Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blessed are the Doubters

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), 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. John 20

Poor doubting Thomas.  There ought to be a beatitude for the guy.

Blessed are the doubters... for they shall not be suckered in... and though their phones ringeth off the hook during the dinner hour they shall not fall for telemarketing fraud.  Nor shall they be caught up in Wall Street Ponzie schemes.  Yea verily, though they be compassed about on every side by friends and television commercials who plead earnestly with them to do this or that, blessed are they, for they shall check their facts and make up their own minds.

Blessed are the doubters, for once they have been given the chance to live into their doubts, like Thomas, their faith shall be all the deeper for it.

Some Christians are afraid that doubt is a sin, but its not.  Only humans are offended if you doubt them  God doesnt think like we do.  Jesus doesn't criticize Thomas for his doubts — he knew Thomas.  Thomas was brave and utterly dedicated to Jesus.  In John 11, when Jesus decided to go into terrible danger by returning to Bethany because Lazarus had died, it says, "Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. Thomas spoke his mind.  In John 14, Jesus said, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’"  Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"

Jesus isnt offended.  Jesus reacts as God does.  He just opens himself up, allows himself to be questioned, explored, examined.  He doesnt argue with Thomas.  He has more of an attitude of, Come and see.  In First John it says, "God is light and in him there is no darkness."  He's not going to get angry or impatient.  God can take your doubt.  God can take your anger.

Doubt can be a tremendous gift from God, an invitation to draw closer and touch the wounds.  Doubt can be a call to examine the Body beneath the skin, an invitation to touch what I don't know and haven't seen, what I don't quite believe.

Thomas became a great believer in short order.  But, some of us have created a Jesus we're afraid to touch.  We've made him into a porcelain doll.  Were afraid to doubt as if Jesus is so fragile, he might wobble off the shelf and break.  Baby Jesus is fine at Christmas, but I'll tell you, in my life I need a grown up Jesus.  Thank you, God for giving us a real Jesus!  One that we can doubt and touch and hold onto in lifes storms and have faith in.  After all the doubt, Jesus gives an even greater gift: He breathes on them and says, Receive the Holy Spirit.
The real Jesus meets us in our doubts.  Theology is a fancy word priests and academics use to describe sitting around, drinking tea, and chatting about what we think God is like.  Todays Gospel is about God meeting us where we live... in the flesh.  This is called Incarnation theology.  It is an understanding that the physical matters to God and that God is present in the physical. Again in First John:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.
God runs out and meets us in our doubts and our unbelief and lets us touch and handle and see and try things.  In my life, it always has seemed I recognized God when I was most in doubt and most broken.  Has it been that way for you too?  When everything is going just fine, we skim along paying little attention, but when everything falls apart, we cry, "Where is God?"  God has left heaven and pitched a tent among us. God reigns here. God is not someplace else.   The only way to know God is in the incarnation, the real stuff of life: The rejoicing of springtime, the resurrection of the earth, in our jobs, in our relationships and fellowship with each other. 

For so many Christians, fellowship with one another is based on a long list of requirements: Do you believe exactly like I do on all the major controversies of the day?  But in John 1, their fellowship was based,  not a list of requirements, but on walking together and a sense of being forgiven: "But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us."  Even forgiveness of sins was changed in todays Gospel: “If you forgive sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’"  Forgiveness is no longer passive waiting for God to act, but somehow embedded in our relationship with one another.  We have an active role in the reconciliation of the world and each other. 

We dont have a porcelain, fragile Jesus who goes all wobbly if we have human doubts and fears.  We have a tough Jesus, a grown-up Jesus, a real Jesus, a Jesus who comes to live among us.  Scripture points to the real Jesus, but it's not the real Jesus - lets not confuse the two.  John says everything has been "Written so that you may come to believe... and believing ... have life."  Many other signs were done, but this is enough so you can have life.  All of this is just to point us to real life with our Lord.  All the scriptural proof-texting and theology done by all the theologians and priests and scribes and rabbis did not lead to the revelation of the risen Christ.  That revelation only came when the risen living Christ walked alongside the disciples grieving his death on the road to Emmaus, and he went in with them and broke the bread.  That revelation only came through allowing Thomas to doubt.  That revelation only comes through the sharing of bread and wine.  It is in the bread and wine where Jesus comes so close he breathes on you, as he did the early disciples, and says, Receive the Holy Spirit.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Skittles for Jesus

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’  — Matthew 4

I have to admit I don’t know much about football, but I heard so much chatter about the behavior of Seattle Seahawks fans, that I got curious.  There were stories of loud yelling and Skittles being thrown on the field.  I even came across an article about the Seahawk fans causing an earthquake. That was a bit of hyperbole; they simply stomped and made enough noise to be picked up by a nearby seismograph — very different from causing an actual earthquake. 

There was a story about how, in one case, fans from the two rival teams almost got in a fight, until one of them tried to talk some sense into them all.  He said, "You realize neither of us is actually playing on one of the teams?"  There’s a huge difference between being a fan and being an actual player. 

As people are looking forward to the Super Bowl, perhaps we should ask ourselves the same question about our faith in Jesus, "Are we just fans, or are we followers?"  You may be Jesus’s greatest fan.  You may be the one wearing the funny face paint and the colored wig, waving your flag and throwing Skittles onto the field for Jesus, but don’t kid yourself; there’s a huge difference between being a fan of Jesus and being an actual player on his team.

It is here on this ordinary Sunday, somewhere between Christmas and Easter that we read the Gospel account of how ordinary people became star players on his team — how his church began.

Fishing was tough work.  Much of their fishing was done at night, using lanterns. In the morning, the fishermen would sort their catch (Luke 5:5; John 21:3).  When the fish had been sent off to market, it would be time for the fishermen to clean and repair their nets.  Once this was done, they could sleep and get ready for the next night’s work.

In our text today, Jesus is walking along the shore early in the morning, and he comes to Simon Peter and Andrew while they are going about their morning routine.  And something amazing happens…  Jesus calls his first disciples, the first players on his team.  Renowned Rabbis didn’t go out and call followers; they simply waited for followers to come to them.  Not Jesus.  And if you know any of the stories about them in the Gospels, you know these guys weren’t ready for prime time.

I already told you I don’t know much about football, but my impression is it’s kind of tough to get on a major league team.  Kids spend their youth playing on Pop Warner teams, and then they compete to get on their high school football team.  If they succeed there, they carefully choose a college that has a great football program or will offer them a sports scholarship, and then, they fight to get and to keep a position on their college team.  And they hope… just hope they’ll get noticed by a scout for a national franchise.  And most are disappointed.

The Denver Broncos do not select their players by driving up to a couple of ordinary guys out fishing and say, “Hey, you!  We want you to be on our team. Oh, bring your brother too.”  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew...  'Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.'” 

I think it’s important to notice what Jesus did not say.  He did not say, “Follow me, but first you have to believe in me.”  He did not say, “Follow me, but first you have to love me.”  He did not say, “Follow me, but first you have to be a perfect person.”  There were no preconditions in Jesus’ call to his followers.  You don’t have to have perfect faith.  You don’t have to understand everything.  You don’t have to subscribe to some list of required beliefs.  When Jesus calls, he asks me, and he asks you to step out into the unknown with him.  He asks us to follow even though we may not be quite sure of where he is taking us or whether we are up to journey. 

Peter, Andrew, James, and John must have wondered and even been a little intrigued by Jesus saying, “I will make you fish for people.”  But as they heard him preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” they learned two things about fishing for people:  One, it had to start with them.  They had to be a certain kind of people to bring in others.  It started with them wanting a new kind of life, a change.  And the second thing they knew, it wasn’t going to be too hard to get into this Kingdom of Heaven because it was nearby, right in their midst.  In one place it can be translated, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

And as they followed Jesus day by day, learning to live a new way, a way filled with hope instead of despair, and as they and the multitudes who followed Jesus saw the Kingdom of Heaven breaking out within them and among them, the prophesy of old Isaiah began to be fulfilled, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

We need this light today every bit as much as they did 2,000 years ago.  Each of us has some dark corners in our lives, places where we feel hopeless, lost, overwhelmed, and alone.  But when the great light of Christ begins to shine, we move from darkness into a new day.  But that light, that change of life, doesn’t happen if you’re just a fan of Jesus, you have to be on the team.  You’ve got to get out on the field not just throw Skittles for Jesus from the grandstands.

Now, I’ll be truthful with you, it’s a lot tougher to be a player than it is to be a fan.  And there are no guarantees that there won’t be dark times in our lives.  But what we are promised is we are not alone, and darkness is never going to win.  Knowing that, with God’s presence in our lives, we can walk through any darkness without fear overwhelming us as we hold the hand of the one who walked alongside the sea that morning so many years ago.

The part about “fishing for people” was always kind of hard for me to understand because I’m a pretty bad fisherman despite my poor dad’s best efforts.  But I think maybe that misses the point: If Jesus can use a fisherman, he can use me and he can use you!  He reached out to people where they were in their lives.  To exhausted fishermen, he said, “Follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”  To builders and architects and carpenters, he says, “Follow me, and I will show you how to build up people.”  To lawyers, he says, “Follow me, and I will show you how to share the law of love with others.”  To those who feel they might not have many talents to offer, he says, “Follow me, and I’ll show you how talented you can be bringing light to others.”  And he calls wives and husbands who work at home, and taxi cab drivers, and young people who think they’re too young to have anything to offer, and old people who fear they have nothing more to offer.  Jesus called ordinary people right in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things, and he still does this morning.  You can do this where you are   In fact, Christ needs you right where you are.

Phillips Brooks was the Bishop of Massachusetts in the late 1800’s.  Most of us know him only as the author of "O little town of Bethlehem," but he was also renowned as an incredible preacher.  Here’s what he said in one of his sermons:

"It seems very certain that the world is to grow better and richer in the future, however it has been in the past, not by the magnificent achievements of the highly-gifted few, but by the patient faithfulness of the one-talented many.  “If we could draw back the curtains of the millennium and look in, we should see not a Hercules here and there standing on the “world-wasting” monsters he had killed, but a world full of (human beings), each with an arm of moderate muscle, but each triumphant over (their) own little piece   of the earth... It seems as if heroes (have) done almost all for the world that they can do, and not much more can come till common (men and women) awake and take (up) their common tasks." 

We don't need one more Superman or Spiderman.  The world doesn’t need any more Wonder Women or Xena: Warrior Princesses.  We just need more ordinary people like Mary and Joseph, like Martha and John and Mary Magdalene, and Andrew and Peter.  We need to stop merely being fans of Jesus and become followers.  What the world needs… what God is looking for in our time… is just folks like you and me living our ordinary lives, doing our most humble tasks, sharing our love and our faith and our light with our brothers and sisters as we meet them every day along our journey.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Wise Men

by Madeleine L’Engle

A star has streaked the sky.
pulls us,
Where, oh where, where leads the light?

We came and left our gifts
and turned
Time had passed, friends gone from sight

One by one, they go, they die
to now,
to us-
gone in the dazzling dark of night.

Oh how, and where, and when, and why
and what,
and who,
and may, and should, O God, and might
a star, a wind, a laugh, a cry
still come
from one-
the blazing word of power and might-

to use our gifts of gold and myrrh
and frankincense
as needed,
as our intention was to do the right?

Here, there, hear- soft as a sigh-
all that is spoken, back to the flight

blazing too fierce for mortal eye.
oh, Love, until we, too, may dazzle bright.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Coffee with God

You know, I suppose I should be more proper and call it “Morning Prayer” as it is entitled in the Book of Common Prayer, but I just can’t help but think of it simply as “Coffee with God” every morning.  I do follow the readings and the format of the BCP — I’m such a daydreamer, always haring off after random thoughts, that I like how it makes me focus.  Still, although I follow the format, I still think of it as simply saying, “Good morning!” and sitting down for coffee with an old friend.  Would I look forward to it as much if it I thought of it as formal prayer?