Comfort in Uncertainty

May 5, 2019

John 21:1-19

There came a time in seminary, somewhere during my second year, that I started to wonder what I was doing. I questioned if I was truly following God’s call to serve in the church with the hopes of becoming an ordained pastor. I doubted myself because I did not come from the same background as most of my classmates had, since they mostly all grew up in the church and it was an incremental part of their lives from birth to the present day.

I began to wonder if it would just be much easier to return to my previous career. At points as I was challenged by Greek and Hebrew, and deeply immersed in heavy theological papers, managing a store and stocking shelves seemed like a much better option than to submit myself to an overwhelming class load and subjects that just made me go, huh, at times.

Perhaps this is how the disciples felt after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus has turned the world of the disciple’s upside down! Amid their uncertainty they return to what they know, only to find Jesus there to greet them and bring them hope.

In his gospel, John shares with us that the disciples have finally moved out of their hiding place. It is about time! Last week, Jesus appeared to the eleven for a second time after his resurrection and Thomas is welcomed into the fold and has received the Holy Spirit from Jesus just as the other disciples had a week earlier. Finally, we find them venturing out into the open. The fear may be starting to abate a little and some of them return to the only place where they feel comfortable! In such an uncertain time they return to the sea so that they can do the one thing they know how to do well. The only problem, they have no such luck catching any fish in their nets overnight. As much as the disciples want to move forward, they seem to be stuck. Their nets are empty, and they are struggling.

Let’s admit it, we do not have perfect lives. We struggle. We are challenged with family issues. We are challenged with finances at times. We are challenged with relationships. We are even challenged in placing a sure and definite hope and faith in God. While I stayed in seminary, went on to internship, and returned to finish my senior year, it does not mean that it was easy and without its challenges. At times I would have just loved to leave it all behind and return to what I knew and what I was comfortable doing.

However, Jesus challenges us! Yes, you heard me right. Jesus challenges us to look within ourselves to listen and discern who we really are as a child of God. I am sure that you have heard it said that Peter answering Jesus’ questions about whether he loves him three times is a reversal of the three times Peter denies Jesus. What if, it was about Jesus getting Peter to remember who he is? Yes, Peter has denied Jesus three times. However, in these denials, he is denying himself. He has forgot whose he is and who he is as a child of God. Jesus’ questioning could just as easily be a call back to Peter to remember who he is and not that he is called to love Jesus, but that Jesus loves him just as he is. His flaws, mis-steps and all!

The wonder of it all, is that Jesus keeps showing up. He has now appeared three times to the disciples and they are starting to be drawn out of their seclusion and be fed. While they return to what they are comfortable doing, Jesus is present in the lack of catching fish to ensure that they are fed and fed abundantly. Jesus instructs them to throw the net to the other side of the boat and they can barely lift the net back into the boat because it is completely filled. We are told that there are 153 fish in all. According to a commentary by St. Jerome, it was believed back then there were 153 different types of fish in the sea.

As the disciples are sent out to fish for people, this is a sign for them not to exclude anyone. God welcomes all people in, and all are part of God’s wonderful, beautiful creation. God will welcome and gather every single one into an embrace full of love and grace. And as we learn with Peter, Jesus looks beyond denials, mis-steps, and flaws. Jesus shows up. Jesus shows up to remind us whose we are and that we are called and sent out to a world in need of God’s hands and feet.

While we may not see Jesus face to face, or at least not in an impression that is reminiscent of famous paintings, Jesus still shows up. Jesus shows up in our friends and neighbors. Jesus shows up in the unexpected. Jesus shows up in the exact places where he needs to be. Places where his love flows over, and we experience a grace that is both mysterious and wonderful. Once again, I ask you, where have you seen Jesus this Easter season? Earlier this week, I was at the Institute of Liturgical Studies and on the closing day, I witnessed a Valpo student paying for the lunch of an older couple. He did not know them. He barely said anything to them. However, you could visibly see their appreciation and Jesus in this very simple action of the young man that generously touched two lives that will be remembered for some time to come.

This is Jesus at work in our world today. This morning, I invite you to come forward to receive Christ in the bread and wine. These are the visible signs of Christ with us this morning and in the breaking of the bread and sharing of a meal, we take Jesus into our very selves so that we can then go out into the world and be Christ for those that need a sign of hope and a promise that all will be made new.

Let us pray. Ever-present God, you come to us in the most unexpected places. May we welcome you to call us and send us out to do your very will in the world. May we bear the signs of hope that you bestowed to us in Jesus and carry out your love for all to see and feel. Amen.

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Thomas Was Framed!

April 28, 2019

John 20:19-31

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

As we enter this second Sunday of Easter, we are confronted with the same gospel story that we hear every year on this day. The story of Jesus first appearing to the disciples and then again to Thomas in John’s gospel which continues the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Many of our sisters and brothers also celebrate this Sunday as Holy Humor Sunday or Laughter Sunday. This celebration actually goes all the way back to our early Greek Christian sisters and brothers in the faith that used the days after Easter Sunday to have parties and rejoice with joy and laughter. Why? It is an ongoing celebration of the resurrection and “the custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. “Risus paschalis – the Easter laugh,” the early theologians called it.”

Now, there seems to be one person that is not laughing. That is Thomas.

Thomas is skeptical of what has happened. Really, can we blame him? All the other disciples were present when Jesus came into where they were hiding, and Thomas did not see Jesus for himself. He had to be upset with himself. What was he doing in the first place? Maybe he was going to pick up supplies. Maybe he was gauging the tension that hung in the air after Jesus crucifixion. That is totally left up to our imaginations.

Because of his questions, Thomas gets framed with the title “Doubting!” Imagine having to travel around with that moniker attached to your name. However, while Thomas does appear to doubt, the question could be raised, who is he doubting? Is he doubting that Jesus actually returned and appeared to the disciples? Or is he more in question of the disciples themselves?

So, let’s get this straight. The disciples were just hiding out in the house and Jesus appears to them. John tells us in his gospel that when Jesus spoke to the disciples, he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Now, a more accurate translation would be that he breathed into them. He gave them the Holy Spirit to reside within their very being. This could be what Thomas has an issue with! If Jesus has done what they say, then why are they still hiding out? Should they not be going out and proclaiming the good news as Jesus as told them to do. Thomas wants the same experience as those that were present. Thomas does not see anything different in the way they are acting to lead him to assume that Jesus was actually present. He does not doubt Jesus; he is in doubt of the actions of the disciples.

We can relate with the Thomas that wants to experience everything the way the disciples supposedly said they did. We want to be present when important things happen. We get jealous when we miss out and sometimes even question the authenticity of an event if we were not present to witness it. Events cannot be repeated just because we missed out on them the first time. Just because we were not present, does not mean that a particular event did not happen.

Fortunately for Thomas, Jesus does return a week later. He already senses what Thomas is about to say and offers the wound in his side for Thomas to touch. We assume that he touched the wound. All of the paintings show us that he touched the wound. Honestly, I do not think Thomas would have had to follow through. He is now experiencing Jesus as the disciples did a week earlier. In the peace that Jesus gave him may also be the breath of the Holy Spirit that he breathed into the disciples.

And how does Thomas respond? “My Lord and my God!” It is a proclamation of his faith. A proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord, and also God. Human and divine. Thomas now knows and believes in Jesus as the Messiah and is empowered with the Holy Spirit to move forward. The doubt that had arisen in the lack of action of the disciples has now vanished. Perhaps this is even enough now to get them to move out of the space they are hiding and begin to spread the good news that Jesus has instructed them to do.

The same Jesus that appears to his disciples and a week later to Thomas, with scars and all, is the same Jesus that comes to be with us. Jesus is with us in hunger, brokenness, hopelessness, disappointment, anger, despair, and much much more. Jesus is present when we least expect it and even in times when we would like to see him get lost. When we think that we know better, Jesus is present to remind us that there is something much greater. It is this same Jesus that comes to our side to be with us in darkness so that we can encounter the light. And what should our response be? “My Lord and my God!” God is visible all around us. For in the story of the resurrection we are reminded that all things are made new! During Easter you are encouraged to write on the back door where you have seen God this Easter season and where you can be God’s hands and feet in the world. For, we too are being sent to proclaim the risen Lord!

Let us pray. God of wonder, you appear before us at times we do not even recognize. May our laughter remind us of your saving grace and may our eyes be open by your light as it spreads to the darkness in our own lives. Amen.

Christ is Risen!

April 21, 2019 Easter Sunday

Luke 24:1-12

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!  

Hell took a body, and face to face met God! It took earth and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and Life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!
For Christ being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!

-John Chrysostom   347-407
The Easter Homily

This Easter Homily from John Chrysostom is wonderful; however, I don’t quite think that is the first thoughts that the women that encountered the empty tomb were feeling. Honestly, they were more confused as to what was going on. The two men that show up in dazzling clothes, most likely angels, ask them “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” They are looking because they were just at the tomb right before the Passover had begun! They had seen the body of Jesus laying in the tomb where Joseph of Arimathea had placed him. They were perplexed because things like this did not happen. Surely, someone must have stolen the body!

They looked past the promises that Jesus had made and what would happen once he arrived in Jerusalem. Perhaps they just thought that he was speaking metaphorically. They were not expecting to find Jesus outside of the tomb where he had been laid. They may have recalled his talking about a resurrection, but did he really mean a bodily resurrection?

It is easy for us today to look past where God is working in the world as well. Especially given the war and turmoil that we are witness to on the news. The violence that pervades the daily news stream can bring us down in a darkness. We get frustrated when church attendance declines and we are left with more questions than answers.

Some biblical scholars even argue about whether or not there was a physical resurrection. Does it matter whether Jesus was physically resurrected or not? YES! Paul shares this in 1 Corinthians right before the reading selected from there this morning: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).

The women’s initial perplexity at what had happened to Jesus’ body flows over to the disciples when they proclaim to them that he was no longer there. While the women recalled what Jesus has proclaimed to them about being raised on the third day, the disciples are still perplexed, and Peter had to go and see for himself. His faith did not initially carry him, he had to see for himself! How often do we let stumbling blocks get in the way of our own faith?

Perplexity is an honest human reaction. The disciples had spent the last three years learning from Jesus and even began teaching themselves as they went out into the surrounding villages. Jesus had always been there to ask questions of and now they were perplexed in not only his body missing from the tomb, but who are they supposed to turn to now? It is at the empty tomb that the women and Peter began to encounter a new reality.

Jesus promised that he would bring new life and, in the resurrection, we find the promise that God has been sharing with humanity from the dawn of creation. This is not an “idle tale” as the disciples had feared. This is what propelled Peter to get up and see for himself. Once again, we would probably be found in the same place if not for our faith. Resurrection seems incomprehensible, yet God conceives it and comprehends it for us!

The disciples will never be the same! They have been transformed in that very moment when they come to believe in the resurrection and give thanks that Jesus Christ points to new life in creation. God gives us the gifts to help lead us to faith and hope in the new creation to come. We are gifted with sacraments that makes God present for us daily. In the waters of baptism, we become members of the body of Christ and die our own death to only be restored to a new and wonderful life in Christ. Every time we come in contact with water we are reminded of the grace and love of God that washes us clean.

Every time we come forward to the table for holy communion, Jesus Christ meets us. He meets us in the elements of bread and wine to let us know that he is very much a part of us. By eating the bread and drinking the wine, we welcome Christ into our lives and his very presence lets us know that he is alive and well. When it is hard to see God’s activity in the world, know that God is present always, and the physical reminders of the sacraments bring us face to face.

Coming face to face with Christ in the sacraments gives us a peace to go out into the world to proclaim the good news!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen, Indeed!

It helps us to find God in everything that we encounter, from the beauty of nature on a long hike, to the cats and dogs that curl up on our laps or couch next to us. God is present in our very breath and the winds that blow over this very creation. God is with those that are naked, hungry, thirsty, mourn, and grieve. God has never left us and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord, we are ushered into a new creation that unfolds in front of us.

Let us pray. Creator God, you bring us to new life through the death and resurrection of your son, Jesus Christ. Let us rejoice in this new creation and the light that vanished death so that we too will come to know life eternal. Amen.