Sermon: “Believe Without Seeing”
Scripture: Psalm 16 and John 20: 19-31
April 19, 2020
Jesus, Savior, Resurrected Messiah,
we come before you from different paths: some of us certain
of your joyful presence in our lives, some of us not so certain
of the hope of being touched by your joy.
Yet we are all here, reaching out to you: for understanding,
for hope, for joy and for peace. Amen
Scripture reading today is from Psalm 16 and John 20:24-31
One of my personality flaws is that I can, at times, be eager to accept what someone says. Someone hits a hole in one on the golf course. I’ll believe them. Why would someone lie about that? Occasionally, I’ll ask someone, have you been reading your Bible every day? And they respond, of course I have. I believe them. Or, everyone’s favorite, I caught a fish and it was this big. Of course, there are not lying.
So, what if someone told you that they had just seen Jesus. That Jesus had just appeared in the room and they had a conversation with Him. If it was me, I would probable say something like … you need to take just a little more or a little less of your medication. But this crazy story of Jesus appearing and speaking to the other Apostles is exactly what happened to the Apostle Thomas. Thomas, or doubting Thomas as he is known today, had not been with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them after the resurrection. When they told him about seeing Jesus his first reaction was a normal one – he did not believe them.
Thomas had a healthy skepticism, and like most people he would not believe until he first had some proof. And he did not hesitate to tell the others that unless I see the nail marks in his hands”, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe it”.
Like Thomas, we want some evidence before we accept what other people tell us, particularly when they are describing something that seems impossible.
Like many of us, Thomas would not believe until he saw for himself the marks on Jesus’ body. I believe that no one can fault him for that, particularly since he was being confronted with a story that simply defies human comprehension. If you remember, Jesus had said numerous times he was going die and he would rise again, but nobody seemed to understand him or really believe him. I doubt if anybody seriously expected Jesus to come back to life. I mean, healing the sick and feeding large crowds is one thing. But coming back from the dead after having been killed by Roman crucifixion is something entirely different. Despite all the times he had told his friends he would rise again on the third day, Jesus was buried. And I doubt any of them are expecting to see him alive again. But the post resurrection Jesus is different from what Jesus was like before he was crucified. He can now appear and disappear at will. And he suddenly appeared in locked rooms to the astonishment of His disciples and friends.
In our world today, there are many issues that Christians in different churches disagree on, such as theological truth, the inherency of scripture, what books are in the Bible, the nature of the Eucharist, which theories of atonement we accept, and so on.
I believe that the resurrection of Jesus is essential to the Christian faith. People who identify as Christians must believe Jesus is risen from the dead. And I firmly believe that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, the Church would be little more than a new age self-help club. St Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12-14 “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is worthless, and so is your faith.”
Because of our sinful ways, humankind was estranged from God, but we were given a way to be reconciled. And that way was for God to become fully human in Jesus the Christ. Jesus went to the cross with self-sacrificing love, and he triumphed over death and sin with his resurrection. And because of his sacrifice, we too share in his risen life.
Brothers and Sisters, all of us have scars somewhere on our body, which have accumulated over the years, and more often than not, there is a story connected to these scars. Because these scars are reminders of one experience or the other. Some of these scars serve up pleasant memories, and some scars are a badge of honor. However, other scars serve as painful reminders of bad decisions and willful mistakes on our part. Some scars are mysteriously present, and we are not quite sure as to how they got there in the first place. And although some scars may be small and insignificant, or barely visible. Yet, we still wish that we could trace their origin.
Our lord Jesus Christ’s, most visible scars were proof that he had changed the course of history. It was those scars, left from the nails in his hands and feet and from the spear thrust into his side, that enabled the disciples to identify him as the risen Lord.
Jesus freely showed them his scars so that they would know that he was indeed fully alive. His friends could touch him to prove to themselves that he was no figment of their imagination. Those scars bore a special message too, that pain and suffering are inescapable. Every one of us will have these experiences of pain and suffering, in varying degrees, but we can rise above them and become transformed by the power of the risen Christ.
Perhaps the most difficult scars to deal with are those not visible to the human eye. The most painful are those scars which now mark the surface of our heart. The origin of these scars lie in the stories of things done and left undone. Some of these scars we are responsible for; and some scars other people may be held accountable for. Yet, when we see in our minds the scars on our hearts which we are solely responsible for, we want desperately to remove them right away.
On the other hand, the scars left on our hearts by others, allow us to maintain them as resentments because for us they are reminders of our right to be angry over the mistakes of others. These are the scars which are used by us to distance ourselves from those other people. And, this, in turn, grants us the opportunity not to forgive them. The invisible scars we carry around day after day, year after year are the ones that create all kinds of problems in our minds. And until they are removed, by accepting the risen Christ as our Lord and Savior, God is unable to make his presence strongly felt in our hearts…because we are blocking Him out of our lives.
Just like when have a reaction to our physical scars, our psychological scars, develop fears about loving, trusting, feeling, and forgiving. Just like us, when we are living in fear, the disciples had withdrawn themselves from the public eye and had resigned themselves to a secret room in fear of the Romans. But Jesus’ appearing to them brought a new perspective.
First of all, His very presence suggested hope. And, contrary to their current thinking, all was not lost including their faith. The fact that Jesus willingly showed them his scars was an indication to them that he understood their fear and he held no grudge against any of them. And the way he spoke to them confirmed his never-ending love for them.
As we endure to live and to grow, we will continue to gather scars, both visible and invisible. But with faith in the Easter message we can cast away all doubt of God’s love for us. We don’t need to see the scars in Jesus’ body to believe. God has given us the Bible. So, as we read the scriptures, we know the story is true. We understand that the disciples would not have given their lives for a false story. People don’t spend their lives traveling around the countryside telling the story of a risen Messiah unless it’s true. And when telling the story, they didn’t ask for money, or fame, or recognition. All they wanted was for the people they encountered to believe in Jesus and be baptized. In other words, how can we know that the resurrection story of Jesus is true? To put it simply…people don’t die for a lie.
So, what about you? Will you believe without seeing? Will you trust in the story of the resurrection?
Do you believe without seeing that Jesus is alive and sits at the right hand of God? Or, do you need more proof than a story that has remained unchanged for 2,000 years. And by the way this story also comes with a book, called the Bible. And this book corroborates the story of Jesus.
Friends, the choice is yours. Will you continue to live in doubt? Or, will you make a decision today to believe in the risen Christ without seeing him standing in your home? Amen
Let us Pray
Gracious God, as the disciples were locked in a room of fear, bring Jesus to us as we live in quarantine. If we act like Thomas, full of doubt, we pray that Jesus turns to us and gives us comfort.
God, we continue to pray for all those affected by the corona virus. Please give then the strength they need to endure and to triumph over this disease. We pray for health and happiness of all those in our church family. Give us all peace and comfort during this time of separation.
God, in Your great mercy, I pray today that you grant us a new birth into a living hope, for it is the risen Christ who stands in our midst and says, “Peace be with you!”
Help us to cast away the scars of our heart so that we can truly be the hands and feet of Christ during these difficult times. Amen
April 12, 2020
Sermon: Easter Sunday
Scripture: John 1:1-20
As we celebrate Easter this morning, many of us might feel a bit anxious and isolated due to the restrictions put in place in order to stop the spread of the Corona Virus. Across the nation, nonessential businesses have been shut, schools have been closed, and public gatherings are banned. It’s like living in a Sci-Fi novel. There can be no doubt about it, Easter 2020 is not Easter as usual.
Well, we are not the only ones having an odd Easter morning. In our Gospel Lesson for this morning our story begins in darkness. And in a very real way, Mary Magdalene herself was feeling socially isolated. After all, here she was, coming to a tomb, by herself in the darkness. The pain she was experiencing was beyond description. What she had experienced on Friday was burned into her mind. She had watched as Jesus Christ, her Lord and Savior—her best friend, was beaten, nailed to a Cross and left to bleed and eventually die. His body had been taken down and instead of leaving it for the birds, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had gone to Pilate and asked for it. They wrapped it in spices with strips of linen and laid it in a tomb—where it would stay—all by itself. Then a large stone was rolled over the entrance—sealing it.
Saturday was the Sabbath. And what an awful day that must have been for the followers of Jesus. What a feeling of loneliness and despair must have come upon them and threatened to swallow them up. They must have felt so helpless…so confused… and in shock. They had heard Jesus tell them that He would be arrested and killed—but they had never really believed it would actually happen. It seemed to awful to be true. They had dropped everything in order to follow Jesus—their jobs, their dreams, all their plans. They had been with Him for three amazing years. They had heard Him talk about God and watched Him love in ways no one had loved before. Jesus had fed 5,000 people with a few fish and a couple loaves of bread. He had healed the sick. He had raised the dead. He had made the insane… sane. He had become their hope in the midst of the despair of this life. He was the missing piece of the puzzle. And now He was dead and gone—forever. How could they go on? What were they supposed to do now?
Can you imagine the darkness? Can you imagine the pain? Can you imagine the feelings of hopelessness and despair? Perhaps some of you can.
All of us are living in a whole new reality right now. It’s like nothing we have ever seen nor experienced. T-V anchors are broadcasting from their homes. People are walking the streets with facemasks on. We aren’t supposed to have parties. Kids can’t have friends over to play. The entire world is living in a sheltered in place scenario. Most of us experience our social interactions with family, co-workers, friends and church. Most of these things are not available right now, and we don’t know when they will return.
So, how are we to celebrate the Resurrection while many of us are isolated and anxious? On that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene stood outside Jesus’ tomb crying. She had come to mourn and show her respects to the One Who had meant everything to her, but when she got there, the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. Now, not only was she empty and alone, so was Jesus’ tomb. Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse…someone had stolen Jesus’ body.
As Mary wept, she bent down and looked inside the tomb one more time. And what she saw were two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and one at the feet. The angels asked Mary why she was crying. She said, “They have taken my Lord away,’ ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.” And then, we are told that she “turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize it was Jesus.” She didn’t recognize him because she wasn’t looking for a Living Jesus. She had come looking for an unrecognizable dead body…the way Jesus had looked when He hung on the Cross.
At first, she thought Jesus was the gardener. The gardener was only person she would have expected to see around a tomb that early in the morning. But Jesus called her name. And when He did, she allowed her eyes to refocus and everything changed.
So, what you? Have you heard Jesus calling your name? If so, have you allowed your eyes to refocus, and welcomed the new discovery that changes everything in history?
Throughout His ministry, Jesus ministered to people who were isolated, often breaking the rules of social boundaries. In Mark Chapter 5, Jesus casts demons out of a man who had been isolated from society. He had been living alone in the tombs. When the townsfolk found Him with Jesus, we are told that he was in his right mind—sitting at Jesus’ feet. He was a brand-new person and had been integrated back into the community.
In John Chapter 4, Jesus is traveling through Samaria. While resting near a well, a woman comes along—who has been isolated from her community. She is surprised when Jesus speaks to her, let alone asks her for a drink of water. Jesus and the woman become involved in a lengthy conversation, which eventually leads to her integration back into her community as she leads others to Christ.
Whenever you feel isolated and alone, remember that Jesus has a special place in His heart just for you. And Jesus has experienced the ultimate isolation Himself—when hanging on the Cross He cried out: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Jesus can relate to whatever we are going through; He has compassion and empathy for everyone.
So, again, how are we to celebrate Easter in these isolated and anxious times? Well, we find on Easter evening that the disciples gathered behind locked doors, afraid, anxious and isolated. And they weren’t sequestering themselves for health reasons, but because they were afraid that their own leaders would come after them the way they’d come after Jesus. And so, they were “sheltering in place,” feeling isolated and afraid. And then, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” Then, “he showed them his hands and side.” And, “the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”
It’s true that we can’t celebrate Easter in the way we usually do this year, but the Bible reminds us… that the risen Christ doesn’t need the traditional trappings of Easter in order to appear and be present in our lives—and neither do His disciples. Instead, like always, Jesus comes to us in our loneliness. Jesus comes to us in our tears. Jesus comes to us in our fear and anxiety. He stands among us, and compassionately whispers to us all: “Peace be with you.”
Even though it may not seem like it, things are going to be alright. And that is because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Death has been swallowed up in victory. The tomb is empty. God is with us always and forever. And that is all that really matters.
We may not be together in one place this Easter morning, but we are not alone. Jesus’ triumph over the darkness, and the loneliness of death, is our hope. The resurrection of Jesus Christ brings us new life. It overcomes our isolation and fear. Because with God in charge, we are never alone. Amen.
April 5, 2020
Palm Sunday: Who is this?
Who is this man? Is precisely what was said when Jesus entered Jerusalem in the closing days of his ministry. He’s not riding on a white horse like a conquering king. No, Jesus is simply riding on a donkey. Now, that’s nothing special in and of itself, in Jesus’ time that’s kind of like driving your Chevy around town. But what makes people take note of Jesus is the crowd that’s following him into the city.
So here comes Jesus entering Jerusalem, and people can’t help but take notice because he’s surrounded by huge crowds that are singing, and waving palms, and throwing their cloaks down on the ground before him. Naturally, the people observing this great parade ask, “Who is this?” But the way these people are treating Jesus seems to indicate that he is so much more than a prophet. I mean, the last time a prophet was around, it was John the Baptist, and he was way out in the wilderness, and people weren’t throwing him lavish parades. No, Jesus is getting the royal treatment here.
There is a famous story of Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh was one of the great explorers during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I of England. On one occasion, Raleigh was with the queen when she walked through London, and they came to a place where rainwater had made the ground very muddy. Raleigh quickly took off his coat and placed it on the ground so the queen could walk over without getting mud on her feet. Now this tale may or may not be true. Yet the story of Raleigh taking off his coat for the queen has become famous, probably because it’s not the sort of thing that happens every day. It’s a very special gesture, especially if the cloak placed down on the muddy ground is the only one you’ve got. Such an action says, quite clearly, that you are celebrating and valuing this person about as highly as you can. It seems to imply that, if need be, you would be willing to give them anything else you had as well.
Most of the crowds around Jesus that day probably didn’t have a second coat, but they spread theirs on the road anyway. As they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the annual Passover Festival, they might have remembered the old scriptural stories like that in 2 Kings 9, when one of Israel’s famous kings was declared king in defiance of an existing one, his followers spread their cloaks under his feet as a sign of loyalty. These crowds around Jesus were determined to make a statement about what they thought was going on.
“Who is this guy?” the baffled people of Jerusalem continue to ask. Not only are the people throwing their cloaks down before Jesus, they are waving palm branches and singing “royal” hymns or chants, welcoming Jesus as the “Son of David.” As the crowd parade into Jerusalem with Jesus, it is as if they are saying, “Here is the king we want, this is our king.” But Jesus knows, and the gospel of Matthew has told us, that nothing is that simple. We know that Jesus has come to Jerusalem not to be enthroned, like David or Herod, but to be killed. And the meaning Jesus attaches to this so-called “triumphal entry” is quite different from the meaning the crowds want to see. And that is where this story becomes significant for us.
History reports that on the same day Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey to the great praises of the multitudes, Pontius Pilate entered the city from another gate riding on a great white stallion. But when the Roman governor went through the city gates on that day with only some foot soldiers following him, he was not surrounded by a praising crowd. He was basically ignored, or perhaps even heckled. The people then, as now, need more than just an earthly king. And though on that day of Jesus’ triumphal entry they treated Jesus like a king, they probably did it because they recognized in Jesus something greater than a longing for power and prestige. Whereas royalty come determined to rule, Jesus came determined to serve. Whereas monarchs spend time building their ego with the trappings of their office, Jesus came in humility. Whereas royalty come on the back of a mighty stallion or in the luxury of a private jet, the Bible tells us this king came on the back of a donkey. Not a horse. A horse represents for war.
Now, that may have been what the people wanted; a king to set them free, a leader to help them rid themselves of Roman oppression. But this king came on a donkey, a symbol of meekness, peace, and humility. And while most kings set themselves up to rule, Jesus came facing the cross. The people wanted a prophet, but this prophet was going to tell them that their beloved city was under God’s imminent judgment. They wanted a Messiah, but this one was going to be hung on a pagan cross. They wanted to be rescued from evil and oppression, but Jesus was going to rescue them from evil in its fullest depths, not just the surface evil of Roman occupation and exploitation by the rich. Precisely because Jesus was the Savior, he was also going to be something wholly different from what the people expected him to be. When the crowds cry “Hosanna to the Son of David” and “This is the Prophet,” they say the right words, but they still miss the point. They have all the notes and none of the music. They have the theology, but in the end, they still end up rejecting Jesus and calling for his death. Knowing the truth is not the same thing as doing the truth.
Everybody loves a parade. Everybody loves to cheer. But Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus came with a choice. No one can be neutral. We can stand and wave, we can join the crowds that cheered for Jesus on that day and watch him pass by. Or, we can follow him and stand with him at the Cross. It’s easy to shout, but it’s harder to serve.
So, the question for us today is this, who is this Jesus for us? Is he simply a conquering king who sweeps in to defeat whatever distresses us in the moment, or do we follow a different sort of king? Is Jesus our Savior, worthy of our complete praise and devotion, or is it easier to ignore him when he comes marching into our lives?
The path that lies before Jesus as he enters Jerusalem is a dangerous one. He is not headed to the luxury of a grand castle. But if he truly is our King, we must follow him, even down the troubled road that lies ahead. And following Jesus as our King may mean missing out on the earthly pleasures marching past as this world’s offers us ill-gotten riches and rewards. Following Jesus will lead us to service. Following Jesus will require our love and devotion; it will demand our life and our time. So, we will have to make sacrifices. For Jesus was on his way to the cross. Jesus was on his way to suffering and even death. But he was also on his way to his Father’s throne. And when we follow Jesus as our King and give him our devotion, we march with Jesus as the Father leads us.
There is a story from the days of the Civil War about a woman who sat crying on a park bench outside the White House. Her husband had died on the battlefield, and when her son heard the horrible news, he left his post on the battlefield to comfort and support his mom. But when he got home, he was arrested for desertion and was now going to be shot by a firing squad. The woman had come to the White House to see President Lincoln in hopes that he might intervene. But, to her dismay, she had been turned away at the gate. She had been told. “The President was too busy to see her.” So, she sat on the park bench, crying. After a while, a young boy walked up to her and asked her why she was crying. She told the boy her story and ended by saying that all she wanted to do was to see the President, because she knew that he was a fair man and her son would be pardoned. To her great surprise, the little boy asked her to follow him. As they approached the front gate, the little boy said to the soldier, “She’s with me.” To her amazement the soldiers, stepped aside and together they made their way into the White House past generals and cabinet officers. Finally, the little boy pushed inside a great room, and running, he jumped on the President’s lap. “Daddy,” he said. “Here’s a lady who needs to see you. She needs your help.” The little boy who had stopped to talk with the woman was Todd Lincoln and upon hearing the woman’s story, President Lincoln issued a Presidential pardon and the woman’s son was spared.
Like that story from the Civil War, God’s Son has come to speak to us. He is offering to lead us into the Father’s presence. Palm Sunday is a great time to become a follower of Jesus Christ. What the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday didn’t realize was that God was offering them the opportunity to do something more than cheer. God was inviting them to join Him in doing something amazing.
Who is this? This is Jesus the Prophet, the King, and our Savior. Let’s follow him wherever he leads. Amen
Prayer for Matthew 21
God, You are a God of compassion and love. Time after time we have experienced your care and provision. Time after time You’ve answered our prayers and met our needs—often in ways we could never have dreamed possible. We praise You for Your faithful love toward us.
Today God we especially pray for all those that are affected with the corona virus. We pray for a speedy recovery for the ill and for rest and peace for the healthcare workers that care for them.
Heavenly Father, we see so much pain and suffering in our world. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the needs around us. But we continue to bring our prayers to You in faith, because we know that nothing is impossible for You. You are the God who rained down bread from heaven and made water flow from a rock in the desert. You are the God who resurrected Jesus Christ from the dead, and who brings new life and hope to all who believe. For You God, all things are possible.
Remind us God that to be a true Christian we must always act and respond to the needs of others with compassion in our actions as well as our hearts. Amen