Witness

Katie Archibald-Woodward

April 15, 2018
Texts: Luke 24:36b-48
           Acts 3:12-19

Let me begin with a poem by Kabir:

What Kind of God

What kind of God would God be
if God did not hear the
bangles ring on
an ant’s
wrist

as they move the earth
in their sweet
dance?

And what kind of God would God be
if a leaf’s prayer was not as precious to creation
as the prayer God’s own son sang
from the glorious depth
of his soul –
for us.

And what kind of God would God be
if the vote of millions in this world could sway God
to change the divine
law of
love

that speaks so clearly with compassion’s elegant tongue,
saying, eternally saying:

all are forgiven – moreover, dears,
no one has ever been
guilty.

What 
kind of God would God be
if God did not count the blinks
of your
eyes

and is in absolute awe of their movements?

What a God - what a God we
have.

It is the year 33, the day is drawing to a close, and two disciples have been conversing with a stranger as they walk to Emmaus.  When they arrive at their destination, they urge the stranger to take a rest from his journey and join them for dinner.  At the table, the stranger takes the bread and as he breaks it the disciples suddenly recognize this stranger is actually Jesus!  Who in the next moment instantly vanishes.  The disciples immediately pick up and return to Jerusalem, a 2 to 3-hour journey under a swiftly darkening sky, but they don’t seem to mind at all.  They seem to only have one thing on their mind: to inform the others they just encountered Jesus, risen from the dead. 

Our lectionary text for today begins as these two disciples arrive on the scene in Jerusalem, only to find the other disciples also full of excitement and exclaiming, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’  The two then tell “what had happened on the road, and how [Jesus] had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”  The scripture continues,

36 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.

44 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.’ 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.

Luke 24:26b-

Fast forward to Luke’s later account articulated in Acts 3.  We see these very words of Jesus coming to life.  John and Peter are in Jerusalem heading to the temple.  As they approach the entrance of the Gate called Beautiful they see a man lame from birth begging for alms.  Peter notices him, looks at him, and says, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’  He then takes the man by the hand and raises him up.  The man springs to his feet and begins to walk, right into the temple with them, leaping and praising God.  “9All the people recognized him and were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” 

This is where our second reading picks up,

12When Peter saw [their wonder and amazement], he addressed the people, ‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant* Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus* has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

17 ‘And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah* would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah* appointed for you, that is, Jesus.”

Acts3:12-20

Throughout our scripture today is the running theme of witness.  Both to witness, as in to observe, notice, listen, and also to bear witness, to express whatever it is you have observed.  We hear one message almost verbatim in both texts:

First in Luke the disciples witness Jesus appearing to them and explaining,

‘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.” Luke 24:46-48

And then in Acts we see the disciples are living out Jesus’ words, bearing witness to the Israelites saying,

“you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. …18In this way God fulfilled what God had foretold through all the prophets, that God’s Messiah* would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

Acts:15-20

This message after the resurrection is the same message we heard throughout Jesus’ ministry: “Repent and be freed of your sins.”  That is to say, turn from: hate, injustices, fear, greed, systems of oppression—all that thwarts life.  Turn to my path, the ways of healing, liberation, reconciliation, forgiveness, compassion, hope, love—all that brings life.

And we, Jesus’ followers in the year 2018, are to look around us, to notice—in our own lives, in our communities, in our social systems—what is thwarting life?  What are we witnessing in our midst?  And where and how are we being invited to join God in bringing life?  To bear witness to the hope and promise of resurrection?  Of God’s continuously coming kin-dom on earth?  “You will be my witnesses…” 

As for me, it is among the people, in the place where Jesus first called his disciples to bear witness, I find myself called to witness and to bear witness to what I observe.  In mid-2016 I began a multimedia project called Through the Checkpoint to offer vision and voice to life lived amidst occupation in the Holy Land.  I lived with Palestinian Christians in the Old City, Palestinian Muslims in Hebron, and a Jewish American family who had made Aliyah [immigration to Israel] to become Israeli citizens and settle in Efrat, an illegal settlement near Bethlehem.  I also spent time with Bedouins, Jewish Israelis living on a kibbutz as well as in Haifa, human rights groups, and other Palestinian Muslims and Christians throughout the region.  As I documented their stories with my camera and audio recorder, I witnessed their daily lives—their dreams, their suffering, their prejudices, their privileges, their power, their fears, their hopes, their shared humanity.  It is to these stories—these lives—amidst occupation I bear witness.

I bear witness to a Bedouin family in Susiya, a village in the desert south Hebron hills, whom I sat with one crisp November evening as they waited for news of a demolition order from the Israeli government. The order did not come that night.  Since then it has. You see, the people of Susiya own their land, but they have not been able to acquire permits to build on it.  So, the government continues to show up at random and demolish their homes, animal stalls, and other structures.

I bear witness to Palestinian Christians, like theologian Jean Zaru, whose favorite Psalm used to be, “I looked up to the hills, where my help comes.  My help comes from the Lord.”  But no longer, she told me.  Now, she said, “I look up to the hills and all the settlements are there.  They’re depriving many families of their land, and of their livelihood, and of their fields, and of their movement.”

I bear witness to Jewish Israelis living in settlements, like Efrat, an illegally occupying community just down the road from Bethlehem.  It is part of a crescent of settlements built around Bethlehem preventing its expansion out, suffocating Bethlehem between settlement communities and the separation wall.  In addition to Efrat’s freedom to sprawl and expand, it also has consistent access to sufficient water, not only for drinking, bathing, and farming, but decoration and recreation.  Lush trees line the streets and fill the yards, and families can play in a large, grassy park.  You feel transplanted to a suburb in the United States.

I bear witness to 17-year-old Hamza, a Palestinian boy just released from prison when I met him in 2016.  He had been taken in the middle of the night from his home in the West Bank by the Israeli military.  He had been held in Ofer prison in Israel.  In order to visit him, his family would have to get permission from the Israeli government and then apply for permits to enter Israel which is an expensive and tedious process and significantly limited their communication and made their separation even more excruciating.  Hamza’s cousin showed me pictures on his phone of the family’s jewelry laid out on a table being documented by the military and then taken by them the night of Hamza’s arrest.  The military left a receipt for collection, the cousin explained, but the family was never able to get it back.

And because I have not yet been able to spend time in Gaza, I offer this witness from Friday’s news.

Israeli forces have killed 36 Palestinians, including three children and multiple journalists, in Gaza since March 30th, when the Great March of Return protests began. More than 3,000 were injured during the first two Fridays and around 1,000 protesters, 15 of them critically. Some 100 children were among those injured on Friday.

“April 12th, Gaza’s sole power plant was forced to shut down after being unable to replenish its fuel reserves, triggering outages lasting 20 hours per day, up from 18 hours previously.  The UN, under the coordination of OCHA, continues to provide a number of critical health facilities in the Gaza Strip, including public hospitals, with emergency fuel to run backup generators.  OCHA stated on Wednesday that public hospitals in Gaza are in need of replenishment of 59 essential drugs and 128 types of medical disposables.

Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, stated that deaths resulting from Israel’s use of live ammunition against unarmed protesters “must be investigated as possible unlawful killings.”  Israel continued to crack down on protests on Friday despite a warning from the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that Israeli leaders could face trial for the killings of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza.

The Great March of Return is set to culminate on 15 May, when Palestinians commemorate the ethnic cleansing of the lands on which the state of Israel was declared in 1948.”

I bear witness to educate and promote action.  To call you forth, to now also bear witness.  Both to these experiences I have just born witness to you and to pay attention to what you witness in your daily life.  What have you noticed?  If nothing, how might you become more aware?  What is God prompting you to witness and bear witness to?

There is no limit to what we may witness and how we might bear it forth.

May we open our eyes.  May we open ourselves.  May we listen.  May we follow Jesus in noticing and calling out what thwarts life and calling for what brings life, that we might join with God in the healing and wholeness of the world—life and life abundant.

Katie's website: www.lifeilluminated.com/through-the-checkpoint