Sunday, April 23, 2017

Doubt ... Encounter ... Belief

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

A message I shared at St. Peter Lutheran Sunday, April 23, 2017.... Listen here or read below.

Thomas.
Sometimes I wish I were Thomas, with the guts to say, Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in his side, I will not believe. We dont have the luxury of this kind of bold declaration.
However, while we often label Thomas doubting, Thomas wasnt the first who didnt believe a second hand account of Jesus resurrection. In John Chapter 20, Mary encounters the risen Christ, who sends her on to go and tell the disciples, saying, Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”
Which we can assume Mary did. And yet here the disciples are, behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They arent celebrating Jesus resurrection or proclaiming it to the masses. It is not until Jesus appears out of nowhere in their midst, saying peace be with you, and showing them his hands and his side that the disciples rejoiced.
And likewise, when Jesus appears a week later and Thomas is with the disciples, after touching Jesus hands and his side, Thomas declares, My Lord and my God!
This is the movement of believers in the Gospel of John. From doubt to encounter to belief.
I wonder why it was so important for the writer of John to continue to reveal Jesus in this way? What is it that we can see in this movement that helps us understand our own experience, especially as believers who only have second hand accounts?
Or do we?
There was a time in my life when I spent several years unable to really live out the faith that had been a part of my life since birth. In college I spent a summer as a camp counselor and encountered many of my fellow counselors who came to faith later in life. They shared their belief in the necessity of a moment of acceptance of Christ, and that people who had just believed their whole lives had to experience a moment of acceptance to really believe. I couldnt point to anything and grew frustrated and disheartened. It was also at that time that I found myself focused on my actions, what I did, asking forgiveness for all my sins and beating myself up when I found myself falling back into sinful patterns of gossip, or anger, or short tempered replies. After that, I went through the motions of church attendance and faith, but my heart wasnt really in it.
After I graduated from college, I moved to California to teach high school English. It was a lonely time, and my mother suggested I find a church to attend to find some community. I didnt want to at first but eventually decided to visit a couple of places just to see. There was a big, beautiful stone church in the heart of Riverside, and I planned to attend worship that Sunday. As I drove up to the church I realized it worship had already started, a half hour earlier than the advertisement I found in the Yellow Pages.
So, I continued on to my second choice, Trinity Lutheran. A small, modest congregation of Midwestern transplants, at Trinity I found myself welcomed and embraced by the family of God. Yet, despite their welcome and care, I declined all requests to teach Sunday School or VBS because my uncertainty was still there. My resentment of church as judgmental and hypocritical had built up to the point that the simple faith of my youth was clouded and confused. I just couldnt see myself teaching something I wasnt sure of.
Even though my attendance was sporadic and I resisted all attempts to be brought into leadership, these people surrounded me in community, and they loved me. They welcomed me into their choirs and their homes and their lives. And though I could not touch the hands of Jesus or put my hands in his side, they carried me with the strength of their faith. It wasnt until I was preparing to move back to Iowa and getting ready to say my goodbyes that I understood how God had been working through these amazing people to show me exactly what the body of Christ looks like. In them, I encountered the risen Christ.
Which brings us back to our text. Jesus, while he walks through walls and appears out of nowhere, doesnt appear the way a spirit or ghost would. Jesus appears with the wounds of the nails in his hand and the gash in his side. His body carried the marks of his human wounds. Jesus carries our wounds. Jesus human life mattered, just as our lives matter. We, too, carry our wounds.
The wounds of broken relationships...
hurtful words about ourselves or our loved ones
bullying
exclusion
grief
loss
disappointment
lonliness
despair
mental illness.
The body of Christ bears our wounds.
In Jesus we see the fullness of Gods love.
In Jesus crucifixion, Gods solidarity with the suffering of creation, with OUR Suffering, is made known.
Jesus came back to reveal himself to the disciples with the marks of his suffering. Not all prettied up and shiny and radiant as he is at the ascension, but as we have always known Jesus, the incarnate God. God with flesh. One with us in our humanity and one with God in Gods divinity.
When we talk about the church, when we talk about this faith community, when we talk about ourselves as the Body of Christ, that isnt some shiny happy-clappy, everything is roses thing.
The body of Christ is Crucifixion.
The body of Christ is bearing burdens.
The body of Christ is what humanity looks like the good and the bad. And we, the church, the people of God have wounds, and have wounded one another.
Yet, after Jesus showed the disciples his wounds, he did this really strange thing, after telling them that as the Father has sent me, so I send you, he breathed on them and said Receive the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit we receive in baptism.
And we become that God with flesh as the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We both bear the wounds of this human existence and because Christ bears our wounds, we are freed to be the body of Christ for the world. To be the church for the sake of the world. To HEAR the word of God, to EXPERIENCE our doubt, to ENCOUNTER the Living Christ in one another and then to GO and TELL the good news.
As Thomas exclaimed, My Lord and My God!
God doesnt leave us to poke around in our wounds.
Because of Christ we are freed for life abundant.
As we heard in our first reading from Acts, This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. and in Peter, Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. And our Psalm for today, In your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures evermore.
We are the body of Christ.
Wounded? Sure.
Carrying one another? Thank goodness.
Freed for abundant life to rejoice in the resurrection and to spread that good news?
Alleluia.