Sermon for Easter 2 Year B 2015 Before and After, Doubt and Faith

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1 Sermon for Easter 2 Year B 2015 Before and After, Doubt and Faith The big Easter celebration has come... and gone. Perhaps you are asking yourself, what now? What s next? Is there life... after Easter? It is understandable that we might ask such a question after many Easters that very first Easter when to borrow the words of Lutheran pastor and theologian, Paul Tillich, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. This observation really hit home for me this week watching the shocking video of Walter Scott being shot in the back by police officer Michael Slager; seeing the destruction and devastation of the tornadoes in Illinois; the conclusion of the trial and guilty verdict of Dzokar Tsarnaev for the Boston marathon bombing. How are we to be an Easter people in the face of these things... and more? Should we shake our fists, rattle our swords, seek revenge in hurling names and invective, scorn and the severest punishment possible for the victimizers? We might get some comfort and momentary relief from these all-too-human reactions, but... as Jesus would likely point out, how does this make us better... not just better than how are we better in the sense of healed and healing if we do not seek to embody and live Easter s message of new life, new beginnings through God s graciousness and mercy? Nevertheless, from all the disciples not just Thomas! we learn that Easter faith sprouts from the ashes of despair, doubt and unbelief. Fortunately, unlike Easter morning s gospel, this morning we get two resurrection appearances from which to learn how to be an Easter people in the face of fear and doubt. Its probably not so difficult for us to relate to the disciples who are hiding behind the locked doors in fear and confusion, overwhelmed by disappointment, disillusion and despair. Who among us does not long to hide from the ugliness of the ills and isms of our time and place, from personal and social suffering? 1

2 Who doesn t want to shut their eyes and put their hands over their ears to keep from seeing and hearing any more heartbreaking news? Who wants to confront the hugeness and complexity of it all? Why not just stay safe behind closed doors where we will feel less weak and inadequate. These feelings and reactions are all very human, aren t they? We can relate and understand such responses. And yet... perhaps the disciples were afraid that the good news of Jesus resurrection brought to them by Mary Magdalene and the other women wasn t going to be good news for them at all. It's frightening enough to see someone who was dead suddenly alive, but what if he had every reason to say, "Where were you when I needed you? What kind of faithful disciples are you, anyway? Why did you run out on me? Peter, you especially, I picked you out to be the leader; how could you have denied me three times?" But that's not what happened. There were no recriminations, no anger, no condemnation or judgment, not even an understandable "venting" of disappointment and hurt. Instead did you notice? the first words Jesus offered were both a greeting and a gift: "Peace be with you." He knew what was in their hearts and why they had barred the door. He saw right through them and knew that they weren't re-grouping, getting it together. They weren t deciding on their next move for how they were going to carry on Jesus' legacy or spread his teaching. They were scared and hiding out. Yet, suddenly, in the midst of their fear and confusion, there he was, not with angels, trumpets, or legions, but quietly. He brought only peace, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a commission. In fact did you notice this too? he breathed the Spirit into them. This is John's "Pentecost." 2

3 Here the Spirit comes not with wind and flame but with Jesus' own breath, the very life-force of the one raised from the dead who tells them to go out and be peace and forgiveness and love for the world. At creation, God breathed life into us humans, a tender, intimate, up-close and personal moment, and here we are again, with Jesus not holding his disciples at arm's length but re-creating this sorry crew of weak disciples, giving them the gift of new life, the gift of grace, and commissioning them to share that gift, that good news, with the world. However, he does not give them the gift of a personal, "private" faith, a just-you-and-me-jesus faith that has nothing to do with the world that God loves so well. Instead, these weak and overwhelmed disciples, now Spirit-gifted, are Jesus' gift to the world. And then Jesus talks about that thing that s even more difficult to talk about than sex or money in the church (or anywhere for that matter!) He talks about forgiveness. Which gives us a clue as to what is uppermost in Jesus mind. Forgiveness to be received for themselves and then to be practiced by forgiving others. But the scene shifts then to Thomas who, we could argue, was not as afraid as the other disciples because he is not hiding behind the closed, locked doors. When courageous Thomas returns and hears that he has missed seeing the risen Jesus, he of course wanted the same experience for himself; he wants the same reassurance that the other disciples have had. Personally I think he was no more a doubter than the others were before they saw Jesus. Wouldn t we, in his place, want the same? And then it is a week later. And here s the peculiar thing... the disciples are still behind closed doors. Thomas is with them, but the doors are shut. It s rather puzzling that a full week after they have seen the risen Jesus 3

4 and received the gift of his Spirit, they are yet hiding. So let s compare the reaction of the other disciples with the reaction of Thomas to seeing the risen Jesus. When Thomas sees, he confesses My Lord and my God! The rest of the disciples, even after seeing the risen Jesus, do not yet live as Easter people. The story of Thomas was a message for the people in John s community who were a generation or two after that first Easter. The beatitude or blessing that Jesus offers was for Thomas and that community and for all of us whose faith is no weaker or stronger than those first disciples. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Those are words of promise I need to hear a week after Easter Day as we continue to struggle with sin and the longed for perfection of life does not yet appear and we seem to go back to life as usual. Back to our lives with those overwhelming experiences of ongoing wars and coups, hatred and prejudice, violence, looming environmental crises, nagging economic problems, private grief and burdens of health problems or family problems... There is so much to run away from; so much to fear. What s an overwhelmed person of faith to do? How are we to live as an Easter people? The late William Sloane Coffin once said, "As I see it, the primary religious task these days is to try to think straight... You can't think straight with a heart full of fear, for fear seeks safety, not truth. If your heart's a stone, you can't have decent thoughts either about personal relations or about international ones. A heart full of love, on the other hand, has a limbering effect on the mind." When our hearts are fill with a fear we can't organize or get our arms around, a fear that makes us feel weak and small and inadequate, that s when all of us disciples receive from God that same gift of grace, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit, a gift that limbers up our minds and our hearts, 4

5 turning them from hearts of stone to hearts full of love. We may feel overwhelmed on the Second Sunday of Easter, like those disciples one week later, even though we have experienced the risen Jesus. We may feel like locking our doors and hiding out. Indeed, it's a great temptation in the life of the church to huddle behind massive, beautiful doors, to hide out from a world in pain and great need, and to make our faith a personal, private thing that has nothing to do with that pain or that need. However, Jesus sends us out into the world, to put our hands on the marks of its suffering, to bring good news and hope to all of God's children. That is the mission of your church: to love the world to love as Jesus loved us. Whatever overwhelms us, God comes to us in the midst of our fear and says "Peace be with you." Whatever doubts churn in our minds, whatever sins trouble our consciences, whatever pain and worry bind us up, whatever walls we have put up or doors we have locked securely, God comes to us and says, "Peace be with you." We need to breathe those words in deeply. Whatever hunger and need we feel deep in our souls, God calls us to the table, and meets us there, feeding us well. Then we are sent out into the world to be justice and peace, salt and light, hope for the world. We can do it with the help of the Spirit if we keep our eyes open, our minds limber and our hearts soft and willing to love. As God sent Jesus, God sends us, too, into the world that God loves, into the world that needs the healing and the new beginnings only God s grace can bring. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia! 5

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