Where the Gospel of Matthew ends is where real life begins, where we sometimes worship and sometimes doubt and sometimes all at the same time. And I suspect that Jesus knows this, because to the some who worship and the some who doubt, he gives the same command: "Go make disciples." Given the people around him, wouldn't you think that Jesus would say, "Go be disciples" before he tells them to make disciples?
Remember, Peter denied the Lord three times. So the Lord is going to give Peter three chances to make up for it. He asks him three times, "Do you love me?" And three times Peter answers, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." At this point, we might expect the Lord to say, "Then, go fish." But he doesn't tell Peter to go fish. He tells him to "Feed my sheep." Anyone who's ever been forced to make a mid-life career change can imagine what Peter is thinking at this moment: "But all I know is fish. I don't know anything about sheep. I don't even like sheep. They're stupid and they're stinky. Fish are easier. You don't have to watch over them. You don't have to feed them. Now I've been a fisherman all my life. Why do you want me to stop now and become a shepherd?"
Who? Why? For days, we didn't know where the suspects were, but we who believe in Easter know where the Savior was on that day. If he was on Emmaus Road, then he was also on Boylston Street. And he wasn't just walking. He was running and tending to people in need. We hope that someday the survivors will look back on that day and remember how their hearts were burning, even as their legs were burning, because the love they saw was so real. The care they received was so tender. No bomb could ever blow that memory away. We know that people recognized the risen Christ on that day, if not in the breaking of bread, then in the breaking of flesh and bone.
I ask a further question. For those who have not seen, how did they come to believe? They came to believe because they were a part of a real community like this one at Willow Glen. Maybe they didn't see Jesus' face, but they saw yours. They came to church wanting to experience the resurrection for themselves, and they experienced you. And it wasn't as much of a let-down as you think! In you, they encountered love they can see, grace they can hear (how sweet that sound!), and authenticity they can touch. My friends, there is no app for that. You can't put it on your iPhone, because it's not software. It's soulware. And neither Apple nor Samsung owns the patent.
But I was really put to the test one communion Sunday. I started the Eucharistic prayer and then looked down into the chalice. As I was saying, "This is the blood of the new covenant," I was wondering why the liquid in the cup was dark brown. Now, if there were ever a time I wished I were a Catholic and believed in transubstantiation, this was the time.
Because as science continues to break through, some old distinctions are beginning to break down. That radical separation between life and death, between survival and extinction, is beginning to blur. And so, could it be that, in this incredible new world we live in, the resurrection is looking more believable every day?
But, whatever cloak we wear, it’s just the outside of us. In some sense it covers up who we really are. If we want to be authentic with Jesus, we’re going to have to shed our cloaks. If we want to be in the Jesus parade, we have to give up whatever it is that labels us in order to follow the one who loves us. Think of all the cloaks we wear that keep folks from seeing who we really are, keep us from being who we really are. Today, I want us to imagine laying down those cloaks in order to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem.
All this man needs is to hear his name, "Zacchaeus," and the charge: "hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today!" That's all it takes. Zacchaeus comes down. Zacchaeus stands up. Zacchaeus hands over half of his wealth. Now, can you imagine anyone being so desperate for acknowledgment, so thirsty for acceptance, so hungry for love, that they will give anything, they will give everything to hear Jesus call their name? You don't know anyone that desperate? Look in the mirror. Who do you see there? I thought so.
I wrote this hymn poem when I couldn't find any hymns in our hymnal that went with the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. I sang this song to introduce our lay witness in worship, Peggy Schlosser.
I could have written that sermon for you this morning, but I didn't. I The Spirit must have wanted me to write a poem instead, because that's what got written. It's a poem about how I once ran away and how God found me anyway. Now seminary may seem like a strange place to run from God, but at the time it felt as if the Spirit were driving me into a wilderness called seminary. In those years I was preparing for ministry, I'd never been so hungry. My faith had never been so tested. Let me tell you about that time. I hope you'll pardon the rhyme.