A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

And he said to them…You are witnesses of these things.

Several months ago, my dear husband, told me he had a great idea for a trip. Now, Steve is a fantastic trip planner. It’s honestly one of his favorite pastimes and he’s planned incredible trips in the past for us.

“Where to?” I asked.

“Evansville, Indiana,” he said.

If anyone of you are from Evansville, please do not mistake my initial face of utter disgust personally. I’m from Lebanon, Tennessee. I’ve got no room to talk.

But seriously y’all. Evansville, Indiana.

Of course, this trip was part of a larger plan. To see the eclipse and to be in the path of totality. And the backend of the trip was to be spent visiting some of the bourbon distilleries in Kentucky. It would be a good trip.

So last Sunday night we flew into Louisville and headed west. We decided to head further west on Monday morning to Harmonie State Park in New Harmony, Indiana. Smack in the middle of nowhere.

I’ve seen partial eclipses before, and they are really fascinating. But Steve was right, to see the total eclipse was more than fascinating, it was thrilling and humbling and awe inspiring.

Although we were in a large park and not standing in a crowd, we were close enough to others to hear the collective gasp of people nearby as the moon slid right in front of the sun.

The birds did not silence where we were, but there was a hush and the temperature dropped. For nearly four whole minutes we stood there dumbstruck.

And I did tear up for reasons I really couldn’t explain. I felt awe and wonder, but also something else. I wouldn’t call it fear but something more like bewilderment, a sense of being out of place. Disjointed somehow.

As we headed to New Harmony that morning, I did a quick Google search. Turns out New Harmony was started as a Rappite Community. Rappites were German Lutherans who moved to America for religious freedom first settling in Pennsylvania and then headed to the banks of the Wabash River. They believed that the second coming of Jesus was imminent. Their community lasted there only about 10 years before they sold it to another utopian group, the Owenites. The Owenites were more interested in educational and social equity. They established the first free public library and first kindergarten in the United States during the 1820s. Their community didn’t last long either.

In the days leading up to the eclipse I had read and heard stories about people predicting doom and gloom. People saying that the eclipse was a sign from God about how terrible we are and how we better get right with Jesus; some folks even pointing fingers at just who should be ashamed of themselves, who was to blame. And I’d read the snipy replies to these claims.

As we headed back towards Louisville I wondered about those folks and how it must have felt when things didn’t turn out the way they had expected. I wondered about the people who were sure that that the eclipse was bringing the rapture were feeling as the sun was just continuing on in its course. I wondered what the Rappites had thought as they packed up and headed back east when the world had just continued on its course when they’d expected something different, too. And I was reminded of the disciples confused and scared, huddled up together wondering how the world could keep turning, how the sun had just continued on with their Lord and savior gone.

On Tuesday morning we got up bright and early to begin our tour of the distilleries near Frankfort. At breakfast we met Mark, our server at the hotel. He was kind and asked us what had brought us to Louisville. When we explained that we had come to see the eclipse he gave a beautiful smile.
He said he hadn’t gone outside to see it, he’d been working. But he’d seen it on TV.

“Isn’t God amazing?” he asked us. “Just think, we are so small, and God is so big, and He gave us this beautiful place.”

Isn’t God amazing? Mark hadn’t seen the eclipse firsthand, but he knew what was important to him about it.

Mark bore witness to the goodness of God while he poured some delicious coffee.

You are witnesses of these things.

That’s what Jesus said to the disciples when he stood there in a room with them. They were scared spitless. Thought they were seeing a ghost. Things had not worked out the way they had expected at all.

But Jesus assured them he was right there with them, Peace be with you. He was there, all of him, body intact. He even asked them for a snack which is about as human as you can get.

Jesus tells the disciples that they had been there, there when he had been teaching them what was going to happen, how it was written in the scriptures how God had acted in this world to bring forgiveness to all nations. They had been there with him, and they were there with him at that very moment, every bit of him.

Peace be with you. Jesus assures us that there is peace in following him. But that peace is not to be mistaken for comfort or safety. By living as one of us, with flesh and bones and a mind and a heart as one who dreams dreams – all of it – Jesus lifted up this human life of ours, showing us to be worthy and sacred and beloved to God. By his death and resurrection Jesus makes clear that we are worthy of, capable of transformation on this side of the Kingdom and the next as well.

The peace of Christ comes to us in all times and places, in the midst of sorrow and danger and elation and joy.

The peace of Christ can come to us even when we still have doubt and fear, even when things haven’t worked out the way we had expected, when we are both in awe and disjointed.

Jesus stood there amongst his friends, assuring them that even in the middle of their confusion and doubt, even in the middle of a mess, assuring them that in that room their lives were transformed through his love into lives of witnessing how love can and will overcome.

You are witnesses of these things Jesus tells them.

We are witnesses to this too. Heirs to this story through the very lives of the disciples. They chose not to live in the safety of a locked room, but they left there and began to tell the story, they lived lives in witness to the redeeming love of Christ that brings a peace that passes all understanding.

And the call is the same to us today. To bear witness to the redeeming work of God in this world not to find comfort or safety or certainty for ourselves but to live in the peace of Christ’s love. The peace of Christ carries us in this life and continues on with us onto the next.

Isn’t it amazing? God is so big, and I am so small. We live in a world transformed by the peace of Christ.

We are witnesses of these things.

Amelia McDaniel