Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
“GOD WITH SKIN ON”
Easter 3 B
April 15, 2018
Christ Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
A little girl wakes up in the middle of the night screaming. A nightmare has destroyed her sleep. She cries out for her mother. Holding her frightened daughter in her arms, the mother soothes her child, caressing her tussled hair and then her tear stained face as she softly speaks, “Don’t be afraid. God will be with you.”
Her daughter responds, “I know, Mommy, BUT I want somebody . . . I can touch.”
In today’s Gospel Jesus’ disciples also discover the value of having a God they could touch, a God with skin on.
The women reported that they had seen Jesus alive. However, the disciples dismissed it as an “idle tale.” Then there was the report of Cleopas and his friend who on the road to Emmaus had also met Jesus alive. They had even eaten bread with him. That too seemed so unreal. They wanted and needed a Jesus whom they could touch and feel his skin.
When Jesus finally appears to them, you would think that they would have jumped for joy. Instead, they were terrified. Why? Perhaps they were embarrassed, even ashamed. Would not we feel the same, if someone we had given up on, lost faith in and written off suddenly showed up and stared us in the eye? We too would want to run and hide.
They reacted as most people do in the Bible when they encounter God or God’s messengers. When the angels appeared to the shepherds at Bethlehem to announce the birth of Christ, the shepherds were afraid. When angels appeared to the prophet Isaiah in the temple, he was afraid. When the women arrived at the empty tomb of Jesus and angels spoke to them, they ran and were afraid. When Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples were afraid. The disciples are no different here. When Jesus shows up alive, risen from the dead, they are afraid. He may make them pay for their cowardice. He may hammer them for blowing off as an idle tale the women’s report that Jesus was alive.
The disciples are just like us. When reminded of our errors, we too are afraid that we will have to make restitution for our failures. Jesus is going to make us pay for our sins. Jesus is not going to let us off the hook. He has come to collect his “pound of flesh.” However, just when we thought we would need to turn and run, Jesus stuns us by saying, “Peace be with you.”
This cannot be real! What DID we eat for supper last night?
Sensing the disciples’ fear, Jesus shows them that He is no ghost, no figment of their imagination and no indigestion left over from last night’s supper. He shows them the scars on his hands and feet, reminders of their cowardice and betrayal. However, surprisingly . . . he does not hold these scars against them.
Yes, someone must pay for their cowardice. Someone must be held accountable. They just can’t pretend that they had nothing to do with Jesus’ death and walk away. Their relationship with Jesus mattered too much for Jesus just to pretend that their betrayal never happened. Jesus could not just forgive and forget. However, just when the disciples expected to get busted, Jesus shows them his hands and feet, not merely to assure them that he was no ghost or illusion, but to show them that he got nailed to that cross for their sake. He had come back not to get back and get even but to love and forgive them.
His love for them is real. It has skin on. He invites them to touch him, to feel his flesh and blood, his skin and bone, his muscle and sinew . . .warm and alive, not dead and cold. This really is Jesus risen from the dead. He has come back . . . not to nail them but to love them.
It was too good to be true. Luke says that in their joy they were still disbelieving and wondering. They needed even more assurance. They needed something they could touch with their hands and see with their eyes. Therefore, Jesus conducts an object lesson. He asks for food. They give him a piece of broiled fish. He eats it. Ghosts do not eat and digest real food.
It convinced them and changed everything. Jesus really was alive. Everything Jesus had said was true. God is indeed gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love . . . even to cowardly disciples who had abandoned their master in his hour of need, even to faithless and cowardly clods like us who won’t do anything for anyone without first checking which way the wind is blowing and calculating “What’s in it for me?”
Touching his hands and feet, seeing Jesus eat broiled fish, the disciples literally touch the love of God. Such touch makes love real. Without such loving touches, human beings wither. A mother needs to touch and embrace her newborn child. Without it, the child will not thrive. A parent reassures their child of their love, even when they have flunked a test or been rejected by their friends, not just with words but also with hugs. Long lost friends reunite and confirm their affection for one another with a kiss. Husbands and wives embrace. Strangers shake each other’s hands. A coach pats his player on the back. Such physical, tangible and touchable contact makes love more than an idea. When we feel a touch on the skin, we know that the love with skin on is meant for us.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the waiting father rushes out to greet his wayward, returning son with a hug, love with skin on. In miracle after miracle Jesus heals the blind, crippled and lepers . . . and touches them. It is love with skin on. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan cannot leave the man in the ditch, beaten to a pulp, without touching, without holding his body, binding his wounds and carrying him to the local inn. The Good Samaritan is God with skin on.
Many times here at Christ Church, I have shown Rob Bell’s marvelous short film from the Nooma series called Lump. It is a poignant portrayal of God’s persistent and relentless love. A little boy is ashamed because he is caught lying about a fight with his little brother. He runs and hides under the covers of his bed, a lump, afraid to face the truth of what he had done and the anger of his father that is sure to come. It is only when his father TOUCHES him, pulls back the blankets and gives him a hug that the little boy is able to face his father and the truth of what had done. Only after he is TOUCHED is his father’s love real, love with skin on. Only after he is TOUCHED does Jesus’ love become real. Only then could he believe that he was loved and not despised.
Even here, in this public place as we gather for worship, touch fills our liturgy. Our bodies cannot come to this place without being touched . . . by God . . . with skin on. In the bread and wine of the Meal, the water of the Font, the Greeting of Peace, the handshakes of the Greeters, and the conversations and laughter around the coffee pot, we touch one another. God touches us . . . with skin on. Today those who remember their baptism rejoice along with those first disciples that they have met God . . . with skin on.
When God touches our body, we cannot get lost in the crowd. We cannot anonymously disappear into the masses. However, God singles us out . . . not to scold us but to touch our bodies and caress our hearts so that we can be sure that we matter. When someone touches our body and presses against our skin, they make it unmistakably clear that their affection is not just some love generically intended for anyone but love intended specifically for us, for you and for me. Our bodies set us apart from one another. I cannot get inside your skin. You cannot get inside of mine. But I can touch you. You can touch me. It is in the touching that love becomes concrete, specific and real. When we are touched, we know that such love with skin on is for us.
When Jesus invites those frightened and confused disciples to touch the scars on his hands and feet, he wants them to know that this resurrection is for them. When he eats that piece of broiled fish and shows that he is no disembodied ghost, He confirms the truth of what is before their eyes. As sure as they could feel the skin and bones of His hands and feet, touch the scars in his flesh and see Jesus swallow the broiled fish, they could be sure Jesus was there for them. They could be sure that their shameful past had been forgiven, that they had a future filled with hope, . . . and that they had a God whose love was as real as the skin they could feel in their hands.
After Jesus touches them and they touch Jesus, Jesus sends them . . . and us . . . into the world. We get to be Jesus’ hands and feet. We get to touch the world with Jesus’ love. We get to be God with skin on.
At the end of the Second World War the city of Dresden, Germany was in rubble. Standing in the midst of the ruins was a statue of the risen Christ with his arms extended, as if to welcome and embrace the world around him. The statue had once stood at the front door of a beautiful church. But that church now was in ruin, blown to bits by the bombs of war. The statue had not escaped the devastation either. Its hands been had blown off. The people of Dresden rebuilt that church, but they chose not to repair the statue. Today that church stands in all its new magnificence, but no one passes through its doors without going past the handless Jesus. Why did those people choose not to repair Jesus and give him his hands back? The handless Jesus was there to remind them that when they left that church, they were the hands of Jesus. They were His body in the world. Through their hands, with their bodies and by their flesh and blood, they could be the love of Christ touching the world. They were God with skin on.
We do the same. We get to touch the world with kindness. We get to be . . . the hands of God with skin on. We get to show the world that God is no ghost, no figment of their imaginations and no indigestion from last night’s supper but is real and alive . . . as our skin touches theirs.