3 Easter B—4/15/18
Acts 3:12-19; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
Pr. Scott Kramer
This court is now in session…
Last Sunday some of you met my niece and her fiancé from Texas. They are both attorneys and I was wishing they were here today. I’m wearing a judge’s garb this morning because today’s readings sound like something out of a courtroom.
In the book of Acts, Peter’s speech to the people sounds like a prosecuting attorney. He accuses them of crimes against Jesus: the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. In 1 John we read: Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (Notice that it’s not the other way around!) And in today’s gospel reading, Jesus says: 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.
We’re probably not surprised to find courtroom language in the Bible. Many Christians think of God as a judge, and an angry one at that—one who sentences evildoers to punishment and lets all the rest off the hook. We read of Judgment Day. And if we’re honest, we notice ourselves judging other people.
But friends, in the “courtroom of life” we are not the judges! Neither are we the prosecuting attorney. And, maybe most surprising of all, we are not even the ones on trial! This is because we are loved, whether we ask for it or not. We are forgiven, whether we ask for it or not. Like those first disciples who cut and ran, like those friends who betrayed him, we are the ones to whom Christ appears today without judgment or condemnation. This is not because we are “good.” No, this is what God does. This is the promise of Easter.
So–if our human role is not judge, not jury, and if we’re not prosecuting attorney, or person on trial, what in the world is the role for disciples of Jesus?
Our readings today are clear on that point: In his address to the crowd, Peter says: We are witnesses. And in his address to his disciples Jesus says: 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.”
What is the job description of a witness? It’s to give testimony. It’s to give evidence that can help decide the case. We are those witnesses. We are the ones called to give testimony.
But here’s a question: If we’re the witnesses, who is on trial? The startling answer to that question is: God is on trial! Love is on trial!
Every day God is on trial, because God has made some pretty unsettling claims. God has commanded us to love one another, to love even our enemies. God has commanded us to practice forgiveness. God has commanded us to seek justice, to defend the poor and the persecuted. And God has claimed not simply to be some storybook character from history or far off in the clouds or outer space. God has claimed to become human, to take on flesh and blood. This is the story of Jesus.
All of these claims violate the rules of the world. The way the world works is to take care of our own, to fight and even destroy our enemies. The way the world works is to get even, to practice revenge rather than forgiveness. The way the world works is to look out for number one. The way the world works is striving to get ahead and protect self-interest rather than pursuing justice for the poor, the persecuted and the oppressed. So, every day God is on trial. The law of love is on trial. Who will speak up? Who among us will be “character witnesses” to God and testify to the ways of God?
The word “witness” is used twice in today’s readings. In our day and age among Christians it’s taken on a religious tone. People speak of “witnessing to Christ,” meaning that they openly profess faith in Jesus Christ. This is fine, but in our time and place it usually doesn’t involve much risk. The word as it is used in the Bible is the legal sense and there’s a lot more at stake.
Some of us remember the 1985 movie “Witness,” in which a much younger Harrison Ford plays a police detective who investigates the death of an undercover police officer who was murdered by corrupt police officers. The only witness to the murder is a young boy. The story line of the movie is about the corrupt officers hunting down this young witness.
This gets at the sense of our scripture writers who use the word in its Biblical sense. To be a witness is to give an eyewitness account. It is to give public testimony. It involves the courage to speak truth to power. It suggests the possibility not only of ridicule from other people but maybe abuse and mistreatment–even prison or death. In our own day, how many crimes remain unsolved because fearful witnesses have failed to step forward? How often every day does injustice prevail because witnesses are silent?
Friends, God is on trial. Love is on trial in our communities and world every day. To what extent are we witnesses every day who will take the stand and who will testify in love’s defense?
You saw the headline in yesterday’s paper: “U.S. Allies Strike Syria.” Our country and its allies attacked Syria as punishment for its suspected chemical attack last week. This was anticipated, but what caught my attention was not the airstrikes themselves but our president’s response: Speaking of Syria’s president Assad, he said, These are not the actions of a man…They are the crimes of a monster.
Well, when we label people “monsters” we label them as something less than human, and when we do that we can justify anything, including murder. This is not what disciples of Jesus do: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
God is love. We are children of God. We therefore are practitioners of love. But love is not a priority in our world. Hatred, fear, greed, violence and war prowl the world, looking for willing and unsuspecting accomplices. In other words, God is on trial. The path of love and forgiveness stands accused and awaits conviction and sentencing. Who among us will witness to the power of love, truth, and compassion?
The good news of this Easter season is that Christ is risen. Love for the whole world was once on trial, convicted and sentenced to death. That same love…is back! All that is needed is ordinary, flesh-and-blood human beings as witnesses…to the power of love.