Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sermon ~ Unexpected

Sermon for Easter 2, Year B
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Arlington, VA

Last Friday in the Washington Post,
I saw an article[1] about Good Friday –
about faith and doubt. 
At  the author’s Shabbat services,
the prayer leader asked kids
what part of the Exodus story they liked best. 
The children responded –
The parting of the Red Sea!
Miriam’s dance with the tambourine!
The frogs!

However, there was one little child who replied,
“Oh, I don’t believe it.”
While his mother tried to shush him,
the author considered this a “teachable moment.” 
Many of the bible stories are unbelievable,
and yet God keeps visiting in unexpected ways –
a bush on fire that does not burn,
a staff flung down that turns into a serpent,
a Red Sea, parted,
A carpenter, executed as a criminal,
comes to life and greets his followers. 
Death was not the end of these stories –
and God showed up, in unexpected ways.

In today’s Gospel text, we read of one more person
who does not believe the story. 
On the evening of the first day of the week
after Jesus appeared to Mary, the disciples gathered. 
·        There, in the same upper room
as the previous week’s supper,
they huddled together. 
·        There, they locked the doors,
fearful of the Jews (the religious authorities).
·        There, they spoke softly, kept the lights low, and
in the lengthening shadows of that evening,
their eyes shifted as they exchanged glances. 
·        There, they considered Mary,
who had just the day before, said to them,
“I have seen the Lord!”
·        There, unbelievably, Jesus came and stood among them.

He showed up, unexpectedly. 
“Peace be with you!” he said and
he showed them his hands
and he showed them his wounds.

As a wave of relief swept through the room,
their shoulders loosened,
their jaws relaxed,
their breathing deepened,
and their circle widened.

They were overjoyed with Jesus in their midst;
but joy was not his goal. 
They leaned in and to listen to him.

he breathed on them the Holy Spirit and
told them the rest of the story –
that they, as disciples, had the authority and
responsibility to forgive and retain sins.
And in their glee,
they agreed to meet back in this same place.

A week later, Thomas joined them. 
He had not been there earlier. 
The other disciples
had forgotten their disbelief of Mary and
had told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord!” 
Thomas replied like the child at Shabbat Services
that he didn’t believe it.

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

Even though he must have known the stories about
the burning bush,
the serpent-turning staff,
the parting Red Sea,
he still wanted proof.

The story had to fit into a narrowly defined,
concrete way of looking at things. 
He was unwilling to accept secondhand testimony. 
He seemed to know that
there would be others, like him,
who had not seen Jesus and
would not believe that
God really did have victory over death. 
For him, the story was over.
Does this sound familiar? 
Many people today have a narrowly defined,
concrete way of looking at things. 
They need proof that God is going to show up…
and a resurrected Jesus is just unbelievable.   

“Those people” may even be us. 
Sometimes we lock the door to our hearts,
hearing the familiar ker-thunk,
for fear of what others might say or do. 
We do not share our hope, faith or love.
We huddle close with our friends.
We keep to ourselves and sometimes we, too,
need proof that God will show up.   

We doubt. 
·        I have applied for how many positions so far?
What if I don’t find work? 
·        What will happen if something goes wrong
with that work project –
the one over which so many people have anguished?
·        How can education be effective if the
school superintendant does not take into account creative perspectives?

For many people,
it is Good Friday every day. 
It seems that the powers and principalities
have the last word. 
We give to Arlington Food Assistance Center
through the basket each week,
we make sandwiches every month, and
yet for many,
food security continues to be a critical, daily issue.
It hits those who cannot help it – children. 
In the Metro DC area, nearly 1 of 3 kids
do not know where their next meal is coming from.[2]
They think that is the end of the story. 

Our scientifically-oriented,
desire-for-instant-gratification culture
relies on facts.
Cultural norms require proof.

And yet, God keeps showing up unexpected ways.
What we see is not the whole story. 

Jesus came through the shut doors,
inviting Thomas to
“put your finger here and see my hands,
reach out your hand and put it in my side.”
·        In that invitation, Thomas recognized Jesus
his carpenter hands, his road-calloused feet, his kind smile. 
·        In that invitation,
Thomas responded with an unexpected cry,
“My Lord and My God!”
·        In that invitation,
Thomas’s desire for a first hand experience
of the risen Jesus was granted.

Jesus showed up just how Thomas needed him. 
Jesus refused to let deadbolts block any movement of love
Jesus gave proof, in an unexpected way,
that his death did not have the final word.
He revealed himself. 
·        Despite the locked doors and high anxiety. 
·        Despite the strong need for proof.
·        Despite Thomas’s disbelief.
Jesus showed up.  Unexpectedly, intimately, lovingly. 

This three-part poem by Tom Troeger[3] says this so well:

These things did Thomas count as real:
the warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
the grain of wood, the heft of stone,
the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.
The vision of his skeptic mind
was keen enough to make him blind
to any unexpected act
too large for his small world of fact.
His reasoned certainties denied
that one could live when one had died,
until his fingers read like Braille
the markings of the spear and nail.

I wonder if we can relate to Thomas. 
“…The vision of his skeptic mind /
was keen enough to make him blind /
to any unexpected act /
too large for his small world of fact.” 

This poem reminds us that
God is bigger than our own view.
But wait, there’s more!
After this intimate encounter with Thomas,
Jesus promised fullness of life for
“those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 
In other words, Jesus said that
anyone from then on,
who believes without seeing,
is blessed and will have unexpectedly full life.

Through the proof-needing Thomas,
we are assured of God’s presence
in our believing-without-seeing state.
Death is not the final word.
God shows up in unexpected ways. 

Answers to our most profound and desperate questions
come not because we seek them with focused determination,
but because God comes seeking us
and offers love at the very moment
when it all seems a farce. 

God shows up in unexpected ways. 
·        In unexpected solutions that occur on work projects
·        In abundance of food networks to those who are hungry
·        In creative ideas that become a supervisor’s passion
·        In prophetic voices that speak out for God’s dream
·        In the Vestry affirmation of St. Andrew’s amazing Petty-Madden Organ

Jesus seeks us, finds us, and shares with us –
through locked doors, in intimate ways,
with carpenter hands and road calloused feet. 

And when he comes to find us,
we may not recognize him,
even if he is 2 inches from our face.

However he comes,
it will be unexpected and
larger than we can conceive. 

It will be with a proclamation of peace
and an intimate love that is
stronger than even violent death itself. 

In the wonder of his wounds, he finds us.[4]

May we, O God, by grace believe /
and thus the risen Christ receive /
whose raw imprinted palms reach out /
And beckoned Thomas from his doubt.[5]

Today – look around. 
Look away. 
Look up close. 

God keeps showing up in unexpected ways.
This is not the end of the story.

Amen. Alleluia!

[1] http://wapo.st/HCJ7FR cited on April 12, 2012
[2] http://bit.ly/HOvpsZ cited on April 12, 2012
[3] Susan A. Blain, Ed., Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource, Vol. 2, (United Church Press: Cleveland, 1995), Thomas H. Troeger, “These Things Did Thomas Count as Real,” 186
[4] Serene Jones, Theological Perspective, Feasting on the Word, Second Sunday of Easter, p. 404
[5] Troeger, Tom – prayer on p. 188

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hands and Heart

On Easter Sunday I used the "flannel graph" board to share Our Story of Jesus to the children in the family service. 

The script outlines the story and the images flow nicely - beginning with God's Hands and Heart up on the board, then Jesus is born (add star, cradle and baby Jesus), then Jesus becomes an adult (remove baby Jesus and put up big Jesus, without robe) and is baptized in the river Jordan (add water strips at ankles, three drops of water at head and place Spirit Dove with Halo above Jesus' head).God's hands and heart stay up on the flannel graph the whole story.  When Jesus is resurrected, he, too, joins God in Heaven - and is placed on the Heart and in the Hands of God.

The felt pieces were soft and about hand-sized.  They were warm and cozy - almost snuggly.  The children sitting nearby reached over to feel the texture and opened their eyes wide with joy at the way the pieces stuck to the graph board.

I still had bits of felt lint on my dress as I vested for Holy Communion. With the image of God's Hands and Heart still in my head, I set the communion table and prepared to serve.  In kairos time - uncircumscribed by any time piece, I became one of those children as I reached to each communicant to serve - their cupped hands formed a warm, tender spot onto which I placed the host - The Body of Christ - and their searching eyes poured out love and met mine - The Bread of Heaven.

My heart and my hands were full of God's presence in that eternal resurrection moment.

How do you recognize God's Hands and Heart in this moment?