Witnesses in a neverending story

TEXTS:  Psalm 133, Acts 4:32-35, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31

Witnesses of the Risen Jesus

Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed!

We claim and proclaim that great truth: God raised Jesus from the dead.
In the resurrection God began a new chapter of a neverending story
– a story beyond sin and violence and death.
God would not let crucifixion and death have the final word.
God raised a dead Jesus to new life as the fulcrum of history and foundation for life. We join the first witnesses in this neverending story.

Witness to the Resurrection

As we bear witness we do well to hold two things in heart and mind about being witnesses.
First, to witness is seeing and being.
You are a witness when you see and give testimony to the risen Christ.
You are a witness when you be, that is embody or reflect the risen Christ.
Second, witness is from the same root word and meaning as martyr – as in martyr-witness.
The nonviolent self-giving love of the Good Friday Jesus made possible a risen Easter Jesus.
Anne Lamott and others have reminded us that, ‘We are Easter people in a Good Friday world.’

We bear witness by being here in worship and in scripture, song, and story.
Last Sunday Jenn witnessed the risen Jesus with a poem she wrote.
Today Rebecca was our witness to the risen Jesus.
Thank you Rebecca, Jen, and others on coming Sundays for giving witness to the risen Jesus.

Blessed with Grace-Joy-Peace in the Risen Christ

We turn to God’s Word for this 2nd Sunday of Easter to hear an Easter word for us.
I want to lift up a word in the Word – to identify a word in each of the four scriptures today.
Each scripture gives us a word for being witnesses in a neverending story of the risen Christ.

Psalm 133 (The Inclusive Bible)

The 133rd Psalm is integrated into the Call to Worship.
It begins by proclaiming, “how good and pleasant it is for God’s people to live together as one.”
It ends by reclaiming God’s “blessing – life that never ends.”
The Psalmist foreshadows God’s neverending story in Jesus.
Our Psalm word for today is blessinga blessing of neverending life.
God blesses us into this neverending story of the crucified and risen Jesus.
The word from each of the other three scriptures is a word for how we are witnesses.

Acts 4:32-35 (NRSV)

Our word from Acts 4 is Grace.
Grace
is the center and sum of this great summary of the emerging Jesus’ movement.
Grace is the center and sum of God’s presence-purpose-promise in Jesus, in people, in the world.
This Acts summary centered in grace is so short and powerful that we do well to hear it again.

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul,
and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions,
but everything they owned was held in common.
With great power the apostles gave their testimony [witness] to the resurrection of Jesus,
and great grace was upon them all.
There was not a needy person among them…. (Acts 4:32-34a)

They lived in unity in the risen Jesus, for the common good, as resurrection witnesses.
And great grace was upon them!
Grace
is God’s reconciling covenant love (Gk. charis, Hb. chesed: Theological Dict. of the NT, 101).
Grace is God’s gift offered to us free and undeserved.
Without God’s grace there wouldn’t be a risen Jesus or a people of God or a neverending story.
God raised Jesus from the dead breaking down all barriers to God’s unconditional love for all.
God’s grace is for everyone not because we earn it or deserve it but because God is Grace!

1 John 1:1-2:2

The First Letter of John is one of the most eloquent expressions of God’s love ever written.
Our Confession of Faith is from the opening words of First John.
John gives witness to our God who in Christ is light and life and love.
At the center of this introduction is John’s bold claim to joy.
We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (1:4).
What God is doing in the neverending story of the risen Christ inspires great joy in us.

John 20:19-31

Our primary Word for today is the continuing story of Jesus’ resurrection in John’s gospel.
On Easter Sunday a week ago we heard the first part of the resurrection story.
Mary Magdalene was the first witness; then Peter and John became witnesses.
But their witness was first to an empty tomb with no body.
Weeping at the empty tomb Mary Magdalene became the first to encounter the risen Jesus.
This gospel story told by John continues this Sunday.
Fear gripped the disciples and they hid behind locked doors.
Fear and locked doors didn’t stop the risen Jesus.
In the understatement of John’s Gospel, we are told, “Jesus came and stood among them.”
In the presence of their fear, what is Jesus’ first word to them? Peace!
Peace be with you.
Jesus repeats and reinforces, “Peace be with you.”
Our word for today from John’s gospel of the risen Jesus is peace.
Jesus adds, “As God sends me, so I send you.”
Sending Jesus is God’s doing; raising Jesus is God’s doing.
God is doing the same sending and raising in us so we may witnesses the risen Jesus.
The neverending story continues: a week later they were again in the house.
This time Thomas, the absent disciple a week earlier on Easter day, was with them.
Suddenly the risen Jesus appears among them again and again greets them: “Peace be with you.”
Then Jesus offers another gift so they may receive the peace of the risen Jesus.
Jesus’ breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus knows we can’t do this alone; we can’t be blessed with grace, joy, and peace on our own.
We need the breath of the Holy Spirit.
In the beginning, at the climax of creation, God breathed life into humankind.
Then God formed a human from the dust…and breathed [into the human]…
the breath of life…and [the human] became a living being.
(Genesis 2:7).
The risen Jesus breathes this same life into the disciples so they can be Easter people.
To be Easter people is to be people of Christ’s peace in a Good Friday world.

Signs of the resurrection — Witnesses in a neverending story

We are witnesses to the risen Jesus. There are signs of Jesus’ resurrection today.
Here some signs that I see beginning with the newest member among us.
Ozias Harrison Nofziger is a witness to the risen Jesus – a sign of new life in Christ.
Preparing for Ozias’ dedication and celebrating our granddaughter’s second birthday the past few days reminded me of an experience years ago.

One time when our children were a few years old, two friends and I were in a long conversation.
I was in their home in an inner city where they were in a small Christian community of peace.
They had spent years in The Philippines with Mennonite Central Committee.
They had witnessed Filipinos suffering at the hands of the Marcos regime with US tax dollars.
Ironically today is April 15, tax day in America, although this year it will be April 17.
Tragically our tax dollars are used more for Good Friday than for Easter efforts.
My friends had seen Good Friday up close and still felt the wounds in their being.
Then our conversation turned to children – our children and those they had seen suffer.
Yet my friend’s words shocked me when she said, “I could never bring a child into this world.”
I had never put words to an inner struggle I felt but had never dared voice.
This Good Friday world is too violent to birth children into it.
While confessing truth in her witness, I protested, “But our children are signs of hope.”
Our children are our “Yes” to the God of Easter Life against all the Good Friday death.
Knowing that I was still tempted to join her – except for one thing: a community of witnesses.
We were part of a community of witnesses then in Philadelphia as we are now in SMC:
God’s people who are witnesses in the neverending story of resurrection;
…who want to be Easter people in a Good Friday world;
…who seek to “walk in the resurrection,” as our Anabaptist ancestors called it;
…who struggle to say “No” to Good Friday violence and death;
…who strive to be a community of grace, joy and peace in the risen Christ.
For all our frailty and fallibility, our communal witness offers a place worthy of children.
Ozias is our newest sign of hope in an Easter God even as are all our children and grandchildren.

In Holy Week, Marg and I watched the film, “Pray the Devil back to Hell.”
Laymeh Gbowee and other ordinary women with extraordinary courage are witnesses.
In war-torn Liberia of the 1990s, Gbowee dared to be an Easter witness in a Good Friday land.
She called other Christian women and then Muslim women to become witnesses for peace.
Together in nonviolent witness they went to the marketplace and public space to witness.
They had known enough of war and suffering and terror and fear.
They had seen enough of their young sons turned into killers and daughters raped.
They said “No” to Good Friday and “Yes” to Easter with words and life at risk of life.
Laymeh Gbowee is a graduate of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU.
She and 2 other women were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for their bold witness.

The past 24 hours have been a Day of Prayer and Action for Colombia initiated by CPT.
Death threats and violence are an all too real part of life in the Colombian Church.
Ricardo Esquiva, founder of Justa Paz, and the Colombian Mennonite Church are witnesses.
Ricardo, Laymeh, Ozias, Rebecca, Jenn, and you are witness in this neverending story.

“Vision: Healing and Hope” — Mennonite Church USA

God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit,
to grow as communities of grace, joy, and peace, so that God’s healing and hope
flow though us to the world.

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