11 April 2010

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter: "Hard To Get"

You who live in heaven
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth
Who are afraid of being left by those we love
And who get hardened in the hurt

Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith to ask for daily bread
Did You forget about us after You had flown away
Well I memorized every word You said
Still I'm so scared, I'm holding my breath
While You're up there just playing hard to get

You who live in radiance
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin
We have a love that's not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then

Did You ever know loneliness
Did You ever know need
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don't see the blood that's running in Your sweat
Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You're up there just playing hard to get?

And I know You bore our sorrows
And I know You feel our pain
And I know that it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained

And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I have figured this, somehow
What I really need to know

Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can't see what's ahead
And we can not get free from what we've left behind
I'm reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All these words of shame and doubt, blame and regret

I can't see how You're leading me unless You've led me here
To where I'm lost enough to let myself be led
And so You've been here all along I guess
It's just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

“Hard to Get” by Rich Mullins,

recorded on The Jesus Record

© 1998 - Liturgy Legacy Music / Word Music / ASCAP

Thomas the Apostle would have understood what Rich was singing about. The Second Sunday of Easter always tells this story, mainly because the gospel tells us it happened a week after the Resurrection. Thomas was a complex character, to say the least. In John 14, when Jesus was preparing his disciples for the crucifixion, Thomas was the one who asked, "Jesus, where are you going?" Thomas is the one who wouldn’t say he understood when he didn’t understand. In John 11, when Jesus was going back to Bethany to bring his friend Lazarus out of the grave, the disciples knew that Jesus was putting Himself into harm's way. But Thomas was the only disciple who said: "Let us go to die with him." Thomas was the disciple who went 100% when he DID understand. In poker terms, Thomas was an "all-in" kind of disciple.

"I'll believe it when I see it!" This is the catchphrase of the skeptic. "Too good to be true" is another. And my all-time favorite, which appears on the internet as TANSTAAFL "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." Skeptics are the reasonable ones among us who won't buy in until they've been completely convinced of the truth of a proposition. Thomas was not the only skeptic among the disciples. John 20 says the door was locked when Jesus first came to the disciples. Why was it locked? Because they were afraid. Why were they afraid? Because Jesus was dead. Every last one of them was a skeptic, and so are we. Jesus is in the business of turning us into recovering skeptics.[1]

"I see it when I believe it" is the cry of the recovering skeptic. It is revelation: The disciples, all of them, have finally seen Jesus in the way He intends to be seen; not as just some teacher, one of many prophets, a spiritual guru, but "MY LORD AND MY GOD!" They have seen. They believe. Life is changed forever.

In John's Gospel, the difference between light and darkness is not the difference between faith and doubt, as some have suggested. The difference between light and darkness is the difference between faith and fear. Doubting Thomas is not the problem in John 20: the fearful disciples huddled behind locked doors in the upper room are the problem.

The prophet Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”[2] Think, in your own life: what darkness holds you captive? What fear imprisons you behind locked doors? I’m certain the disciples felt abandoned by God – and I know you’ve felt this way before. The sad news is that you’ll feel that way again. Sin, whether it belongs to you or someone else, will find you. All of us will find ourselves wanting nothing more than a locked room and the company of close friends – to shut the world out so we can’t be hurt or deceived any more. It is into these locked rooms Jesus comes, bearing his scars and bestowing his peace.

"Peace be with you," Jesus says. When Jesus talks about peace, he means a different kind of peace. "Peace I leave with you," Jesus says, "I do not give to you as the world gives…If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. Because I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you…I have said these things to you so that IN ME you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage, I have conquered the world." When we see the world through Jesus' eyes, we see that we are sent to give ourselves to the world as Jesus gave himself, fully and completely, with no reservation or fear. In John 14, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment: love one another. We remember that commandment on Maundy Thursday, translated from the Latin mandatum: commandment. "By this everyone will know you are my disciples," Jesus says, "if you have love for one another."

"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe," Jesus says. This is not a condemnation of Thomas for his skepticism – this is a word for those who come after Thomas to see and hear, that we may remember that we are as blessed as Thomas the recovering skeptic. True, we have not seen Jesus with our physical eyes. But the apostle who wrote this gospel wrote it for us, that we may be blessed as Jesus said. Not only "come to believe," but "continue to believe." Anyone who has sincerely tried to be a follower of Jesus knows that it's not an easy thing to do. Instead of a gradual climb of holiness, where every step leads to a higher degree of sanctification, we find that following Jesus leads us down a narrow path that has bends and curves and hills and valleys. Like the old song goes, "Sometime the load is heavy, and sometimes the road is long, and sometimes, Lord, this heart of mine is not so very strong." But all along the road of faith, in all our moments of darkness and light, fear and faith, we have a good and loving Savior who submits Himself time and again to our need for reassurance and faith. Even in our darkest and most fear-filled anxieties, the One whom we confess is our Lord and our God is willing to come into the locked rooms of our hearts and give us His peace. Thus we see His wounds. Thus we hear His voice. Thus we come to believe.

We will not always trust in Jesus. Our sin and our death and most of all our fear are fighting a losing battle, but they are fighting tooth and nail to hold on to all their lies and manipulations. But Jesus has words for us to see and hear in those hard times. Jesus says, "So you have pain now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you. On that day, you will ask nothing of Me." (John 16.22)

When Thomas saw Jesus again, his skeptical heart rejoiced and he confessed the words we all long to say in our hearts: "My Lord and my God!" In this Resurrection season, remember that seeing and hearing Jesus is as close as the people around you, who have all been given life in Jesus' name and live to be the words and hands of Jesus in the world.

· You are no longer captive to your sins – you have been set free to love one another

· You are no longer captive to your fears – the peace of Christ is given to you for protection from all that threatens you · You are no longer captive to your skepticism – do not doubt, but believe.

We have all we need when we see and hear Him through the eyes and ears of faith, and through seeing and hearing Him, we believe in Him and have life in his name. "My Lord and my God!" – give us faith to see and to hear You. Amen.

[1] I disovered this term from Pastor Ed Markquart, who retired from Grace Lutheran Church in Seattle in 2007. I can’t find the original reference, but you can see his work at http://sermonsfromseattle.com

[2] Isaiah 9.2

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