04/19/15 Sermon (April 18,2015)ost

posted Jun 24, 2015, 11:33 AM by David Hawkins

“We Are Witnesses to These Things”

Scripture Reading: Luke 24:36B-48

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.”

Sermon: "We Are Witnesses to these Things”    Rev. David Hawkins

Last week, we read John’s version of today’s scripture, which includes Thomas’ doubt and Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we look at this appearance of Jesus to his disciples through the eyes of the Luke, and we see some of the same themes. We see the doubt and disbelief of the disciples, we see Jesus offering shalom, the peace and restoration of relationship with God, and we see the reminder that the Gospel of Jesus Christ begins with the assurance of forgiveness.

But there are some differences between these stories as well.

In today’s story, Jesus asks for some fish to eat, which helps the disciples understand that he is not a ghost or some kind of apparition. Jesus comes to them in body as well as spirit, and reminds us that our faith is more than just intellectual or spiritual. Our faith is also physical, and it involves our actions and our bodies. Jesus coming to his disciples in this real and present way reminds us that our faith is more than just what we think, or what we believe --  it’s also what we do.

Another difference we find in Luke’s version is the commission that Jesus gives his disciples in the room, not just to preach forgiveness, but also to preach repentance, and that we are to be witnesses of all that Jesus has done and said.

And this is a truly radical thing that Jesus is suggesting. A much more radical thing than I think we realize. But in order to see just how revolutionary Jesus’ commission is for us, we need to do just a little bit of word study.

I need to warn you that I’m about to preach on the Greek meaning of a word, which is something that I’m really not supposed to do. But, I really feel like it’s necessary, and if my Greek teacher shows up to yell at me, don’t be surprised. I am breaking one of her cardinal rules.

Which brings us to this word ‘repentance’. Repentance is a problematic word, for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it’s not a particularly good translation from the original Greek word, which is ‘metanoia’.  

In fact, for many Bible Scholars, the way we have translated the word ‘metanoia’ as ‘repentance’ is the single biggest theological and linguistic mistake in our modern day Bibles. I’m a big fan of the NRSV, but in this case, it just plain gets it wrong. In many other modern day Bibles, the translators have to tried to correct this mistake by using language which more accurately reflects the meaning of metanoia. The NRSV, in an attempt to retain some of the traditional flavor and language of the King James Version of the Bible, has elected to continue to use repent as a translation.

The problem is, that metanoia does not mean repentance. Metanoia means ‘to change one’s mind and behavior’. Now to be fair, repentance might lead to changing one mind, and metanoia might lead to repentance, but these two words do not at all mean the same thing.

The word ‘repentance’ is from the Latin word ‘paenitere’, and it means to be made sorry, to reflect on one’s sin, and to feel contrition about some of our life choices. It means to be humbled, to bow down, to confess. Repentance might lead to change, but the word itself does not mean change.

On the other hand, ‘metanoia’, the Greek word that Luke actually uses in this scripture, doesn’t mean penitence. It doesn’t mean contrition. Metanoia means to change. There is nothing in metanoia about sorrow or regret.

To put it another way, these two words reflect two completely different perspectives. Repentance means to look back at what you’ve done; metanoia means to look ahead and consider something new. Repentance means mourning, Metanoia means movement.  Repentance means bowing down, metanoia means looking up

They are completely different words, with completely different meanings, and we have completely watered down our Risen Saviour’s first commission to his disciples if we think that at this critical moment, he’s trying to tell them to feel sorry for their sins, or that that regret, guilt, and shame are the defining characteristics of a Christian life. Because they are not. Jesus isn’t telling his disciples to bow down and confess their sins. I want to make that perfectly clear. He’s telling us to get up on our feet and go out and change the world.

And this is why what Jesus is saying is so radical. Repentance is private, metanoia is public. Repentance is confession, metanoia is change. Repentance means we accept the judgement levelled against us, metanoia means that living into the promise of new life. Repentance is passive, metanoia is active. Repentance is regret. Metanoia is resurrection.

Let me put it another way.

Throughout history, there have been folks who challenged the accepted ways of thinking, who bore witness to a different reality, and who were arrested, tortured, and sometimes killed for their actions. Let’s be clear about this. There were not killed for being repentant. They were were killed because their ideas changed the way the world thought about everything. They lived out their metanoia. They preached it. They proclaimed it, they bore witness to it, and they paid the price for it.

They were not persecuted for their pious confessions. They were persecuted because they upset the status quo.

For instance, in the 16th Century, Copernicus was sure that earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around, and even Martin Luther and John Calvin mocked him for it. The church had really good, scriptural reasons for why Copernicus was wrong, and the church taught that the earth was the center of the universe.

Galileo was put under house arrest for teaching Copernicus, and Giordano Bruno was killed at the stake for it. These scientists were not persecuted because they were sorry for their sins. They weren’t killed for their repentance. They were persecuted because they imagined and preached a whole different kind of reality.  

During the 1930’s, several German Christians challenged the idea that Adolph Hitler was the head of the German Church, and they were put in prison, there were tortured and some of the were killed for it. They were not persecuted because they were sorry for their sins. They were persecuted because they challenged the authority of the powerful.

During the civil rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s, many folks, black and white stood up against the Jim Crow laws of the South and were beaten, imprisoned, and killed for it. They were not persecuted because they walked around confessing their sins. They were persecuted because they challenged the way things were, and demanded a change in the way the world thought about issues of race.

Throughout history, both inside and outside the church, there have been those who have been witness to metanoia, who have dared imagine a different reality, even when that reality clashed with church doctrine, even that reality pushed against cultural norms, even when that new reality called the rich and powerful to account.

This is what metanoia means, and this is what Jesus is talking about with his disciples. It’s not repentance he’s asking for -- it’s revolution.

And this is has never been a safe request for the followers of Christ.

In the first two centuries after Christ, during the the era of the Caesars, Christians witnessed to the metanoia of Christ, the idea that the Emperor was not God, and that Jesus Christ died to set us free. And they died by the hundreds. They were not set on fire because they were repentant. They were not fed to the lions because they were sorry for their sins. They were killed because they preached a Gospel that is more powerful than Caesar, a love that forgives sins, a way of life that values love and compassion above power and military conquest.

To suggest that these early witnesses, these early martyrs of the faith died because they went around hanging their heads in shame for their sins cheapens their death, and it weakens Christ’s commission to us, even today, to live radical, dangerous, and world-changing lives.

Maybe we prefer the idea of repentance to metanoia. Repentance is a safe word. Metanoia is dangerous. Repentance asks nothing more than a recognition of wrong-doing, and for centuries, it’s been used to shame people into falling in line with accepted church doctrine. Metanoia is a wholesale change in thought and behavior, even when it flies in the face of accepted church teaching. Repentance is based on guilt. Metanoia is based on hope. Repentance looks to the past; metanoia looks to what might yet be.  

This is the life Jesus calls us to, as we sit with the disciples, huddled in fear in that locked room so long ago. To let go of the shame, of the guilt, of the pain of Jesus’ death and crucifixion. To trust and believe in his resurrection. And to go out and live as though Jesus truly had conquered death, and has reconciled us all to God.

Now that would really be something to talk about.

To the Lord who speaks to us,
and strengthens us,
and blesses us with peace,
be all glory and honor forever. Amen.