Are We Fearful?

“Are We Fearful?”

John 20-28 st-thomas

John 20:19-29 (20:19, 26) – April 19, 2020

Have you ever been afraid? I mean, really scared? I am talking about so scared that you wanted to hide away from the people in charge, permanently? Maybe it was you, maybe it was some acquaintance or friend, but some people have really been scared so much that they stay holed up in some hiding place, some attic or some upper room—just like the disciples, after they watched their Rabbi Jesus get arrested, beaten and then crucified.

Two thousand years later, we all know the rest of the story. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, that first Easter morning. What was it like for the disciples? I mean, the men disciples? Sure, they had heard from the women disciples that the tomb was empty. Peter and John had even checked things out at the tomb for themselves. It was true! The tomb was empty! I am sure that news caused a great deal of excitement, discussion, and wonder!

But, what about other feelings? What kinds of other emotions were happening to the disciples? How did they feel on the insides? Were their stomachs doing flips? Were their hearts in their mouths? Were they filled with amazement? Fear? Doubt? Or all of these emotions, all at once, or in stages? Could the disciples be hiding out behind locked doors because they were afraid, embarrassed and ashamed? What were they doing as Jesus died? They certainly were not with Jesus at the cross—except for John. Were they afraid of what Jesus would say to them about all their desertions if He really were alive again? [1]

John’s Gospel tells us, plainly, that the disciples were afraid. Fear is a legitimate emotion and reaction to a dangerous, scary experience.  Sure, the disciples knew that the tomb was empty, but that did not stop them from being afraid. I also suspect that they feared that the Roman authorities might come after them, as known associates of the Rabbi Jesus. The disciples did have good reason to be afraid and anxious of the people in charge.

And right into the middle of all this fear and anxiety—even though the disciples knew about the empty tomb—Jesus walked through a locked door into the upper room, greeted the disciples, and they were suddenly overjoyed! As if a modern switch were flipped, the disciples’ emotional expression flipped, too.

Except—for some reason, the disciple Thomas was not present in the upper room on that occasion. We don’t know why. The Gospel of John does not say. The other disciples told him, excitedly, “We have seen the Lord Jesus!”  But, Thomas was skeptical. He responded, “I need proof for myself. Unless I see the nail marks and put my hand in the wound in His side, I will not believe.” I can just see Thomas crossing his arms across his chest and turning his back to his friends. “Nope. No way. That is too big a whopper for me to swallow.”

Do you know someone who needs concrete proof in order to believe something? Different people’s minds work in different ways. Certain types of people need concrete evidence in order to convince them of the truth, or of the facts, or of someone’s honesty. Thomas was that sort of a person: a “show me” sort of guy. He needed that kind of proof in order to truly believe.

Whether we are talking about two thousand years ago, or about today, people have not changed. One type—one size does not fit all. Some people hear about the Gospel and believe right away. Other people hear about heavenly coincidences, or “God-incidences,” and then come to believe. We can compare Thomas’s skepticism before belief to Paul’s Road to Damascus experience, where the apostle Paul had a sudden “come to Jesus” moment. (Literally.) The New Testament holds up both of these very different experiences as valid.

I have heard sermons about “doubting Thomas.” As if there is something shameful or wrong with being skeptical! I suspect Thomas didn’t know whether to believe or not to believe; there is no shame in being skeptical! We can see that different people come to their own sense of belief in their own individual way, because God has created each of us as unique individuals. Is it any wonder that each of us comes to God in our own personal way?

When you and I think about this Gospel narrative in light of today’s events, there is indeed a great deal of fear and anxiety. Just as there was with the disciples, so it is right now. All over the nation, all over the world the virus COVID-19 makes all of us afraid and anxious. This virus is even more dangerous than the Roman authorities, forcing vast groups of people all over the world to curtail their travel, their interaction, even to the point of quarantine.

Yet, just as our risen Lord Jesus spoke to the disciples and declared, “Peace be with you!” He says the same thing to us. “Peace be with you!” Jesus has declared His peace to fearful people and to dreadful situations over and over again, throughout history. In times of serious illness, in times of conflict and war, in times of natural disaster—Jesus has these hopeful, heartening words for us: “Peace be with you!”

Jesus can come alongside of each of us, through fear, through anger, through desperation, and through grief. And if Jesus is at our sides, walking next to us even though we walk through dark valleys, that is peace, indeed. Jesus gives us His peace, no matter what.

Amen, alleluia!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/03/year-the-second-sunday-of-easter-april_13.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 2A, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

Jesus is Back! Just Ask Thomas.

“Jesus is Back! Just Ask Thomas.”

John 20-28 st-thomas

John 20:19-29 – April 28, 2019

Who remembers reading storybooks to their children or grandchildren? I do! I love to read stories, and I read books to the preschoolers here every Tuesday morning. One of my favorite stories is about Curious George. Curious George is a monkey who is very curious and mischievous, and always gets into big trouble because of his curiosity. But, by the end of the books, everything always comes out all right. Except—George remains curious.

Traditionally, many people have thought of “doubting Thomas” as really negative, a person we might point our fingers at, and perhaps view as “the Disciple least likely to believe in Jesus.” But what if we viewed Thomas as curious, as the kind of person who needed evidence? Sincere questioning is positive. Being curious is positive. Some people need first-hand evidence. Curious Thomas was just such a person.

What would the monkey Curious George have thought of not being there for something exciting, a super exciting event he missed out on? That was what happened to Curious Thomas. For some reason—we are not told why—Thomas was not with the other Disciples when the risen Lord Jesus came to be with them on that first day of the week. Afterwards, I suspect when the others told Thomas about it, Curious Thomas was beside himself with curiosity! He had to see for himself what had happened!

Do you know someone who is like that, who really needs evidence to fully believe? How many of us need evidence before we stop being skeptical? “Well, I’m not sure. It seems like a real long shot. I wonder—but we will have to see.” Curious, yes! And skeptical, yes!

We know God welcomes questions! How many times was Jesus asked honest questions during the Gospels? And how many times was Thomas one of those asking the questions? I suspect Thomas was one of the Disciples who just had to know “why,” who was both skeptical and curious. Curious Thomas.

Dr. David Lose, one of my favorite commentators, put it this way: “But that’s not the way it works with Thomas. He doubts. He questions. He disbelieves. He’s not satisfied with second-hand reports and wants to see for himself. And again I would say, who can blame him? He was, after all, one of those who saw his Lord and friend mistreated, beaten, and then crucified and has probably spent the last few days pulling the broken pieces of his life back together and trying to figure out what to do next.” [1]

Listen again to our Gospel reading from John: “24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

In this modern day and age, scientific evidence is held up as the gold standard for many things: for medical testing, for chemistry experiments, for biological research. Commentator Dr. Martin Marty says, “The counsel is clear: do not accept something just because people traditionally have done so. Science is creatively disrespectful of such traditions. Scientists reason that if they are to heal, they must probe, criticize, evaluate, and seek to discover.” [2]

Sometimes, our honest questions show we are particularly curious, and extremely interested in what we are questioning. Sometimes, we need evidence, just like Thomas.

Except—Jesus does something remarkable the next time He returns to the Upper Room. He obviously knows that Thomas has honest questions, and He will certainly respond to them! However, listen to what Jesus does first: “26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Did you hear? Before Jesus does anything else, He wishes His disciples peace. “Peace be with you.” That is what we did after the reading of Scripture today. Many churches make the Passing of the Peace a weekly part of their worship service, and I wanted to highlight it. Peace, or shalom, is a traditional Jewish greeting, it is true, but for Jesus to wish His friends peace? For the risen Lord Jesus to bless His disciples with peace, and commend peace to them? This is so significant, and so moving.

It is only then that our Lord Jesus turns to curious, skeptical Thomas: “Then Jesus focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

The Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio created a famous painting called “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.” In this painting, the risen Jesus shows the wound in His side, and Thomas is actually sticking his finger into the wound. We know from John’s Gospel account that Jesus was quite willing to go to any length to give Thomas the evidence he needed to satisfy his questions, to allay his curiosity and skepticism.

How far are we willing to go with Jesus? Do we have honest questions? Do we have questions regarding some miracle, or are we curious about a parable Jesus told? Or, perhaps are we just plain skeptical about the Resurrection story itself? Do we wonder how on earth the story of Jesus rising from the dead 2000 years ago will make any difference in our lives today?

What is it to be a Christian? Do we need faith? Do we need evidence? Do we need to see God at work in people’s lives?

How serious are we about this thing we call Christianity? Is it a religion, a creed, a set of beliefs we believe in, and if other people don’t believe exactly the way we do, are they wrong? Do we banish them to outer darkness, and not allow those people to come into our churches or our lives? Or, do we have a living, vital relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ? Is He our Best Friend? Does He come alongside of each one of us, in the happy times as well as the sad times, and walk by our sides all the way? No matter what?

Thomas made the first-person testimony after he was convinced that Jesus was alive. He said, “My Lord and my God!” Can you and I say that, and mean it?

Jesus is waiting. He has His arms open wide. Come with your honest questions: God can handle them. Come with your skepticism and fear, your anger, or hesitancy and doubt. Jesus does understand. He really does.

Come to Jesus, today. Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/03/easter-2-c-blessed-doubt/

“Blessed Doubt,” David Lose, …in the meantime, 2016.

[2] Marty, Martin E., Theological Perspective on John 20:19-31, 2nd Sunday of Easter, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 2 (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 396.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Peace Be with All of Us

“Peace Be with All of Us”

peace be with you, formal

Luke 24:36-49 (24:36) – April 15, 2018

Sometimes I just feel like pulling the covers over my head and not getting up in the morning. Wars, rumors of wars, bombings, fires, gas attacks, and these were just in the past week. Seriously, with all of the scary and shocking things going on in the world, the world can be a downright scary place.

No matter whether we live today in the United States or two thousand years ago in occupied Israel, there can be a lot of scary and confusing stuff going on.

In the case of our Gospel reading today, the scary and confusing stuff was going on right in Jerusalem. It was the time of the Passover, during what we today call the Passion Week. As we have been considering for the past few weeks, the occupying Roman forces in Jerusalem are watching the festival and worship situation very closely.

Sure, there are a great number of visitors from all over the known world, in Jerusalem for that great festival, Passover. But, the Roman forces must have doubled down on the populace in the city. And, even more, since the Rabbi Jesus had just entered the city only a few days before. He made a huge commotion, too, what with riding in on a donkey (like King David) on Palm Sunday, debating in the Temple during the week with the scribes, Pharisees and Sanhedrin, and getting arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane late on Thursday night and accused being Messiah. And, the crucifixion on Friday? Quite a week, for the occupying Roman forces.

Yes, we know some things in general about the disciples. They scattered, running away. Hiding, afraid that since their leader and Rabbi was just executed by the Romans on Friday, they might be arrested and executed next. In fact, Peter even denied knowing Jesus while in the high priest’s courtyard. He must have been scared to death, too.

The upper room, a larger room on the second floor of a building in Jerusalem, was one place where the disciples felt at least half-way safe. They were huddled up there, in hiding, trying to keep a low profile. Luke tells us the male disciples had already dismissed what the women disciples had told them about their Rabbi, early that morning. Something about an empty tomb, and their dead Rabbi gone. Even though Peter and John had run to the tomb and checked things out for themselves, they still did not have a clear idea what was going on.

This year, the lectionary does not have us look at the post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus when He walks with the two disciples from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. In brief, our commentator Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffman summarizes this section of Luke 24: “Two from the group of followers of Jesus were going to Emmaus when they encounter, but do not recognize, Jesus. They express their disappointed hope that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, but Jesus explains how everything that happened was necessary according to Scripture. The two invite Jesus to spend the night with them. During the meal, when Jesus blessed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus, but he vanished from their sight. They rush back to Jerusalem and report to the gathered believers what had happened.” [1]

It is later that day that our Gospel reading picks up. Later in the evening, many disciples (I am assuming both male and female) are in hiding in the upper room. Luke specifically has the two disciples from Emmaus telling the rest about their encounter with Jesus.

Yet, the rest of the disciples are having difficulty believing, understanding. Even though several of these same disciples had angels and Jesus Himself telling them of the Resurrection, what gives? I suspect many of them are still paralyzed with fear. Scared to death. Afraid of the Roman soldiers coming around and knocking on the door at any moment, ready to carry off some of the disciples to be crucified, too.

How often have we been really afraid? Almost scared to death? Terror can paralyze a person. Fear can cause us to disbelieve, to run away, to get angry and fly off the handle. Don’t you think the disciples needed Jesus right then? When He appeared miraculously in their midst, many of them were still unbelieving. Still scared to death.

I think the first thing out of Jesus’s mouth was the most needed of all: “Peace be with you!” Do you hear? Jesus went straight to the heart of the disciples’ fear, their anxiety, their unbelief, and said “Peace be with you!”

Yes, we could talk about what happened after that, when some disciples thought Jesus was a ghost, so He ate a piece of fish to show His friends that He really, actually, had come back to life. Yes, we could talk about Jesus opening the disciples’ minds to the truth of the Scriptures, and how they were to be witnesses of the Good News and the forgiveness of sins.

I would like to go back to the first thing Jesus said: “Peace be with you!” During the Children’s Time, I talked about peace. There are many greetings in different languages that mean “Peace.” “Aloha in Hawaiian means affection, peace, compassion and mercy. Shalom (Hebrew) and Salaam (Arabic) mean peace, complete-ness, and prosperity. Aloha, Shalom, and Salaam can be used on meeting or departing.” [2]

Jesus wished the disciples His peace several times, recorded in the Gospels, including right here. This word is not only wishing a person peace, but “peace, shalom, and salaam” can also be wishing a person God’s presence. The disciples really needed that, too!

In the New Testament reading today from 1 John chapter 3, the aged disciple John tells us that we are the children of God. I remember when I was a mom of young children, sometimes then would get afraid. Sometimes I would comfort them, and hold them on my lap or give them hugs. Don’t you think it’s the same way with God? When we get afraid, even scared to death, we can run into God’s everlasting arms of care and concern. Our Lord Jesus can send us His peace.

The disciples really needed peace, first of all! Perhaps, they needed it most of all. God can send peace into the world today, too. Including peace into conflict in the Middle East, peace in warring regions in Africa and Asia, peace into difficult places in Central and South America. God can send peace to the streets of the cities of our country.

Jesus offers us comfort and peace, just the same way that parents (and grandparents) do. Jesus sends closeness, caring and loving, in addition to His peace.

Can you and I reach out in peace, in shalom, in wholeness and with God’s love? That is the message on my heart from the Gospel reading today. Reach out with God’s peace. Offer God’s peace to those around you today, and every day.

We can praise God for God’s peace and wholeness. God’s peace is a sure antidote to fear, today, and every day.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3627

Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman Associate Professor of Biblical Studies Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/03/year-b-third-sunday-of-easter-april-19.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 3, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015

Don’t Doubt—Believe!

John 20:19-31 (20:27) – April 23, 2017

Jesus and Thomas John 20-24

“Don’t Doubt—Believe!”

Being skeptical can be a positive thing. Just think of ice in winter, covering a lake. Am I right in being skeptical that the ice is hard enough to hold me (and my weight)? And, think about engineers and scientists. They are often naturally, honestly skeptical and analytical; they hold things at arms’ length and consider all sides of a situation. That can be positive and helpful, in many situations. Even necessary, at times.

Consider Thomas. He missed the big event, the first time that the resurrected Lord Jesus came back to the rest of the disciples. Let’s look at this event from Thomas’s side. For some reason (we are not told the reason), Thomas missed the weekend gathering of the eleven disciples, plus some others who also were traveling with Jesus. Perhaps they were gathering for regular prayer, or for a worship service. Maybe to have a meal together. Maybe all of the above.

The gathering was secretive. Remember, the Roman and Jewish authorities were disgruntled and angry. The body of Jesus had disappeared completely, even though the tomb had been guarded by Roman soldiers. Therefore, the authorities were looking for a really high-profile body, and it was unbelievable to them that there was no trace of the Rabbi Jesus’s remains, anywhere. Of course the authorities would seek out this upstart Rabbi’s close companions, and keep them under surveillance, just in case any of them knew where the body was.

Whatever the reason, Thomas was not there the previous week. And, he—and the other disciples—had good reason to be jumpy, and cautious. Even, skeptical, as we will see.

Reading from our Gospel passage, “So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

This passage comes to us from the Gospel of John. Throughout John’s Gospel, this writer has an understanding of believing that is active. To John, believing in Jesus is not just an intellectual exercise. No! Belief to John is very much an action verb.

Believing in Jesus is having a relationship with Jesus. As Jesus Himself said earlier in the Gospel of John, “I abide in you and you abide in Me.”  So, for this Gospel writer to say that skeptical Thomas was having trouble believing is not quite the same thing as making light of Thomas for doubting. Thomas had just seen his Rabbi and leader die on the cross, be executed by an extreme and cruel form of suffering and agony. I suspect Thomas’s relationship with his Rabbi was pretty close to being extinguished. Sure, Thomas was skeptical.

Are there times when you or I are skeptical, too? I mean, times of sincere questioning of our faith? When we might think, with Elijah, that the heavens are all closed up, and nothing can penetrate, not even a desperate prayer? If we were honest with ourselves, I suspect in almost every person’s life there are difficult times, challenging times, times when we  come to the end of ourselves and have no more hope, no more tears, no more swear words to say.

Desperate times, indeed. Who can blame Thomas for being skeptical? As Father Rick mentioned on a sermon preparation site I follow, how crushed Thomas must have been. Perhaps, to keep his heart safe, he refuses to believe… it hurts too much to believe. [1] Can you hear pain, and fear, and maybe stubbornness in his response?

Here is a slightly different translation of Thomas’s dramatic statement: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and shove my finger into the mark of the nails, and shove my hand into his side, I absolutely will not believe” (20:25, translation by Jaime Clark-Soles). Here, we look at the verb from a slightly different angle. The Greek verb ‘believe’ is a forceful one (ballo), as is the emphatic negative (ou me). “I absolutely will not believe.” Not a simple, “I’ll believe it when I see it” —Thomas has a lot of conditions;” [2] conditions that he speaks out of a dark place of anger and grief and anxiety, and conditions that will only be met by the resurrected Jesus.

But, what happens next?

Now, this is not resolved right away. Thomas is left doubting—rather, being skeptical, for a week. Reading from our Gospel passage: “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

What would that do to your faith? If your faith were wavering, and you were faint of heart, perhaps doubting, maybe even skeptical—what would we do if Jesus were to come among us today—right there—and say, “Peace be with you!” Would that cause people to believe in Jesus? Let’s find out.

“Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

If Jesus appeared among us and said those things to us, would that cause you and me to have the kind of belief that John is talking about here—where we start or cement a deep, true relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus, and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead? What did those words do for Thomas?

28 Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

Did you hear? Thomas just made an earthshaking confession of faith as well as a crystal clear statement of belief.

(And, remember, we are using John’s definition of belief. A deep, true relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus!) Praise God, this is a confession that Jesus is our Lord, He is our God. As John tells us in the beginning of his Gospel, He is the Word made flesh, come into this world to make His dwelling among us. To abide in us as we abide in Him. All this Thomas confesses in this statement of faith. This confession is made all the more powerful because skeptical, discouraged, frightened Thomas has made it.

I ask all of us, again. What would we do if Jesus were to come among us today—right there—and say, “Peace be with you!” What would we do if Jesus showed us the nail scars and where the spear went into His side? Oh, no! some might say. Jesus would never do that. Not here, not now. Perhaps in bible times, but not today.

Here we have a clear invitation to the skeptics, to the doubters, to those who are not sure about their faith any longer. This Gospel reading is also for those who have been hurt by the church, and perhaps are not sure there is Anyone up there listening to them any longer. This passage is for you, too.

Praise God, Jesus has conquered death, and He will be with us when we walk through fiery trials and dark places in our lives. Using John’s definition of belief, we all can have a true, deep relationship with Jesus as our Lord and our God, just like Thomas.

Have you heard? Do you know that Jesus has risen from the dead? This is not only Good News, it’s the best news ever shared, in the history of ever. It is much more than just the dry words from the Apostles Creed, written on a page. Jesus holds out His hands, shows us His side. Christ is risen, indeed!

[1] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htm Posted by Rick+ in Reno, March 31, 2016.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3222  Jaime Clark-Soles

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Participate in God’s Mission

“Participate in God’s Mission”

mission word cloud

John 20:19-21 – June 5, 2016

The Morton Grove Community Peace Vigil happened last Wednesday night at the Civic Center on Dempster Street. This was a wonderful opportunity for the larger Morton Grove community to get together, pursue peace, and celebrate the diversity that is Morton Grove. The people who attended did their part to promote peace, harmony, hope and friendship.

I have not been saying much about the negative side of this Peace Vigil, or the Peace Project, either. I haven’t wanted to focus on all the negative stuff, and highlight the down side. Instead, I want all of us be positive and hopeful! To pursue peace and promote harmony. However—I do not want anyone to be naïve.

We see and hear reports on the news about the negative side, regularly. Alienation, dissention, fear, and even the threat of violence. That was very much a part of what the followers of Jesus felt immediately after the Crucifixion.

They were afraid for their very lives, and for good reason! Since their leader and Teacher had just been arrested, tried and crucified, it is not beyond possibility for the Jewish or Roman authorities to also come after the close associates of the upstart, rabble-rouser Rabbi Jesus. I suspect I might be very much afraid, if I happened to be in their shoes. (or, sandals)

Let me set the stage. Our Gospel writer John opens the scene in the Upper Room, where Jesus and His friends met for the Passover Supper. The time is immediately after the Resurrection. The horror, shock, fear and anger of the last few days are still overwhelming the disciples. And John has Jesus entering a locked room—the Upper Room. Jesus just died on the cross, a couple of days ago, for goodness sake!

Imagine the intense fear at seeing what everyone suspects to be a spirit, a ghost.

Jesus does not stop there. He gives His disciples a normal, conventional greeting of the day: “Peace be with you.” Just as two friends might say to each other on the street, the marketplace, or in the synagogue. Except—I think Jesus was reminding His followers of the promise He had just made a few days before. The promise of peace. The gift of His peace. Peace be with you. What’s more, He repeats it!

I would like to interrupt for a moment. Give a bit of background. St. Luke’s Church is taking the exciting and historic step of rejoining the United Church of Christ.

In order to help prepare this congregation to rejoin the UCC, I recently enrolled in the course the denomination offers on the History, Theology and Polity of the United Church of Christ. In the past two months, I have read books, written research papers, and had several intensive all-day sessions of class time. Several weeks ago, I received a whole packet of information and material from the UCC.

The UCC has several formal statements—statements of purpose for the whole denomination. One of these includes a Statement of Mission, which is straight-up biblical in every point, every expression. I was fascinated by this particular statement, which includes a preamble, followed by different expressions of Christ’s mission.

Which brings me back to our Gospel reading for today. Here, the resurrected Lord Jesus gives His followers a command, an exhortation: Reading from John 20: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.’”

Jesus gives us a succinct statement of mission in John 20. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” This is how Jesus sent His followers out into the world.

I’d like for all of us to turn to the insert in our bulletins. We will look at the UCC Statement of Mission now. In particular, I want us to concentrate on the preamble: “As people of the United Church of Christ, affirming our Statement of Faith, we seek within the Church Universal to participate in God’s mission and to follow the way of the crucified and risen Christ.”

This is as clear as clear can be: a clear command for everyone—all of us—to participate in God’s mission. Just as the risen Lord told His disciples in John 20:21, we are commanded to bring people to God. To introduce them to our Lord.

Participation. How does that work?

For that, we need to look at the reason Jesus came to this world. He loved humanity, and gave Himself for them. Jesus had compassion on people. Jesus loved people so much, He wanted to reach out and introduce them (or, reintroduce them) to the Lord. And here in the Gospel of John, he gives us the same command.

Do we love the Lord? Can we introduce people to our God? If we do, we are following Jesus, participating in the mission of the church.

Wait a minute! Participate in mission? But, how? When? Can anyone help me? Going out and doing things? Talking to other people, people I don’t know, sometimes? That’s scary!

There are lots of ways to tell other people about God. Another way to introduce people to God is through action, by doing things for God. Common things. Everyday things.

Dallas Willard, an important Christian writer and professor of philosophy, had this to say about doing things for God: don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel. He advised Christians to get on board with a ministry or mission that already was moving. There are so many places and missions already started. Just think of what this church, St. Luke’s Church, is involved in. One big thing is the Maine Township food pantry. That is certainly a mission. Giving food and finances to hungry people? Hunger never stops, no matter what the time of year. It is always a great idea to give to food pantries. And—giving food is a common, everyday thing.

Our church financially supports two missionary couples, too. We pray for Bundled Blessings (the diaper pantry ministry) and for the Rev. Dan and his work with Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship. Those are all outside of the church. Inside our church, we have the Good Shepherd fund, and the St. Luke’s email Prayer Project, our weekly ministry of prayer through email.

            Participate in God’s Mission. Show God’s love to others. Isn’t that what Jesus is commanding all of us to do here in John 20? Seems pretty straightforward to me.

Today, as throughout the past 2000 years, Christians strive to follow Jesus’s command.

As many of you know, this church is in the process of rejoining the UCC; the denomination has formulated its mission—to do what Jesus said. Just like Jesus did, love one another. The mission of the church is often showing that love in everyday ways. Concrete, helping kinds of ways.

For our Summer Sermon Series, we are going to take a closer look at what the UCC denomination says about Jesus’s command. Each week this summer we will be looking at a different aspect of Mission, as set forth in the UCC’s Statement of Mission.

This church—St. Luke’s Church—is on a Mission from God. Will you participate?

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

 

We All Are Witnesses!

“We All Are Witnesses!”

Jesus laid down His life for us 1 John 3-16

Luke 24:48 – April 19, 2015

Have you ever been confused by the number of hurried, jumbled nature of things happening at once? And the speed at which these things happen? This experience is more common than we might think. Just think of this past week, preparing for the Not-So-Lent fish fry at our church, and everything that had to be done by yesterday afternoon!

However hurried and jumbled this past week has been around here, it pales in comparison with our Gospel reading today. The end of the Passion Week must have been momentous and confusing for the followers of the Rabbi Jesus. Some confusing and jumbled things were happening very quickly. From the big festival entrance on Palm Sunday to the Passover Dinner of Maundy Thursday evening, to the arrest, trial and Crucifixion on Good Friday. Events happening in short succession from morning until night. Everything happening one thing after another. This was compounded by the followers of Jesus scattering, running away, frightened by the very real, very legal, very official things happening to Jesus on Thursday night and Friday during the day.

Let’s fast-forward to that Sunday morning, the first day of the week. The disciples still must have been frightened to death of the authorities. But, I suspect they needed to talk about the happenings of the past few days, too. We can see that from our scripture passage.

We pick up the narrative right after the events of the Road to Emmaus. To fill everyone in, two followers of Jesus got on the road to Emmaus that Sunday. As they walked, they talked. Debriefed. Tried to figure things out, as best as they could. And what circumstances they needed to figure out! A Stranger began to walk with them on the way, and unbeknownst to them, it was the risen Jesus, incognito. He shared with them a summary of all that He had come to earth to do. Of His ministry, His message, and His purpose. And still, they did not know it was Jesus.

Not until dinner that evening in Emmaus, when the risen Jesus was revealed when He blessed and broke the bread. And then—Jesus disappeared! The other two at the dinner table didn’t waste any time! They ran back to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, to tell what they had seen. Yes, they were witnesses. Eye witnesses, verifying everything that had happened that day.

Our Gospel reading for today picks up the story at this point. All of the followers of Jesus are gathered together in the Upper Room, and are talking about the story of the road to Emmaus. Do they believe? Or, don’t they? Are a few skeptical? Or doubtful? Are some still frightened?

Let’s transition to today. Here and now. I can hear some people today, scoffing at the idea of some guy rising from the dead. And then, miraculously traveling alongside of two other guys? Good as new—in fact, even better? No way! Not a chance. The other two must have been hallucinating. Or dreaming. Or maybe, seeing a ghost. They can’t believe. Or, won’t believe.

As we start the Gospel reading today, the risen Jesus suddenly appears to the group in the locked Upper Room. What does He say? “Peace be with you.” A common greeting of the time, yes. However, Jesus is also calming their hearts, their spirits, their anxieties, their emotions. “Peace be with you.”

How does the risen Jesus immediately respond to the disciples? “Don’t be frightened! It is I, myself.” He emphasizes His identification. “I, myself!” It’s not anyone else, but Jesus! He lets them know that He is solid and corporeal, not a ghost. Not a spirit. And, Jesus doesn’t criticize His followers for being afraid! For feeling uncertain, doubtful and anxious!

I wonder whether you have ever had a kind and patient teacher, or instructor, or coach. When you were afraid, uncertain, or anxious, did this kind and patient person get angry with you? Or, upset? Or, did this person continue to be open and willing to help you? Generous with time and welcoming to your attempts? That is Jesus, all over. To a T.

Jesus even volunteers to eat a piece of fish, just to show everyone that He was, indeed, for real! An actual, physical person. (A ghost or spirit couldn’t eat or drink!)

What’s the big deal?

Jesus tells us. Wait—He tells the disciples, first. They are to proclaim what they have seen and heard. They are to be witnesses to the power of the resurrection. They are to tell how the risen Jesus has made a difference in their lives! And boy, that was a big difference!

When we read the book of Acts, that is exactly what we see. The disciples are witnesses of what they have seen and heard, witnesses of the power of the resurrection. Time after time, no matter what, the disciples tell others about how Jesus lived, preached, did miracles, and rose from the dead. Then, how all that has made an earth-shaking difference in their lives.

Our second Scripture reading today is from the first letter of the Apostle John, chapter 3. This passage also tells about the power of the resurrection. The aged apostle John mentions this in verse 16. John was giving his friends some instructions, even some admonitions. We are told to love one another. Why? Because of the One who laid down His life for us. That’s why. And following His example, we ought to be willing to lay down our lives for each other.

This is the message that Jesus told the disciples to start to carry, when John was a very young man. Looking at 1 John 3 and 4, some decades later, we see the aged John still carrying the message Jesus told him to, the message of sacrifice, hope, and resurrection. Let me read two verses: 4:13-14. “We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” John is still being a witness, all those decades later, at the close of the first century!

Dear friends, our Lord Jesus gave specific instructions to His friends, to go and be witnesses. He gives those same instructions to us. We are to be witnesses of the power of the resurrection. The aged apostle John continued to do that, all of his life.

Can you think of someone who was a witness to the power of God, in your life? Someone who immediately comes to mind for me is Miss Rose. I met her almost thirty years ago, when my older two children were very small. She was a witness to the power of God, and to God’s love. She communicated God’s love to everyone she ever met, just about! A little lady, a dynamo for God, she would tell everyone about God and how much God loved them.

I met her again, ten years ago when I was a chaplain intern at the Presbyterian Homes. She was a resident there. I was so happy to see her. Miss Rose and her joy in the Lord bubbled over and communicated to everyone she met there, too. Even though she was in severe, chronic pain, she witnessed to the power of the resurrection. She asked people she met, “Do you know Jesus? Can I tell you about Him, and what He’s done in my life? Can I tell you my story?”

Each of us has an opportunity to be a witness, to communicate the Good News about the risen Jesus and the power of the resurrection. We can communicate by words, by a smile, by being kind, through our actions, through our generosity.

Think about someone who impacted your life, who communicated the Good News to you. There’s a great example for you! Just like Miss Rose is a marvelous example for me, to be a witness despite pain and suffering, even through difficulty in my life. I can still communicate God’s love, just like the aged Apostle John did, too. He was even in prison when he wrote his first letter, on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea. That didn’t make any difference. John still told his story, how the risen Jesus made a difference to him.

What is important is that we get out there and start being a witness, telling people about the power of God, and about how much the risen Jesus has changed our lives. Can you be a witness? It’s as simple as telling your story. Can you tell the story of Jesus and His love? Jesus loves you. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves all of us.

Be witnesses to God’s love and power.

Alleluia, Amen.

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)