We continue to celebrate the 50 days of Easter, a season of peace that comes through Jesus and his resurrection. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus had been seen and Mary has reported it to the disciples. Cleopas & the other disciple on the road to Emmaus experienced Jesus in his witness to scripture & in the breaking of bread. But when the gathered disciples finally see him, they are still afraid.
It’s a ghost. They are terrified. He tells them peace – shalom, but they don’t get it, Easter has not happened for them yet. Just as we heard last week in the Gospel of John, disciples in a locked room.
The disciples are still living with fear. Only after watching Jesus eat do they get it, or at least begin to get it. So Jesus explains again the words he spoke; he puts his life in perspective through what Scripture says. The fear has so controlled the disciples that they are not living out of the faith, the hope, the love that Jesus shared with them. They were commissioned to continue his ministry, he gave them the Scriptures, and instead he finds that they have returned to old habits.
They were commissioned to be his witnesses of all that they experienced. I think they struggle like we do, to not only have a particular moment where we minister but to sustain it long term.
Easter is not just a day; it is about all of our life as baptized Christians (which Everett Wolf Ahmed will begin after his baptism this morning.) It’s having the long view…
Many years ago, a group of settlers made their home in a beautiful valley between two spectacular mountain ranges. One day a young man managed to climb the highest mountain peak overlooking the valley and the village. What he saw took his breath away. He told his family and friends that he saw the world from the perspective of an eagle; he saw the world as one in all its beautiful color.
Everyone wanted to see what the young man had seen - but the climb was treacherous. Several villagers slipped and fell, some were killed trying. A stonemason in the village decided to build a series of steps up the mountain. Working with only a hammer and a chisel, it took him months to create the first step. His neighbors scoffed at the idea - this could never be completed in their lifetimes. But, undaunted, the mason continued to work on his stone path. Years later, the mason, now an old man, had finished just four steps. The villagers thought that was the end of the project - until an apprentice of the old mason took up the work. Despite the ridicule, he continued carving the steps up the mountain. Years later, the second mason was succeeded by a third, then a fourth, and later a fifth.
Decades went by. The village grew into a city; electric lights replaced the lighted street poles; automobiles made the horse-drawn wagons obsolete; new businesses were established. But the work on the steps continued. The stoneworkers were considered eccentric oddities by the townsfolk, but everyone agreed that they were the most determined people they had ever met. Over the years, nearly fifty stone carvers worked on the steps.
One day, almost a hundred years after it began, the last stone carver walked into the office of the mayor. "The work is done," the mason said. "These tools belonged to the first stonemason. They have been handed down each time another mason took up the task. They are our gift to the village. The work is done." [From Keep Going: The Art of Perseverance by Joseph M. Marshall III.]
The peace and reconciliation envisioned by the Risen Christ has been turned over to his disciples, to those first witnesses. Now the apostles and the first Christian communities have passed on the work of building the path to countless generations and to us, making us the step carvers for our own time, building on the steps that have been lovingly given to us.
In our struggles to live his Gospel of compassion, forgiveness and justice in the simplicity of our everyday lives, in the complexities of our work places, in our work to realize our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our families, we complete a step to the reign of God, we add one more stone to the foundation of God's kingdom.
In the Gospel of Luke today, Jesus enlarges the disciples understanding to get them unstuck from their fear and to live into the peace of Christ. And for me, the best understanding of this was a prayer composed by (RC) Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. It was included in a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero and often erroneously said to be from the Archbishop himself. How we build a step…
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
· The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
· We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
· No statement says all that could be said.
· No prayer fully expresses our faith.
· No confession brings perfection.
· No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
· No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
· No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
· We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
· We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
· We lay foundations that will need further development.
· We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
· We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete,
· but it is a beginning,
· a step along the way,
· an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
· We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
· We are prophets of a future not our own.
To his prayer I say Amen.
We are God’s witnesses today – the workers, God’s ministers.
How will you build the next step?
May whatever you do, be done in peace and love, and may you take the long view. Amen.