You Are Witnesses to These Things

Roger Butts
5 min readApr 15, 2024


Third Sunday of Easter, 2024. Sermon at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Fort Collins. 4/14/24

I was 20 years old. Maybe 21. I was a student at a state university in the mountains of North Carolina.

I was on a spiritual quest.

I wanted to know what it was I thought about this Jesus that I had been raised with, who I had been told was the author of my faith, from the beginning and from the end.

I did not know who I thought Jesus was.

Wise teacher,

Radical Rabbi,

Miracle worker,

Human, God, hybrid?

I didn’t know if I wanted this Jesus in my world or not, regardless of what I thought about him.

I wasn’t interested in Buddhism at that point, because I had no access to it at the time. And I thought I was solely going to be a believer or a nonbeliever.

Christian or atheist.

Black or white.

I wanted to wrestle with the question.

Back and forth.

In our story today, Jesus appears to the ones on a journey. They are walking. They may have heard certain rumors about an empty tomb, and a Jesus appearance or two, but they sure enough saw a crucifixion that killed their Jesus.

So they walk. And they talk.

The disorientation, the grief, the uncertainty, the doubt. It all had to be overwhelming.

They had each other. They stuck together. That is something. And the teachings that Jesus imparted to them. They still had those. The kingdom of heaven is within and near at hand. It is nearer than your breathing. It isn’t in the sky cause then the birds would get it before you, and it isn’t in the waters cause the fish would get it. No it is within and it is all around and readily available. Even in the midst of their grief and disorientation, that teaching was still available to them.

From such a word, they could build a life. And anyway Jesus promised a spirit that would sustain them, no matter what, and so they had that too. The deepest teachings and the promise of a life giving, sustaining Spirit.

They are talking about all of this, and suddenly someone appears and says: hey, peace. Shalom. Peace be with you.

Picture it: You can see them all muttering: And also with you, and then looking closely and looking at each other and then looking again at the peace giver.

And a terror filled their spirits.

So I was 20 or 21, disoriented. Unsure. And so I decided that I would go to someplace I had never been before. A particular evangelical church that I had no relationship with. It was a last-ditch effort. Maybe this place would answer for me what Jesus might mean in my life, in this world. Something. Anything.

Give me a word of hope that I might find my way.

It did not come in that place, and I never really looked back.

The person preaching from that pulpit tried to make some scientific argument about how someone like Jonah might actually be able to be swallowed by a whale and survive.

I went home and talked to my friends. Nope, that didn’t help. That didn’t answer for me the big question of my heart.

— —

The big question of my heart then is one that I still get to wrestle with: Given what Jesus taught and given who Jesus was and is, how shall we be together?

— —

I like the picture of Jesus here and what he is teaching his disciples. I think it points to who Jesus is and what Jesus can teach about living, even now.

First, he comes with a blessing of peace. My peace I give you, and my peace I’ll leave with you. Always start with peace, Jesus seems to say.

Second, in the face of sure terror, and disorientation, he provides assurance. He seems to say: I Know you are in the deepest grief. I know this has been a significant trauma. I am with you. Even now. Feel me, touch me. I am not a ghost. I am not a figment. I am here.

Third, in the face of doubt, he plants confidence and trust. Did you not hear me, he seems to say to those disciples, when I said that death would not swallow up our mission and vision and life-giving work in this world?

I mean, I am beginning to think St Francis read this passage when he wrote his famous prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

— -

And the Jesus I find in this story is one that makes me so happy. In the midst of all of this disorientation, and fear, and doubt, he says: oh, here is the most important part:

Let’s eat.

Let’s sit together. And break bread together. And enjoy one another’s company. And enjoy one another’s life and stupid jokes and stories that maybe go somewhere and maybe don’t. Let’s sit together.

The kingdom of heaven, this Jesus says: Is like a dinner party where the most important ones in the region can’t make it because they are busy being important, but some goofballs and some nobodies, and you and I, are at the table and we eat and make peace together and this is precisely what the kingdom of heaven is like.

And this Jesus, I find in this story, is one that says: Oh, you thought this was the end of the story, but it is just the beginning of the next chapter of the story, so therefore have hope and therefore take courage.

There is new growth, and new life, and new invitations, and new visions, all around us, if we have eyes to see.

And I am willing to bet, in your life, you have noticed resurrection and new life and new vision in your story.

You have been a witness to that new life within your life’s story.

And just like the disciples, in the face of this new life, they are invited as you are invited to go and bless the world with this new vision, this new chapter, this new life.

You have been a witness to these things, this loving Jesus says at the end of our story, now go and spread the good news that life abundant and the kingdom of heaven are right at our fingertips. And that peace is possible. And love can win. And break bread with one another in the simple act of radical mutual hospitality.

The Jesus I sought when I was 20, 21 years old, is the Jesus we see in this morning’s story. A hope giver, a life giver, a blessing of peace.

We have been witnesses to all of this. And a new vision calls and awaits. Take courage friends. And go and bless the world.

the small chapel, St Luke’s Fort Collins



Roger Butts

Author, Seeds of Devotion. Unitarian Universalist. Ordained 20 years.