The Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Church of the Annunciation Oradell
April 18, 2021
The Third Sunday After Easter
1st Reading - Acts 3:12-19
2nd Reading - 1 John 3:1-7
Gospel - Luke 24:36b-48
May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! [The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!]
Now, you might be thinking – wait - Easter was two weeks ago. But no! Easter is 50 days! Really, Easter is every day. It is not a single point in time, but who we are. And who we are is one of the points this gospel reading, well really, all the readings today, are about.
Before the passage we heard today from the gospel of Luke, Jesus had just finished chatting it up with the two folks on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his wife, doing the disappearing act after breaking the bread, and sending those two running to Jerusalem to share the good news – Jesus was alive! But before they could arrive, Jesus got there, so at least once they did say they had seen the Lord, the others didn’t reject them as they did the women, who were the first to encounter Jesus.
That is where we begin today – right at that moment. He walks in, says “Peace be with you.” The men were likely standing there with their mouths wide open, while the women rolled their eyes, gave them the “I told you so” look, and said “Men.”
And then, having been popping in and out on folks all over town, Jesus apparently is getting a little hungry. This is hilarious. I mean – they are staring at him aghast and filled with all sorts of emotions, and he is thinking – geez, this being dead for three days has really got me hankering for some food. So, he says, “what you’all got to eat?”
Of course, if it were me, I would be hoping for something a bit better than some broiled fish if I hadn’t eaten for a few days. You know, something like a cheeseburger, fries, and maybe a milk shake too. But while I wonder about the culinary choices, that isn’t exactly what this gospel passage is all about. That comes before and after the fish and chips (Lordy, I hope there were at least some chips…oh, and of course, malt vinegar).
Now, one of the things that always struck me about this gospel story is the response of the disciples to encountering the risen Christ. As we heard today, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” What a mix! Joy and disbelief – disbelief and wonder. Doesn’t it seem a bit like Jumbo Shrimp – an oxymoron? Or, as one commentator put it, “How can we have disbelief and joy at the same time? What is there to be joyful about if we don’t believe it? Makes you wonder.” It might seem a bit odd for our world now too. We like things to be neat, orderly, black & white. That, however, is not how the world works.
Think about it – we might feel joy at the birth of a child, but also fear about our ability to be a good parent. We might feel grief at the loss of a loved one, but relief that they are no longer in pain. Life is a mixture of contrasting emotions – that’s how life works. It’s also how faith works. We might feel joy at Easter, but have disbelief at what the Easter story is all about. So, we can probably understand what these earliest disciples had going through their hearts and minds – a mixture of seemingly opposing things all held together in the tension of that moment. I think they might have been the first Episcopalians.
You know, that is one of the reasons why I love the Episcopal Church too – because this is just the type of experience that defines who we are. We often have seemingly competing understandings of our faith, but all under the same roof – standing at the same table. Anglicans hold tight to the via media – the middle way – to both/and thinking. We welcome all sorts of divergent viewpoints, and... we welcome questions. Are questions a sign of disbelief? Maybe, but I think more that they are a sign of seeking and hope, because you don’t bother asking a question if you are indifferent to having an answer. And how we answer our questions is as varied as the diversity of God’s creation.
So, if you are looking for doctrine and dogma that will tell you what to believe - you won’t find it here. Oh sure, we have our creeds – but remember, those were the best effort of a group of people who had very divergent views of who Jesus was, and what his life, death, and resurrection means. It was a best effort at a common statement – flawed, to be sure, but wouldn’t any creed be so? Of course! Something so amazing and wonderful as God cannot be boxed into some neat statement of a few paragraphs. What kind of God would that be, anyway?
No, creeds are fine, but the faith we embrace is alive and filled with mystery, joy, wonder – in other words, mixed emotions and sometimes a boatload of questions. It can no more be defined by a single person, as one artist could paint the perfect picture that captures all that might ever be painted.
And so these earliest followers of Jesus were standing there with their emotions whirling around in the heart – and I can’t imagine they were all seeing and feeling it the same way (other than maybe that they might have had an immediate desire to apologize to the women who first told them about Jesus being alive). I mean – just look at our four gospels. All of them have a different view of Jesus. Of course they would. God can’t be boxed into a single experience. And yet, these folks did proclaim the gospel – each in their own way. They responded to what Jesus was telling them – not the “Peace be with you” part, but the rest of it.
You see, in that moment, after finishing his fish, and flossing his teeth, while the disciples just stood there with their jaws on the floor, the gospel says that Jesus then opened their minds to the meaning of the scriptures – allowing them to understand who he really is, and what the death and resurrection means. He then tells them “You are witnesses of these things.”
“You are witnesses of these things.”
And there it is. There is the entire point – of this gospel - and of our faith. Witness.
Now, if you felt a bit uncomfortable with that – thinking there is no way you are going door to door to tell complete strangers about Jesus – well, you are most certainly an Episcopalian. Relax though, that type of witnessing, while it has its time and place, is in our modern context like taking a sledge hammer to a finishing nail. Sure, it might work, but you’re likely to do more damage to yourself and the wall than you would have had you done it differently.
The thing is, witness, for a Christian anyway, shouldn’t be about pounding on other people’s doors, but about the pounding in our own hearts. It should be something that is a natural outpouring of our own joy, wonder, and yes – sometimes even disbelief.
Disbelief in the immensity and grace of this God of ours that is there for us, for you, for me.
Wonder at the unwavering nature of God’s all inclusive love.
Joy in knowing that we matter – every one of us – in the cosmic scheme of things – we matter to God.
All of that fills us up, and there is no choice but to share it – in fact, we won’t be able to help it. Ever been in love? Were you able to keep it to yourself? Ever see a fantastic movie or TV show, or read a great book? Did you keep it a secret? And I suppose we don’t even need to ask when it comes to food, vacation spots, or any other thing. So...what about our faith, our church?
Ahhh – that is where we get all squirmy again in our pews, or in this time of pandemic, our sofas. “How possibly can we do that we start to ask?” inside our heads. And yet, if we remember what Jesus said BEFORE he was crucified, we might better understand what he is saying AFTER he was raised. He said that if we loved each other as he loved us – then people would know we were his followers.
There it is folks. That is the witness we are called to do – love. And love requires that we share a bit of ourselves with someone else. That is the witness Jesus is talking about. Our journey as followers of Jesus is about what happens here - and what we put out there. We witness in sharing not only what we love, but in our very expression of love itself.
I want to share with you a story that always comes to mind when I think about our lives in Christ. It is about Bonnee Hoy, a gifted composer. It seems that a mockingbird used to sing regularly outside Bonnee's window on summer nights. "Bonnee would stand at her bedroom window, peering into the darkness, listening intently, marveling at the beautiful songs the mockingbird sang. Then, musician that she was, Bonnee decided to sing back. So, she whistled the first four notes of Beethoven's 'Fifth Symphony.' With amazing quickness the mockingbird learned these four notes and sang them back to Bonnee. 'And in perfect pitch,' she marveled. After a time, the bird flew away and did not return.”
I love that story. Maybe because I love the sound of birds, especially mockingbirds. In Native American animal lore, mockingbird comes to make us aware of who we are in a particular moment, so that something can happen – they are messenger spirit animals.
And so, after reading the gospel, this mockingbird imagery was brought to mind, because Jesus also came to make us aware of who we are, so that something could happen. The experience of Jesus – his life, death, and resurrection – this gospel story of God loving us so very much, wanting us to be in relationship with Her, and with one another, caring so much for us. THAT story – the Easter story – is a about God wanting to reflect back to us who we are, who God is, and what it all means for us. God in Jesus sang a song for us to hear, a song of unconditional love, and now we must bear witness to that in our lives. Think of Jesus, and now us as the body of Christ, as both mockingbird and composer.
Just as Bonnee Hoy shared a bit of her joy of music with the mockingbird, we are called to share the joy of our faith – of God’s love - with others, and in much the same way. No, I don’t suppose whistling our faith will work well, but think about the story. She listened, and then the bird listened. She heard the bird’s own voice before offering her own song. Then, when she did, the bird learned it, and it brought joy to her heart. That’s the power of witness. We listen to the other first, and then share our own song, allowing it to join, not overwrite, what is already being sung in other’s lives. This is something that sadly, the church so often failed to do in our past.
But there is more to the story of Bonnee and the mockingbird.
You see, this was a story that was told at Bonnee’s funeral. Her friend said at the service that “One night, toward the very end of her life, when Bonnee was so terribly sick, the bird finally returned and, in the midst of other songs, several times sang those first four notes of Beethoven's 'Fifth.' At that memorial service, her beloved friend, with a smile on her lips and tears in her eyes, said, "I like to think of that now…somewhere out there (in a big, big world) is a mockingbird who sings Beethoven, because of Bonnee."
I like to think of that too.
Bonnee and her mockingbird are a gospel story of witness to love, and it calls us to ask “Are [we] living a life so full of song and joy that it brings out the music of other people's lives?” Or in the language of our faith, of the gospel, are you so filled with wonder, joy, and just enough disbelief to make you humble, that those who encounter you come to know the song of your faith – come to feel God’s love?
And if your faith is in a different place – if you are still listening and trying to find the notes that resonate with you - that’s okay too. Sometimes we are the mockingbird. We need to listen a bit more, learn a few divergent melodies, and then fly for a time to figure it all out.
No matter where we are on our faith journey – most importantly we need to return here to listen again the voice of Jesus. The Jesus that loves us, that returns for us, that sets us free to fly in the world – singing the song of our faith – the song of God’s all abiding grace and love to a world that has lost the ability to recognize the tune. One time through won’t usually do it – we have to keep listening, and then singing it over and over again for others. But one day, we will hear it rebounding back at us from all corners of the earth – that wonderful sound of joy, wonder, justice, and love – it will ring out as though we are hearing a mockingbird singing Beethoven.
 The Rev. Bob Eldan. Preachingtips.com.
 Homileticsonline – as told by a friend of Bonnie’s.