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." (New Revised Standard Version)
A single mother with a child has been standing in line for several hours in the summer heat. She finally gets to the handout counter where a middle-aged woman from Illinois gives her a packet that contains a comb, diapers, toothpaste, toothbrush, hand wipes, soap and a hand cloth. The single mother does not know that the packet was put together by a Presbyterian in Batesville, Mississippi. She does not realize that the woman handing her the package is a Presbyterian volunteer from Illinois who is staying in a tent village provided by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance through the One Great Hour of Sharing offering received by Presbyterian congregations all across the United States. All the single woman knows is that she and her three year old daughter will fall asleep under the stars feeling clean where they live in D'Iberville, Mississippi. This will be the first night in three weeks she will fall asleep feeling clean since Hurricane Katrina took away their home. The year is 2006 and the social gospel is still at work through Batesville Presbyterian Church and other Christians around the world.
Jesus told his disciples, "If I go to my Father then you will do the works that I have done and greater works than these shall you." And we wonder how the disciples will be able to heal the sick like Jesus does; and how the disciples will be able to raise the dead like Jesus does; and how the disciples will be able to preach the good news with authority like Jesus does. And we read in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament story after story about how they did it. Peter, the disciple who had betrayed Jesus three times on the night of his trial before Pilate, preaches to a crowd in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and 3000 people are converted to the faith.
They were meeting in a well-lighted upper room. A young man named Eutychus was sitting in an open window. As Paul went on and on, Eutychus fell sound asleep and toppled out the third-story window. When they picked him up, he was dead. Paul went down, stretched himself on him, and hugged him hard. "No more crying," he said. "There's life in him yet." (Acts 20:-10, MSG)
Those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both. They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on stretchers and bedrolls, hoping they would be touched by Peter's shadow when he walked by. They came from the villages surrounding Jerusalem, throngs of them, bringing the sick and bedeviled. And they all were healed. (Acts 5:14-16, MSG) The social gospel at work in the lives of Jesus' disciples.
As Mississippians we are blessed here with a sense of place. We have deep roots here. We are grounded here in a way that is deeper than some other Americans in other places. My father tells the story of Sister Josie Andrews. Sister Andrews was a leader of the women's group at the Puckett Baptist Church in Puckett, Mississippi, where my father was reared. Puckett is in Rankin County just south and east of Jackson. Any time the brothers and sisters of Puckett Baptist Church would have a fellowship dinner, a dinner on the grounds as they called it, they would always call on Sister Josie Andrews to say the blessing. And every time Sister Josie said the blessing she would go at it hard and long in her talk with the Lord. And even though the content of her prayer would change each time it always ended the same way. Sister Josie always signed off her blessings like this: "Sister Josie Andrews, Route 3, Box 261a, Puckett, Mississippi." Sister Josie had a sense of place. She knew where she lived and she reminded the Lord of her exact address every time she prayed. We have a sense of place here and that is good.
We know the mindset and we practice it in the church. Our lives revolve around this sanctuary. We come here week after week to worship God. We bring our children here to be reared in the Christian faith. We baptize our babies here, marry off our daughters here, funeralize our dead here. Right here in this place. This is where it happens. God meets us here. The Spirit moves here. Our lives are somehow made right here in this place.
And Jesus takes that concept and turns it upside down. The risen Christ told his disciples they were to do like he did, proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins ... beginning from Jerusalem. And going out from Jerusalem. Out. Out. Out from here! Out from Jerusalem. Into the world. And so Christ says to us in regard to this sanctuary. "I am sending you out from this place to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins ... go and heal the sick, raise the dead, and proclaim the good news. Out. Out of this sanctuary. Out of our comfort zone. Out into the wild and needy world. To bear witness for Christ at the Piggly Wiggly store, at the high school, the daycare center, in our neighborhood, and throughout the world.
Jesus, too, had a strong sense of place. As a Jew his world revolved around the holy city of Jerusalem. Even after Jesus had ascended into heaven the work of the early church flowed out of Jerusalem. Again, we see Jesus turning things upside down. For before Jesus' arrival everything had flowed into Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the temple, the place where every Jew looked as a place of national pride, spiritual strength and solidarity. Three times a year each Jew would make a journey to Jerusalem to worship in the temple there. Everything revolved around Jerusalem. And Jesus took the Jewish sense of identity, their sense of place, and turned it around on them. Jesus told his disciples that up until now Jerusalem has been the place to which we all come to. But from now on Jerusalem will be the place from which we go out into the world in mission. That movement — not to Jerusalem but from Jerusalem — is the same movement the risen Christ is calling on us to make today.
And we are doing it. We are going out into the world in the name of the risen Christ. We are going out into Panola County when we open our church doors to the Panola County Food Pantry every Tuesday. We are going out into the world in the name of the risen Christ. We are going to the Mississippi Gulf Coast by purchasing hymnals for the Pascagoula Presbyterian Church. We are going out into the world in the name of the risen Christ. We are going out to the world when we send some of our own members on missionary trips to Honduras to distribute Bibles and provide dental help to the people there. We are going out into the world in the name of the risen Christ. We are witnesses of these things.
We are moving beyond our own comfort zone. We are moving outside the walls of this lovely sanctuary. We are moving beyond Church Street in Batesville. We are moving on. Beginning from Batesville. We are moving on.
Our body has to undergo a transformation in order to be habitable in our next destination which is the kingdom of heaven. But until we get to the kingdom of heaven we are to work to bring the kingdom of heaven here on earth. This way of thinking is part of the prayer our Lord taught us to pray. "Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Think about the Lord's prayer. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Our job on this earth is to work to bring the kingdom of heaven into play on planet earth. It is a job that we are unlikely to complete in our lifetime. Yet this is our mandate. This is our great commission from the risen Christ.
We fulfill this prayer in a thousand different ways. We fulfill it through giving money to missions. We fulfill it through offering use of our church facilities to various community organizations. We fulfill it through going to exotic places such as Honduras and sharing the gospel there. We do good things all over the place in Jesus name. And what sets us apart in our good works is not so much the quality or quality of what we do but it in the one in whose name we do it.
Like Jesus disciples, we have experienced the risen Christ and we do our good works in his name. Whenever we serve a person in need we are serving the risen Christ. Jesus personalized our service to the world in Matthew 25 when he says,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.'
We see the same sort of theme in our reading today in Luke 24. The risen Christ appears to the disciples and invites them to look at his hands and feet. "Touch me," he tells them. "For a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And then he showed them his nail scarred hands and feet. The disciples were blown away, thinking, "This is too good to be true! He is alive!" Jesus says in his best Southern drawl: "Y'all got anything to eat around here?" Feed me! The risen Christ wants something to eat. And friends, he is still hungry today. He is hungry and he wants us to feed him. And they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. The disciples literally fed the risen Christ. And so do we.
Let's keep feeding the risen Christ by feeding the hungry. Let's keep a roof over the risen Christ's head by giving the homeless a place to live. Let's give some relief to the shivering Christ by clothing the kids who don't own one single coat. Let's encourage the risen Christ by visiting the sick. Let's give hope to the risen Christ by calling on those in prison.
We are good here. Batesville is a good place. This is our home. This is our sanctuary. Even more than drawing people in here — Jesus wants us to go out to where the people are. Even more than giving to meet our church budget — Jesus challenges us to give more to a needy world. Batesville may be our Jerusalem. But Jesus challenges us to move out beyond our base. Out into the wild world. Working to bring the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Reaching the risen Christ by reaching out to others. Beginning now. Beginning in Batesville. Continuing in Biloxi, Baltimore, Beijing and Bangalore. Ending when the kingdom of heaven finally comes to this good earth.
Thanks be to God.