RSS

Tag Archives: John 20:19-31

Because of the Resurrection…

(a sermon for April 8, 2018, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, based on Romans 8:28-39 and John 20:19-31)

I have always found it interesting and a bit ironic that most years Easter Sunday tends to fall around the same time as income taxes come due.

Granted, this year was a bit of an exception, what with still another week to go before Tax Day (!),  but generally speaking, it seems as though every year just about the time we in the church are gathering to shout our alleluias and sing songs of triumph, outside these doors there’s that other, not-so-triumphant day on the horizon!

Frankly, for me that’s always been a bitter pill to swallow!  After all, Easter is the day of excitement, celebration and victory in the church of Jesus Christ!  For me, it doesn’t get any better than Easter Sunday worship; and wasn’t it great around here last Sunday?  I mean, all of it – the hymns, the flowers, all the children running around and most especially the glorious message of hope that’s contained in the gospel story – it’s the culmination of this fateful and faithful journey we’ve taken from palms to the cross to the empty tomb; and for us to discover, yet again, that Christ has risen indeed and to realize what that means for each of us… well, I don’t know about you, but for me that just stirs the soul in a way unlike during any other service of the year!  So it’s a great and wonderful day; it always is!

But then after this shining Sunday always, always comes… Monday… and Tuesday… and inevitably and inescapably Tax Day!  And with it, at least for some stragglers among us, comes that nagging stack of forms, receipts and worksheets that serves to remind us that we can no longer afford the luxury of procrastination, for despite whatever excuses we might have to offer there is no real glory in being a “last-minute filer!”  So, yes, there may still well be Easter “alleluias” ringing in our ears after Sunday has come and gone, and the good news of new life is still very fresh in our hearts, but as Monday morning dawns, it soon becomes clear that life as we’ve known it still goes on, and there’s no avoiding the fact that tax returns need to be finished before the filing deadline on April 17th!

Of course, for you, it might have been something different that made for a burdensome and stressful “Easter Monday” morning last week.  Maybe, like for us, it was going to the mechanic and finding out that the problems with your car were more serious than you thought!  Or perhaps it had to do with contending with an ongoing illness or that of a loved one; or dealing with chronic and debilitating pain.  Or maybe it was having to cope with huge changes looming in your life: the loss of a job, the disintegration of a marriage, the struggle amid rapidly changing circumstances beyond your control to care for yourself and your family with integrity, vision and compassion.  Or maybe you woke up still stinging from that same hurt that’s always been there; the lingering grief, the unresolved anger, the old regrets, the deeply held bitterness and fear; all those unresolved feelings of weakness, guilt, despondency and utter defeat.

Whatever it was, or is, it’s a stark reminder of how quickly things do return to whatever the “normal” happens to be in our lives, even amidst the continuing good news of the resurrection.  In fact, if we’re being honest, sometimes after the Sunday celebration is over and our Monday morning woes return, we might at times wonder what, if any, difference the resurrection makes in our lives; or for that matter, if any of what we proclaimed so fervently and joyously as true was even real!  Like “Doubting Thomas” of our Gospel reading this morning we do at times find ourselves wanting empirical proof that all the alleluia shouting of last Sunday morning was not some sort of cruel, cosmic joke.  But even then, in the words of Charles Henderson, a Presbyterian pastor and author, “even if [we] could, like Thomas, reach in and touch the wounds in his body… even if [we] had solid, certifiable evidence that the resurrection was real, there would still be the bills to pay, the meals to plan, the problems of life to solve.”

Henderson is right about that; we do proclaim, rightfully, that Christ is risen indeed, but the fact remains that while death has been defeated forever, life does go on; and moreover, so many of the struggles and sufferings of life in this world go on.  And so the question becomes, what happens now because of the resurrection?  What does the truth of Jesus’ rising mean for all those who have been caught up in the destructive whirlwind of all of the worst that life and an unjust world dishes out? What does the risen Jesus’ blessing of peace mean for those who feel battered, beaten, overwhelmed and worn out from the struggle?  How is it that any of us can claim, as Paul does so eloquently in our reading this morning, that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us?”

It’s really the eternal question, isn’t it?  Life’s sufferings would seem to overtake us, but our answer comes in knowing that even though there is so much against us in this world and in this life, the abiding, redeeming and liberating truth remains that in the Risen Christ we are assured that God is for us today, tomorrow, and forever.  And “if God is for us,” says Paul, “who is against us?”

There is so much to love about this passage from Romans that we’ve shared this morning; but what I think I love the most is how Paul literally unpacks our Christian hope piece by piece by piece.  In fact, I’ve heard it said that in these few verses we’ve read this morning, Paul “is trying to drain every ounce of fear from our lives.”  Listen to how he lays it out: What do we have to be afraid of, he asks, “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”  (By the way… just for good measure, The Message adds to that list other things; like trouble, hard times, hatred, homelessness, even “bullying threats [and] backstabbing!”) So will any of this “drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us?”  No, Paul goes on to say, for “in all these things we are conquerors through him who loved us.”  Here’s a little bit of Biblical trivia for you this morning: the Greek word that’s translated as “conquerors” here is hupernikos, which literally means “super conquerors” and in fact is where we get the brand name for, of all things, Nike running shoes!  So what Paul is saying is that through the God who loves us we are more than conquerors in life, we are… super conquerors, able to stand up to all the struggles of life with unending strength!

But here’s the thing; Paul makes clear that such strength doesn’t come out of nowhere but comes from the same God who gave up his own Son for us all; and (and this is important!),  if God would do that, “will he not with him also give us everything else?”  Given the sacrifice already made on our behalf, why would our God ever withhold any good thing from us; most especially his strength and his presence now and eternally?

In the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are shown once and for all that God loves us and that God wishes never, ever to be apart from us.  Because of the resurrection, we can be assured – “convinced,” it says in the NIV – that “neither death, nor life, neither angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  What that means, friends is that because of the resurrection, in whatever comes we hang on… we go on and we prevail, because in the resurrection we are more than conquerors in this life that so often tries to conquer us!  As Benjamin Reaves has put it, “in the face of every possible development, situation, circumstance, diagnosis, or disaster… [we are not merely] being delivered from all these things, but [we are] being triumphant in all these things… it is the action of a divine defender, a divine attorney, a divine love that will not let [us] go… for as we in faith cling to God, we find he has a stronger hold on us.”

Monday mornings might still hold for us all the difficult struggles of life: there still is the doctor’s appointment that awaits us; still the chemo treatment to contend with; still the broken relationships to suffer through; still the utter uncertainty of what the day’s events will bring.  But now, because of the resurrection, we proceed with hope; light shines into our darkness, and we begin, perhaps for the first time to truly see for ourselves “that in all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  Maybe at last, because of the resurrection, we are strengthened with the hope that we can move beyond living solely as victims but as people of faith for whom suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.  Maybe now, because of the resurrection, because Jesus lives and we live, we will know the love that is poured out in our hearts by God’s Spirit; enabled and empowered to rejoice in hope even amidst suffering.

In the 1870’s a man by the name of Horatio Spafford was a successful Chicago lawyer, and a close friend of the renowned evangelist of that era Dwight L. Moody.  Spafford was also a huge investor in real estate, but the story goes that the great Chicago fire of 1871 wiped out his holdings; a disaster that was compounded by the fact that Spafford’s son had just died as well.  In the aftermath of all of this, Spafford decided that he and his family desperately needed to get away; and so in 1873 he planned a trip to Europe with his wife Anna and four daughters.

As it happened, however, last minute business caused Spafford to delay his departure, and he sent his wife and daughters on ahead to Great Britain, aboard the S.S. Ville Du Havre, promising to follow in a few days.  But tragedy struck yet again, for on November 22, their vessel was struck by the English ship Lochearn, and quite literally, within twelve minutes sank in the cold waters of the north Atlantic.  Two hundred and twenty-six lives were lost; Spafford’s wife Anna miraculously survived the accident, but their four little daughters drowned in the tragedy.  On reaching Great Britain, she sent a telegram to her husband with the sad news, writing simply, “Saved alone.”

It’s said that a few days later when Horatio Spafford himself made the ocean crossing to meet his grieving wife, his ship reached the spot where the tragedy had taken place. And as they were directly over the sunken ship where his daughters had perished, there, surrounded by the vast expanse and depth of the ocean and the even greater depth of his sorrow, he began to write some words that have since brought solace to so many in grief:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let his blessed assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Despite his anguish, Horatio Spafford could say that because of the resurrection, “it is well with my soul.”  And we can say the same, beloved; because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, we are given a lasting hope that is ours for life; life as it is, life as it will be, life as it continues to amaze us, confuse us, challenge us, embolden us, and sometimes discourage us.  But whatever life brings, because of the resurrection, we hang on, we go on… and we prevail.

May each one of us live as “more than conquerors” through him who loves us.

Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ!

Amen and AMEN!

c, 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 8, 2018 in Easter, Epistles, Jesus, Life, Paul, Sermon

 

Tags: , , ,

Three Gifts

IMAG1587(a sermon for April 3, 2016, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, based on John 20:19-31)

Let me just say this up front: I don’t blame Thomas for his doubting!

Of course he was skeptical about what the other disciples were telling him about having seen the Lord; of course, he asked for proof!  Because by its very nature resurrection is an in-credible, that is, an unbelievable thing!

There’s the rub about Easter, you see; and pretty much always has been: the fact that there is really no empirical evidence that the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually took place!  And I suspect that’s why so many of us identify so strongly with Thomas: like him, we weren’t there at the empty tomb on that first Easter morning to see the folded grave clothes or to hear angels in dazzling white speaking the good news of his resurrection; we weren’t a witness to Mary’s breathless excitement as she told of having seen Jesus in the garden; and neither were we present later that evening when Jesus stood there among them.  We weren’t there; and so we’re left to depend on the gospel accounts of eyewitnesses, the testimony of apostles and saints, and the history and tradition of the church as our evidence that the resurrection was real.

It’s rather remarkable when you think about it:  here is a pivotal event of human history and culture that has become the central facet of our Christian doctrine; it figures as the primary confession of our baptism; it’s what sets this religion apart from all others in the world, and it’s the prominent theme of our prayers, our songs and our sacraments.  As the Christian church, we are accurately defined as people of the resurrection. And yet, even now and even within the church (!),  like Thomas many of us still have a difficult time grasping this as physical and historical truth.

Of course, we’re not alone in that kind of doubt: over the generations countless theologians, scholars, philosophers, scientists and historians have sought to find some kind of “rational” explanation for what happened on that morning.  Perhaps Jesus wasn’t really dead, but merely near death and later resuscitated; maybe, as some have suggested, there were political motives involved, with disciples concocting the whole story in order to spark a revolution amongst the Jews; and then there have been those who have sought to poke holes all through the story as it exists, right down to an 18th century French philosopher by the name of Renan who discredited the whole account of the resurrection on the basis that the news of Jesus’ rising came from women “possessed by passion!”  Even just a few years ago, there was the so-called “Jesus Seminar,” that concluded that the only thing that happened on Easter was that the disciples of Jesus had an experience of Christ’s presence which they later described as the risen Christ.

None of this, however, jibes with the gospels’ proclamation of what happened, nor can it explain away or diminish the power of it. The bottom line is that everything that we know about the resurrection ends up proclaiming the impossible and unbelievable made real: the physical, bodily resurrection of a dead man to life.  It’s not that Jesus simply appeared to die, but that Jesus was dead; in fact, he died a death more cruel and painful than human heart can imagine!  But then; by the power of God on Easter, Jesus was alive!  Christ arose (!), God’s own act of victory over life’s greatest defeat, that of death.

This is the truth of our Christian faith on which everything else is built; this is the “good news” that the disciples were sent forth to preach and to make disciples of all nations, and it’s this truth that makes us the church, and continues even now to direct and shape our common experience and our shared mission.

So… all that having been said; what do we do with that lingering doubt?  How do we deal with good ol’ “Doubting” Thomas: not only the one we’ve read about in this morning’s gospel, but also the one who tends to dwell in our hearts; the one who says, “Unless I see” for myself, or touch and feel to have some solid evidence, “I will not believe?”

Well, the good news of the gospel this morning is that you and I are in fact offered three gifts with which to deal with our doubt, three gifts that have been aptly described as our “inheritance as followers of the living Christ.”  Just as Thomas was given what he needed to “not doubt but believe,” we also are given something from the Lord to begin to grasp, in our own hearts, the truth of the resurrection.

The first of these three gifts is PEACE.  Did you notice that the very first thing that Jesus says to the disciples when he appears before them is, in fact, “Peace be with you;” in the original Greek of John’s Gospel, Eirene… but most certainly in the language of Jesus himself… Shalom! 

These were words that touched at the very heart of everything the disciples were fearing at that moment: yes, fear for their very lives; but also another kind of fear, one much more devastating: the fear that comes when in one moment everything you’d ever hoped for and dreamed about is shattered forever, and you have no idea what happens next.  Well, for the disciples, such a moment came at the foot of the cross; and now they’re left to try to somehow pull the broken pieces of their lives back together.   So imagine what it was to suddenly have Jesus standing there “among them,” breathing His Spirit upon them and giving them what they needed more than anything else at that very moment: a blessing of peace.

Maybe you remember a time as a child when you were engulfed with fear: perhaps you woke up in the dark of the night after bad dream, or you somehow got separated from your parents and were suddenly all alone and helpless; but remember how good it felt when that person you loved was there to calm your fears and bring you comfort?  Or perhaps there’s been a time in your life when you’ve been so despairing, or grief-stricken, or angry, or hurt over something that you’ve begun to feel as though there’s nothing else there but the pain of it; but then, seemingly out of nowhere, suddenly there’s that measure of strength you need to get through that moment, that day, that experience. It’s peace: a “wholly” divine peace that passes all of our human understanding; a peace given by the one who has overcome the pain of the world.

The dictionary defines the word despair as “the complete loss or absence of hope,” and so it is when we despair in this life. But our good news is that the Risen Christ drives out despair; by his resurrection we are given the sure and certain hope of life, no matter what.  It’s true and lasting shalom, our peace; and one gift that Jesus gives us that might “not doubt but believe.”

And then, secondly, there’s the gift of PROOF: not proof in the sense of finding DNA evidence on the Shroud of Turin, or by virtue of some archeological find linked to events in 33 AD, but rather proof in the sense that just as Jesus gave Thomas his opportunity to put his finger in “the mark of the nails and [his] hand in his side” so that he could believe, you and I are given what we need in order to believe; that is, if only we will be attentive to it.

Such proof  comes in a variety of ways: some do find it in the symbols of springtime and flowers and new life; others find it in life’s incredible capacity to not only hang on, but flourish in the midst of the worst possible circumstances; still others will tell stories of how amidst their worst circumstances they had an experience akin to being reborn!

I remember a story I heard some years ago from a retired pastor who spoke movingly of the downward spiral of his life following the death of his wife two years before.  It was a tragedy that not only left him grief stricken, but one that also forced him to confront many of the mistakes he’d made in his own life and relationships over the years. It was all so painful, he said, at one point he’d actually come to the conclusion that life itself was not worth living; and began to consider not only leaving the ministry, but also… leaving.  But then somehow, miraculously, the truth of the resurrection got through to him and he began to see – and at first only in a glimmer – that if Christ overcame the world, there was certainly hope for him and the renewal of his life; and so he could hang on a little longer.  Finally, this man said, he was quite literally coming back to life.

It’s been said that in the midst of life there are countless little “deaths” that each one of us face; in our bodies, in our relationships, in our emotions, in our world.  Death is real and cannot be denied; but in the risen Christ we also experience resurrection in ways we can’t imagine until it actually happens to us. Within everything else we face in this life, there is this overriding truth that our Lord deeply desires for us to have life, and have it abundantly:  and if we will open ourselves to that, he will give us the proof we need to come to that life.

So we’re given PEACE, then; and PROOF.  And the third gift flows from both of these, that of PURPOSE. As Jesus said to the disciples on that Easter evening, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  We are sent by the risen Christ to live and to work in his name!

Over the years I’ve become a big believer that there is strength to be found in embracing that which is real and rock-solid even as everything else in life seems to be spinning out of control.   It seems to me that one good way of shedding ourselves of doubt is to purposefully live in the reality of the resurrection; and friends, that’s done by answering Christ’s call to discipleship!  That’s another central truth of our Christian faith: that each of us has been commissioned by Jesus himself to tend the suffering, to be peacemakers, and to work for justice; and that’s true, no matter what our qualifications, gender, ethnicity, wealth or lack thereof.

The resurrection becomes real for us when we’re about the work of our Father’s kingdom; it comes when we’re joyfully serving one another and reaching out to those who are outcast in any of a number of ways.  Actually, friends, I can tell you that this is what I really love about the church: that when we’re here together, when we’re doing what we’re called to do and we’re at our best in seeking to be what God intends for us to be, it’s then we discover that the beginning and the end of our journey is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen!   It’s in that knowledge that you and I stand among those whom Jesus calls blessed, “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

We live in an age when there’s seemingly no end to that which seeks to discredit or tear down the whole notion of faith; so much that just makes us struggle to hold on to what we know, or at least what we hope to be true.  But thanks be to God, we have this truth that that Christ is risen… indeed!   And it’s a truth that our Lord stops at nothing to assure us of, again and again and again; in the peace, proof and purpose of his presence.

I pray that each one of us here today might know those three gifts as our own; and that we might stand with “Doubting” Thomas in proclaiming in true faith, “My Lord and my God!”

So might it be, friends; and so might we be.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2016  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 3, 2016 in Church, Discipleship, Easter, Faith, Jesus, Life, Sermon

 

Tags: , , , ,

The Peaceable Presence

IMAG1587(a sermon for April 26, 2014, the Second Sunday of Easter, based on John 20:19-31)

It is very interesting indeed – and more than a little ironic – that on that very first Easter evening, at the end of the day of Jesus’ resurrection, this unprecedented event in which death was wholly defeated and the world changed forever, that Jesus’ disciples should be found essentially hiding out in the Upper Room; windows shut, doors locked and bolted, and still cowering in fear for their very lives!

I don’t know about you, but familiar as I am with the Easter story and as many times as I’ve heard it and read it aloud, I have to say that this is still not the scene I’m expecting!

After all, last Sunday weren’t we left with that powerful image of the women breathlessly running from the tomb to get to the men as quickly as they could to give them this incredible good news that Jesus had risen?  Given this, you might have expected a bit more enthusiasm on the part of the disciples; or at the very least, some measure of curiosity about this incredible thing that the women had just told them!  But not really; even taking into account the other gospels that do record how John and Peter did, in fact, run to the tomb to see it for themselves, at the end of the day we really don’t get much of any sense of victory or rejoicing from the disciples; just that, as John’s gospel puts it, “they did not yet understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead,” and that they “returned to their homes;”  (20:9-10) and now, given that night has fallen, that they’re all holed up together in likely the same room where they’d shared their “last supper” with him a few nights before; seeking solace, refuge and security behind locked doors.

Of course, to be fair, I’m not sure if I’d have reacted any differently.  To be sure, so much had happened in the past three days; far too much for them to even begin to process as of yet.  This man that they’d been following for the better part of the last three years, this one who’d taught them and led them and empowered them; who’d not only been their master and teacher, but also their friend: he’s dead, and it wasn’t a hero’s death, either.  He’d been crucified; branded a criminal, convicted and put to death by the state. As Lee Koontz has put it, this “was not the death of royalty.  It was the death of an outlaw… a death horrific, terrible and unforgettable.”

So I suppose it just sort of made sense that after the arrest, after the trial, after the gruesome events leading up to and encompassing the crucifixion, they’d come together to try to make sense of it all. But as if their own grief and fear wasn’t enough for them to deal with, now there’s also this “ridiculous hope” that the women had brought to them earlier that morning: their claims that the tomb was empty, that they’d seen angels, and then that they’d seen Jesus himself: alive!

Now, I have to imagine, friends, that this had to have been the tipping point for the disciples: for as much as they might have wanted to entertain the notion that some miracle had happened and Jesus was alive, their reaction here could only be one of disbelief: and not because they didn’t understand what the women were telling them or that, as Luke tells it, that they’d dismissed their claims as an “idle tale” (24:11); and it wasn’t even because they themselves hadn’t allowed themselves that glimmer of hope: because they had remembered something that Jesus had said to them before about being raised on the third day.  No; they weren’t going to believe all this because it was just too hard; the grief, the anguish, the hopelessness they were feeling; to say nothing of their fear over the very real possibility that the same thing that happened to Jesus could also happen to them… to even consider anything different was all too much, and the very thought of it paralyzed them.

And that we can understand, can’t we?

I think one of the things that we’re never really prepared for in this life, or at least that we don’t really fully understand until it happens to us is just how exhausting a thing grief truly is; physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I remember how after my father died, very soon thereafter we had to leave Maine and go back to Ohio, and I had to go back to work at the church; and of course, as is so often the case in ministry, immediately I was called to do about three funerals in the course of the next couple of weeks, one of which was the very tragic loss of a young husband and father.  I don’t mind telling you that it was hard; not only because of what that poor family was going through but also because how their tragedy had kind of brought my own grief to the forefront; quite honestly, every day I felt like I was getting the wind knocked out of me and I can tell you now that if I’d had my druthers, I’d have just have soon gone back to camp, shut the door and hid myself from the world indefinitely!

My point here is that I get why the first response of those disciples was to just go and hide!  They were quite literally living in the shadow of the cross, and so on that evening of the first day of the week, it simply hurt too much for them to hope; and indeed, there are so many times in the midst of our lives that you and I will say the exact same thing; so many situations we face where the only thing we’ve got strength left to do is to go away and simply dwell in the midst of our despair!

But thanks be to God, beloved it’s precisely in that place of despair that Easter comes; for it’s there in that Upper Room where the disciples had hidden themselves away that “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”

Peace: in the Greek language of the New Testament eirene, but referring to the familiar Hebrew greeting of shalom.  Peace… God’s peace, which is not merely peace in the sense of feeling good or calm, nor peace as simply the absence of war or strife, but peace in the sense of true wholeness, health and harmony; the fulfillment of God’s own promise to bring all of life’s blessings together for a common good: shalom!

It was, at least in one sense, a common greeting; shalom was something these men had heard nearly every day of their lives; and yet this was different, and they knew it: different, certainly, in that it was Jesus bringing the greeting; Jesus himself, risen from the dead and standing there before them; but also different because he was greeting them in just the same manner that the God of their ancestors would bring peace to a trembling, fearful people; bringing comfort, assurance, and sure and certain hope for the future.  Peace, he said. Peace be with you, and then he breathed upon them his own Holy Spirit; bringing to them true shalom – God’s own peace – giving them a new life and changing everything forever.

It’s also interesting to note here that not only does the risen Christ break into this “secure” hiding place these disciples had fashioned for themselves, he also breaks in upon all their fears, their grieving and even their guilt and regret!  “In that moment,” writes Lee Koontz, “Jesus reclaims them.  Despite the fact that they had abandoned him, he trusts them.  Despite the fact that they denied him, he calls them.  Despite the fact that they had run away from him, he draws them near and breathes upon them.  That breath is a sign of life,” in much the same way as God, at the time of creation, breathed upon the waters and gave it life! It was their proof, most assuredly; it was their sure and certain affirmation that Christ had risen, indeed; this “peaceable presence” which was their sign of new life, life abundant and eternal!

Friends, the glorious truth of the resurrection is that nothing will stop the love of God: nothing in life, nothing in death, nothing in all creation; and that includes the sum total of all of our fears and every bit of our despair!  That is why Jesus came, to give his life so that in all times and in all circumstances we would know God’s all enveloping peace.

And what was true for those disciples in the Upper Room is true for us today; even now, beloved, our Lord comes as a “peaceable presence,” driving out all our fears, calming our anxieties and easing our weariness over the burdens of this life.  Understand, to receive that kind of peace does not mean that all of our problems are going to immediately disappear: nor will it mean that the course of our lives will be free of uncertainty and confusion from this point on!  But it does mean that even amidst the uncertainty, we are given the “breath of life” we need to sustain us for the way; and that will make all the difference.

What we’re talking about here is sort of like what Frederick Beuchner says is the difference between “believing in God” and “believing God.”  Believing in God, he says, “is an intellectual position.  It need have no more effect on your life than believing in Freud’s method of interpreting dreams or the theory that Sir Francis Bacon wrote Romeo and Juliet.

“[But] Believing God is something else again,” he continues.  “It is less a position than a journey, less a realization than a relationship.  It doesn’t leave you cold like believing the world is round.  It stirs your blood like believing the world is a miracle.  It affects who you are and what you do with your life like believing your house is on fire or somebody loves you.  We believe God when somehow we run into God in a way that by and large leaves us no choice but to do otherwise.”

Of course, there are those who are not so easily convinced, those who need a little bit… well, more… in order to truly believe, and that’s where good ol’ “Doubting Thomas” comes in, insisting that he see Jesus with his own eyes and touch Jesus with his own hands before making any commitment!  But even given that hardness of heart, it’s striking that Jesus does not condemn Thomas for his doubt, rather giving Thomas exactly what he needs to believe, so to be convinced and thus empowered.  It is no wonder that Thomas does not even have to touch Jesus before he can proclaim with every fiber of his being, “My Lord and my God!”

And that’s the thing, you see; that’s our good news on this Sunday in Eastertide… that though we weren’t there with the disciples that night, we have known what it is, in the midst of overwhelming grief and fear to have felt the inflowing of God’s own peace; to know the inexplicable assurance that’ll come over you in moments of utter despair when all of a sudden you’ll just feel like maybe everything will be alright after all. Most of us here, I suspect, can tell of some time and situation where we knew we needed something to see us through – even when we weren’t at all sure what that something was – but amazingly it came to us.

That, beloved, is the peaceable presence that is the risen Christ.

During those weeks following my father’s passing, it happened that I was also committed to delivering words of welcome and an invocation at the anniversary celebration of a local nursing facility. And it was a big celebration; complete with a huge buffet, jugglers and magicians — and an appearance by the Guy Lombardo Orchestra, which was actually led by a couple of Guy Lombardo’s grandsons!  And they’re playing all these wonderful big band classics; and since that was my father’s music of choice, not to mention the songs that we’d play together over the years, it had the effect of bringing every bit of grief and sadness I was feeling up front and center!  As I got up to the podium to speak, I was teary-eyed and very definitely what’s referred to in Yiddish as Verklempt!  

But this time, the feelings were different.  It wasn’t exhaustion; it wasn’t despair; it was peace, the kind of joyful peace that comes in good memories.  I even laughed to think how thrilled my father would have been to say that his son had “fronted” the Guy Lombardo Orchestra (albeit prayerfully!).  And I actually told the audience all of this as I led into prayer: in fact, I think it had a profound effect on the musicians; as I was leaving, the bandleader ran to catch up with me so he could give me a handful of Guy Lombardo CD’s!   “This is for you, in memory of your Dad,” he said with something of a tear in his own eye!

In a very unique way, you see; I’d felt a “peaceable presence.”

Wherever we are in this life, and whatever we’re facing – physically, emotionally, spiritually – the good news is that these are the places where Jesus comes to give us his peace. Jesus comes to us in the serenity and fellowship of our worship; Jesus enters into the sanctity and depth of our prayer, both individually and as his church; Jesus will break into the solitude of our self-imposed hiding places, even the ones we build deep inside of ourselves.  Jesus comes to us, this one whom even death could not destroy; he comes to you and to me so that we might truly know his peaceable presence now and forevermore.

For the blessedness that comes in believing, thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN.

c.2014  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 27, 2014 in Easter, Faith, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Ministry, Sermon

 

Tags: , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: