Blogger down

16 05 2011

Since Blogger went down the other day, and some folks’ blog posts still haven’t been fully recovered, perhaps I should back everything up.

I guess the internet is not permanent after all…

Blogging Blues

14 05 2011

So, having spent some time re-reading some blog posts, I figure I might actually have something to say which may be of some value.

Maybe I should actually blog and also catch up with my more spiritual/religious friends?

Maybe I should post enough where I don’t feel the need to have one of these posts as filler?


Be Careful What You Wish For — A Sermon for St. Peter’s, Key West

2 05 2011

Text:  John 20:19-31

Easter brings with it many news articles, books and documentaries which talk about the Christian faith. For example, the Evangelical pastor Rob Bell recently came out with a book entitled, Love Wins. Love Wins makes the claim that what happened on the cross is so powerful, and that God’s love is so strong, that there just might not really be a hell. As you can imagine, this caused quite a stir. In fact, it even led New York Times columnist Ross Douthat to write about it on April 25, Easter Monday no less. On television, The History Channel was showing a documentary of sorts on the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus using material not only from the Gospels, but from the Gnostic writings as well. For all of the talk of us becoming a country that is “spiritual but not religious” and that there are an increasing number of people who profess a belief in God but do not adhere to a particular faith, the story of the Resurrection of Christ and all that it could possibly mean never ceases to grab attention.

“Is there really something to all of this?” they ask. Sometimes we might even ask that question ourselves. “Are we crazy? How can we be sure this is true? What if those who say that the Resurrection is a hoax are right?” Indeed, we read in St. Paul’s epistles that if the Resurrection didn’t happen, we’re all just wasting our breath and we may as well sleep in on Sunday morning and watch “Meet the Press.” These are all very valid questions, and these questions lead us to the place of the disciple, Thomas.

We’ve all heard the phrase “Doubting Thomas” and Thomas’ story is always read the Sunday after Easter. Thomas’ friends are telling him that Jesus is back from the dead and he demands proof before he can believe it himself. If we look through the earlier parts of the Gospel of John, we see that Thomas isn’t so much a man of little faith, but a rather complex individual. He is capable of great courage as is shown when he is willing to go with Jesus to Bethany at the news of Lazarus’ death, even though it may mean his arrest. Later, he understandably shows great anxiety on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. Personally, I always thought Thomas got a bum rap as we actually owe him a great deal. When his friends say to him “We have seen the Lord!” he’s not taking their claim at face value, and remember, this is a group of people he’s lived with for the past three years or so. If he should be willing to believe anyone, it’s this group.

But, he says,”Now hold on a minute! YOU are trying to tell ME that Jesus, who was executed in front of us and for all the world to see is now alive? We saw him crucified, we saw him dead, we saw him buried. Surely you’ve all seen a ghost or even more likely hallucinating. I tell you, unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in those marks and in the wound in his side, I am simply not buying it.

Now, in all honesty, who can blame Thomas? He’s saying that he needs to experience what the others did before he will believe it. He is also trying to give everyone a reality check here. In this scene, Thomas is being a voice for those of us here in the 21st century. We are to be grateful to Thomas because here we see that the intersection of doubt and faith are very much part and parcel of the Easter experience. Thomas is demanding answers for all the questions that come up around this time of year. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could provide clear evidence that no, Jesus body wasn’t stolen; no, Jesus’ body wasn’t given to the dogs; and no, we certainly are not crazy.”

It is important to remember that Thomas is not the only doubter here. Mary Magdalene didn’t belive Jesus had risen until Jesus spoke her name in the garden by the tomb. The other disciples didn’t believe Jesus had risen until he appeared in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Belief and faith in the Resurrection cannot be arrived at by simple physical evidence, but by trust and Jesus revealing himself to us, and this is what happens with Thomas. It is Thomas, and not the others, who is given the reality check when Jesus appears again. Jesus gives Thomas exactly what he wishes for: an invitation to touch the wounded hands and side. Thomas doesn’t get an encounter with a ghost, but with the flesh and blood risen Lord. When he is presented with the reality of the Resurrected Christ, he actually does not go to touch the wounds, but he only cries out, “My Lord and my God.”

This little scene is actually quite powerful. Jesus does not criticize Thomas of belittle him for his doubt, but he gives an invitation to “Come and See.” Jesus handles our questions and doubts the same way. He handles our doubt by being in the business of meeting people where they are and giving them what they need. After all, everyone has different life experiences and outlooks on life. Jesus met Mary in her moment of deepest sorrow. He met the other disciples when they were hiding in the darkness in their moments of deepest fear. And he met Thomas in his doubt. Jesus does not appear in a big flash of power and light, but he simply … shows up, he calls out your name ad he offers you peace. This isn’t the peace that world offers which says that if you try just a little harder, if you put your back into it, everything will turn out all right. The peace that Jesus offers is the peace that passes all understanding, a peace you have to do nothing to earn and is a gift from God.

It is the assurance that the One who was crucified, dead and buried is now alive forevermore. This is the One who heralds the Reign of God, the Reign that says swords are beaten into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, liberty is proclaimed to the captives and the oppressed are set free. This is the One who has the wounds and scars to show that God’s grace and love triumphs over all in the face of the deepest tragedy, injustice and humiliation that humanity can inflict on someone.

We cannot actually prove the Resurrection happened. Faith doesn’t exactly work on proof, for faith and belief are matters of the heart and matters of trust. Such things don’t completely answer questions which demand physical evidence. One reason we can believe the Bible gives a true revelation of God is because it shows how God stepped into human history and deals with us, warts and all. It shows us at our very best and our very worst. It shows ordinary people doing extraordinary things because God stepped into their lives and met them even in their doubt. We can trust that this is the same God who moved spiritual giants like St. Paul, St. Peter, Martin Luther King and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We may even know personally some who were moved to do remarkable things because of their faith in the Risen Christ. It is because of that trust we can gather together during the Fifty Days of Easter and say “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”

The disciples began the Easter story in doubt, but their lives were changed forever by an encounter with the Living God, a God who continues to meet God’s people every day and every moment. We have to remember that when we question or doubt, that’s perfectly fine. God would not be much of a God if he couldn’t stand up to some scrutiny. We cannot, however, be afraid of the answers to those questions, because those questions are responded with invitations to an encounter with Christ, and who knows where he might show up? On the street, on a park bench, where you work, in a bar, in a guest house, or at the communion rail.

There is a saying we have which says, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” If what you are wishing for is an encounter with Jesus, that’s all the more reason to be careful. I can’t tell you where he’ll show up, or when he will call out your name, but I can tell you this much. The Good News I have for you today is that when it happens … you won’t ever be the same again.