April 28, 2019

Pastor Tammy Sharp

Acts 5:27-32 Revelations 1:4-8 Psalm 118:14-29 John 20:19-31
My husband (Rick) and I, are sort of reality show junkies. That isn’t totally true. We are not into the Housewives of …. Sort of reality junkies. We watch competition shows like America’s Got Talent and American Idol and Survivor…. Those sort of reality TV shows. Last year there was a new one called “World’s Best”. Basically an America’s Got Talent sort of show but involves acts from around the world. The winner this year was a 13 year old boy from Indian boy, Lydian Nadhaswaram (I am sure I can’t say it right). He is a pianist. Oh not just a kid who plays piano. This kid is AMAZING. At one time he played two pianos at once. On the finale he played the piano then moved to the drums and he had a humble, joyful spirit that took you in. This kid was amazing, and he is 13. I could have sat and watched him for hours. If you had told me about him before the days of YouTube, I would have said, “Oh that sounds cool”, and not been all that impressed. But I saw it. It was amazing.
This is true of when Payton, our granddaughter, first started to walk. When they said she was taking steps, I was excited, but when I saw it for myself, it was the most wonderful thing to behold. I am a very experiential learner, and I need to see and touch and smell things for myself to really get it. And when someone tells me something that is completely unbelievable, I am not shy about saying “you are nuts. That can’t happen”. I am not alone. All of us have a need to see for ourselves if we are going to believe something out of the ordinary. And that brings us to the this morning’s Gospel lesson.
This is the Second Sunday in Easter. CHRIST IS RISEN! (Congregation should respond, “He is risen indeed. Alleluia”). We begin our worship on Easter Sunday this way and for the 6 Sundays that follow in our Easter season, up to Pentecost. But Guess what, Christ will still be risen at Pentecost, and the next Sunday, and for every other day after that. It is the foundation of our faith. God chose to come into the world as one of us. To live and die and rise again, that we might receive grace and forgiveness and eternal life. Our God is not dead he is risen as he said. If this is not true, then the rest of our faith falls to pieces. This morning, we see the first glimpse of the biggest struggle the Christian faith has. DOUBT!
Poor Thomas gets such a bad rap in the eyes of history. He was one of those closest to Jesus in this life. He was there when Jesus predicted his death in what we find to be very clear ways throughout Jesus ministry. It is hard for us to imagine how Thomas could have doubted what the other disciples told him. We can imagine he might be jealous that it all happened when he wasn’t there. But to seriously not believe the others after all that he had seen in Jesus seems crazy. Why couldn’t he believe what had been told to him by Jesus? Why did he have to touch and see for himself? Wouldn’t we all give just about anything to have been present at even one of those dinners where Jesus said with authority that he would rise again? Wouldn’t that be enough for all of us?
Don’t flatter yourself. Everyone of us has a need to experience things for ourselves. We are now in an age when, if we are willing to do so, we can fact check just about anything. Unfortunately, too many people are willing to just jump on bandwagons and share information they heard from someone else without a little “Let me see for myself”. It is how the truly “FAKE NEWS” and rumors are given life! Many a person’s reputations have been ruined by just such willingness to believe what we want to believe. It is important for us to have that innate need to see for ourselves. It keeps us from following a lunatic off of a very tall cliff because they say this will give you strength or some other crazy promise. So when Thomas is honest enough to say, “I’ll believe it when I see it”, He is reminding all of us of the reality of human nature. The reality for all of us is that we did not come to a place of faith on our own. A deep faith comes when we experience the love of Christ for ourselves. When we can see and touch this love of God for ourselves.
Those of us raised in a family where faith was important may or may not have some big lightening bold story about how we came to believe that Jesus is real and that Jesus did rise from the dead, but we have moments. From the moment your parents or grandparents taught you your first bedtime prayer or table grace, you began to experience the reality of Jesus. Throughout your life, if you really take time to think about it you will see, over and over again, moments when you were able to see the risen Christ for yourself. Those moments come together and become the substance of your faith. Without them, you would not be sitting in church today!
Some who grow up in families of faith but most who come to faith later in life, have AHA moments they can share with you. They can pinpoint a time they were Thomas standing with the disciples saying “I will see it when I believe it”, and then, Jesus appeared. It will be through a moment when a person near them reflected the love and forgiveness and grace of Christ to them. It is a moment that can’t be explained fully to someone else but for the person it gives them complete clarity. It is a magical moment that sustains them as they grow in faith.
Weather it happened a little at a time, with a day to day life of faith shown to you in your home, or some Aha! Sort of moment, it is through the people of God that people see the risen Christ. That is the way that it works. The slogan the ELCA has for it’s big work day “God’s work, our Hands”, isn’t just a slogan. It is the reality of how people will come to know the Jesus we worship and love!. It is also the way that people are driven so far from the church, and from Christ.
People experience God’s love through other people. There are times in life when God is expressed through a big moment you can’t explain in any sensible way, like when Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus. But, for the most part, we experience who God is; we touch and see for ourselves, as people of God share that grace with us. People also come to believe that the God we worship isn’t worth knowing because what they have experienced of God through God’s people is nothing they want to be any part of. They have experienced God through God’s people as being angry, and judgmental, and selfish, and unkind. God’s people have driven more people from the church than any sort of philosophy or need for scientific facts. We blame the declining of the church on the culture as if that somehow is out there somewhere, forgetting that it is the culture of God’s people that will determine if the church survives. It is a big responsibility, and it is scary to know that we are responsible for this. But it is no different than it was for the disciples. In fact, we have it easy compared to the disciples because we do not have to fear being executed for our faith, at least in this country. We are free to express our faith and we do it all the time. The question is, what are people who have not yet seen for themselves experiencing the risen Christ?
The disciples stood strong as they were beaten for their faith. They did not pick up arms and fight back. They stood strong and showed great love and forgiveness. In our country, revenge and cold Justice are honored. “They deserve exactly what they did to someone else”. I get it, more times than I want to admit, I feel just like that. But no one will experience the love of God through vengeance.
The disciples followed the example they found in Jesus by welcoming anyone and every one who came to them. They didn’t check their economic status, or what sort of moral code a person had. They opened their arms and said welcome. Our society is very happy to make very real qualifications on who can be a part of us and who cannot. This city does it. In the name of making the city clean and safe, they have made it so people who are in need cannot stand on the street asking for money. Most people really like this because those folks make us uncomfortable. But, is that what Jesus calls us to do: hide those in need in our community as if they don’t exist? The church is the worst. Some churches are better than others and I do believe that Christus Victor has an open heart to whomever comes in our doors. But, far to often it is the church that keeps people from Jesus by demanding that people look a certain way, or talk a certain way. In our efforts to make our churches “Godly” places, our unwillingness to accept people as they are makes us the least Godly and we drive people further from the love of God.
I have sat with more people than I care to admit trying to convince them that Jesus is not that way because they have been asked to leave a church because of their lifestyle, or because they are a bit different. I even talked with a woman who was told there is probably a better church for her family that could accommodate the needs of her child, who, because of her disability, often cried out, or yelled something during the service. Every time I sit with someone and hear these sort of stories, my heart breaks and my blood boils. If the people who have experienced the love of Christ in the world cannot show unconditional, radical, grace-filled love, then how will those who have not seen for themselves ever going to know the love of God?
I could stand for the next 6 hours sharing the way I have experienced the love of God through more people of God than I can count. But this isn’t about me. This is about Jesus. This is about how God uses his children to reflect the very radical love of Jesus to the world. So you have two responsibilities, maybe three as you leave today.
1st, stop your crazy life long enough to see. See how you have come to this place of faith. Who and what circumstances make this Jesus we read about real to you? Do yourself a favor and write it all down. It will be something to cherish I promise. Consider who taught you to pray. Who told you the stories of faith? Who showed you that they were not just stories and how did they do that? Where did you see God’s love when you were at your worst or weakest? How do you know that Christ really did rise from the dead? This is your evangelism story. You don’t have to convince anyone that Jesus is real. You do have to show people Jesus is real by the way you love; by your openness to even those who make you uncomfortable; by your willingness to share your weakness and scars. When they see how the love of Christ has made a difference in you, the door will be opened for the Holy Spirit to do the real work of changing them.
2nd, take an honest look at yourself. How do you talk to people? When you look at someone else, are you seeing them with eyes of love, or are you scanning them to be sure you see all the things that make them weak or odd, or simply different than you? Are you open to those who are different than you or are you only willing to get close to those who make you feel like the way you think is right and the rest of the world is wrong? Do your attitude and actions reflect openness and love, or do they reflect arrogance and judgement? Do you reflect the Love you have experienced through Christ or are you making sure you are protecting exactly who you are and what you have? If you are the person who is standing before Thomas, will Thomas see the scars from unconditional love, or the shield of strength and protection?
Last, take time this week to intentionally be Jesus to someone. It is who we are all the time, like it or not. But, this week, be intentional about showing radical love, forgiveness and grace to one person in your life. Then, pay attention, and see how the Holy Spirit stirs in someone after reflecting the true, unconditional love of Jesus. Not only will they truly see Jesus, so will you!