Pastor's Sermons

Sermon for 27 April 2014 ~ 2nd Sunday of Easter (Bishop Ray)

 

John 20:19-31 (NRSV)  

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

 

But Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

 

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

 

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

My friends at the men's breakfast like to tease me because I take such an analytic approach to the scriptures. I use doubt as a starting point for inquiry. I am skeptical of opinion not backed up by demonstration. They all laughed when they heard that I would be preaching a sermon about the man who has become known as Doubting Thomas. However, I find a kinship with Thomas, not because he supports my modern academic skepticism, but because Thomas wants to know whether this is the real Jesus, or just the same wish dreams as those of the rest of the world.

 

On Good Friday I read Rebecca's call to worship.

She wrote:

Look at you there dying, a spectacle of suffering

when we were looking for hope and goodness to prevail

when we wanted the world to stop and take notice…

O God, we thought you had a different plan

we really thought you had things under control.

(Rebecca Garber, 18 April 2014)

 

Like today, there were lots of religious groups who dreamed that one day their vision and their leader would be supreme. Then they would see their dreams dashed the same way Jesus was.

 

Rebecca's poetry has captured the mood of that let-down. They had hoped for more. They had hoped that he would lead them to some kind of victory. But he didn't. Instead, he was executed like a common thug without any dignity or respect. That was to scare off anyone else who thought they could buck the system. So they were stunned and hunkered down. But Thomas wasn't with them in their huddled disorientation. Thomas had always understood Jesus and what Jesus taught.

 

He knew that God's reign was not something that started by toppling the big guys, but at the bottom, among the most defenceless. Jesus taught Thomas that God is the creator of all life:

       That all life is connected;

       That all life is shared;

       That life thrives on hope;

       That the most fragile must be most valued and cared for.

That the most evil also need God's love and grace.

 

Thomas was the least surprised at what happened to Jesus. He knew that anxious humans are driven by a desire for dominance. Thomas knew that it didn't matter whether those kingdoms were secular or religious. There was corruption, manipulation and double dealing in Thomas' religious community. There were those who compromised their religious principles in order to make a shekel or take advantage of others.

 

But Jesus trusted God. He knew that God suffers too - at the hands of evil people - who disrespect God's beautiful gift of life. Evil disdains love and grace and prefers to promote fear and division. The whole creation suffers as God sheds tears over the desecration of the good earth and its people.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in 1932 that Jesus chose the way of the cross from the very outset. Here's the quote:

It is the way of obedience and the way of freedom, for it is the way of God. And for that reason it is also the way of love for human beings. Any other path—be it ever so pleasing to people—would be a way of hatred and contempt toward human beings, for it would not be the way of God. And this is why here, then, Jesus rejects the devil. He chooses from the very outset the way to the cross [Because it is the way of God through the world,]. And we are going with him, as individuals and as the church. We are the church beneath the cross, that is, in disguise. Yet here as well, all we can is realize that our kingdom, too, is not of this world.

 

What do you think Thomas expected to see? What he got to see were: nail holes in Jesus' wrists and ankles, a spear hole in Jesus' side. This Jesus who appears is the Jesus who Thomas signed up with. This is the Real Thing! When Thomas sees those signs, he knows God is there working the miracle of new life from the ground up. Thomas knows that the world likes strong-willed leaders who articulate a vision and go after it. But Thomas believes that there is only One Will—God's will. And God will choose to suffer along with us rather than leave us abandoned. Not everyone who is exalted is more worthy. Not everyone who suffers or fails is less worthy.

 

When God created the world it was a world from which life sprang. No one knows this planet's enthusiasm for producing life more than those of us who live here by the ocean. We don't own life. Life happens because God wills it. It is an unqualified gift—what we call a gift of grace.

 

But an evil story has existed from the beginning of time that says we shouldn't trust the grace. That's sin—the failure to trust God's goodness. We lose our trust because the world isn't fair. Good people also suffer loss and evil people often gain the most. Jesus ends up being crucified while his persecutors enjoy their cleverness.

 

(Perhaps Charlie Brown's baseball games are an example: "Winners ride, goats walk.")

 

The truth is God doesn't have a preference for people who accomplish the most. Nor is God prejudiced toward the most sinful. Eternal life isn't about points scored.

 

God created a world in which history is playing itself out. Within that history God is sometimes full of joy, and at other times, full of suffering. But God doesn't choose on the basis of pleasure. There are no scores. God acts out of love for the worth of each person.

 

Eternal life is not about achievement. Eternal life is about how we treat each other aside from likes and dislikes, aside from anger and fear, aside from status or ability.

 

Eternal life is the gift of looking at any other person and seeing God's presence in that particular life:

in each of us in equal measure.

 

We are not alone whether we suffer or prevail. God suffers and prevails in the midst of us.

 

When Tomas saw the signs of Jesus, he said: "My Lord and my God." Blessed are we when we also can believe what he believed.

 

Amen

 

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