Sermon–April 23, 2017


Easter 2, April 23, 2017

William Bradbury

Acts 2:14a,22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31

Sometimes the translators just get it wrong: the word “doubt” is not used in this reading. Jesus is not telling Thomas not to doubt, because he knows doubt is always a part of faith. When C. S. Lewis was an atheist he said he had doubts about his beliefs, just as he had doubts when he became a Christian. The main thing to look at in our doubts is to make sure our doubts are changing because if our doubts never change it means we are not growing in our faith, which is to say, our faith has become a static system of beliefs rather than a living relationship with the ever-flowing Triune God. The KJV translates it this way: “Do not be faithless, but believing.”  These are the two choices we have: to have faith in God revealed by the Risen Christ or to have faith in something or someone else. Whatever we choose we will always have doubts.

We believe Resurrection IS, and that the Risen Jesus is still breathing his life into timid disciples so we can trust. But not just for ourselves, so we can have a happy life and go to heaven when we die, but so we can follow Christ and bear witness that Resurrection Is in this world.

As we know throughout his ministry Jesus makes his primary concern connecting with and connecting together folks who are wounded. Early in Mark (2:17): Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

He calls them to himself and shares meals with them on his way to building a community based not on gender, status, tribe, race, education, or nationality, but on the love of Triune God that is drawing all things together. The heart of his vision is a visible community of wounded people who manifest the love of God to others who are wounded.

At his last supper Jesus gives this diverse group a way to practice their unity after he’s gone: Take this bread and cup, he says, and pass them among yourselves and you will know my presence as you commune with each other.  

In John’s gospel at his last supper Jesus prays that all who follow him “may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, SO THAT… SO THAT, the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus knows that the only way the world will ever believe in this divine oneness is WHEN THIS LOVING COMMUNITY OF WOUNDED PEOPLE IS MADE VISIBLE IN THE WORLD. 

There is no other way the world can know of the love of God for the wounded except through a visible community of wounded people who exhibit a  love and a unity that can’t be explained away by any other means than the presence of Jesus in their midst.

Churches are often organized around other criteria in addition to the love of God. During my time in New Bedford it was easy to see how this worked in the history of the city: The English mill owners went to the grand Episcopal Church on the hill, while the English mill workers went to the simple Episcopal Church at the bottom of the hill.

And of course all churches have traditionally sought to limit community by keeping out those judged at the time to be too wounded—in past decades they’ve excluded divorced, homosexual, addicted, mentally ill people as well as those with a scandalous past.

But even churches that listen to the Spirit and take steps to be open to the wounded, find it hard to leave the locked upper room of their Sunday sanctuaries and go out in public, so that the world can actually see the community in action… so that, as Jesus says, “the world may see and know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

It is a big step to say, “Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith” you are welcome in our church. It is an even bigger step to move outside the building and become visible by engaging with those neighbors who live and work around the church building.

We have such programs here: I think of Food for Friends once a month taking a meal for 120 lower income folks in Lowell, Habitat for Humanity building houses not just for but with those in need, the West Virginia Work Camp and the Maine Mission Trip offer ways to go public with our union in the Risen Christ. Every Sunday food is presented to the altar on its way to the food bank.

And without fail, those who do this work report back that they receive so much more than they give that it is impossible to tell the difference between the givers and receivers. This is real Holy Communion! This is what we crave in our souls and we know this is true from our own experience. Christ in the neighbor meets us when we follow Christ to the neighbor.

So if we’ve all experienced this and know its power to heal we might ask the question why it feels so difficult sometimes to follow Christ outside the boundaries of our comfort zone.

Besides the fact that we like our comfort, I want to suggest it may have something to do with our own wounds. We have no problem seeing the wounds of others but we are not as practiced at seeing that we all have wounds–those places in us that bleed and ache. Usually we are ashamed of our wounds —both those inflicted by others and those we inflict on ourselves.

In our gospel today Thomas says he won’t believe Resurrection Is unless he can see Jesus’ wounds. This accomplishes two things. First, it will tell Thomas that the person is a man, the same man who was crucified, and not some ghost.

But secondly, Thomas understands that a Jesus without wounds would not be worth following, because how can we follow a savior who hasn’t entered into our woundedness? 

Shortly after the horror of World War One Edward Shillito wrote a poem called, “Jesus of the Scars”. It begins, “If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;…We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow, We must have thee, O Jesus of the Scars.” He concludes by saying: “But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak….”

Former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple who died in 1944, comments on that poem by saying, “Only a God in whose Perfect Being pain has its place can win and hold our worship.” Readings in Saint John’s Gospel, page 366  If Jesus doesn’t run from his wounds then maybe in union with him we can learn to face our own and risk reaching out to others who may not know about the saving wounds of Christ. Jesuit Priest Greg Boyle who worked 25 years with the gangs of L.A., creating Homeboy Industries that employs hundreds of reforming gangbangers, tells the story on Krista Tippet’s show “On Being”, of one of these men who went to address a room full of social workers. The 27 year old man told of his abusive upbringing and how he would have to wear three t-shirts to school so the blood from the wounds inflicted on him each morning by his mother wouldn’t bleed through. His buddies made fun of the three shirts. One day, however, many years later, he learned to love his wounds. He would caress the scars while looking at them in the mirror. “After all”, he said to the startled social workers, “How can I help the wounded if I don’t love my own wounds.”

So Jesus keeps breathing into us and saying “Do not be faithless, but believing.”