Sermon: “We Are Witnesses”

04 April 2010

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Easter Sunday
April 4, 2010

“We Are Witnesses”

Luke 24:1-48

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our minds and hearts here together be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

Thank you, readers, for bringing our Easter scripture to life for us today.  At the end, Jesus says, “You are witnesses of these things,” so they were witnesses – the women who found the tomb empty that first Easter, and the rest of the disciples.  That was Good News for them.  But what does it mean for us to say, in church now, “WE are witnesses”?

I suppose the answer is different for different people.  Some of you may be visiting for the first time, or for the first time since last Easter – Welcome back! – or worshipping here with family or friends. Some of you I know look forward to coming every Sunday to worship.  Some of you are sad, or troubled, hoping and praying for a miracle.  And some of you, I expect, are already bored, counting off the minutes until you can join the family for Easter lunch!  Most of us, if asked why we come to church, could answer “all of the above.”  We all have some joys; we all have some burdens, we all have some hopes.  But we don’t necessarily see ourselves as witnesses of the resurrection.

We may not feel prepared, or qualified, to be witnesses of the resurrection.  And that’s OK.  God is very kind, and gracious, and patient.  God often provides miracle moments when we least expect them, and when we most need them – as it happened with Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus.  They were just ordinary people like us – I’m sure they didn’t feel very qualified to become witnesses to the resurrection either. 

With my thanks to those of you who went before me this Lent in sharing your faith stories, I want to share with you one “miracle moment” from my life – a moment when the risen Christ became visible, when I became a witness to Christ alive in the world, in June 1995.  I was leading a youth mission trip and we were doing hard physical labor cleaning up a large family home after two floods on the Russian River in California. 

The biggest challenge at the work site was not rubble, but the grief of the older woman whose home was flooded.  She was a widow, and her kids were grown and out of the house.  But she was a skilled crafter, and her downstairs – which had been flooded chest-high – was where she did all her work, and where she had stored fabric, paints, papers, canvases, boxes, wooden dowels, ceramic crafts, tools, sewing machines – you get the picture.  She had shelves full of knick-knacks she and her friends had made and sold at their church fair.  Here’s the thing, though: it was all ruined, but she just couldn’t face it.  She couldn’t let the youth just drag things out and throw them in the dumpster.  Each item she had to handle, try to fix or clean or salvage, and then finally release.  The rather imposing woman in charge of the relief program kept trying to hustle her along, but the teenagers in my group were unbelievably patient.  They listened to her stories, they admired her things, and they gave her hugs and dried her tears.  They were amazing.

I’ll never forget standing in her driveway with one of those girls, who had just painstakingly tried to save a set of piggy salt shakers, only to finally have to give up and throw them away.  We were just going back inside when this red-faced woman came storming up the driveway.  She started yelling, “Here’s what’s wrong with you people – you two-faced, hypocritical Christians – you’re always preaching about ‘the will of God’ and ‘God this’ and ‘God that’ when you know perfectly well there IS no God.  You tell me: Where was God when all of this happened, huh?  Where was God when I was cleaning up my house after the first flood – and when the second flood came? My partner and I had to do this all by ourselves, with no church to help us, because our church threw us out when it found out we were gay. You church people are all alike – bunch of do-gooders telling lies.  I see no God here.  You tell me: where is your God now?” 

I just stared at her.  I didn’t quite know where to start.  Everyone else had been so nice.  But I said, “I see God here now, ma’am.  I see God in these teenagers,” and I reached over to hug the girl next to me, who had been slowly inching away.  I nodded at the rest of the group in the distance, going over to the dumpster and back.  “I see an ‘act of God’ happening right now,” I said, “because they are bearing witness to Christ’s resurrection with their work – they are the Body of Christ risen and alive in this place.  And I’m really sorry that happened to you, ma’am – that your church threw you out,” I said.  “We’re an ‘Open and Affirming’ church, so you and your partner would be welcome with us.  But we’d also work on your house whether or not you’re a Christian.  The lady who lives here doesn’t go to my church.”

“You mean you’d fix my house even though I’m not a Christian, and even though I came up here to yell at you?”  “Yes,” I said, “if you need our help, I can connect you with the director of this project.”  I was so excited to think I could pass her off to the “imposing woman”!  But she kept going.  “And your church really accepts gay and lesbian people?”  “Yes, we do.”  I didn’t tell her we’re not very “open and affirming” to people who yell at us, though.  We Congregationalists are not big “yellers.”  We’re just kind of quiet people – ordinary disciples like the men and women who went to the tomb that first Easter – but we ARE witnesses to the resurrection. 

Don’t we often see the face of Christ in our neighbors?  At the end of our church women’s retreat last weekend, in our closing communion we shared stories of how we had witnessed Christ alive in the presence of other women – some had witnessed Christ alive in the empathy or generosity of their daughters, others witnessed Christ alive in the compassion of mothers or grandmothers, and some witnessed Christ alive in caring friends in the church.  We shared stories of simple acts of kindness, from words of sincere welcome to a comforting hug or prayer.  Just this past Good Friday, we witnessed Christ alive in the streets outside our doors – as we joined members of other Brookfield churches to remember the last hours of Jesus’s life on earth.  And again that night, I witnessed again the presence of Christ as I prayed and visited with the family of Charles and Gena Smalley around their kitchen table. 

My hope for all of us this Easter is that the eyes and ears of our hearts may open wider, so that we can witness Christ alive more often in ordinary things – like the breaking of bread on the road to Emmaus.  Maybe it’s in the fellowship of good friends at a special dinner party, or maybe just in bowls of cereal around a family breakfast table.  Whenever you witness Christ alive in your life, share the Good News with the world.  You are witnesses of the resurrection.  

Thanks be to God for this Good News.  Amen.

8:30 Easter service                                10:30 Easter service          

Woman 1:  Joanna Sanderson               Woman 1:  Margitta Savo

Woman 2:  Heather Boughton               Woman 2:  Sue Bonn

Man 1:       Sandy Sanderson                Man 1:       Walt Fisher

Man 2:       John Smallwood-Garcia        Man 2:       Mark Lyon

Jesus:        Pete Lane                           Jesus:        Pete Lane

Luke 24:1-48

Woman 1:  On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.

Woman 2:  2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body.

Woman 1:  4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.

Woman 2:  5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them,

Man 1:       “Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, but has risen.”

Man 2:       “6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again?”

Woman 1:  8Then they remembered his words 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 

Woman 2:  10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.

Man 1:       11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Man 2:       12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Man 1:       13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

Woman 1:  15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

Woman 2:  17And he said to them,

Jesus:        “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

Woman 2:  They stood still, looking sad.

Man 2:       18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him,

Man 1:       “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

Man 2:       19He asked them,

Jesus:        “What things?”

Woman 2:  They replied,

Woman 1:  “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

Man 1:       “21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

Woman 1:  “22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

Man 1:       “24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

Man 2:       25Then he said to them,

Jesus:        “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

Man 1:       27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

Woman 1:  28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

Woman 2:  29But they urged him strongly, saying,

Woman 1:  “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”

Man 2:       So he went in to stay with them.

Woman 1:  30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

Man 1:       31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

Woman 2:  32They said to each other,

Woman 1:  “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Man 1:       33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

Man 2:       34They were saying,

Man 1:       “The Lord has risen indeed,

Woman 1:  and he has appeared to Simon!”

Woman 2:  35Then they told what had happened on the road,

Woman 1:  and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Man 1:       36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them,

Jesus:        “Peace be with you.”

Woman 1:  37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

Man 2:       38He said to them,

Jesus:        “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

Man 1:       40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

Woman 1:  41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them,

Jesus:        “Have you anything here to eat?”

Woman 1:  42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

Woman 2:  44Then he said to them,

Jesus:        “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

Man 1:       45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

Man 2:       46and he said to them,

Jesus:        “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.


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