April 15, 2018 – “Belief”

Today’s text is from John 20:24-31.


We’re up against a familiar text today. But let’s take a couple steps back and try and shed some new light on our friend Thomas.

We’re still working through the Gospel of John – and in John, like the three other Gospels, each writer has their own purpose for writing, who their audiences are, and they each have their own theological understandings of words that might seem concrete and defined in our minds – like faith, light and darkness, doubt, belief, and sin.

For John, each of these words have very specific meanings that add to the narrative the writer is attempting to convey. So, when we get to our text today – a text that most of us are probably familiar with calling “Doubting Thomas”, we find that perhaps doubt and belief mean something different for us than it does for the Gospel writer.

Let’s first look at where we are in this Gospel. The beginning of our text today is only six verses removed from Mary at the tomb on Easter morning – but we’re also told that it’s now been one week since that first Easter morning happened. In other words, this whole Easter thing – this whole Jesus is not dead, but alive concept is still fresh and new and wholly difficult to understand and accept for the first disciples.

So, it’s no surprise that Thomas comes along in our reading for today – Thomas, who wasn’t present the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples in our reading last week – that Thomas comes along and seeks reassurance that Jesus is not dead, but alive. Thomas needs to see for himself that Jesus is actually alive.

This is important. It’s a small detail, but one that the Gospel writer doesn’t want us to miss. If we rewind and remember what has transpired over the past two weeks we’ll see a similar theme that doesn’t make Thomas’ request seem so unique.

On Easter morning – at the beginning of this 20th chapter – we heard that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. And upon seeing that Jesus’ body wasn’t there, she pleaded with who she thought was a gardener to tell her where Jesus’ body was so she could bring it back. So, Mary’s first thought on seeing that the tomb is empty – that Jesus’ body isn’t there – isn’t that he has risen from the dead, but that someone has taken his lifeless body away.

Even upon seeing Jesus she still doesn’t recognize him or believe that he’s risen from the dead. Only when Jesus enters into relationship with her by calling her by name does she finally make her profession of faith by calling Jesus, “teacher”. For Mary, seeing was believing. Relationship could only happen with an actual individual present.

And then last week the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus for the very first time as they hid behind lock and key. But before we’re told that they are overjoyed at actually seeing Jesus, we’re first told that Jesus shows them his hands and his side.

And then, only after they’ve seen that this isn’t just a ghost standing in front of them, that this person’s hands and side have been pierced, are we told that they are overjoyed for seeing Jesus. For the disciples, seeing was believing. Relationship could only happen with an actual individual present.

And so, we then come to Thomas in our reading for today. Thomas, the only person left in the inner circle who has yet to actually see Jesus. Thomas, a person who needs what Mary and the other disciples have already received in order to believe: Relationship.

To believe in the Gospel of John is to be in relationship with Jesus; it is to witness the very presence of Jesus Christ in the people and world around us. Believing in the resurrected Jesus, according to the writer of John, isn’t about professing certain attributes about who Jesus is; it’s not about believing in some thing, but instead some one.

Believing, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is alive and not dead, is about entering into the same abundant and life-giving relationships with friends and enemies alike in the same manner that Jesus first entered into relationship with us.

Believing is truly about proclaiming that we have seen our risen Lord and Savior. Every day we have the opportunity to proclaim this good news. Every day we have the chance to move out into the world around us and truly see Jesus Christ in our neighbors.

Every day, every hour, every second we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue living out the daily reality of the resurrection by seeing Jesus in all of God’s children and entering into relationships that proclaim the abundance of new life, forgiveness, and love that we first received from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ – a Savior and friend we see each and every day in every corner of creation and in every person we meet.

 

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April 8, 2018 – “Gateway”

Today’s text is from John 20:19-23.


We’re coming up on the end of our journey through the Gospel of John. But there’s still a few more surprises left for us in this post-resurrection time. First and foremost is the text in front of us today: Narrated for us this morning is the day of Pentecost. Now, in our official church timeline, Pentecost – the day when the Holy Spirit is given to the disciples – happens 49 days after Easter. This year the official date for the event narrated in today’s reading is set for May 20th.

But this year we’re going to get a two-for-one special: Because in John’s Gospel, Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit is given, happens on Easter Sunday. And it’s nothing like the account that we’ll hear in a month’s time. There are no tongues of fire appearing on the disciples, people aren’t speaking in different languages, there isn’t a violent wind and numerous people present to witness this giving of the Holy Spirit.

Instead, this story of the Holy Spirit being given begins in fear. It’s a recurring motif we’ve heard throughout the Gospel of John – and it’s a recurring narrative that Jesus has spent chapters and chapters on providing his disciples with comfort and peace.

And yet on this first Easter evening it appears to all be in vain. We’re told the disciples know the resurrection story. Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loves have been to the tomb and back – they’ve seen the stone rolled away, they’ve seen the empty grave clothes, they’ve heard Mary’s claim – Mary, the first witness to the resurrected Jesus – they’ve heard her profession of faith that Jesus is not dead, but alive.

And yet, now they hide. The disciples hide in fear of those in power. They hide in fear of those who would seek to bring them down in the same false and convoluted manner that killed their Lord, and Savior, and friend. They hide in the sheer terror that death stands right outside their door – that pain and suffering are seeking them out – so they hide. They lock the door and do everything in their power to keep out the sure death that swirls just outside the door.

But then, we’re told, the Door appears. The Gate allows new life to enter.

These five short verses today have a lot to tell us. First, we know that Jesus has many titles: God, Christ, Savior, Lord, friend. But in John we see a new title appear, and an odd one at that: Gate. Jesus tells us that he is the gate – the gate that only allows the true shepherd to enter and tend their sheep. But the actual translation is a bit stranger: Jesus is saying that he is not just a gate, but a door.

So, we hear Jesus tell us that he’s the way, the truth, the life, and in John we also hear Jesus tell us that he is the door. I can only imagine that’s not usually the image of Jesus that we hold in our minds – we imagine Jesus as shepherd, as Lord, but probably not as a door.

And yet it fits perfectly for our reading today. That as the disciples do everything they can to fend off pain, suffering, and death, we find Jesus entering their world of anxiety and fear and bringing them comfort, peace, and release.

Release from the fear of death. Release from the anxiety of suffering. Release from the terror of what lies in the outside world. The same holds true for us. That we, like the disciples, cannot hide behind literal and metaphorical doors our whole lives. That in order to proclaim and live out the gospel message we must lean into and trust that Jesus is the door – that Jesus will not let the power of death have the final say. That even when pain and suffering come our way – even when death comes our way – that the Gate, the Door, the Savior of the world – will not let death prevail.

For in this Easter season new life has won. Abundance of peace and release are yours. Through and in Jesus Christ – the door – the powers that would seek to take away your very life are defeated so that abundance of new life is yours.

An abundance that we are each called to share with the world. An abundance that cannot be stolen or taken from us: For Jesus Christ is the Door – and the power of death no longer has the final say.

April 1, 2018 – Easter

Today’s text is from John 20:1-18.


For the first time since 1956, Easter falls on April Fool’s Day. Of the two major church holidays – Easter and Christmas – Easter is the only one without a fixed date. Each year its date is determined with an oddly complicated algorithm – but to put it simply, Easter falls on the first Sunday following the full moon that follows the northern spring equinox.

So, this year, spring began on March 20th, the next full moon occurred yesterday, and today is the first Sunday that follows that full moon – and that’s how Easter is dated year after year – falling somewhere between March 22 and April 25.

And so, each year, we wonder if Easter will be early or late, or just somewhere in the middle. We wonder if there will still be snow on the ground or if the trees will be budding. We wonder if travel plans, family gatherings, and cooked meals will have to endure the last grip of winter or enjoy the early fruits of spring.

Easter is the day we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. It’s a moveable date that becomes fixed each year: April 1st, 2018. Easter Sunday. Just like December 25th was Christmas. January 1st was New Year’s. February 14th was Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. March 29th was Maundy Thursday. March 30th was Good Friday.

They’re all just singular dates on the calendar. But today’s different. And not because Easter’s date isn’t actually fixed on our calendars. But instead because Easter isn’t a one-time event. So, perhaps it’s fitting that Easter doesn’t have a dedicated, fixed day in our collective memories. Perhaps it’s fitting that every year we have to ask and wonder when this day will happen: Because in all reality, it’s always happening.

In our text for this morning we begin with an odd narrative about a footrace to the tomb – something we only see here in John’s Gospel. But after this track meet to the tomb finishes, after Peter and the disciple Jesus loved have seen what they need to see and head back home – we’re left with Mary Magdalene alone at the empty tomb.

Alone with apparent strangers. Strangers she has no memory of, strangers she doesn’t recognize, strangers who hold conversations with her until one, single word changes Mary’s perspective: Her name.

Now, it’s certainly an odd way to answer someone’s question – Mary’s asking this individual at the tomb where they’ve taken Jesus’ body because she’s desperate to make sure it’s put back in its proper resting place.

But instead identifying himself, instead of Jesus responding with, “It’s me, Jesus,” instead of actually answering her question, Jesus simply calls her by name. Mary.

And that changes everything. Jesus is made known, Jesus can finally be seen, when that relationship is made, when that friendship is realized. Jesus calls you by name this day as well. Jesus calls you by name, enters into relationship with you, becomes both Lord and friend, and then points toward the world around you.

Because the story doesn’t end here for Mary. The day of Easter isn’t finished once this moment at the tomb is done. This day, this event, this moment, this resurrected life is a daily life and reality that we live into and that we help make.

That through and in Jesus Christ you have the challenge and the calling to move out into the world proclaiming that death is not the end. That oppression and suffering do not have to be daily realities. That senseless violence and pain aren’t the way things have to be.

That the walls of separation from God and one another are built when we claim this Easter hope of resurrection to be a far off hope and dream. That we, like Mary, are called to do more than stand in awe at the resurrected Jesus at the tomb. We, like Mary, are called to continue this resurrected life in the world. We are called to continue bringing about new life where there was once death, peace where there was once violence, healing where there was once pain, love where there was once hate.

Easter is more than the story that we heard this morning and it’s more than a far off hope of resurrection and eternal peace. It is a daily reality that we are called to bring about and live into as disciples of Jesus Christ.

For this day Jesus calls you by name, calls you friend, loves you with a love that went to the cross and grave so that you have abundant and new life. And now it is an abundance of new life you are called to share with the world every day.

For the Easter story does not end here. Through the Holy Spirit, you are empowered to follow in Mary’s footsteps in proclaiming and bringing about the good news of new life in Jesus.

Because the Easter story does not end here. It is only the beginning.