Sermon transcript for May 20, 2012
A Trail of Evidence
Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53
Belmont UMC—May 20, 2012
Ken Edwards, preaching
When television networks find a hit show they begin to reuse the winning formula and similar TV shows multiply like rabbits. Such has been the case for popular CSI shows—CSI stands for Crime Scene Investigation. These shows are not for the faint hearted—sometimes reenacting things we never hoped to see on the television screen, but there we are in our family rooms watching as the evidence unfolds and the criminals are caught.
The lead character in one of these shows is a guy named Horatio but his friends and colleagues call him “H.” He’s the boss and I love the way he overacts his part. At the crime scene his loyal coworkers tell him that their chief suspect claims to have an alibi and H lowers his head slightly, turns it to one side, and looks off dramatically not at the camera or anyone in particular. He simply gazes off into the distance and says, “Don’t worry. Somewhere in this room is all we need to find the person who committed the crime.”
Then the team gets busy with swabs and plastic bags and chemicals, and they scour the scene for flecks of dirt, hair follicles, skin cells, a partial fingerprint or anything that might help solve the crime. At the end of the show Horatio is always standing outside the police headquarters when the criminal is brought out in handcuffs. We watch as he slightly lowers his head and turns it to one side. He stares off at no one in particular and he says, “Well my friend, it looks like you are going way for a very long time.”
We are told that we leave a trail of evidence—evidence of where we’ve been, what we’ve done , what we eat, what we wear, what we purchase and what we value. Our junk mail, phone records, credit card purchases, and internet searches are used to identify the evidence of who we are. Marketers used this to target us for advertising. Thieves use it to steal our identity. Now Global Positioning Systems can locate us on the map. I continue to be amazed that a pleasant female voice could guide me safely and efficiently through the streets of lower Manhattan until I reached the Holland Tunnel last summer. (Well, there was that one moment when she told me to make a U-turn and a half dozen drivers took offense and honked their horns in anger.)
Our lives are leaving a trail of evidence—evidence of how we live, the choices we make, and the values that we hold. We may be most aware of this with our children or those whose lives we influence. Our children’s lives are evidence of the choices we have made. There is an old saying, “Out of the mouths of babes come words we should not have said in the first place.”
When our middle son was very small I became aware of something he was doing at the dinner table one evening. He was sitting across from me and he was imitating my every move. I took a drink of water and he took a drink of water. I wiped my mouth with my napkin and he wiped his mouth with his napkin. This became annoying and I asked, “What are you doing?” He answered, “Daddy, I want to be just like you.” He has long since gotten over that idea. But our children are watching us when they are growing up. I have observed that the values of our grown sons are evidence of the way they were raised and the values we shared with them throughout their lives. Someone is watching us!
We read parts of two ascension passages today and in both passages we hear Jesus telling the disciples that they are witnesses of who he is and what he has done. Both of these passages are given to us by Luke and some scholars refer to Luke as the Acts of Jesus and the Book of Acts as more appropriately, the Acts of the Holy Spirit, because it highlights the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the church after the departure of Jesus. (Noel Leo Erskine, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, p. 502).
The beginning verses of Acts serve as a bridge, connecting the two books. In this passage the disciples are with the resurrected Jesus and he is teaching them over the course of 40 days. He tells them that the Holy Spirit will come upon them and they will be witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. While they are watching he is lifted up in front of them and disappears. Then two persons in white robes appear in front of them and ask one of the oddest questions in the Bible, “Why are you standing and staring into heaven?” (Acts 1:11) To which, the answer seems obvious. If we had watched Jesus floating up to heaven we would stand and stare for a bit.
But the point of the story, and the point of the Book of Acts, seems to be this: This thing that has happened is not about standing around and heaven gazing, it’s about being witnesses, it’s about being evidence, that God has visited the earth in the person of Jesus Christ. The church that is given birth in the Book of Acts and empowered by the Holy Spirit is the earthly manifestation of Jesus Christ.
And the church in the world today is to be the earthly manifestation that God has visited this planet in Jesus Christ. We are here to give witness to the God of love and mercy and justice so wonderfully incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth. We are here to give witness to the continued work and transformation of Jesus in the world. As we gather here may we ask ourselves again, “What evidence are we leaving? Is the evidence of our lives leaving a trail to God?”
We gather here each week to do celebrate our love for God and our love for each other. That’s a good and hopeful thing for us to do. We do a little heaven gazing in here, but there comes a time in the service when we hear a call to serve and we open the doors and there is a sending forth. You don’t seem that reluctant to leave and every week you make me confident that you could exit this sanctuary quickly in the event of a fire. And yet, it’s out there in the world that we are called to witness of who God is. Are we ready to go out the doors to be witnesses for Jesus Christ?
When I was in seminary my homiletics professor would sometimes say, “Don’t forget the ‘So what?’” If we preached a sermon that was well crafted but led nowhere, he would throw his hands up in the air and say, “That was lovely sermon. So what? So what do we do now? Tell us what to do with the gospel you preached.” When the doors open the so what begins!
When I was a young adult an older man gave me a business size card that had one question on it. The question was, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” I carried that card around in my wallet so that it was first thing I would see when it was opened. I carried it around until it disintegrated but I never forgot the question.
Will the evidence of our lives provide a trail that leads to God? This is a good question for us to ask ourselves. It is a good question for us to ask as a body, the church. It is very good question for us as a denomination to ask.
I like the writings of Glen Hinson, who remembers some of those saints who scratched around in the soil of his life: Mr. Helms and Mr. Thurman, deacons in the church, who always kept their word, Uncle Ossie and Aunt Fleta, who were always helping out members of the family and gave him a place to stay during his college years, and Mr. Busch, the general store owner, who kept forgiving their debts.
When Hinson was older he would take walks through his neighborhood and he noticed the home of a single mother, a home in need of repair and paint. One day he knocked on her door and offered help. He spent a scorching summer repairing and painting the woman’s house. It was his way of thanking those saints whose lives left a trail of evidence, always leading him back to God. (Weaving, May/June 2003, p. 28ff)
Will our lives together offer evidence of the God who loves without condition, the God who invites all and welcomes all to the sacred table, the God who never, never excludes, the God who always forgives and forgives again, the God of all peace and justice, the God who welcomes and embraces the forgotten and the marginalized, the God who welcomes and embraces the stranger and offers hospitality and home to the immigrant, the God who loves Jews and Muslims and Christians, the God whose presence daily fills the halls of homes, schools and capital buildings and prisons, the God whose image is reflected in every gender, every skin color and every size and shape and age, the God who loves this planet and everything created in it.
Will our lives together offer a trail that leads to this God?
Sermon transcript for May 13, 2012
Heather Harriss, preaching