Monday, April 25, 2022

Practice Resurrection: Doubt and Trust

 Since our service didn't broadcast this weekend, I thought I would share my sermon here:

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

            He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


            I’ll be honest.  I thought I wasn’t going to have a sermon series for the season of Easter.  I’ll just preach week to week, I thought – and then, I came across a poem by a man named Wendell Berry.  

            Wendell Berry is a Christian, a farmer, and a writer.  I believe he lives in Kentucky.  The poem is called “Manifesto:  The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”  -- promise, I won’t read it to you – 

            Throughout the poem are strewn odd words of advice like these:   “Love the Lord.  Love the world. Work for nothing.”  “Ask the questions that have no answers.”  “Love someone who does not deserve it.”  “Plant Sequoias.”  “Laugh.” “Be Joyful though you have considered all the facts.”             The last two words of the poem are these:  ‘Practice Resurrection.”


            How do you “practice resurrection”?  

            It’s not a bad question to ask throughout the season of Easter  -- not bad to consider for these 50 days.  How do you practice resurrection?  

            Isn’t it something that is Just given to you?  It just happens.  You can’t do it.  

            You can’t resurrect yourself – God has to do it.  

            And yet—in some ways we CAN practice – by – well – planting sequoias (or bluebonnets) , or being joyful though you have considered all of the facts.  

            So this Easter we are going to practice resurrection – and I hope you will also send in your ideas as well.


            And I can’t think of any way better to begin to practice resurrection than with the story of Thomas. 

            Thomas, the great doubter.   “Doubting Thomas.”  

            I feel a little sorry for him, being stuck with such a nickname.  After all, if you read the gospels carefully, that’s not ALL that Thomas was.  

            In John 11, Thomas was brave – he was the one who said to Jesus – when he said he was going to Lazarus, “Let us go, that we may die with him.”  

            And we have Thomas to thank for asking that great question in John 14, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  

            for Jesus answered him by saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  Where would we be without Thomas’ question?  


            But “doubting Thomas”, that’s what we remember – that’s what sticks -- but that’s not even really true. 

            I know our translation has Jesus saying, “Do not doubt but believe” – but in reality Thomas wasn’t just doubting – he was unbelieving.  

            He didn’t say “I doubt it”.  He said. “I don’t believe it.”  Or, “I won’t believe it – unless I see.”


            Maybe that’s even worse. But it’s honest.  And You know what?  I’ll take that honesty.  I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be honest when you are standing in front of Jesus. 


            So maybe that’s one part of practicing resurrection.  

            No platitudes.  Be honest.  

            Be honest about your doubts, your struggles, your questions.  Like Thomas.  Put it out there.  

            It’s risky and vulnerable because there are always people out there who might think you are not a good enough Christian if you have any questions, or if you are struggling with something.  

            But I admire Thomas’ honesty – that he is willing to come out with it right in front of the disciples and say, “Unless I see the nail holes – unless I can put my hand in them – I will not believe.”  


            But I can’t help thinking that this isn’t just about Thomas.  

            It’s about the other disciples too – what they did and didn’t do.      When Thomas wasn’t there with them on Easter evening – they went out looking for him.  

            And whatever flaws there were in the relationships between the disciples – and I am sure there were some 

            -- he felt that he could be honest with them – tell them what he was really feeling – and they wouldn’t cast him into the outer darkness.  


            So a community willing to listen and walk with one another – in both joyful and painful times – is practicing resurrection.


            There’s another thing I would like to thank Thomas for – if it wasn’t for his unbelief – we wouldn’t have Jesus’ words, “Have you believed because you have seen me? 

            Blessed are those who have NOT seen – and yet have come to believe.”


            Because like the words, “I am the way the truth and the life,” those words are for all of us.  

            They are for those of us who have not seen – and yet – somehow – for some reason – have come to believe.  

            They are for those of us who were not blessed with those literal, first-century resurrection appearances – although I will say they must have been as terrifying as they were amazing. 

            Blessed are we who believe that Jesus rose – even though we weren’t there.  


            Or maybe a better word than believe is this “ Trust.”  

            Blessed are those who have not seen – and yet have come to trust.”  

            Because trust is not just about what you know in your mind – but trust has to do with relationships – and it is active.  

            For example – I’m thinking about when we stayed in an AirBnb one time on travel – and we stayed in a stranger’s home – in one of their extra bedrooms.  

            I didn’t think about it at the time, but that took a certain level of trust – both on our part – and on the part of our host.  


            Doubt AND Trust – both a part of practicing Resurrection.  Because we live in a world where both Good Friday – and Easter – are real – and are happening at the same time.  

            I couldn’t help noticing a news story from Ukraine last week that churches in Lviv were full on Easter Sunday.  Why?  

            They are living in a time of violence and struggle and suffering – which might seem so contrary to our proclamation of the resurrection.              They are looking around and seeing death, and fear.  

            And at the same time – they are proclaiming with their lives the hope of the resurrection – the things they do not see – but trust – the victory of the love of God.


            In you life there will be times you will know – that God is holding you close.  

            And there will be times when you will ask the question, “Where is God?  Why is this happening?”  

            Embrace both of these realities.  They are both true.


            They say that Doubting Thomas eventually travelled far – all the way to India. 

            There are very old Christian churches in India that date themselves back to doubting Thomas.  And who knows whether any of the legends are true. 

            But I like to think that – if he indeed went – that went both with trust and with questions – with struggles and with faith. 

             He opened a door not knowing what was on the other side – except that Jesus was there.  


            He went -- practicing resurrection.


            May we trust that – Christ is risen – every day – and practice resurrection in our lives.




Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Loving the Questions

Lately I have been noticing that I LOVE questions.  Sometimes (I'll be honest) I love questions simply because I know the answer and knowing the answer makes me feel smart and even useful.

For example, on Sunday at confirmation one of the student's mothers asked a question about our worship service that morning.  We had Palm Sunday and included just a portion of the story of Jesus' suffering and death.  On the way home her husband had asked, "Where does Judas come in?"  She said, "I'll ask Pastor tonight at confirmation."  And I felt a surge of pastoral usefulness as I told her that Judas comes in before the section of scripture we read -- he had betrayed Jesus earlier in the story, and he's already out of the picture.

The week before I went to visit a woman with communion in her home.  She was ready for me with "questions for the pastor".  I realize that I love these moments -- she wanted to know the meaning of the phrase, "By his stripes we are healed."  And I could do that.  

I love questions.

But I realize that there is more than one kind of question -- there is another kind of question, and sometimes I am privileged to hear it.  It's not a question that makes me feel smart, or useful.  It is a kind of question that makes me feel humble, and (I'll admit) a little uncomfortable.  It is a question that makes me feel like I am walking on holy ground.  The question is bigger than I am.

Last week, someone asked me a question like that.

He was four.

The question he asked was, "Why is Jesus so important?"

How do you answer a question like that?  That is not a question to be answered (not really), but a question to be lived.  It is a question that I hope will follow this boy his whole life, and I hope he will discover different answers to it at different ages.  I wonder what he will discover by asking why Jesus is so important.

A little while later, someone else asked another question, "Why did Jesus have to die?"

She also was four.

And you may disagree, but I believe that this is the same kind of question.  I do not know the answer to that question, not really.  I know some people say they know, but I don't.   In the same way that I don't really know why anyone "has to" suffer -- but they do.  

And yet

This is Holy Week, and I can't help thinking that this is the week for these kinds of questions.  The second kind.  The kind that humble you, and make you realize that you are standing on holy ground.  The kind that you live with your whole life.  

This is Holy Week.  The week for questions that are bigger than I am.