Sunday, April 28, 2019
Second Sunday of Easter, Year C
Prayer of the Day
O God of life, you reach out to us amid our fears with the wounded hands of your risen Son. By your Spirit’s breath revive our faith in your mercy, and strengthen us to be the body of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalms
Acts 5:27-32 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus
Revelation 1:4-8 Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead, is coming
John 20:19-31 Beholding the wounds of the risen Christ
Title: Crisis of Trust
With the regularity of a favorite talk show host that you can count on to come on the screen at a certain time every evening, here comes Thomas. Or should I say, “Heeeeeere’s Thomas.” It is one of the few letionaries in our three-year cycle that shows up every year, regardless of which gospel: Matthew, Mark, or Luke is featured for the year. Yes, every year, on this Sunday after Easter, or what we call the Second Sunday of Easter, because we are in the fifty days of Easter. Certainly, a resurrection is worthy of 50 days of celebrating, don’t you think? But every year on the Sunday that follows all the wonder and the crowds and the shouting and the singing and the Dixieland bands; on this, what some like to cynically Low Sunday, we always get the story featuring Thomas, the famous episode that has given him his infamous nickname – Doubting Thomas. And it has been my practice each year to come to the defense of poor Thomas. I appreciate his presence and I believe we need his story right here in the midst, of our celebration. A celebration of something that is in many ways, if we are really honest with ourselves, is beyond belief, too good to be true, way beyond our wildest imaginings. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We rightly call it the mystery of faith.
So good for Thomas to speak for all of us and say what we are all thinking…if we could just have some solid proof, some tangible confirmation, something solid to lean on so it is not totally left up to that impossible thing to grasp that we call faith.
But this year, I am a little more aware of another story as I read, listen, and meditate on Thomas’ story. And that is my story. For this past Wednesday, I marked 10 years of ordained ministry. And while I could go on and on about the adventures and misadventures, the lessons and the failings that have spiced and bedazzled these past ten years, Thomas has me thinking more about what led up to that day ten years ago Wednesday.
As rich as my journey has been, one thing that I did not have was a major crisis of faith. Not sure why or where it came from, but I never questioned God’s presence in my life or God’s love for me. Even growing up into a self-understanding of being gay and all that that could mean when set along side the laws as articulated in the first covenant. I have always had confidence in the mercy, grace and love of God. Even in times of doubt and despair, it never lasted long and that still small voice was there reminding me of God’s loving and unfailing embrace.
There are probably many factors: family of origin, growing up in the context of Lutheran theology, understanding faith as a gift from God and not a work of our own making. Whatever, wherever, I am thankful for and humbled by this assurance. It truly is a blessed assurance and a grace-filled gift. However, there have been times, and especially as an ordained pastor, when I have thought that perhaps it would have been helpful to have had that major faith crisis, to work through it, or, better put, to be led through it by the Holy Spirit. I say this because I encounter so many who have had this experience, or more likely, are having this experience. And I think, if I had a similar story would I be able to have more insight, be more empathetic, be able to relate on a deeper level to this person’s situation and experience?
But over the years, this annual visit from Thomas has helped me understand my journey better. Because I don’t think that Thomas had a faith crisis either. We don’t hear him say: because Jesus died there is no God. Or, because I wasted my time following a man who ended up being executed like a common criminal, God must hate me. He simply said, after hearing this incredible news that Jesus had risen from the dead: I need some proof. It wasn’t a crisis of faith; it was a crisis of trust.
He didn’t trust that God could do something so beyond human understanding. He didn’t trust that Jesus had been telling the truth when, before his passion and death, he had spoken of his own resurrection that had now taken place. He didn’t trust the witness and experience of others.
Now that is a crisis I can relate to and own. I felt a call to ministry from early on, but I did not trust that I was up to the task. And now I’ve certainly learned that I’m not to it on my own, but by the power of the Holy Spirit working in me and through me, maybe something can be accomplished in the name of Jesus. I didn’t trust God’s call when set along-side the church’s refusal to allow me to live authentically as a gay man. In my actions I was saying the opposite of what Peter is saying in the second reading. In my lack of trust in God, I was obeying human authority and not God’s. But now I humble stand on the shoulders of those colleagues and saints who trusted and moved forward in their calling in spite of what the human authority of the church was telling them.
Yes, I am in good company this morning as I reflect on my own crisis of trust.
There are the churches to whom John is writing his letter that we all the book of Revelation, the introduction of which is our second reading this morning, and a portion of his letter will be read each Sunday of Easter over the next five weeks. Those churches in modern day Turkey (then called Asia minor and part of the Roman empire) were having some trust issues as well. Persecutions of followers of Jesus were on the rise. And I’m sure not a few people were starting to think: Wait a minute, following Jesus was supposed to be a good thing. A life affirming thing. I’m helping the poor and feeding the hungry in his name. Why is this happening to me, to us? Jesus conquered death, why isn’t he conquering the Romans who now threaten Christ’s church and followers of Jesus? And like the story that was told to Thomas on the first Easter night, the one that demanded that he trust enough to change his thinking; John tells those frightened, knee-knocking, trust-lacking folks: Just you wait and watch, the lamb is going to conquer every beast and devil these earthly powers can conjure up. To which they said, (like Thomas’ “show me the body” line), they must have said: Really, John, a lamb? Is that the best that God can do? We have the mightiest empire ever known breathing down our necks and God is sending in a lamb to defeat it?
Perhaps Peter, in that Jerusalem scene in the first reading is our encouraging “before and after” picture that invites us to trust a little more deeply in the victorious and transforming power of God. Think about where we have seen Peter over the past ten days. He is the one who didn’t trust what Jesus was doing with the whole foot washing thing. He is the one who promised to fight by Jesus’ side to the end and then ran away like the others. He couldn’t stay awake when Jesus was praying in such agony. And of course, that great crisis of trust, he denied publicly that he even knew who Jesus was. And yet, this morning, there he is, there’s Peter standing before folks who could order him stoned in an instant. He is preaching the good and controversial news that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
But, of course, all our trust is placed in the one who is standing amongst his frightened, un-trusting disciples. Jesus stands among them and among us -saying trust me. Not: trust me and I will make it all the bad stuff go away. No, because he stands there with all the wounds still very present. He says: Trust in me through whatever you face because I have died, I have risen, I will come again.
With all my heart, I trust that Jesus comes to us and is present as we gather around word and sacrament. I trust that through the work of the Holy Spirit we can do more than we imagine or are able to do on our own, whether we are called to ordained ministry or the more important ministry of living as God’s people every day in all the we say or do. And I trust in the promises that God made to each of us in baptism, making us God’s own, and claiming us forever. God is the Alpha and Omega, and everything in between. Sometimes we’ll trust. Sometimes we’ll doubt. Sometimes we’ll accept boldly. Sometimes we will demand proof. No matter where we find ourselves, Christ is there, breathing God’s Spirit on us, bringing us peace for the trusting. By the power of the Holy Spirit, may God continue to work through all of us, as we put our trust, and grow our trust, in the reality that…
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
The Rev. Mark E. Erson,