Sermon: The Work of Faith

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “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.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Luke 24:36-48

My sermon from the 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 14, 2024) on Luke 24:36-48


So one of the things I’ve been thinking about is how much work it takes to worship. I could, as a professional Christian, focus on what I, the musicians, the altar guild, and everyone else does to make this moment happen. But this week, I couldn’t help but wonder about the work it takes to sit in a pew, turn on a screen, or dial in via the phone. We don’t often call worship “work” since it feels a bit negative to frame our time with God in that way. However, when we’re here with a million things sitting on our never-ending to-do-list while sitting with someone who doesn’t really want to be here, we notice how much work worship is. It takes quite a bit of time, energy, and effort to wake up, get dressed, and make it here by the time the announcements end. And while it might seem easier to stay at home and turn on a screen, that’s actually pretty hard to do since, when we’re at home, we’re surrounded by all the other stuff life brings. Being in worship isn’t always easy and I’m grateful you have done the work to be with me now. But I also know being here and being present here isn’t always the same thing. It takes a lot to prepare ourselves for worship and once we’re here, the work of worship itself begins. There’s the constant standing up, sitting down, coming forward, and joining together in song. There’s also the need to follow along in the bulletin even if reading is something we can’t really do. And since we’re gathered together through the power of technology that can be a bit fickle, there’s also the need to give one another grace since worship doesn’t always go exactly to plan. We don’t describe worship as work since it’s supposed to be the opposite: an experience to help us do the work of living our lives. And while our faith truly is a gift from God that we can’t do anything to earn, living out our faith takes work; and it’s a work we don’t always have the energy or the patience for. 

Now today’s reading from the gospel according to Luke is, I think, an example of how much work Easter can be. We have, like last week, jumped out of the gospel according to Mark and into one with a story of the disciples meeting Jesus on the other side of the Cross. This story is a bit different from the one we heard last week from the gospel according to John even though both took place on the first Easter evening. Luke’s story started with the disciples talking about two things that had just happened. Two of the disciples had just returned to Jerusalem after having encountered a stranger on the road. After they heard from the women that the tomb was empty, they headed towards the village of Emmaus, trying to leave their worry, grief, and confusion behind. While they walked, they were soon joined by someone who seemed to appear out of nowhere. These two disciples told this stranger their story and the stranger responded by inviting them to ponder the entirety of God’s story. When it grew dark, they sat down by the roadside to share a meal. And when the bread was blessed and broken, the disciples suddenly realized who the stranger was. They immediately ran back to the city and found the other disciples discussing an unnarrated appearance Jesus made to Peter. We can almost imagine what that moment must have been like. Everyone was gathered in one space while Peter and the two disciples shared their story. Some of those around them responded with wonder, confusion, and awe; while others – especially those who consider themselves to be the expert in every situation – doubted how anyone could rise from the dead. Jesus had, according to Luke, spent time telling the disciples what would come next. But even after all the work Jesus did to prepare his disciples for the Cross and beyond, the experience of the resurrection wasn’t easily integrated into the disciples’ story. Hearing about that moment wasn’t enough; so Jesus, while the disciples wondered what these appearances might mean, took the time to show up. 

And one of the neat things about this story is how, in response, the disciples forgot what they had just been talking about. Instead of merging their current experience with the testimony they had just shared, even Peter and the two disciples who headed towards Emmaus thought Jesus was a ghost. Jesus’ hard work of calling each of the disciples by name and living with them through for over three years wasn’t enough to easily embrace him when he suddenly appeared. Now on one level, this shows how strange the resurrection is. And it serves as a reminder to never reduce Easter to something normal, expected, or mundane. Yet beyond the general weirdness of the resurrection, today’s story from Luke also shows us how much work faith is. If the disciples who saw Jesus face-to-face struggled to recognize him after the Cross, then it’s incredibly normal for the rest of us to struggle with that too. We don’t always get the opportunity to see Jesus eating broiled fish while we’re busy arguing with our friends. Instead, His presence is often felt in very subtle ways. We might, for example, notice Him in the kind word a stranger shared with us when we thought no one could actually see us. Or Jesus’ presence might become manifested through us when we find ourselves taking the time to listen and care for another person in need. We might experience Jesus in worship, prayer, or while taking a hike – noticing how a sense of peace surged through our body. And in those moments when life gets so hard we find ourselves hitting rock bottom, it’s then when we might notice Jesus is how Jesus is already there. These are just some of the ways Jesus shows up for us regardless of the work we do. Yet noticing him clearly and regularly in our lives is a work we get to do. It’s a work bringing us into worship, into prayer, and into our seat at the Lord’s table. It’s a work inviting us to really wonder and ponder and put into practice a love for God and our neighbor that shows up even when we don’t want to. This work requires us to actually talk to each other, celebrate each other, and to be with each other when there are no words to fix whatever we’re going through. And while this work doesn’t always come naturally to us or provide us the results we so desperately want, it is a work we can do because Jesus has already shown up for you. Doing the work of following Jesus isn’t always easy because being faithful and feeling faithful don’t always align. Yet if the disciples, 2000 years ago, had to do their own work to better witness to who Jesus is, we, in our own way, are invited to do the same. This kind of work will not get God to love us more nor will it provide answers to all the questions we might have. But it is a work that helps us get out of our own way so we can see how Jesus is leading us on The way. It takes work to not only worship but to be worshipful in all we say and do. And while we won’t always get that right, we can, together, do the work of faith because we get to lean into a holy love that, no matter what, never ends.