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Musings Sermon Starter

A Living Hope

I like Thomas. I’ve always liked Thomas. He was falsely labeled as “doubting Thomas.” Imagine being Thomas. Jesus died a week before and you’ve been sequestered with the rest of the 11 for fear of the Jewish and Roman authorities. Someone has to go out for supplies and so you go. Never would you have imagined the tales told upon your return. Jesus walked through the locked door and breathed the Holy Spirit on the 10 gathered there. You aren’t happy about this at all. Are they telling the truth? Are they messing with you? If they are telling the truth and it all happened, why weren’t you included? Maybe your response isn’t doubt so much as it is hurt feelings. No one likes to be left out of something so important.

If Thomas’ response was based on feeling left out and hurt, it makes more sense. The resurrected Christ shows up when he wasn’t there. Who could blame him for saying that he wouldn’t believe unless he saw and touched Jesus for himself? Surely, most of us can relate to that? As the kid who was always picked last for elementary school gym class activities, I feel for Thomas and don’t blame him for being angry, hurt, and more than a little jealous.

That being said, I’m not sure how helpful looking at this aspect of the story is for us in these days of COVID-19. After all, aren’t we all pretty much locked in our homes for fear of the virus? Many of us are complaining about not “feeling” the season of Easter. Who can believe in the possibility of resurrection when fear, death, and grief are literally all around us? Aren’t we better off joining Thomas in his feelings and declaring that we aren’t going to believe unless we see or touch resurrection for ourselves?

If we are honest about where we are at, we might discover something amazingly powerful and hopeful in this overly familiar story. If we can acknowledge our fear, our doubt, our grief, our sadness, and our anger over all that COVID-19 has done to disrupt and destroy our sense of “normal,” then we might be ready to figure out where God is in the midst of this.

John tells us that Jesus entered the room through locked doors, not once but twice. No amount of fear or grief or anger or sadness or jealousy kept out the Risen Christ. Moreover, Christ entered the room to breathe peace, the peace of the Holy Spirit. I imagine Jesus breath of life blowing away the dust of fear and the cobwebs of anxiety to allow a bit of hope and healing to shine through. This breath of peace made it possible for those huddled in that room to begin to imagine a future without Jesus with them, a future that could bring hope and healing to the wider world. This is the real miracle in this story. The Risen Christ woke up the church, or those who would become church.

No locked doors can stop the Risen Christ from entering in. The fact that the doors of our churches are locked and that we are all scattered will not stop the Risen Christ from entering in. Assuming that the Risen Christ is still about breathing out the Holy Spirit, then it’s possible for the dust of fear and the cobwebs of anxiety to be blown off of us – no matter how we are gathering. What might happen if the breath of life is awakening the church anew right now?

Resurrection is not usually the response we have to death and destruction. Yet, it is God’s response. Our reluctance to believe or participate in resurrection does not prevent it from happening. The planet is awakening in new ways while humanity is sheltering in place. Why not the church, too? Why not humanity as a whole? After all, with God all things are possible, even the Body of Christ rising up to new life in the midst of COVID-19 destruction.

The power of the Holy Spirit, the presence of the Risen Christ is not dependent on our buildings, our rituals, or our traditions, fortunately for us. Let’s all take a deep breath and look around to find out what God is doing in our midst and then join in – keeping to a faithful physical distance, of course. Maybe we might get lucky enough to see and touch resurrection for ourselves. Or, maybe, just being a part of it means we don’t have to touch anything.

Peace be with you, my friends, as we all do this new thing and expect the Risen Christ to show up in our relationships with one another.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By God’s great mercy God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday of Easter – April 19, 2020
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Photo: CC0image by DreamyArt

Categories
Moses Sermon Starter

Thomas May Not be What You Think

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What are you afraid of? On that first Easter evening the disciples were afraid of everything. Jesus was dead and gone; the body had even been removed from the tomb. They were afraid for their lives. They were at a loss. They were so afraid that they had locked themselves in a room. Was it the same upper room that Jesus had made sacred a few days before? It doesn’t matter. They were locked in and the world was locked out. They had to figure out what to do next. Where to go. Whom to trust. And then everything got weird.

Thomas was brave enough to venture out into the world. Was he fearless or did some need conquer his fear? Or was he so lost in his grief that he did not care what happened to him? We don’t know why he was out, but he was. The Risen Christ happened to walk in on a fear-filled room to breathe peace to them. What a gift! Well, for everyone except Thomas.

When Thomas returned to the locked room, the others told him that Jesus had been there and breathed peace into their fear. Thomas may have had his doubts, but so did the rest of them. Thomas hadn’t been there to see Jesus, to hear his words, or feel the power of the wounds, or inhale the breath of peace. He had a good excuse to be in that room a week later. But what about the ones who had been there the first time Jesus walked into that locked room? Why were they still huddled there a week later? Did they all hold their breath so they didn’t breathe deeply of the peace that Jesus tried to breathe onto them, into them? What held them in that locked room a full week later?

I suppose we shouldn’t be too hard on them. Grief is paralyzing sometimes. So is fear. They were at risk of being crucified for treason and blasphemy just as Jesus had been. I’m not sure how far out of that room I would have ventured, either. I know what if feels like to be held captive by fear, though. Fear shrinks all possibilities into one bottomless pit that threatens to swallow anyone who dares to move. Fear is contagious enough to hold ten people captive in a small locked room for a lot longer than a week. Fear can certainly hinder the breath of peace from doing its work. The Risen Christ had some work to do on everyone there, except maybe Thomas. After all, Thomas didn’t actually need to touch anything to believe what he saw when Jesus returned. He was convinced just on sight and sound. Was that because he was not bound to that room by the fear of all that could happen, all that might happen if the doors were unlocked?

What are you afraid of? Me? I’m afraid that I won’t be able to communicate this urgency for the church to change that I am feeling so deeply. Even though I ask God not to pester me with visions and calls and messages during Holy Week because I am busy enough, God seldom listens. Part way through Holy Week the vision I had been avoiding and the call I was trying not to hear, became unavoidable. I couldn’t lock the doors or pull the shades any longer. God had something to say to me, reluctant prophet though I may be.

Church, we have been hunkered down in locked rooms for far too long. So long, in fact, that we are dying for want of a few Thomases who are willing to go outside and experience what’s happening out there. We are dying because we are held captive by fear, fear that distorts our understanding and prevents us from breathing in the peace Jesus intends for us. Nothing we are doing right now is worth dying for. Seriously, the Body of Christ can’t really want to breathe its last over some stained glass or a pew or the grasp we have on yesterday. Fear is choking the life out of us.
What do we need to let go of so we can breathe deeply once again? Our buildings? Our denominational ties? Our sense of (self)righteousness? Our worship of the Bible? Our certainty that we are right? What would happen to us if we took a slow, tentative breath of peace? Would fear loosen its grip on us? Would we be able to envision an ecumenical community where grace abounds and fear is a thing of the past? Would we be able to move out of our crumbling buildings into a community space that is used 24/7? Would we be able to adjust our worship practices to include language, music, theology that speaks to those who are seeking meaning today?

It’s time to unlock the doors, take a risk with Thomas, breathe deeply of the Holy Spirit, and live into this new shape of Resurrection. Let’s do this before we entirely forget how to embody Christ in a way that brings liberation to all (no exceptions). Bound by fear is no way for anyone to live, particularly the Body of Christ. Let’s take a deep breath and see what is possible…

For other sermon thoughts try here.

RCL – Year C – Second of Easter – April 28, 2019
Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

Photo: CC0 image by Orlando

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Sea Glass and (Un)Certainty

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I’m not an optimist by nature. I tend not to believe anything unless I see it for myself. This isn’t the typical statement made by a pastor, but in my case it’s true. I know that life is hard, people aren’t always honest, and weird things happen. So when I’m told about things that people have seen or heard or experienced, I’m very skeptical. If I were among the early disciples, I’d have been like Thomas. No way was I going to believe in the Risen Christ unless I could see and touch him myself.

I’ve been thinking about this while on vacation this week, and today especially. I spent quite a bit of time on the beach today. I can’t walk a beach anywhere without searching for sea glass. I thought I’d have good luck today because of all the storms that New England has had this season. I found a few pieces here and there, small and mostly brown. Just before leaving the beach, I was picking through piles of small rocks and shells left behind by the receding tide. And I was rewarded for my searching with a large piece of nearly glowing glass. Years ago, it might have been part of a Coke bottle – thick and slightly green. I knew that if I kept looking, I’d find a prized piece. I just had that feeling.

Faith is like that for me. There are days when I’d say with Thomas, “Nope. I don’t believe unless I can put my hands in the wounds.” Then there are other days when I’m absolutely certain that if I keep waiting, keep searching, keep listening, keep watching, the Holy Spirit is going to show up and do her thing. I don’t know what makes the difference exactly, but I suspect it’s me and not God.

Having grown up on Cape Cod and having spent hours on the beach, I know what storms can do to a beach. My belief that I’d find an excellent piece of sea glass was based on previous experience. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for my wavering between faith and disbelief. Previous experience says that I always find God when I am searching, waiting, or seeking. However, there are times when I am certain that God is no where to be found and isn’t going to show up.

God knows me better than I know the ocean, though. God shows up all the time and has the patience to wait for me to notice. And, trust me, sometimes I can keep God waiting for quite some time. Those disciples who witnessed Jesus without Thomas were pretty lucky. If Thomas hadn’t been so adamant that he needed to see Jesus the same way that the others did, he might not have had to wait a week. It’s possible that Jesus was hanging around, waiting for Thomas to recognize his presence. Maybe Jesus waited a week and then decided to give Thomas what Thomas thought he needed.

Just a week ago we were singing Alleluia and believing in the power and presence of the Risen Christ. How long did it take before we all forgot that Christ is with us all the time – in friends and neighbors, family and strangers? We keep thinking that Jesus needs to show up in a certain way and insist on only recognizing Jesus in the way that has been described by others. What if Jesus has been with us all along, waiting for us to recognize him?

I had no trouble persisting in my search for the perfect piece of beach glass. I thought I was looking for red or blue, or even a sizable green. What I found was clear with a hint of green. We might all be looking for the Risen Christ to show up with nail marks and proof that he is who we think he is. What if Christ shows up in the most vulnerable among us and our response is the only proof needed?

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday of Easter – April 8, 2018

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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Musings Sermon Starter

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

20130612_152754Grief has wrapped itself around my house this week. We’ve had to say goodbye to Lulu, our elderly cat. Lulu’s death brings waves of grief for the woman who entrusted Lulu to us, my wife’s beloved Gram. It is also the second anniversary of my mother’s death which sits heavily on my heart. And if this were not enough, some serious health issues have emerged for me. Holding all these things has proven to be quite difficult. Strangely, the story of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ helps.

I’m a fan of this story, anyway. I love how matter-of-fact Thomas is. He ventured out into the wider world, in spite of his fear and grief. When he returns to the other disciples, they tell him a fantastic tale of Jesus walking into the room and breathing on the them the Holy Spirit. Thomas is, of course, having none of it. He isn’t willing to believe unless he sees and touches Jesus’ wounds. It’s that simple for Thomas. And who can blame him? Would you believe a story like this if you were Thomas? Probably not…

Then a week later, Jesus returns. Locked doors mean nothing to him. He breathes words of peace and then holds up his wounds for Thomas. He even invites Thomas to touch them if that’s what Thomas needs. Apparently, seeing is enough. Thomas professes his faith then and there. And all is well in this post-resurrection story.

However, the words that mean the most to me right now, are Jesus’ invitation to Thomas. Jesus identified himself by the marks of his human frailty. We’re talking about the risen Christ who can walk through walls and locked doors. The same Christ who, just a week before, breathed out the Holy Spirit on a room full of people after walking out of a tomb. Any of these actions could have identified him. But, no. Instead he holds up his hands and invites Thomas to touch his wounds. It doesn’t get more human than this.

Pain is not weakness. Grief is not weakness. Physical limitations are not weakness. Wounds are not weakness. I wish we’d all pay more attention to this passage. We have fooled ourselves into thinking that perfection is to be prized and that we should keep other things quiet. This mindset is causing us harm. If the risen Christ identified himself by his wounds, then why do we go to such extremes to hide our own?

We are enamored with perfection in western culture. We must look perfect, act perfect, be perfect. We shy away from any displays of imperfection. Many of us still carry some notion that mental illness is a sign of weakness, a lack of willpower. Similarly, we tend to tell people with physical disabilities who are just living their lives and doing their thing that they are “such an inspiration” just because they live with limitations. We keep people who have visible limitations at a distance and we ignore many “hidden” disabilities or illnesses because they make us uncomfortable. How many people are afraid to be honest about their own struggles for fear of judgement? For fear of being seen as weak or in need?

Funny how we have done this to one another when we worship a God who conquered death but saw no reason to remove the marks of human frailty. The risen Christ was not made perfect, the marks of sin and death were clearly still visible,  reminding us of our true nature. We are fragile and finite. We can bruise, bend, and break in countless ways for reasons sometimes beyond our understanding. Many things can wound us deeply. Why deny that? Why hide it?harmony-2164363_1920

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. Most of us say these same words every week in worship. “The peace of Christ be with you.” What if, instead of viewing this as an opportunity to greet folks we haven’t seen all week, we take the “passing of the peace” as an opportunity to expose our woundedness to one another. What if we allow ourselves to breathe in that peace and know that God claims us as we are? What if we take this time in worship to revel in the fact that we, as church, are the embodiment of Christ and we are both wounded and whole? What if this moment in worship becomes about healing and hope rather than “hi” and “how’re ya”?

In my own fragile state this week, I’m grateful to Thomas for his honesty and I’m more grateful that Jesus saw fit to hold out his wounds as proof of his identity. If the Son of God, the risen Christ, can use his wounds as proof of his life, experience, and identity, shouldn’t we be doing the same thing? Here I am. Here are my wounds. Touch them if you need to. I am God’s beloved. Peace be with you.

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday of Easter – April 23, 2017
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Top Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Gerald Altmann

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Musings Sermon Starter

Today I am Thomas

2015-11-24 15.28.48Today, I am Thomas. Absolute disbelief floods through my body as I hear that there will be no indictment for either officer involved in the shooting of Jamar Clark. This is in direct contrast to, if not complete opposition of, the Alleluias and Christ-is-risens echoing through the liturgy I’ve just finished writing for the second Sunday of Eastertide. How can the Resurrection be true when there is no justice for Jamar, for People of Color, and for this nation governed by systems imbued with racism?

I’ve followed this case from its beginning last fall. I’ve participated in marches and signed petitions. I’ve listened and I’ve prayed. Jamar was not a model citizen and no one is saying that he was. He did not, however, deserve to die. (Domestic violence, horrid as that may be, is not a capital crime nor is disrespecting police.) And, maybe, the officer didn’t start off intending to shoot him. But that’s what happened. When it was decided that there would be no Grand Jury, a breath of hope filled the community. But it was false hope. A white lawyer reviewed the case and found no evidence to support indictment and lots to support the police officers’ account.

Strange, that. And now the comments I’ve seen on social media and heard on the radio. As People of Color on the Northside of Minneapolis react with outrage, grief, and despair, white people condemn them for it. Not all white folks, of course, but too many and too many filled with vitriol.

No doubt this is the kind of response that the first disciples got from those in power in the early days after Jesus’ death. There was probably a lot of “He got what he deserved and you all better watch out because you could be next” kind of stuff going around. Thomas was brave enough to go out of that locked room and go about his business in spite of being afraid of what could happen to him. He was living his life when the Risen Christ showed up and breathed peace. Can you blame Thomas for not believing the story? This was a community grieving. They were capable of believing anything, right?

Many of us claim to have seen Jesus, too. We talk about the Resurrection and the new life it brings and the amazing gifts of God freely given to any who ask. So where is that same commitment when we see racism crucifying People of Color over and over again? If we are the body of Christ why are we not trying to join with People of Color and breathe peace into broken, fractured communities? Not peace that the world gives with its faulty justice and laws that benefit the privileged, but peace that comes with justice, grace, healing, hope and new life? We sit back and nod with the lawyer who says that the evidence doesn’t support indictment. Really? How is that possible? Systemic racism is the answer which has nothing to do with Jamar Clark’s character.

Now I look around because I couldn’t see the Risen Christ when I heard the news. I look around and I see Christ everywhere. The wounds are still fresh. The hands raised as fists in the air, the hands clasped in prayer, the hands reaching out to comfort, the hands seeking to hold back outrage… all these hands are wounded hands. The tears and the angry words are justified in the face of a system that speaks only of death and oppression.

The Risen Christ identified himself by his wounds. That says a lot. That says that Resurrection, Easter, doesn’t fix anything. However, it does change everything.

When Jesus came back to the disciples a second time, Thomas was with them. Jesus simply invited him to touch his wounds so he would know for himself and believe. Thomas didn’t haven’t to touch those wounds. Seeing was enough for him. Today, though, I think we need to touch the wounds. It isn’t enough for us to see or hear.

Jesus didn’t change the world with Resurrection. Yes, it was a profound act of Divine Love to show us that death and violence do not have to have the final word. However, if no one were paying attention, it wouldn’t have mattered. So Jesus didn’t change the world, his disciples did. They went out in the name of that same Love and tried to breathe peace and new life wherever they went.

I want the world to change. I want the lives of People of Color to matter. I want police to stop killing them. I want justice to be done. I am a person of privilege in this society and I have a responsibility to use my privilege to advocate for change. I am no longer willing to accept the status quo or to agree that blaming victims excuses the crime. I am, however, willing to add my own hands to those reaching for justice. I, like Thomas, have seen the wounds. And it is enough. New life is possible if you and I get out there with Holy Spirit, bear witness to the undeniable suffering, and breathe peace.

Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Categories
Poetry

The One Who Missed It

2012-08-02 20.27.50First the women and then the others
boldly proclaim “I have seen the Lord!”
except for the one who missed it

You stepped into their locked-up grief
and spoke Peace to those gathered in pain,
hidden in fear
until You gifted them with Your breath
making them agents of forgiveness,
disciples in the way of peace

Until Thomas returned to cover them in doubt
keeping them under lock and key for another week
he only spoke out loud the need of every follower
who came later,
missing the point
and the resurrection

Thomas, not so much a doubter as a prophet
who provided You with an opportunity
to speak to the hearts of all
would-be followers to come

Your presence and Your Word were enough
Thomas believed without touching
breathing more deeply than ever before
as he walked into the blessing You
breathed out for all whose belief
speaks louder than doubt

Thomas opened the door for us to enter2012-08-24 12.58.26
into relationship with You and
community with one another
proving that being locked away in fear
is not a place to remain in faith
after Peace is spoken
and forgiveness is commissioned
wounds might identify You
revealing Your presence among us
indicating a need for response
calling us out of denial into healing

The time has come to step out of rooms
locked with fear and judgment
breathe deeply of the Holy Spirit
walk in the way of peace
as agents of forgiveness
bringing healing to a wounded world

Thank you, Thomas, for being the missing one
and making your honest prophecy
giving centuries of doubters
entrance into the fullness of life in Christ

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday of Easter – April 27, 2014
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Take Your Gloves Off and Touch These Wounds!

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The story of Thomas and his insistence on seeing the risen Christ for himself is one of my favorites. I’ve long believed that Thomas has been rather short changed. He wasn’t so much full of doubt as he was full of healthy reason. He didn’t have a couple thousand years of tradition to fall back on. This risen Christ stuff was brand new. I’d have insisted on seeing and touching those wounds for myself; any reasonable person would do the same.

I remember the first sermon I preached on this passage. I was fascinated by the fact that Jesus identified himself by his wounds, not by the experiences he shared with those gathered in that room. He held up his wounds. Back in my seminary days, I focused on each of us needing to look for Jesus in our own woundedness. I don’t know if it made a whole lot of sense to those who heard that sermon, but for me the idea of Jesus identifying himself through his wounds was a healing one.

But these days I am far less concerned about my own wounds than I am about the brokenness in the world. North Korea is making noises that sound a lot like threats of war. Oil spilled through a neighborhood in Arkansas. Fifty people died in an Afghan suicide bombing. Gun control remains an issue even after countless shootings. Monsanto continues to control food supplies.  People remain in denial about global warming and climate change. The economy of the Eurozone continues to falter. This list could go on. We can all add a personal witness to suffering and brokenness to this list pulled from headline news.

But the wounds and the suffering are not really my point. I want to draw attention to how we respond. Thomas recognized Jesus when Jesus held up his wounds. He didn’t have to touch them to recognize Christ. Today, we need to touch the wounds of the world to recognize Christ. Christ is everywhere bleeding, needing us to respond. Most people don’t. We’ve all done it. We’ve walked past the homeless person as we pretend not to see. We distance ourselves from the troubles of our neighbors. We plug in our devices without questioning where the electricity comes from. We spray chemicals into the air without stopping to wonder what they do to the environment. We eat food without reading the ingredients. We turn the channel when unpleasant news comes on.

I say let’s do something different this Easter Season. Commit to responding to some broken, bleeding part of the world and pay attention to how the experience of touching wounds changes you.

Let everything that breathes praise God!
   Praise be to God!

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday of Easter – April 7, 2013

Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31