by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
April 28, 2019
I really enjoyed the music last Sunday. Thank you again, choir, for all you did for us. I loved seeing the bunnies again. I loved hearing some f the kid’s answers as Sara asked them about the resurrection. In another church I heard about, it was clear that times have changed when the minister asked the children what Jesus did on Easter morning. They struggled to answer, so the minister gave them a hint: It starts with an R… And one little boy blurted out, He recycled!
He kind of did, didn’t he?!
As middle schoolers walk together in intimate conversation… As college freshmen stay up late and talk about their upbringing over a bong or a beer… As future clergy debate with each other and their professors in seminary classrooms… Sometimes the questions are: Do you believe in God? Do you believe in miracles? And sometimes: Do you believe in the resurrection?
Those can be fascinating and revealing exchanges. Those talks can help us to work through our convictions, our hopes, and of course our doubts. And they can bond us with the other curious and searching folks who will later become our very best friends.
As far as the resurrection is concerned, I have never tried to convince someone else that it happened. I just tell the story and let the power of the narrative do its life-changing work. Trying to tell another person that a human being can come back to life after being very definitely dead is like trying to convince someone that fish can walk or that clams have hands. It’s a fool’s errand.
The story is enough. The story has power!
And anyway, I don’t think Jesus’ resurrection is something to be explained. Rather, it is something to be experienced over and over again, throughout our lives, as we witness and feel that life (ours or someone else’s) can be made new, can reawaken and blossom, even when it seems to be completely over, dead and done.
But even there, we have doubts. We want to experience resurrection and sometimes it is hard to come by.
The story of doubting Thomas actually starts several chapters earlier, when Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples on the night of the last supper and his arrest. Jesus is reassuring his closest friends that, even though he will be leaving them, after all of their adventures, after all he’s taught them, he’s shown them the way to God.
Jesus says, You know the way to the place where I am going. And Thomas anxiously asks, How can we know the way?
He is doubting his experiences with Jesus and the wisdom and faith Jesus has shared with him and the other disciples.
And then, a few chapters later, after the resurrection, there comes the best-known moment in Thomas’ doubtings: The disciples are in that room, hiding from potential enemies, cowering in the dark, trying to avoid the same fate Jesus had to endure.
The other disciples tell Thomas about their experience of seeing and listening to the risen Christ and he says, Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.
As we know, Thomas eventually does believe, but only because of the generosity of the risen Christ, who presents his wounds to Thomas.
All of this is really great. The Jesus we know, the one who gathered the lost and the lonely into community, the one who healed the sick and fed the hungry, the one who confronted the powerful and stood up for the powerless, helps one of the disciples with his faith.
Good old doubting Thomas is satisfied and we are encouraged to believe without such proof. It’s all very neat.
You may disagree with me, but I really don’t think that believing in a literal resurrection of Jesus’ body is our biggest faith challenge these days. It might have been at some point in the past, but these days, in the age of science and post-modernism, in this point of our lives, most of us have simply come to terms with the resurrection. We have either decided to believe or come up with some way to appreciate the story even if we don’t believe it.
As I said earlier, to me, resurrection is less an intellectual idea to accept than it is a way of experiencing life.
And in this story, the risen Christ sends the disciples out into the word to do just that. Through their words and actions, he asks sends them out to carry out their ministries other own, ministries of service and leadership, of compassionate healing, of justice seeking, of transformational storytelling, of radical inclusion, and of faith empowerment.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you, he says.
I think our biggest and most challenging doubts these days are not theological, they are personal. They are our self-doubts.
As God sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sends us into the world? We’re not so sure.
That we could have faith enough, intelligence enough, creativity enough, energy enough to do Jesus’ work? That, I believe is our biggest doubt.
It starts when we’re young. Our parents, pastors, teachers, coaches, other kids, images in popular culture… They plant seeds of doubt in us. We fall short, as everyone does. We make mistakes, like we all do. And it erodes our confidence.
Our faith isn’t strong enough. We’re not religious enough. We’re not smart enough. We’re not strong enough. We’re not patient enough. We’re not kind enough. We’re not confident enough. We’re not determined enough to do something as special as carrying on the work of Jesus.
We’re too immature. We’re too
competitive. We’re too masculine. We’re too feminine. We’re too
conservative. We’re too liberal. We cry too easily. We’re too scared that we’re
going to trip over our words or make a mistake. We get sweaty palms when we get
up in front of people.
And yet… And yet… Jesus very clearly asks us to do his work in the world — both before and after his death and resurrection. Not just a small group of specialists, us.
Jesus healed others and we can be a healing presence in the world, even with the simplest of loving gestures. A smile. An embrace. A few dollars to the right cause. A few hours of selfless service.
Jesus cast out demons, and by our words and actions, we, too, can expose evil for what it is and refuse to allow it to negatively influence our communities and our world.
Jesus encouraged others to have faith and named faith when he saw it in the people he encountered. As a church family, we are in a perfect position to do the same for one another.
Jesus fed the hungry and, in just a few minute, we are going to do that, too!
We may feel unqualified to go where Jesus sends us and do what he asks us to do, and we are of course imperfect, but he’s got no one else but us. We’re it. As ordinary as we are, we’re the ones he fills with the Spirit and we — and other ordinary people like us — are the ones he needs to extend God’s compassion into the world.
Earlier, we said our covenant together. Let’s fulfill our convent by doing everything we can to encourage one another as we go wherever it is that Jesus is sending us.