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Sunday, April 15, 2018

It Can Happen to You! In fact, It Has!

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
Third Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2018
Hospital Chaplaincy, Long Island, New York

A New York cop named Charley is having coffee in a little diner. When he is finished, he reaches into his pocket to pay
the tab and leave the usual tip—but he finds that he has just enough
money to pay for the coffee.

Embarrassed, he offers the waitress a choice. He promises to return the next day with
double the usual tip or, taking a lottery ticket out of his billfold and holding it up, he promises to split the winnings (if any) of the lottery ticket he just purchased for that evening’s drawing.

Now, this was one day when Yvonne, the waitress, really didn’t need to hear all this. She has had a bad enough day without losing a tip on the job. In fact, her life has been in the pits for a while. She has come to hate her job as a waitress. Her runaway husband has run up her credit card balance so high that, just that afternoon, she had been in court to declare personal bankruptcy. Could things get any worse than this?

Still, she decides to be good natured about Charley’s proposition. She smiles helplessly at all of her bad luck, forfeits the cop’s promise of tomorrow’s pocket change and jokingly takes Charley up on his offer of half the lottery ticket’s potential winnings. 

Well, if any of you saw this movie, then you know that the lottery ticket beats the incredible odds and brings in four million dollars! Charley comes to the diner the next morning to give Yvonne the good news. Her tip for serving a cup of coffee is not a mere two bits—but two million dollars! Well, you can most imagine Yvonne’s reaction to this good news. At first, utter disbelief covers Yvonne’s face. She exclaims: “No. No. Why are you doing this to me? Is this some sort of cruel joke? No. It couldn’t happen!”

Then, as Charley insists he is not joking, a tiny flicker of hope registers deep inside Yvonne. She dared, just for a moment, to believe that Charley’s good news for her might be true. “Yes? Yes?” she asks with her eyes widening with joy. “Can it really be true?” 

But disbelief quickly wedges its way back into Yvonne’s mind. She had, after all, only yesterday accepted her fate: personal bankruptcy. “No! No!” she says, shaking herself back to reality. Her emotions are a slowly congealing mix of belief and disbelief. But, facts are facts. Charley’s gift was really, genuinely hers. So, ultimately, we spectators know that her joy will eventually overshadow and overcome all her doubts. 

Yvonne’s glimmer of belief grew stronger as Charley’s smile and excitement gradually thawed her skepticism. Charley’s smile was saying: “It could happen. It did happen. It has happened to you!” With her doubts finally cast away, Yvonne’s question now turns into cheerful exclamation: “Yes! ” As the largeness of Charley’s gift grips her, the waitress suddenly finds herself dancing, swirling through the tables of customers, contemplating her new life—a life forever changed by Charley’s free gift. This little New York diner is now the scene of unexpected, overwhelming, hard-to-believe joy.

Now, let me take you to another scene of unexpected, overwhelming, hard-to-believe joy. This story comes—not from New York City via Hollywood—but from the Sacred Scriptures. It comes from the Book of Luke and it is our Gospel Reading (
Luke 24: 35-48) for this 3rd Sunday of Easter. The scene here is not unlike that little New York diner. 

We find the apostles re-gathered in an Upper Room in Jerusalem. They had been in great confusion Easter Sunday night. Jesus’ tomb was empty. Some of the women who were
Jesus’ followers had talked with an angel who assured them that Jesus had risen. Mary Magdalen herself had seen Him early that morning in the garden. Later that same day, the risen Jesus had appeared to two other disciples, walked and talked with them, and then broke bread with them and revealed the Scriptures to them. Then He disappeared.

All these reports were more than what the apostles could comprehend—in light of what had taken place that tragic Friday night. Their leader was dead. Their hopes that Jesus would redeem Israel were bankrupt. Although they were found gathered together for some refreshment, they had really come together to accept their fate. Like Yvonne, the waitress in the New York diner, there was nothing else for them to reach for. The only thing left to do was to accept things just the way they were.

The two who were on the Road to Emmaus, having just returned to Jerusalem were giving the rest something new to imagine. 
With excitement growing in the conversation about this latest report, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst. All of them were surprised, shocked, caught in disbelief, even embarrassed, realizing that they had all abandoned Jesus when he was arrested. 

No wonder the first thing Jesus says to them is: “Peace be with you!” He has come to dispel their doubts about whether they could believe what they were seeing; to assure them that they were not seeing a ghost by inviting them to touch Him and feel real flesh and bones; to break bread with Him after He is risen just like He broke bread with them before he was arrested. He was not beating on the door of their Upper Room, but knocking on the doors of their inner hearts to let them see that he is risen just as he had promised. He also wanted to let them know that they, too, will rise some day just as he had promised them.

This first appearance of the risen Christ to His  followers makes a very clear statement: “It could happen! Not only could it happen, but it has happened and it has happened to you!”

How were the disciples to receive such glorious news? “In their joy,” Luke writes, “they were disbelieving and, still, wondering.”
Pay close attention, if you will, to exactly what Luke is describing about what was happening in the hearts of the disciples. Their minds may have been confused about what was going on, but their hearts were filled with joy! No matter what had happened—no matter what they were thinking—no matter what fears and worries may still be abounding—the appearance of Jesus before them instilled within them instantly a joy

Church, let it be known that the apostles were experiencing, for the first time,what “Easter joy” is really all about. You see, this Easter joy is the joy I’m talking about when we sing about a joy–joy—joy—joy deep down in my heart; when we tell somebody: “He’s the joy of my salvation! Yes, he is;” when you hear somebody say: “I get joy when I think about what He’s done for me;” when the saints of God stand up and testify: “This joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me! Since the world didn’t give it, the world can’t take it away!”

I’m talking about a joy, Church, that’ll make you jump up when you’d rather sit still! It’s 
a joy I’m talking about that’ll keep you smiling in the midst of suffering! A joy that’ll help you
hold on to your hope in the face of despair! A joy that assures us we don’t
have to worry about the gravity of death ‘cause what awaits us is the glory of resurrection! It was the heavenly Easter joy they had two thousand years ago, and it’s the same Easter joy we have two thousand years later. 

It is most important for us to know why this particular text has been selected for
 us to hear on the Third Sunday of Easter in the Church’s liturgical year. Centuries ago, this Sunday became known as Jubilant Sunday. This Sunday was seen as Easter’s Encore Sunday—a time for the Church to celebrate all over again the joyous news of Easter.This is Easter re-visited! It’s as if, in the tradition of the Church, this wobbling between disbelief and joy is re-enacted. Last Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, was known as Low Sunday. At that point, the wonder of Easter morning was just so staggering—so hard to believe. In the familiar Gospel text of the doubting Thomas story, we were reminded
of the difficulty in believing such impossible news, of wavering between faith and futility, of how hard it is to accept that the impossible has come true. 

 We can almost imagine the thinking of the disciples at that time. “How can this be? Such a glorious thing is impossible. It could not happen.”

This Third Sunday of Easter, however, is a time when the good news is just now
 sinking in and we begin in jubilation (on this Jubilant Sunday) to dance among the tables like Yvonne in the movie, realizing that our lives are forever changed.

Why? Because, not only could it happen, it did happen to you and to me! The Good News of the Resurrection is just beginning to sink in. The Good News that the agony and death of Jesus, the darkness of the tomb, the glory of His resurrection all happened for you and for me! As that message sinks in, our joy and celebration will not be quelled.
This is why, when Easter finally comes, we “pull out all the stops” in our celebration. We really cannot allow the happenings of church worship to be too ordinary, too common, too everyday. The Church is alive and we need to show ourselves alive with Easter joy, conveying a truth so great that the world can only wonder at the overwhelming generosity of God’s gift.

So, let us celebrate with joy, with jubilation, with exaltation—the fact that Jesus is alive!

Occasionally, someone desperately sensing the bankruptcy of their heart, hears with wonder the glorious message of God’s gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. They can’t believe that God would be so overwhelmingly generous to them. They “disbelieve with joy.” 

In the movie, when Yvonne finally accepted Charley’s message, she asked: “Why? You don’t have to give me this gift. Why are you doing this?” Charley’s reply is classic: “Because a promise is a promise.”

Church, this is the best part of the Good News that we can take home with us
 today! When we accept God’s great gift, we might ask a question similar to Yvonne’s.“God, why are you doing this for me? I am so unworthy of such a gift.” Listen to God’s response to our questions and to our situations: “Because I have promised—and a promise is a promise. Long ago, in the Garden of Eden, your parents fell into disobedience. As a result, death came upon all humankind. Even then, I promised to send a Savior—the seed of the woman—to crush the head of the serpent. It has now come to pass. It has happened. Death is defeated. Death has been swallowed up in victory! It could happen—and it did happen—to you!”

Fr. Joe Mungai
My brothers and sisters, we are a people of the Resurrection! We must know that death has been swallowed up in victory! Whatever the problem we are going through, know that there is a victory because a promise is a promise!

With this kind of Easter joy, each and every one of us can stand up and say: “Every time I feel like life is becoming too burdensome to bear, I’ve decided that I’m gonna keep on livin’ anyway—because Jesus told me that he came that I might have life—life to the full—and a promise is a promise!”

Each and every one of us can stand up and say: “Every time I face another 
disappointment because of somebody
else’s mess, I’ve decided that I won’t stop singing and I won’t stop smilin’ because
Jesus said: ‘Rejoice and be glad, for the kingdom of heaven is yours!’—and a promise is a promise!”

Each and every one of us can stand up and say: “Every time I have to deal with 
those who are into putting self over the Saviour  every time I encounter resistance to the ministry I’ve decided that I’m gonna keep on serving because Jesus said: ‘Whoever places themselves last in this world will be first in my kingdom!’—and a promise is a promise!”

Each and every one of us can stand up and say: “Every time I find myself 
pressured to live by the social standards of others, offended by the insensitivity of others, accosted by the evil tactics of a few, avoided by the blind ignorance of the fearful, opposed by the selfish intentions of the powerful, I’ve decided that I’m gonna hold on and hold out—because I want to get to that place Jesus talked about when he stood in trial before Pilate and told him: ‘My kingdom is not of this world!’—and a promise is a promise!”

With this kind of Easter joy, each and every one of us can stand up and say: “Every time I see myself dealing in doubt, wallowing in weakness, hangin’ with the hoodlums, every time I find myself sinking into sin, I gonna turn to Him and give it all to Him 
‘cause I need to hear him say: "This day, you shall be with me in paradise!’ —and I know that a promise is a promise!” 

Yes, Lord, it can happen to us! It has happened to us! It, still, happens to us
 because a promise is a promise! So, you can be sure that I’m gonna
—sing when the Spirit says sing!
—shout when the Spirit says shout!
—laugh when the Spirit says laugh!
—serve when the Spirit says serve!
—run when the Spirit says run!
—preach when the Spirit says preach!
—rise when the Spirit says rise!
—live when the Spirit says livebecause a promise is a promise! 

Because of everything You have done for me, Lord, this is the everything I’m 
gonna do for you! Church, let it happen for you! Let it happen for me! Let it happen for all of us—because a promise is a promise! God promised it—I believe it—and that settles it! You see, a promise is a promise! Amen.

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