Well, I’m not ashamed to admit that one of the TV shows we watch a lot in our house is “Judge Judy.” And, if you ever watched her show, you know that plaintiffs and defendants in the courtroom often bring witnesses with them to testify on their behalf.
And, Judge Judy often says to these witnesses: “Tell me what you saw”… “Tell what me what you heard.”
And, sometimes, the witness will say, “Well, myself, I wasn’t actually there, but someone told me what happened.”
And, Judge Judy says: “Well, I can’t allow that testimony in my courtroom. That testimony is not admissible in court, because you are giving me second-hand testimony… and that is HEARSAY. Therefore, you are NOT a reliable witness.”
Now, I share that with you this morning because in the gospel reading from today’s lectionary, Jesus utters the phrase: “You are witnesses.” But, what does he mean by this?
Well, we hear a lot in Christian circles today about “witnessing” and “testifying” for Christ. But, you know, some of those who are testifying today are NOT reliable witnesses. Some Christians in America today are giving us hearsay – testimony that they heard from someone else. They are not giving us a first-hand account, but a second or third-hand account.
So, for example, they’ll tell us that “Christ Is Risen” because they read about in the Bible or heard about it in church, not because they experienced it for themselves first-hand.
Remember, when you were a kid and you would play the game called “Telephone”? Someone would whisper a story to one person, and that person would whisper it to another person, and so on down the line. And, by the time it got to the end of the line, the story had changed.
That, my friends, is the history of Christianity.
More than 2,000 year ago, the apostles had a first-hand experience of the risen Christ, and that story has been passed on for centuries.
The Resurrection stories in the gospels were not first-hand accounts. The gospel writers were not eyewitnesses to these events. In fact, they wrote these stories decades after Jesus had died.
Their purpose for writing these stories wasn’t to give us a factual account of what happened, but to inspire us. I’ve told you before, the Bible isn’t a history book, but a guidebook.
The purpose of the spiritual life isn’t to gather second- or third-hand knowledge about Christ from a book. The purpose of the spiritual life is for us to experience the Risen Christ first-hand for ourselves.
So, my question for you this morning on the Third Sunday of Easter is: Do you believe Christ is Risen because you read about it in the Bible or because you heard about it at church? Or, do you believe in the Risen Christ because you have experienced it for yourself first-hand?
Many Christian witnesses today are not giving first-hand knowledge of the Risen Christ. They are giving us hearsay. They are not reliable witnesses.
We know of many politicians and televangelists in America today who claim to be Christian witnesses, but whose policies and behaviors are in sharp contrast to the Way of Jesus. I do not believe that they have first-hand knowledge of the Christ.
We in the UCC church witness not only in our words alone, but in also our actions. On the sign hanging in the entrance of our church, it says, “We believe that the fullest expression of our belief is our actions.”
Others Christian churches witness and testify in their words in order to evangelize and convert people to their religion. But, you know, Jesus never instructed us to convert people to a particular religion.
Jesus was Jew. A very devout Jews. So, if you want to convert people to the religion of Jesus, then convert them to Judaism.
Jesus asks us not to convert others, but to convert ourselves (to transform ourselves) not to a religion, but to a way of life. A way of unconditional love for all people. A way of service to the least of these. A way of forgiveness to those who have wronged us. A way of justice and peace.
When we live this way of life, we experience first-hand knowledge of the Christ. We become witnesses to the Divine Presence in our midst.
Have you ever experienced the presence of God in your midst? If so, what did you see? What did you hear? Where and when did you experience the Divine?
Maybe it was when you were rocking a newborn baby, or when you were petting your cat? Maybe it was when you were watching the sunset on the beach, or holding the hand of a loved one as they took their last breath?
When we share those resurrection stories with one another and with the world, we are witnessing and testifying about the Christ.
The word “witness” comes from the Latin word “wit,” which means “knowledge.” And, I’ve told you before, “knowledge” doesn’t mean intellectual knowledge. It means INTIMACY, knowledge of the heart.
To be a witness of God means you have first-hand knowledge of God, intimacy with God, oneness with God. It means you have experienced the Divine in your midst. With you and within you.
Today’s Gospel story reminds us that the Risen Christ wasn’t just a spirit or a ghost, but A BODY. Notice in the story, the Risen Jesus asks for some food to eat…the Risen Jesus invites the apostles to touch his hands and his side.
This reminds us that the experience of the Risen Christ is not about connecting with a ghost, but is experienced in the physical body -- in us and through us.
Many of us growing up in the Christian church were taught that the body was bad, and many spiritual people think that we need to transcend the body. But, remember, Scripture tells us that the Word was made flesh, and that the body is the temple of the Spirit.
We experience the Divine in smiles and hugs, in eating good food, in listening to the birds singing. And, we are called to witness “Christ Among Us,” not just in the spiritual, but in the physical.
And, so, during this season of Easter – this time of where we celebrate the Risen Christ – may you witness more fully the Presence of the Divine in the physical world: in nature, in one another, and within yourself.
May your humanity and divinity meet and experience Oneness, Wholeness, Resurrection, and New Life.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance by by Rev. Nathan Nettleton
In the gospel account today, the risen Christ appears to his disciples in a locked upstairs room, and their first reaction was to panic and think they were seeing a ghost. A ghost, of course, is some kind of spiritual presence without a physical body. Clearly there is extreme confusion in their minds. Suddenly Jesus is there in plain view of them all, and their heads go into a spin. And despite having just apparently entered through a locked door, Jesus is at pains to prove to them that he is not a ghost. He says, “Look 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.” Whatever the physics and biology of the resurrection, what is clear is that it is something completely unprecedented. It is not just a ghost, but it is not just the resuscitation of a corpse either. The life to which Jesus is raised is a physical life, but it is not just his old physical life restored, but something even bigger and fuller and more powerfully alive than ever before. Christianity is not one of those religions that says that the physical and the bodily don’t matter and that the only thing that matters is the spiritual. Faith in Jesus is not about transcending the body and achieving some pure spiritual relationship with God. The relationship with God that we are invited to in Jesus is a physical thing. It is known in bread and wine, in hugs and handshakes, in feeding the hungry and lifting up the downtrodden. We are called to witness Christ among us, not just in the spiritual but in the physical – in the friend, the enemy, and in all of creation.
What did you think?