Luke 24: 36-48 (NRSV)
While they were talking about this, 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.
It has been my experience that we in the UCC have become timid about being witnesses to our faith. Who among us has not felt trapped by some well meaning person claiming to be "a Christian" trying to get us to believe the same things they believe? And woe to us if we don't. That gives the act of witnessing a bad name. We don't want to be "those people." We don't want being a Christian to mean one thing, namely that we are "saved" and others with different beliefs, are not. God save me from those wanting to save me.
But I believe there is another way to witness to our faith which is this: live it. Be the change and forgiveness Jesus proclaims to his disciples which we know is meant for us too. This is harder than words or belief or giving sermons. This means we must begin to follow Jesus in a way that reflects that love, forgiveness and grace he exemplified. For most, we would rather just go to church or attend a workshop or retreat. We would rather stay as we are. We would rather learn more stuff. Repentance requires honest looking within and a willingness to take a step in the direction of "Create in me a clean heart, O God."
Recently I began a new spiritual practice which I call a commitment to unconditional happiness. Sounds good, right? Till you actually try it, and then life gets in the way - several times a day. Just the act of watching the news is a huge challenge. What it really means is looking at all the places within myself that resists what is, what life presents. It means trusting in God that everything has a purpose. It means accepting everything as it is while also working for change in myself, others and the world. And it means continually surrendering my stuck places to God. There are times I feel confused and lost. Yet, it is a practice for growth and healing.
It's been said that religion is optional, but spirituality is not. We don't need to shove our beliefs onto others. Yet if we want real repentance and forgiveness to blossom, we need to witness that within ourselves. One step. And then another. In the light of God's presence, wholeness will take place. The Light that overcomes the Darkness will shine from our lives, and those with eyes to see will take notice. This encounter with Jesus changed the lives of his disciples forever. As it was with them, let it be with us.
Loving God, help me to be a witness to your love and grace. Help me to see places within myself where I am stuck, in need of healing and change. Help me to trust in You, to forgive myself and others and to love with all my heart and soul and strength. Amen.
is a retired Minister of Park Congregational Church and an active Spiritual Director