Blessing is the projection of good into the life of another. We must think it, and feel it, and will it” (Soul Keeping, 153). We do not simply say it. We learn to mean it as well.
Third, God invites us into fellowship with God and with one another. Jesus offers himself and gives the repeated gift of his presence following the resurrection. He appeared to the disciples again when Thomas had his doubts. He was patient with them. He is patient with us too when we have our doubts. Jesus is seeking fellowship with us, and he knows that it requires patience with us on his part. That is not our fault; it is just who we are. We need fellowship with God if we are to survive in a world that challenges us in every way. It is a good thing that it is offered to us every single day.
At the beginning of the history of our church, as told in Acts, the disciples’ ministry started with the very people who they had been hiding from. They had been hiding in Jerusalem behind locked doors. But then Jesus gave them the confidence and direction that they needed to go out to the temple and heal a lame beggar. When they were asked for alms, they said that they had no money. The evangelist Luke tells the story: “But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong” (Acts 3:4-7). This is an amazing story because it tells us that Peter and John were able to break out of their fear and believe in the power of God. Can we summon the confidence that we need to do the same? The President of Union Theological Seminary, Serene Jones, knows that “doubt crowds out hope” (Feasting on the Word B.2.402). They did not have hope when they were afraid that they would be questioned by the Roman authorities. Jesus gave them that hope back by having fellowship with them and encouraging them. Let him do the same for you. Go into the world, encourage another, bless another, and let Jesus crowd out your doubt. Do not wait until the last five minutes. God is working through us now. Thanks be to God. Amen.
3:12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?
3:13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him.
3:14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you,
3:15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.
3:16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
3:17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.
3:18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer.
3:19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.
24:36b While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
24:37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
24:38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?
24:39 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.”
24:40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
24:41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
24:42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,
24:43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
24:44 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.”
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.