Sermon: Context Shifting

Context Shifting

A Sermon for The Eliot Church

Rev. Reebee Girash

April 15, 2018

Audio Recording:


Text: Luke 24 36-48


While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look 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.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then 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.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”






On a blustery bitter cold winter morning, he was driving down Centre Street to pick up a friend in Watertown Square, and as he came down the bottom of the hill, just out here, his car began to sputter and bump and clatter and generally make terrible noises.  He hit the turn signal and slid onto Church Street where his car came to a stop and would not start again. He popped the hood and tried to figure out a solution on his own, to no avail, so he reached for his cell phone to call a tow truck and his friend, waiting at the bus stop.  He managed to get through to AAA but then his cell phone battery was as dead as the car.


But, he was across the street from a church.  Not a church guy, really, but, any port in a storm.  So he made his way into our building, walked down the hallway until he found me, in my office.  I was meeting with someone but we were both willing to pause our conversation to help this man in need.  He used my phone to make a couple of calls, and at some point I invited him to wait in the chapel, where he could see his car and the tow truck when it came.


It took a long time, that tow truck.  I went in and out of the chapel to check in.  Eventually his friend walked from Watertown Square to join him in the wait.  


They asked me about food.  Did we have a food pantry here?  We get this question all the time, Tasha, Susan and I, from visitors in varying states of need.  So I gave them my well prepared response: we support two food pantries and a community supper, we collect food for them but those seeking food need to go to Arabic Baptist or to Brighton Allston Church.  We do not have a food distribution here. Did you need that information? I can give you info on all of the local food pantries and community suppers, we have all that on a hand out. But, in the middle of my speech, the tow truck pulled up and he thanked me for letting him wait in a warm place and I wished him good luck.


Last Thursday, I met him again.  He was walking across our parking lot as I arrived.  Oh, hey there, friend, how are you, I asked? We chatted for a moment, laughing about AAA. He pointed over to where his car was parked, working fine now.  And then he said, would you tell me again about your food pantry?


I started my prepared response: we support two food pantries and a community supper, we collect food for them but we do not have a food distribution here.  I was ready to keep going but he said, oh, that’s great, I wanted to know because I’m going to the store to get food to drop off. Tell me, he said, what’s most needed?  


Context – shifting.  


I had written his entire story in my mind.   He was supposed to be on the receiving end. He was supposed to need my help.  He was not supposed to be the one practicing compassion, gratitude, generosity.   It took me a moment to shift the context, to say, come on in and let me show you the wish list.  



Our passage this morning starts this way:


Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.


They were startled and terrified.  He was not supposed to be there. He was dead.  They’d seen him on the cross, and they knew where he was buried.   Most of the Easter resurrection appearances start this way: with those who were closest to Jesus, his dearest friends, who had spent every waking moment of three years with him, not being able to recognize his risen self.  A risen Jesus was so out of context their minds could not reconcile it. Their eyes were playing tricks on them, it was an optical illusion.


2000 years later we have retold the resurrection stories so many times but it still shocks us when he shows his hands and feet, when he joins them for a fish dinner.  Is he incarnate again (eating fish), is he an apparition (he comes in through a locked door)? Some hear the story metaphorically, others are attached a literal telling –  some of us look at the story they way the optical illusion of the wine glass / face in profile works. One day we see bodily resurrection; the next we see a moment when their memory was so strong they thought he was in the room.  


Recall that this happened, according to Luke, the evening of the same morning when the women found the tomb empty.  The evening of the same afternoon that two followers hearts burned within them, from the risen Christ’s teachings. It’s the same day.  It’s just three days after the cross, three days after trauma. These are traumatized people. And Jesus stands before them, alive but scarred, and says, peace.


Maria Theresa Davila says, “Jesus’ invitation to the disciples to see his wounds is meant to show God’s salvation, a salvation that did not require the decimation of opposing armies or a the spilling of blood in a coup.  God’s salvific activity in the resurrection embraces and transforms unjust suffering so that the work of building communities of justice and beauty within history can continue. The work of building the beloved community takes place within history and within our wounded bodies.” (Quoted in Podcast for a Just World)


He says, Peace, and he eats a meal with them.  And he says, you are witnesses.  From there, the context shifts from grief and defeat to hope and victory over death.  


William Barber has a couple of words on Easter.  He says, “If you mess around with the resurrection and the kind of love that flows out of the resurrection, it will radically reconstruct your way of thinking.”


Encountering the risen Christ brings about a context-shift in Jesus’ followers.  They have been fearful followers of a small town preacher killed atop a Roman garbage heap; now they are pioneers of the Way of a risen Lord.  They have been in a state of desperate, scared, grief and now they are in the context of new possibility. They have been focused on their own inner circle and now they are invited to turn outward to spread justice and mercy, not just with those few thousand Jesus had encountered, but with the nations.  


They had to choose to change their context.  After the fish supper, after Communion on the Emmaus road, after breakfast by the sea. Turning to each other, they didn’t ask – have we all experienced a mass delusion?  No, they asked each other: will we be witnesses? Will we proclaim defiant hope? Will we teach that oppression, death and empire lost, that love and justice will ultimately prevail?  They did this as people who witnessed the cross and met the risen one. They did this as people who saw the wounds, saw his hands and feet. Dr. Barber says, “Hope without going through the cross is optimism, not hope.”    They had to choose to context-shift.


Beloved, the same choice is before us: the choice between an inward focus and an outward focus.  The choice between despair in the midst of late winter blizzards and tweet-storms, and deliberate hope.   The choice to huddle in a sanctuary or to be witnesses to love and justice.


We are Easter people.  Our context is hope. We choose to be witnesses.


Comments from the Rev. Dr. William Barber, II from a sermon offered on April 8, 2018 at the Revolutionary Love Conference, from my personal notes. Maria Theresa Davila quoted in Podcast for a Just World –




From Ruby Nell Sales: My grandmother would say, you see that wall?  That’s not a wall, it’s just another space to walk through walls.  Friends, keep walking. Amen.




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