Posted on Mon, May 2, 2011
Rev. Jim Merritt's Sermon May 1, 2011
A Divine Purpose
Rev. Jim Merritt
May 1, 2011
Many of us know the story of Thomas. He has been labeled, he had been called all kinds of ugly names. Faithful people have dreaded the label, “Doubting Thomas.” We have spent a fair amount of time discussing the effects of labels, so let’s have another look at this reading and see what we can learn from it.
In this week's gospel, we meet the first apostle of the risen Jesus and HER name is Mary Magdalene. There’s no doubt about it. All four gospels in the Bible unanimously affirm that the earliest witnesses to the risen Jesus were women. And in this passage in the Gospel According to John, the Risen Jesus sends Mary Magdalene to tell the other disciples what she had seen: Mary Magdalene becomes apostle to the apostles, her witness making theirs possible. After all, the Greek word apostolos, which becomes for us "apostle," means "one sent". Mary was on a Divine mission which was part of a Divine plan for her life.
Remember, Mary first sees Jesus and she does not recognize him. The gospels have different ways of illustrating this, but there's something different about Jesus after God has raised him from the dead. He now does things he didn't do before, like appear in locked rooms (John 20:19). And although he is the same person, but there's something different about his appearance; his friends don't realize immediately who he is when they see him. Still, this is the same Jesus; the gospels also make that very clear. But something has changed, something that's hard to pinpoint, but that change is so profound that at times even Jesus' friends don't recognize him.
New life, resurrection life, experiences with God are like that. When we receive them, for the first time or on a deeper level, things change. These experiences often highlight for us a plan for our lives, a direction for us to follow and we become aware of God’s Divine intention, God’s Divine plan for our own individual lives.
God had a plan for Thomas, too. I believe Thomas has received a bad rap for his need to verify what he was being told. Doubting is not a bad thing. I confess to you that there have been many times when I doubted what I was doing, doubted my faith in God and even doubted what I was preaching and teaching. The Rev. Dr. Mona West says, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith, surety is.” You see doubted can lead us to investigate, to work it out for ourselves, to make sure that our beliefs are supported by solid scholarly theology, and then to live our lives knowing that we know that we know what we believe in. To know that God is able to understand us, and to walk and talk with us every day of our lives, and to live lives persuaded that God is able to keep us until the day that we find ourselves alive and well and in the presence of God who, from the moment our lives began had a Divine purpose for our lives. When I returned to seminary after nearly 20 years of professional life, I told Professor Larry Wills, “I think I have it right and I want you to give me a foundation so I will KNOW what I know. He and others did just that and based on that experience I tell you there’s nothing wrong with doubt, there’s nothing wrong with questioning, God. God is a powerful god who can handle all of our questions. Fredrick Beuchner says, “Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith.” Let’s get some ants in our pants this morning and let us all truly seek God’s Divine purpose for our own lives.
When we do that, just like Jesus was changed at the resurrection, our lives will undergo significant changes. Relationships will change. Jesus addressed those who were his followers as sisters and brothers (John 20:17,) in the same way I address all of you. As we live into the new life Jesus brings, we find ourselves receiving those who were friends, or even enemies, as our sisters and brothers.
Our understanding of power changes. The risen Jesus hasn't become the fearful agent of vengeance that some wanted him to be before his death, and let us be clear, some people still want him to be that now. The one who came among them as a servant still works among us by serving: the risen Jesus cooks breakfast for his friends (John 21:1-14). Indeed, his friends seem to recognize him because the risen Jesus does what he has always done, calling them by name, breaking bread, breathing peace. When we recognize Christ's new life, we also recognize God's power. We finally understand that Jesus unconditionally welcomes everyone to feast with him. We see that wasn't a way to pass the time until God came with power to set things right: it was the way God's power was and is revealed. That, my sister and brothers is the world's redemption takes place. The entire universe sings with us to the Glory of our God who has a Divine purpose for all of us.
Our vision changes. When we take in the new life Christ offers, we can see Christ's presence everywhere -- in Creation, in the eyes of a child, and in the hearts of our enemies. In injustices, hurts and wounds, we see opportunities to participate in the risen Christ's healing and redemption of our world. Our hearts change. The more we take on God’s Divine purpose for us, the more we experience Christ's compassion. We learn to see others as people loved by God. We see them as those to whom God has given gifts that all of us need in order to become the Body of Christ in the world. Dylan Bruer says, “And as we learn to love those whom we formerly saw as unlovable, we experience the unreserved graciousness with which Christ loves us.” I love that; “the unreserved graciousness with which Christ Jesus loves us.”
Finally, our sense of possibility changes. In Egypt, the freed slaves saw armies advancing and saw no way out; prophets like Moses and Miriam saw a way forward by plunging into the waters. What seemed to be certain death became a call to new life, as the scattered Hebrew slaves became not just a people, but God's people. In Judea, some looked at Jesus' cross and saw death; some looked at the empty tomb and anticipated death for themselves, as Roman law decreed death to grave robbers. But what looks like death is an opening for new life. What looks like death can become an amazing invitation to God’s Divine plan for each one of our lives.
It might be hard to recognize at first, but new life has come and continues to come among us. We are invited to become more completley who we are in Christ, more completely ourselves, more complete with the presence of the risen Christ in the world. That is the wonderful news that Mary Magdalene, apostle to the apostles, bears to us now. That is the news that a wonderful doubting Thomas offers us. And when we take that news in, we, like Mary's first hearers, will find ourselves sent forth to be known and make Jesus known in the breaking of the bread, the healing of the sick, the loving of the unlovable, the reconciliation of each of us to one another and to God in Christ. That’s what happens when we find and embrace God’s Divine plan for our lives.
God bless you today. AMEN.
1Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 3As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight. 4Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. 5The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. 7I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. 9Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. 10For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. 11You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.” 26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.