Witness - Reflections 4-16-2021

Texts for the Third Sunday of Easter
April 18, 2021

Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

Last week we heard from Darnella Frazier. At only 17, she stood her ground and recorded for the whole world the excruciating death of George Floyd. She was a witness of the power of evil, injustice, and death as well as the fragility of human flesh. Last week, she was called to the witness stand to testify about those minutes when she had her cell phone pointed at Derek Chauvin and George Floyd. Besides hearing her story of being at that agonizing scene, we also heard how over the months since then she has been haunted by the experience, she feels guilty that she didn’t do more, and has repeatedly apologized to George for not stepping in to stop it. Actually, most of the witnesses who had been there that day and testified at the trial were still disturbed by their memories. None of them chose to be witnesses. But they were.

The Gospel of Luke on this Third week of Easter is a story about an appearance of the risen Jesus to his disciples. Jesus startled them by suddenly appearing in their midst. Quite reasonably in my opinion, they thought he was a ghost. And for what I think is the seventh time in Luke, we hear “do not be afraid”. It was Jesus. They were invited to touch him and verify that he was indeed flesh and bones. At this point Luke says that “in their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering”. While they stood there joyfully disbelieving and wondering, Jesus interrupts them with “I’m hungry. Got any food?”. And Jesus ate in front of them, yep, obviously flesh.

Another time Luke says “do not be afraid” is when Gabriel stopped by to tell Mary she is going to have a baby. You will bear a Son and name him Jesus.

And then, probably the most well-known “fear not”:

an angel of the Lord stood before [the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night] and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God...

Mary and the shepherds were also invited to witness that Jesus was flesh and bone. The Word was made flesh and lived among us is how the Gospel of John puts it.

Incarnation is the word we use to describe how in his birth and his death (and all the time in between) Jesus was in the flesh of a fragile, vulnerable, aching, and finite human being. From the Nicene Creed: He became fully human.

Both Christmas and Easter celebrate the incarnation. Jesus knows exactly what it is to be human up to and including death. Jesus defeats death by dying. And Jesus is still in the flesh when he rises from the dead. His disciples could see him and touch him. And he ate with them.

Dorothy Sayers puts it this way: He has gone through the whole human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. Incarnation. Truly human.

Finally, Jesus reminds them of all that they had seen over the past days. They were witnesses.  Tell of his suffering and death and his resurrection. Proclaim r
epentance and forgiveness of sins to all the nations.

Karoline Lewis, a professor of preaching at Luther seminary, says on the Working Preacher website, “As it turns out, witnessing is not voluntary, but a state of being.”

Unfortunately, that is true for those people testified at the trial in Minnesota. They are witnesses because they were there to see. Whether they testified or not, nothing can change that they are witnesses. 
Hopefully, because they shared what they saw, our nation will move a bit closer to a transformation of systems and structures.

So, what does all this have to do with us? 

We are witnesses. Jesus’ life and the story of God’s people show our God who is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love. Our baptism makes us a witness to the grace of love and forgiveness that is ours. Our enfleshed God promises to be is with us always and has walked that way as a human. We are witnesses to the Good News.

Now what?

How to Find Us

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245