Hearts on Fire
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
April 30, 2017
Scriptures: Acts 2:14a, 36-41 CEB and Luke 24:13-35 CEB
On Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene saw Jesus alive outside the empty tomb, she went and told the other followers of Jesus, what she had seen and heard. Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves, but they didn’t actually see the risen Jesus. Not yet. So they went back into hiding.
That the men didn’t believe Mary isn’t surprising. Women were of low status, unable to own property, subservient to the men in their life. Their word did not carry the weight of a man’s.
Some things have not changed. When my mother complained of pain and illness at age 54, her doctor chalked it up the menopausal female histrionics, suggesting that the pain was all in her head. After six months of suffering we got her to a different doctor and had a diagnosis in 24 hours. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. She died six months later.
One would hope that now, 24 years later, things would have changed, but women around the world still lack the same rights as men, same earnings, and believability in some circles. As Jesus saw fit to appear first to a woman, and told Mary to go and tell the others, it must be that the status and role of women was higher in His thinking than in much of the world’s.
The two men who left Jerusalem that day, after having heard the women’s news were walking back home to Emmaus, still bereft and unbelieving of what had been revealed to them that morning. They, like so many of the others doubted. They were skeptical. How could this be? We saw him dead. Their conversation on the road as they slipped out of the city probably would have sounded a lot like some of our conversations today. Once again, our hopes are dashed, systemic evil still prevails, we often feel helpless, discouraged, and fearful in the face of uncertainty. Our doubts about God’s presence and ability to save our world are as real as theirs as they walked towards Emmaus.
Have you ever noticed that in every Gospel, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, doubt and unbelief is named. Mark was the earliest written book and in Mark 16:12-13 it says, “After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.” Mark goes on to tell of Jesus upbraiding them “for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”
Is this not our story today as we live in an increasingly secular world? We are surrounded by doubt and unbelief. So what can make a difference for us? What made a difference for Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus?
When Jesus came alongside them he asked what they were discussing and this stopped them in their tracks. Jesus brought them a new perspective on what had happened and their willingness to listen and be open to Jesus’ words made a difference.
You may say, well I haven’t seen Jesus here lately or had the opportunity to hear him speak. And to that I would say, how would we know? Even they didn’t recognize him at first. It was only in the breaking of the bread that their eyes were opened. How often do we sit down and read his words in the Bible? This is the Word of God, given to us along with God’s grace for redemption, and yet, we are still tempted to let it sit on the shelf.
Peter, Jesus’ rock upon which he said the church would be founded, was at least willing to run to the tomb to see for himself that Easter morning. He didn’t hang around long enough to see Jesus though, the way Mary did, perhaps out of fear of the authorities that had seen him in the courtyard where Jesus was beaten. Or perhaps he left out of shame, for having denied even knowing Jesus. Not once, but three times.
Peter was a Jew among Jews as he taught in our Acts reading. It wasn’t until Peter saw Him there at the lakeshore and Jesus asked, “do you love me?” that Peter came to fully understand the nature of Jesus’ work on the cross. You can find this story in John 21:15-19. After excitedly leaping from the fishing boat and swimming to shore Peter comes face to face with our risen Lord. Theologian, Timothy Hare describes that situation like this:
Peter “knows the conviction of guilt more deeply than most. However, for this very reason he also knows so profoundly just how good the good news is. His understanding of God’s will in Christ to overcome human betrayal and rejection is, of course, rooted in his experience of being forgiven for his own betrayal.”
This risen Jesus comes, not with power and force, but with quiet presence; appearing to those whom the Spirit has opened the door to understanding, whether they were aware yet, or not. Both here on the beach with Peter and on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and the other disciple, Jesus is offering an open invitation of grace and forgiveness. He meets them right where they are in understanding, knowing full well that guilt and shame may be a stumbling block, and patiently reveals the nature of the grace and love waiting to be received.
As Peter spoke at that first Pentecost gathering, his hearers responded, not because they are guilty of killing Jesus – but because Peter helps them to understand that God’s saving activity includes them, and all people. They come to see that this is not a story of condemnation, but one of invitation.
Jesus invites you who listen today to understand just how much you are loved. Nothing you have ever done or left undone prevents you from being forgiven by God and saved by grace. Brothers and sisters, Jesus comes this day to invite you to let go of the fear and doubt and to live into God’s will for your life. Accept the gift, freely given, and know Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Read His Word and hear Jesus speaking to you.
Faith in Him sets us free to live a life worthy of the gospel and to share that Good News. Never doubt that Jesus is risen and actively working for the good of those who love Him. When we do this, we have nothing to fear. May it be so. Amen.
 Timothy B. Hare, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 401.