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postmodern preaching

Third Sunday of Easter Year B

  • Acts of the Apostles 3:12-19

Peter and John go to the Temple for daily prayers.  While there, they encounter a man “lame from birth.”  They announce he is healed and the man immediately “leaps for joy.”  To the crowd who have just witnessed this spectacular miracle of restoration Peter addresses this sermon.  He begins by emphasizing that the power that healed this man was not from him, but is from “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” the God of our ancestor’s.  This is the same God, he continues, who “glorified his servant, Jesus,” who is also the very same person “you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate.”  “You killed the Author of life whom God raised from the dead.”  It is as “witnesses” that we announce to all that God did through Jesus  that we also announce this man was healed, and, therefore, it is faith in the name of Jesus.   Now, friends, you have the opportunity to be healed yourselves, because “you acted in ignorance.”  “Repent and turn to God so that your sins might be wiped out.”

  • Psalm 4

The psalmist identifies this psalm as a lyric of supplication to be accompanied on string instruments.  The subject of this psalm is the person who counts herself faithful to God.  She now addresses her listeners: fear, do not offend God, offer sacrifices and “trust in the Lord.”  Then you, too, she concludes, will be able to sleep safely and peacefully at night.

  • I John 3:1-7

The writer of this first letter attributed to John always returns to one theme–love, God’s pure love for us and how we should mimic God in love for others.  [See next Sunday’s excerpt, 3:16-24, as another example.]   “Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.”  That is the essence of what it means to be called “children of God; and that is what we are.”

  • Luke 24:36b-48

The raised Jesus stands among his disciples gathered for a meal and greets them, “Peace be with you.”  They immediately conclude  they have seen a “ghost.”  But Jesus is here to counter their “fears” and their “doubts.”  He invites them to touch him and he offers his hands and his feet, which still bear the wounds from the nails which pinned him to the cross.  They are immediately overtaken with joy.  Jesus asks for something to eat, which a mere “ghost” would not have needed.  Jesus then repeats what he had told them before his arrest, execution and resurrection: how the (Hebrew) scriptures had explained that “the Messiah was to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.”  As witnesses who eat and drink with him after the resurrection, they are to start right here in Jerusalem and then take the message of “repentance and forgiveness to all nations.”

Whatever else was going on in those frantic days after the trauma of the execution of Jesus and the announcement of the discovery of the empty tomb, one thing was consistent and clear in the narrative of Luke-Acts: those who were actually present at his arrest and the travesty of justice that condemned him and all the way  through the last hours of agony and torment of dying on a cross saw in those events the most dazzling display of God’s love, even exceeding the story of God’s love for Israel over so many centuries.  Furthermore, now this story extends to anyone and everyone of any origin.  Getting this announcement out to as many people as possible was paramount for the eye-witnesses.  As stories about the impact of this announcement in the lives of many began to come in, (like the man Peter and John encountered in the Temple), those accounts were added to the accumulating testimonies.  After all, this was not an announcement about some theological speculation; it was about real flesh and blood men and women and the Jesus who ate and drank with his followers not as a “ghost,” but in the flesh.  Likewise, the man who was healed in the Temple and all the others who lives were being put back together were real flesh and blood people.

Paul Ricoeur offered and then re-examined his notion of “attestation” in essays and books throughout his remarkable career.  He said he was navigating between those two giants who opened and closed Modernity, Descartes and Nietzsche, (Oneself As Another, p.21 ff).  On the one hand, he understood the necessary and inescapable role of doubt– doubt about our capacities for understanding or acting divested of our own motives.  He acknowledged  our tendency to favor interpretations that benefit our needs and prejudices and the gap between what we profess and what we actually do.  Doubt, a little humility is a healthy thing. On the other hand, he grappled with what do we do with claims that have no reservations, in particular biblical claims, including the specific claim that Jesus was raised from the dead.  We live somewhere between these two poles, between useful self-doubt and the audacity of  biblical claims.  While never escaping self doubts (and we ought not to believe we can escape some self doubt as a corrective to our own limitations), we are compelled to make a decision about such bold claims as these biblical announcements not because they overwhelm or eliminate our doubts, but because we have discovered  them to be true in the actual wrinkles and folds of our personal lives.  These announcements do not need or desire human corroboration. They simply elicit affirmation or denial. The decision to affirm is what Ricoeur calls “attestation.”   Because “attestation” is personal, it is never made in words that we simply parrot from others, even the eloquence of scripture, but it is made in plain, ordinary, everyday language.  Furthermore, and just as importantly, we attest not only with words, but in the choices we make and the actions we take; (here we should recall the emphasis on corporality in Luke’s  accounts of those occasion when the followers of Jesus experienced the Risen Christ).  We never reach a static resolution.  We continue to go back and forth between our “doubts”/ “fears” and personal testimony.  And, in the decision to become a witness, to testify, “we wager on a certain set of values and then  try to be consistent with them; verification is therefore a question of our whole life. No one can escape this.” (“Lecture on Ideology and Utopia,” quoted in Theology after Ricoeur, p.206)  We can “attest” to the power of the love of God put on dazzling display in the crucified and Risen Christ because we have experienced it in our own lives and we are willing/eager to become enthusiastic witnesses.   The actions that flow from that claim should bring some sort of restoration/healing in the lives of  others whom we influence. Before we have thought about it, we have become witnesses, too.  We find ourselves in the company of others who want to take this message “to all nations.”  Today’s gospel is about testimony, healing and more testimony.  It can become anyone’s story.

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