A sermon for the third Sunday of Easter
April 23, 2023
The Rt. Rev. Larry R. Benfield, Bishop of Arkansas
Readings: Luke 24:13-35
It is a fact that 20 pounds of grass seed will overseed about 2000 sq. ft. of lawn. It is a fact that those same seeds need daytime temperatures in the 70s and nighttime temperatures in the 50s to germinate properly. It is a fact that a light application of a balanced fertilizer will result in both good root growth and strong blades for newly sprouted seeds. It is a fact that when a lawn is seeded it needs water a couple of times per day until the grass has developed sufficient roots. I know the facts about seeding a lawn because I do research and my undergraduate degree is in Agribusiness.
But should you accompany me home, you will also notice something missing: a nice lawn. Instead, I have an absolutely awful looking lawn, in fact, the worst lawn on the street. It is embarrassing. I may know all the facts, but I apparently do not have any insight, any inner vision of what is possible. Call it the lack of a green thumb if you will. Where there should be growth, there is bare earth, or just as bad, scatterings of nut grass and weeds. Whereas a lawn’s life and growth are dependent on insight, I have only facts in the tangible form of empty sacks of grass seed and fertilizer and a lawn that is as almost as dead as can be.
My missing green thumb is but an example of a larger human condition. We humans can latch on to facts, but sometimes our insight, our inner vision, is totally lacking, and where there could be life, we find only death. Look at the disciples in today’s gospel. They are on the road to Emmaus after a devastating Passover. When a stranger asks them what they are talking about, they get all the facts right in their recounting of events. Jesus was a mighty prophet in deed and word. He was condemned to death and crucified contrary to their expectations. Some women had gone to the tomb and found it empty, and then others went as well and found the same thing. And here they are, crushed. Their retelling of history is correct, but they do not see that some things cannot be measured in pounds and inches and chemical analysis. Some things are not bound to history. What they miss is an insight—an inner vision—into resurrection. It takes a meal with a stranger, a meal with someone who changes their understanding by talking with them, before they see something radically new. They have been looking for resuscitation, but unexpectedly encounter resurrection instead.
If you read the lesson carefully, you will find that the followers who are on the road to Emmaus understand the presence of the risen Christ at about the same time that Simon makes a similar discovery in another location. We are hearing that the risen body of Christ is not limited by geography, and that sort of news is disconcerting in a fact-oriented world. Resurrection means that the body of Christ is not tied to the facts of physical features, such as a male with brown hair, 5’8”, holes in the hands, but is found instead in the act of eating together. Such a discovery requires insight. The writer of the gospel is telling us that the resurrected body of Christ is more than a particular man running around showing his pierced hands and side, proclaiming that the Romans couldn’t keep him down. That sort of narrow thinking is to remain solely in the world of facts, and to stay there will be about as beneficial as listening to your bishop talk about lawn care. It is lifeless and bare.
Not many people caught on at first after Good Friday. And today not many people catch on on, either. The world is still bogged down in the facts surrounding this Jesus of Nazareth. Ask people where Jesus last walked the earth, and you are likely to hear “Palestine,” as if the second person of God does not still walk the earth any time people share food with others. Or watch someone get religious and put a “What would Jesus do?” bumper sticker on his car, as if Jesus were not present and we can only guess what Jesus would do if he were alive, as if Jesus were not here in the form of the person putting the bumper sticker on the car. How about a bumper sticker that asks, “What is Jesus doing?” That’s the step we taken when we finally understand resurrection.
We know facts about the Christian church, for example, about how it is that the church has fought for years over something as obscure as the theology of what happens to bread and wine at the Eucharist. But we skip right over the insight of how it is that the body of Christ is primarily found in the act of feeding, not solely in wheat and grapes. We know the facts about Christians and Muslims and Jews fighting one another, protecting our turf in Jerusalem, but we ignore the insight that the risen Christ is not concerned with real estate, but with issues of justice and kindness regardless of one’s religious heritage.
And then there is this day so tied into baptism through our lesson from the book of Acts. We know the facts about baptism, about how it is that Baptists immerse, and we pour water, but too often any insight is missing to the reality that people find wholeness and healing in the presence of goodness, which is what clean water poured on skin is all about.
The scary thing about baptism is that it is a sign of a radical new way to look at life. We are stating that all the facts of one’s life, all the things we do that the world finds to be so good or bad, the carefully balanced or sometimes unbalanced lives that we lead, all those facts mean little in God’s eyes. God has insight. God declares us as God’s own forever. God declares us just as resurrected as Jesus of Nazareth. People may not always see God in one another, but we will keep baptizing and sharing our meal and preaching resurrection until one day that insight wins out.
One day, like the first disciples, we will find life and growth where once only death and barrenness existed. One day we get beyond formulas and pat answers. One day we will finally discover that the resurrected body lives in us and in every other person who walks the face of the earth, In the hands that till the very soil of the earth itself. One day we will discover that the very purpose of the church is to offer a bath to anyone who is tired and dusty, and a meal to anyone who is hungry and thirsty. One day we will have insight, and creation, like a lawn finally cared for with insight, will never be the same again. All I can say to that hope is—Amen.
JOIN US FOR WORSHIP!
Join us for worship every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. There is a mid-week service on Tuesdays at 5:30 with anointing for the sick and Holy Communion.