Rev. Martha Jacobs
The Gift of Open and Understanding Minds and Hearts
Psalm 40:5-10, Gospel of Luke 24:36b-48
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Quite frankly, when I read the Gospel passage that the lectionary had included for today, I thought that I had made a mistake – we had just talked last Sunday about a similar reading with doubting Thomas! But, then I checked, and yep, this was the right reading. I thought to myself, oh my, what can I say about a reading that is so similar to last Sunday’s?
So, I reread this passage several times, and, while it is similar, I realized that the focus is very different. While John focuses on Thomas being the one who doubted, Luke points out that all of the disciples needed help with both their heads and their hearts. In today’s reading, not only does Jesus appear as an actual person which grabs their hearts, but he also helps them connect to their head by re-hearing the stories from their ancient tradition that Jesus himself had talked about before his death.
Both Luke and John describe not a ghost or some disembodied spirit, but one who lives, talks and is touchable. And, in today’s reading from Luke, Jesus also eats in their presence, yet another sign of an actual person and not a disembodied spirit. This scene, no matter which Gospel you read it in, breaks all the rules of reality that we have come to accept as true. It shook the disciples’ world and it shakes ours. It challenges us to take another look – a new look – with new eyes, and minds and hearts.
Rev. Kathryn Matthews gave me a different slant on looking at hearts and minds that can change in a moment. She reminded me about what happened with Susan Boyle, when she walked onto the stage of Britain’s Got Talent. The crowd, based on how she looked, was initially skeptical that she could do anything. They had already judged her as undeserving of their approval because she did not look like what they thought a “star” should look like.
But, about 3 notes into her song, something shifted; the crowd was transformed. Their hearts were moved by her exceptional voice. Rev. Matthews pointed out that the category they had put Susan in no longer worked for them nor for the millions of people who heard her sing. She surmised that people probably didn’t stop to analyze what happened or why their hearts and minds were changed, but it happened over and over again. The gift of Susan’s talent opened their hearts and minds. It shook them and changed their world. They were transformed by this unknown person who unexpectedly changed their mindset and their outlook.
Well, similarly, that is what happened with the disciples. Their hearts and minds were opened by what happened unexpectedly in that Upper Room. Whatever it was that they experienced, it shook them, their lives changed and it set them free from their fears. They finally came out from behind those locked doors and began to tell the stories and share what they knew about Jesus. Jesus encouraged them to move beyond where they were. The power of the Risen Christ moved them into transformation.
Today, we too need a transformation like that. We too need to move beyond our fears, our sense that we are powerless and can’t effectuate change. Over the past few weeks, several people have talked with me about feeling powerless – feeling that they can’t change things either in their personal life or in our world. Jesus meets his disciples where they are – and meets us where we are.
God and Jesus work together with us to be a place of nourishment and love against the powers of the world that sometimes leave us feeling powerless and fearful. God works through us to bring about the surprising changes and openness of our minds. One of the ways which I believe God’s resurrecting power and transformation has happened here, has be through our welcoming the stranger – welcoming those that others would just as soon ignore or make feel unwelcome. We welcome people by flying a rainbow flag outside our church. We welcome people by opening our doors to the Upper Westchester Muslim Society.
Here in this church, we have effectuated change in so many ways, large and small. Perhaps because we are living it, we are not aware of the power of our transformation. For example, through our prayers and our actions on behalf of those who are in need, whether they are named during our pastoral prayer or remain unnamed but are in our hearts, we have been gifted with making a difference and helping to transform lives.
The power of resurrection includes planting seeds of transformation in both our hearts and minds. Closed minds and hearts are not fertile places, so new seeds cannot be cultivated and helped to grow. Watering and nurturing and expanding horizons cannot happen without a place of nourishment and love.
Jesus was the focus of the disciples, and more than 2000 years later is our focus as well, as he opens our hearts and our minds to see him anew as he plants new seeds within us. Wherever people are treated inhumanely or are discriminated against or exploited or feel despair or hopelessness, Jesus shows up. And, he shows up in forms that are not always obvious. For example, Jesus showed up last week in the form of free furniture for someone who finally has a home after being homeless for years and years. Because we are preparing for Barn Sale, we were able to give him some furniture for his new apartment.
Jesus also showed up last week by our having the funds to be able to provide financial assistance for someone who can’t pay their phone bill. Jesus sometimes shows up in the form of flowers being dropped off to someone who could not make it to church. Jesus shows up in the form of our children and youth, who hide Easter eggs and delight in finding them. Jesus shows up in the form of a social worker who is trying to help a family not be evicted. Jesus shows up in the form of quiet time with someone you love.
Jesus shows up in so many different forms that I believe it is possible that Jesus showed up in that room with the disciples as a resurrected body, so that he could help them move beyond their fears and go out and teach others about God and the love that God has for each one of us. Perhaps if Jesus had not shown up, we would not be here today, having been gifted by God’s love and acceptance as we are and for all that we are.
Whether you believe in the actual resurrection of Jesus or not, God was clearly doing something new in that Upper Room and continues to this day to invite people to enter into that “newness”. The newness of caring for the least of these, especially those that others feel are not worthy. One of the ancient practices from biblical times that we have reclaimed here at FCC, is the practice of hospitality to the stranger. That practice enables us to say to that stranger, “peace be with you” and mean it. Our church is the body of Christ. We move as one being to help those who are in need.
So, not only are the disciples witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus and transformed by it. We too are disciples who have witnessed the awesomeness of God and the unconditional love of God. Therefore, we can open our hearts and minds to the gifts that we have been given. The transformation we have experienced gives us the courage to turn around and offer forgiveness and hospitality and unconditional love to others and perhaps shake up their world in a positive way…in an unexpected way!
We don’t have to do it by wowing people the way Susan Boyle did. Or like Jesus did. Instead, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
My prayer for you this day, is that you will be empowered to move beyond your fears and shake the world in a gentle way so that through your actions, you will experience the Risen Christ anew in your heart and your mind.