Jesus is benediction, healing in a hurtful world, Presa preaches

The Rev. Dr. Neal Presa shares his sermon during the morning worship that starts off week three on July 9, 2023 in the Amphitheater. CARRIE LEGG/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Column by Mary Lee Talbot

“‘Hello, it’s me. Are you looking for me?’ Jesus gave an entire sermon in these words,” said the Rev. Neal D. Presa at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. The title of the sermon was “Hello” and the scripture reading was John 20:19-23. 

In John’s Gospel, after the crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples are locked in an upper room, afraid and unclear what to do next. “It had been a tumultuous journey for the disciples. First there were two of them, then four, then 12 and now 11,” Presa said. “They were fishermen, observers and students.” They listened to parables, learned about hospitality and about healing.

“The disciples learned what the Kingdom of God is all about — to love, love, love, serve, serve, serve, to love and serve until it hurts and you can give no more,” said Presa.

Jesus crossed over a lake and slept in the boat as the water, wind and waves rocked it. He calmed the storms on the water and in the disciples’ hearts. “They were not there to just hang out with Jesus, to be cool,” Presa said. “They were on a mission to share the kingdom of God by claiming our love and our lives.”

In the kingdom of God, everyone is welcome, everyone matters, everyone belongs, Presa told the congregation. “We are like kintsugi pottery, put together with gold piece by piece. God’s love makes us kings and queens, like the four children in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe who became kings and queens of Narnia, co-living, co-blessing and co-serving.”

Jesus traveled from city to city and finally to Jerusalem, where he let the authorities capture him, arrest him, bring him before Pilate, mock him and crucify him. Presa repeated some of the phrases that were heard at the crucifixion: Forgive them. You will be in paradise. Woman, behold your son. I thirst. Why have you forsaken me? It is finished.

“In the tomb was death and darkness and then — kaboom — even the guards could not keep the stone in place. The women were the first apostles to see that Jesus was not there,” Presa said.

He continued, “Jesus does not just speak healing words. He is the Word, a living blessing with hands, feet and a heart. He said to the disciples, ‘Peace be with you,’ or, ‘Hello, hey there, hey, it’s me. Were you looking for me? Peace be with you.’ ”

There are many benedictions with a small “b,” but Jesus is the Benediction with a capital “B” because he stills the storms, dies, and rises as the Son of God in the flesh. “He is the Word, not a manifesto; the Word, not as long as this sermon,” Presa said. 

Jesus’ presence breeds life; he is the benediction in a hurtful world. “It’s me. Peace be with you,” Jesus said.

The sermon was followed by extended silence. During the benediction, Presa taught the congregation a hand sign for blessing: with the right hand, put the thumb and ring finger together and slightly bend the middle finger. This is an ancient sign meaning Jesus Christ, Son of God.

The Rev. Natalie Hanson, co-pastor of Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church, presided. Melissa Spas, vice president for religion at Chautauqua, read the scripture. Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, played “The Peace May Be Exchanged,” by Dan Locklair. The anthem, sung by the Motet Choir under the direction of Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, was “Do Not Be Afraid,” music by Philip Stopford and words by Gerard Marklin. The postlude, played by Stigall, was “The People Respond ‘Amen,’ ” by Dan Locklair. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching is provided by the Edmond E. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Fund and the Randall-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy. 


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.