Preached by Michael Cheuk, April 19, 2015
Taken from Luke 24:36-48 NIV
Have you ever seen a ghost? Would you want to see one? I don’t know about you, but it is hard to wrap my engineering mind around the concept of ghosts. Just thinking about it gives me the heebie jeebies. But it helps me to understand why the disciples of Jesus were startled and frightened every time the resurrected Jesus appeared in their midst. No wonder Jesus always began by saying, “Do not be afraid!” and “Peace be with you,” because more often than not, Jesus’ disciples misperceived the risen Jesus as a ghost or some disembodied spirit.
The resurrected Jesus was no ghost. In our Gospel lesson this morning, when the disciples freaked out when they thought they saw a ghost of Jesus, He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When God raised Jesus from the dead, God raised his human, physical body into a new life. And throughout the centuries, in creeds and confessions, Christians have also believed in the resurrection of the body of believers.
For the Jews and early Christians, the physical is not separated from the spiritual. We don’t merely have a body; we are our bodies. God also values the physical body. The same God who created the universe by speaking it into being, could have easily saved sinful human beings with a verbal pronouncement or by the snap of a divine finger. Instead, God’s plan of salvation included the sending of God’s Son, Jesus, to earth as a human being with a body that felt hunger, thirst, and pain. We call this moment of God stepping into human flesh the incarnation, and we celebrate it on Christmas. During Easter, we celebrate the bodily resurrection of Christ.
Why is this important? If Jesus was bodily resurrected, and if the human body is important enough to be resurrected in some form for eternity, the human body ought also to be seen as significant and valuable in this life. If that’s true, then what we do with our bodies and what happens to our bodies are not insignificant or mundane matters.
After Jesus tells his disciples to look and touch his hands and feet, you’d figure that he would take advantage of this teachable moment to impart a profound lesson about his resurrection. Jesus does that, but before doing so, he had something a bit more important on his mind: “What’s for dinner?” “Yes! I’m resurrected and all, but do you have anything here to eat?” If that’s not proof that Jesus was a “Baptist” I don’t know what is! The first question asked by a Baptist in almost any church gathering is: Where’s the food?” Where two or more Baptists are gathered, there will be fried chicken and deviled eggs … or in this case, broiled fish.
The point I want to make this morning is this: our Christian faith is not just intellectual, it is not just a set of beliefs in our minds. No, the Christian faith is embodied; it requires flesh and blood. In order for others to see our faith, they have to see and feel our faith in action, through our hands and feet and our bodies. The Christian faith is not just concerned about what happens to us after we die; it is also concerned about what happens to us in this world while we are still living.
God cares about whether human beings and their bodies have enough to eat, or whether they eat too much to compensate for some other hunger in their lives. God cares about whether human beings and their bodies have adequate shelter and clothing. God cares about protecting vulnerable human beings and their bodies from being violated and exploited. God cares about how we treat our bodies, instructing us to care for our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit and yet not make it an idol. God is concerned that our society shames us when our bodies do not measure up to the unrealistic and unhealthy body images so often portrayed in the media. God is concerned when we ostracize those in our society whose bodies are no longer young and productive.
Jesus opened the minds of his disciples about what was written him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. Today, Jesus needs to open our minds about the fact that even as the Messiah, Jesus is a divine Savior who got hungry and thirsty, who shed His blood as a sign of forgiveness of sins, and whose body hung on a cross until he expired. While he was morally perfect, his body was imperfect, wounded, punctured and scarred. Jesus’ hands and feet bore the fragility of his human body and the marks of divine forgiveness.
That is the Messiah to whom we give witness.
We witness to this Messiah with words, which requires our diaphragm to inhale and exhale air in and out of our lungs, and our mouths and vocal chords to enunciate words.
We witness to this Messiah with music, which requires bodily coordination and control, whether in singing or playing an instrument.
We witness to this Messiah with dance and expressive bodily movements, which reflects the joy and grace of God’s creative handiwork.
We witness to this Messiah by our bodily presence, as Barbara Newlon reminded me last week as she talked about how she makes it a point to spend time with her neighbors at the Colonnades.
And this weekend, around 250 youth from churches all over Virginia and even a church from South Carolina, witnessed to this Messiah by embodying Jesus’ hands and feet, feeding the hungry at Ronald McDonald house, clothing the naked by working at our Central VA Baptist clothing center, by painting walls and building steps and weeding gardens, so that our neighbors may have a better place to live.
They also spent the afternoon engaged in prayer walks on UVA grounds – the Rotunda, the lawn and the amphitheater – and around the medical center – at the children’s hospital, the main hospital. At the ER, someone asked what the group what they were doing. When they found out, they asked the group to pray for their family member in the ER. So the group surrounded the family members and prayed. The prayer walkers also prayed for the families of Hannah Graham and other students killed and assaulted. It was quite a sight to see all these young bodies with blue T-shirts walking, watching, and praying as they witnessed to our risen Savior.
And people noticed. One of the recipients of a Mission Madness project – a Love INC client sent an email via our website: I am so grateful. The young people came and did amazing things! They were so much fun, and so enthusiastic and giving, and the adults with them were amazing. I am still amazed at how much got done in such a short period of time. The kids not only worked hard, they clearly are bright, kind and loving. Just having them here was sheer joy. Thanks so much for such a wonderful program for all of us. It’s very hard for me to ask for help, but the sheer enthusiasm and caring of the people who gave is absolutely wonderful. What wonderful people, all of them. God bless you all!
Finally, this Mission Madness weekend could not have taken place without the committed bodies of many of our church members, who worked hard to organize the weekend, to feed all our guests, to oversee work sites, to serve as sanitation engineers, etc. Several chaperons from other churches spoke to me to comment on just how welcoming you were and how much they felt right at home at UBC.
The risen Christ was present in Charlottesville this past weekend, and He had over 300 pairs of hands and feet. We are witnesses to these things, and we give God the praise and the glory!