Sermons on bearing witness
People were saying all kinds of things about Jesus. People always have, and will continue to say all sorts of things about Jesus. The disciples report on the word from the street. “Some say you’re John the Baptist, come back to life. Others think you’re the great prophet Elijah, returned. And some others think you are another in the line of our great prophets.” All their answers suggest that most Galileans think Jesus is the forerunner of the Messiah. That’s a safe bet. It’s easier to believe a Messiah will come, than to believe one has come. A Messiah yet to come makes no demands, calls for no change. Jesus listens, just taking in the disciples’ report. Then he looks at them and says, “But who do you say that I am?” Can’t you just see it? The disciples’ heads all drop, eyes to the ground, and they intently begin to study their feet. No one wants to be the first to make eye contact with Jesus. Well, there always comes a time when what other people think and say is just not enough. It’s Peter who finds his voice. He has allowed God to show him in his soul who Jesus is, so he breaks the awkward silence and speaks his truth: “You are the Messiah”.
“God is love. God is good. Let us thank God for our food. By innumerable hands we all are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread.
Sometimes I ask God to break my heart with all that breaks his in the hope that I may see with God’s eyes and feel with God’s heart— at least as much as any human can. On those rare occasions when I am able to muster the courage to draw nearer to God’s own broken-hearted compassion— in the face of profound suffering— it guts me, empties me out, and if I endure through this refiner’s fire of love, it ultimately transforms my heart. You know. This is part of the path all of us here walk when confronted with suffering that brings us to our knees.
“Look within yourself,” Jesus implores them. But they don’t. What we would have hoped would have been the turning point in the story– the disciples’ transformation into a living and breathing faith — doesn’t happen. When the seas calm and Jesus begs them to go into the dark and foreign places within their own souls, to examine why their fear has overridden their faith, they don’t. Instead, they focus their attention on understanding Jesus, rather than understanding the difference Jesus makes in their lives of faith.
It was a hot summer day, the sun beating down on our shoulders tinged with pink, the heat shimmering up from the pavement to meet us, as I stood before this young woman, who had such a perplexed and incredulous look in her attentive and piercing eyes. She asked me, “Why?” “Why would you do this?” Her question to me was in response to something I had recently done for her, a generous act of kindness. Instantly and without thought,…
God gives us the opportunity and ability to bear God’s grace to each other, to be God’s love and grace to each other. It’s a huge responsibility and a gift. It’s something of a miracle each time it happens.
We are celebrating the season of Easter, when our scriptures open up for us the many ways Jesus will continue to be revealed to us, through a new perspective on scripture, through the bread and the wine, through our love given and received. The scripture lessons during this season also present the framework for the way to be church. As our gospel story reveals to us today, Jesus, the grace of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, is the vine, that which connects us, that which gives us nourishment and life, that which draws us into one being, one Body of Christ. This connection can heal our soul and body, provide us hope in our times of darkness, reveal to us our belovedness, move us from despair to hopefulness, from fear to courage, from loathing to loving.
Once the disciples’ minds were opened and they finally understood who Jesus was, he called them into action and through them, he called all generations that followed, down to our day, down to this church, down to this very moment in time. As you know, our risen Lord is here, right now, to tell us who he is, show us his unconditional love, give us his peace, allay our fears, open our minds, and send us into the world in his name.
The holes in Jesus’ hands and the sword-inflicted wound in his side, from which blood and water flowed, showed Thomas that he is not asked to believe in a God whose new life in Jesus obliterated the worst of humanity, pushing aside the ugliness and violence , ignoring the places of pain or horror or absence, but rather to believe in a God who went into that brokenness and breathed the possibility of new life into all the shattered places, because that’s how the resurrection can make a difference to us.
So let us, in our age, in our part of the ongoing salvation history between God and God’s people— a love affair, really— do what our foremothers did once they got a grip: proclaim the Good News. Let us go to whatever Galilee we find ourselves in to seek out the risen Lord who has gone before us. Let us do as he asks. Let us dispel the darkness in his name and thereby illuminate the Kingdom coming into this world.
The pilgrims on their ascent up the Mount of Olives reasonably thought power of might won, but we know differently, it is only and always the power of love which will win in the end.