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Open Minds, Loving Hearts
By Dr. Todd B. Jones

APRIL 22, 2012

Open Minds, Loving Hearts
Psalm 4
Luke 24:35-48

A few years ago, Connie and I were listening to music along with some members of this church. (This sounds much better than saying your preacher was sitting in a bar!) A man I had met before and knew a bit, came up to me and said, "Randy, you were the fastest runner in high school I ever met!" I realized in a moment that this man, a well-known surgeon in town, had mistaken me for someone else. (He thought I was a fellow named Randy Rudolph.) He apologized profusely. He even returned a second time to say he was sorry. He didn't need to. It happens. People fail to recognize folks they have known all their lives, or mistake them to be someone else other than who they really are.

It surely happened to Jesus after the first Easter morn. In the garden, Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus to be the gardener. And just before this morning's text, Cleopas and another disciple walk the Emmaus Road with Jesus, and the whole time He is with them, "opening to them the Scriptures," they fail to recognize the stranger in their midst. It is not until Jesus sits with them at table and breaks the bread that "their eyes are opened and they recognize Him."

This morning's account is a bit different. The disciples apparently are totally frightened, terrified by Jesus' sudden appearance. And while they may have known that it was Jesus they were seeing, they were startled by His presence, and mistook Him for a "ghost," rather than one with a body that had been raised. Jesus speaks to their fears even before they voice them, first with His word, "Peace be with you." This is always evidence that it is Jesus and not some impostor or ghost. Wherever Jesus is present, there is peace. It is why they called Him the Prince of Peace.

But we are confronted here with a contrast, a stark difference we see so often in the Gospels: Jesus' peace on the one hand, and our anxious fear on the other. Remember the time Jesus was asleep in the boat in a storm, while all His disciples feared for their lives? Rembrandt's painting of this scene is the most famous unsolved art theft in history, the work having been stolen from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in the 1990s. Rembrandt famously painted himself into that boat, scared out of his wits, just like Jesus' disciples. And Jesus said to them what He says here in Luke: "Peace." So the account begins with the disciples' terror, and Jesus' peace.

Next Jesus wants them to know who He is. Maybe the best medicine for our fears is knowing who God really is. Jesus invites them to behold His hands and feet, presumably still marked with the wounds He bore on that cross. He addresses their confusion directly: "Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." (Apparently it was not just Thomas who had a hard time believing, even in the presence of the Risen Christ.) Then Jesus asks them if they have anything to eat, and He "took and ate" broiled fish in their presence.

Do you see what Jesus is doing? He wants them to know that the Risen Jesus is one and the same with the crucified Jesus. Resurrection is no denial of our humanity and no denial of death, Jesus' or ours. Connie and I just returned from a visit with the boys in Prague right after Easter. Last Sunday we went with them for the day to the Bohemian town of Kutna Hora. It is a quaint village with a gothic cathedral, St. Barbara's, that rivals Notre Dame in Paris for gothic splendor. But there is another church in that town that might just be the strangest church I have ever visited. It is called "The Bone Church," because the interior is decorated completely in human skeletons. Somewhere between forty to seventy thousand human skeletons fill the church. It was built on the site where a medieval pilgrim had sprinkled dirt from Calvary. Each chandelier contains every bone in the human body, with skulls sitting at the top of each light fixture. (I never learned who served as their interior designer!) I have never seen over forty thousand human skulls in one place. It was overwhelming. My first impression was a powerful recognition that death is real, and no one escapes it. (It also strikes you how much we all look alike when you get down to the bone!)

I think Jesus wanted His disciples to know this. It is always the crucified Christ who God raised, and there is no resurrection without crucifixion. As I was walking out of the church, not sure what to make of it, and haunted in a way by all of those skulls, all those reminders of death, I noted in the pamphlet we were given, Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15: "We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed."

This church that speaks so much of death really was built to speak a word about resurrection and life. So Jesus begins to teach them of this, assuring them "the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms" are fulfilled in Him. Actually, I loved the way Luke puts it: "Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures…." It must have been quite a Bible study!

Note that not only does Jesus bring peace when we encounter Him, but He also "opens our minds to understand the Scriptures." This is what we all need. Reformed Christian theologians call this a Christo-centric reading of the Bible. That is, we are to read the whole Bible in the light of Jesus Christ. It is a different way of reading the Bible than belongs to our Jewish brothers and sisters, from whom we received the treasure that is the Bible. And too many Christians fail at this very point. They read the Bible as a rule book, or as a long list of rights and wrongs, or as a history book or even as a book about science. The Bible is best read as Gospel, as the Good News of God's love for us revealed in Jesus Christ. St. Augustine tried to express this by saying, "In the Old Testament, we find Jesus Christ concealed. In the New Testament, we find Jesus Christ revealed."

To read the Bible in the light of Jesus Christ is to realize that Israel's story and Jesus' story are one, and that they are meant to offer to the world the story of God's great love for the whole of it. The Creator God is the Redeemer we come to know in Jesus, and this God will be the Consummator of all that is. And not even death can vanquish this God's gracious intentions.

Please note why Jesus makes Himself known to His disciples. "So that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in His name to all nations." "You are witnesses…," Jesus says.

Once your mind is opened by Jesus, so then is your heart. He who always brings peace calls us to share Jesus' peace with "all nations." God never opens our minds without also opening our hearts, turning us into witnesses of God's great love for everyone.

Karl Barth loved the painting of the crucifixion done by Matthias Grunewald. He kept a large copy of it in his study in Basel, where he wrote his thirteen-volume Church Dogmatics. It shows Jesus hanging from the cross, with John the Baptist standing at His side, holding the Bible in one hand, and pointing to Jesus with the other. Grunewald paints John's finger with elongated exaggeration. Barth loved this about the painting! "Shall we dare turn our eyes in the direction of the pointing hand of John? We know whither it points. It points to Christ. But to Christ crucified, we must add. That is your direction, says the hand."

With that as our direction, we cannot go wrong. "We preach not ourselves, but Christ crucified," said Paul. And note the change in the disciples. They encounter the Risen Jesus and they allow Jesus to open their minds to understand the Scriptures. They start in fear, "startled and terrified." They then "in their joy were disbelieving and still wondering." We have all been there with them, haven't we?

But this is not where they end. Their minds are opened, and hence, so are their hearts. And those who began in fear go forth as witnesses to the Gospel, Good News to all nations of the world. Dorothy Soelle was born in Germany in 1929, growing up a little girl through the most horrible chapter in Germany's history. She noted that often human hatred stems from fear. When we are afraid, we seek to make ourselves secure, safe. But Soelle says Jesus comes to grant us peace, not security. "Change happens at the level of action that contains risk." Risk is never about safety or security. We don't need to try to make our lives safe and secure. We need to make our lives strong in Jesus Christ, who opens both our minds and our hearts. Soelle writes, "Because you are strong in Christ, you can put the neurotic need for security behind you. You do not need to defend your life like a lunatic. For the love of the poor, Jesus says, you can give your life away and spread it around."

Open our minds, Dear Jesus, and with that, open our hearts!


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