Posts Tagged ‘Post Resurrection’

I Have Seen the Lord 4-28-19

In this sermon, based on John 20:19-31, I explore two of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Thomas’ honest response to the proclamation of the Risen Lord reveals a desire to have the same experience for himself.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-have-seen-the-lord-4-28-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord and Savior be yours, today and forever. Amen

Ever found yourself in the midst of situation where one person utterly surprises another? Now I don’t mean in the “SURPRISE!!” way, but like the “utterly mind blowing because you’re in a place where this person has no business being” kinda way?

Happened to me a few times…just last December, on our way home from vacation, we were sitting in the Houston airport, when I saw a couple that lives here in town…turns out they’d been in Texas for Iowa States’ bowl game and were on their way home as well. (pause)
I remember another time, we were out in Colorado for camp a few years back, when low and behold I came around a corner and there was an old friend and coworker from my year of Internship in Minnesota…and we were in the same spot at the same time, half way across the country. (pause)

I’ve been on the other end of this type of thing, too.  Clear back in 1999, during my junior year at Iowa State…I remember packing up my stuff to head home for the weekend…and as I was leaving…my roommate was busy playing some online game or another, networked in with the two guys that lived across the hall…I grabbed my stuff…told him to have a good weekend…and out the door I went…and then on Sunday, the weekend being almost over, I walked back into our room, saw him at his desk…the same game on his computer…and I just said “hey man.”

Now his response caught me off guard… “Hey…what you forget?”  “What?”  “What you forget? You must have forgotten something to be back already?”  In my confusion I responded “Dude, what are you talking about…its Sunday.”  And he stopped…turned and looked at me and said “It is?” And then he just kinda sat there blinking while his mind was catching up with reality.  Apparently, the game had been so engrossing that he had sat there all weekend long playing it…losing all sense of time…which is why it was so confusing for him when I walked back in the door 48 hours later.

Now this idea of encounters that defy what our minds tell us should be possible…that’s where we are connecting into the gospel for today. Today’s story is one that we share on this week every year…the second Sunday after Easter and the encounter that we’ve come to know as Doubting Thomas…which, for the record, isn’t an overly great name…and its worth noting that today’s passage includes not one but two different encounters with the resurrected Jesus.

Now I can’t help but think that today’s story includes a little bit of implied time travel.  Because the action picks up the evening of the Resurrection…and so we need to turn our minds backwards 7 days…to last Sunday night…we had all gathered together that morning to celebrate the Risen Jesus…we shared breakfast…everyone departed for their various family celebrations…I’m sure there were naps involved…but then, by late afternoon, early evening…everyone had settled in…back to normal…thinking about work the next day…but that’s our perspective.

For the ones there that day…things are little different.  If we back up ever so slightly in the passage itself…we have the testimony of Mary Magdalene…the first witness to the empty tomb…Mary alone encounters the Risen Jesus…now if you recall that account, she’s confused at who he is until he calls her by name…revealing the personal connection…and she recognizes him…and then reports back to the disciples “I have seen the Lord.”

It seems that none of them really know what to make of this…and they lock themselves away somewhere out of fear…when suddenly out of nowhere…defying all logic…in utterly mind-blowing fashion…Jesus is standing among them…and unlike my surprise appearance that freaked out my roommate after a fast weekend…and despite the fact that Jesus had told them repeatedly that he would be raised…and despite the earlier testimony of Mary…I can only imagine that this just didn’t compute.

JESUS WAS DEAD…AND THE DOOR IS LOCKED…DUDES! HOW IS HE HERE? These must have been the thoughts racing through their minds…and I imagine that Jesus knows it because not just once but twice he greets them with an offer of peace. Peace be with you…as he shows them the marks of the crucifixion that he still bears in his body…assuring them that he is in fact, the Risen Lord…and with that he breathes the Holy Spirit into them…empowering them with a mission. Just as the Father has sent me…so I send you.

And with this, the disciples are somehow changed.  And they are  empowered by the Spirit in order to share their testimony…their personal encounter that has revealed the good news of the Resurrected Jesus…and if you notice…when they bump in to Thomas, who was absent in this amazing moment…their testimony is pretty much identical to Mary’s from earlier that day. She says “I have seen the Lord.” They say “We have seen the Lord.” (pause)

Now here’s where things get little shady for good old Thomas.  We have no idea where he was this first time around…but he seems to know that he missed out on something special.  Unless I see the marks of the nails, put my finger in them, and stick my hand in the wound on his side, I can’t believe it. (pause)

What’s really going on here? Is Thomas just fickle?  Is he a skeptic…denying the possibility that Jesus was dead and now he isn’t? Or, does Thomas just hope to have the same experience as the others…is it simply his hope and desire to encounter the Risen Lord so he can make the same proclamation?  Is this doubt? Or is this revealing a longing that I think we all share…to somehow encounter the Risen Lord.  Don’t we all long to see Jesus?  Can you blame Thomas?

He’d spent the same amount of time following Jesus as the rest of them.  He abandoned Jesus just like the others…and they still got to see him…stands to reason that Thomas should too…and the whole “put my finger in the nail holes thing,” well Jesus had shown the others his hands and side…Thomas just wants to experience that too.  This isn’t doubt…this is a desire to experience it for himself. (pause)

As I think about that…I think of the wide variety of ways that the Resurrected Jesus is revealed throughout the scriptures.  He shows up on a mountaintop…to joyful and yet confused disciples and gives them the great commission.  He travels along with 2 followers on the road to Emmaus and is only revealed through the breaking of the bread.  He is revealed to Mary as he calls her by name.  He’s revealed to the disciples in an offer of peace…Thomas included, although a week later. He shows up on the road in a blinding light to the Apostle Paul.

In a different sense, John’s gospel itself testifies that Jesus is revealed through the written account of his many signs…and that begins to point us to something different…the importance of proclamation…that the Holy Spirit…mysterious as it might be, acts within us through the proclamation of the good news of the resurrection…and this has been ongoing over the course of the past 2000 years…this is vital for those of us who were not there to see the Resurrected Jesus for ourselves…for those of us who might wish to hear a word of peace from his mouth…who might wish to hear him call us by name…or to see with our own eyes the holes in his hands and feet…but for us and for countless individuals who have come before us…that’s not possible.

And yet…here we are today…gathered together to worship our Risen Lord and to give thanks for all that God has accomplished through his life death and resurrection…we are gathered because we have heard the proclamation and through the hearing of this good news the Spirit has created the gift of faith within us…the ability to believe that which is unbelievable…to trust in the truth of that which we have not seen for ourselves.

And that faith…that promise which is spoken over us in the waters of our baptism…this is what these three young people are affirming for themselves today. (pause) Now as many of you know…one of the last things I have our Confirmation Students do is write a statement, which I call their “I believe” Statements…no fluff…not telling me what they think I want to hear…but an honest reflection of what they believe at this point in their lives. And its never disappointing.

This year, there was a theme of the importance of others…of those who are part of this church, this community of believers, who have set examples and have built into the lives of these three young people…a theme of the way their faith has been shaped to this point…and in one of the statements, was something that seems very applicable as we consider the desire to see the resurrected Lord.

“Even though Jesus isn’t here physically I always know he is with me and watching over me.”  That’s the promise right there…and we profess that in the physical absence of Christ here in the world, we who are gathered and empowered and most importantly, connected by the Holy Spirit…we are the body of Christ on earth…and as we gather…and live out this life of faith in the midst of the crazy up and downs of the world…may we continue to reveal the presence of God to one another and this world that we share.

That is my prayer for the three of you today…that you will continue to experience this for yourselves…that you would continue to feel that urge…that desire to seek out the presence of the divine in your own lives…and that no matter what you will experience in the years to come…that your testimony will somehow be able to echo the testimony of those who have come before…that somehow, you can say, I have seen the Lord. Amen.

This Is What I Have Witnessed 4-15-18

In this sermon, taken from Luke 24:36b-48, I explore another resurrection appearance of Jesus in which he charges the disciples to serve as witnesses to what they have experienced.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-is-what-i-have-witnessed-4-15-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

We get some weird weather here in Iowa don’t we?  Over the course of the past couple of winters, we’ve seen…or perhaps heard would be the better word…thunder-snow…which seems like an oxymoron just to say…but we’ve witnessed it haven’t we?

Well Friday morning I was listening to the weather report in the car and heard the weather man say “today we’ll experience spring like conditions…with Omaha temps possibly even reaching 80 degrees. With the warm air swirling around, there is a chance of developing tornados.  But then tomorrow we’re in a winter storm watch.” I heard this crazy forecast and thought to myself….well now I’ve heard of everything.

But the craziness didn’t stop there. A little while later, I was sitting in my office pondering on today’s text, and I noticed the wind had really come up…not unexpected with the crazy weather systems moving around…but as I sat there looking out my window…I heard something rattling and looked down to see a empty tall boy Bud Light can come rolling up the parking lot…I sent a text to a friend of mine about it…and he called it Small Town Iowa Tumbleweed…which made me laugh but also seemed pretty fitting…and as I was laughing, wouldn’t you know it, a second one came rolling by as well…and I thought to myself…well now I’ve seen everything. (pause)

And the more I thought about it…the more fitting it seemed.  It was crazy…it was certainly unexpected…but I can’t deny that I saw it…This is what I’ve witnessed…beer cans LITERALLY rolling uphill. (pause)

Now its this idea of witnessing some truly unexpected and out of the ordinary things that I connect us into today’s gospel. Here we are, the third Sunday of Easter…and as we’ve done for the past couple of weeks, we continue hearing from different accounts of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ…God in human form…the word made flesh which dwelled among us…this being that is fully human and yet fully divine, who was betrayed…who was tortured and hung on a cross where he died…who was buried in a tomb for several days before the unexpected happened…and he was alive again.

Now maybe, just maybe, you thought today’s resurrection appearance of Jesus sounds kinda familiar…and I wouldn’t fault you if you did…because it does sound an awful lot like what we hear a week ago out of John…a story in which the resurrected Jesus appears not just once but twice, somehow appearing within a locked room…showing the marks in his hands and side, offering a literal word of peace to the astonished and frightened disciples, not to mention singling out Thomas…that’s what we heard last week.

And of course, this time around Luke isn’t far off…but let me set the scene…here in Luke…its still the same day of the Resurrection…we’ve had a couple of weeks go by since we celebrated the empty tomb…but for everyone involved here in Luke…things are still up in the air…Early in the morning the women go to the tomb…they find it empty…angels have told them what’s going on and sent them to the disciples…the disciples utterly disregard what the women share…they pretty much ignore their testimony…then a little later that same day…Jesus has appeared along with two of his random disciples as they trudge along the road between Jerusalem and a nearby village of Emmaus that lies about 10 miles away.

Now those two individuals failed to recognize him for who he was…but as they’re together he opens the scriptures to them…helping them to understand how the written law and the prophets, what we would call the Old Testament, all points towards the Messiah…and then finally, in the evening, once they’ve reached their destination Jesus breaks bread with them…their eyes are opened to see him for who he is, and he promptly disappears…they pick up and run back to the city where they find the disciples…everyone’s in a great big tizzy over this…

And then…once again…this same night, as they are all locked away together trying to make head’s or tails of this whole deal…Jesus is standing among them. (pause) Now the same thing happens here that we have come to expect…because we know the story…but if we stop and think about it…if we stop and place ourselves in the disciples shoes in this moment…this is the last thing that should happen isn’t it?

He’s dead…we all saw it…we saw his tomb…we know he was buried and all logic tells us that there’s no coming back from that. Regardless of what the women said this morning…regardless of this crazy story that Cleopus and his companion are telling us from Emmaus….there’s no coming back from the dead.

And yet…in the midst of this crazy exchange…here he is…standing among us…and his first words “Peace be with you.” (pause) Now I don’t know about you…but if I was in a locked room and a dude that I know was dead is suddenly standing here talking to me…peace is probably the last thing on my mind…If it happened me today, I’m guessing my response would be pretty colorful, and not really appropriate to repeat here in the pulpit…I’ll let you fill in the blanks there.

But yet, this is what’s going on…and as we hear, the disciples are UTTERLY freaked out…thinking that they’ve seen a ghost…and rightly so…the guy was dead. But Jesus isn’t going to let their minds stay there is he…and he takes steps to prove that the opposite is now true.

Now EARLY Christian scholars…going back to about the 2nd century have written about practices that a person goes through to prove something like this…which in itself is odd…but apparently people were commonly mistaken for spirits in the first century…and two of the proofs are right here in the texts…

The first one is to prove that you have bones…because apparently ghosts have no skeleton…and consider…what are the boniest parts of the human body? Your hands and feet right? And what does Jesus say “Look at my hands and my feet.” He shows them…and then he takes the second step which is to eat in their presence…the whole first part of this encounter is Jesus slowly convincing the disciples that he is…in fact…alive.

He was dead…none of them dispute that…and now, somehow, he’s alive again…and gradually their fear and astonishment turns into belief and joy as Jesus opens their minds to understand what the scriptures have said about him…and not only that but then he gives them a mission…that the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in the name of the risen Jesus throughout all nations, beginning right there where they were…in Jerusalem.

And then he gives them an important reminder…You are witnesses to these things…Now that’s a big statement…because I don’t think Jesus is talking about this amazing moment, although that’s included…I think he’s talking about this whole deal starting all the way back at the beginning.  I can’t help but notice that the message of repentance and forgiveness sounds a bit like John the Baptist and his message when the gospel’s begin…so maybe just maybe Jesus is saying “hey guys…you’ve been along for this whole ride…you’ve seen the miracles…you’ve heard the teaching…you’ve seen lives changed…you’ve seen boundaries crossed…you’ve seen me die and you’ve seen that I’m alive again. You’re witnesses to all this. Now its about time for you to do what witnesses do. Testify.” (pause)

Here’s the thing…Luke pretty much ends right here…there are only a couple more verses after this, in which we hear about Jesus’ Ascension to heaven and that the disciples remain in Jerusalem…but Luke’s writing isn’t done yet…because he also wrote the book of Acts…in which we see the disciples start living up to the title of witness…and through their work…through their testimony of what they have seen and experienced…God gives the growth this earliest church…God grows the body of Christ through the activity of humanity.

Now here’s the big thing that I think is so important about all of this…I believe that Jesus is showing the disciples…and not only them, but us as well…because of the ongoing witness of those who have come before us in the ever-growing body of Christ which still exists 2000 years later, and also through the testimony of the scriptures we continue to find the divine work of God going on in and through the human.

This is the mindblowing thing about the gospel which we find in the midst of all of the scriptures…Everything up to this point has reminded us that the divine is UTTERLY other than the human…that humanity is broken and flawed and sinful…and we are, I’m not disputing that in the least way…and because of this reality, that which is divine is separated…and it would seem that our brokenness hinders our encounter, or our ability to experience the divine.

But what if the Christ event…which includes the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus, who is both fully God and also fully human…what if this is God’s way of showing us that the brokenness which permeates our creation will not stop the presence of the divine?

What if the life death and resurrection of Jesus, is culminating here in the once fully dead and now fully not dead Jesus showing us his human form as a way of reminding us that the divine can and DOES exist within humanity as well?

Let us never forget that each and every member of the human race is created bearing the divine image of God…and that our very existence…our creation begins from a place of love and delight on the part of the divine…and the brokenness which is present, doesn’t come about until the 3rd chapter of our existence…we may be broken but we don’t start there.

And whatever it is that God is up to here in our reality through Jesus Christ…it has SOMEHOW overcome that which separates our existence from the one who made us in the first place. And that whatever this ongoing divine action is here in the world…we are witnesses to it, and as witnesses we are called to do the very same thing that the original disciples were called to do…to testify. This is what I have seen…this is what I have experienced. Come and see for yourself.

We are called to do this because that is how God is continuing to draw all people to himself…by the ongoing testimony of flawed and broken people who can testify to the fact that we have a God who has claimed us despite that very brokenness…and that through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ this same God has laid claim on every member of the human race….and there is NOTHING that will stand in the way of that claim…not even death. (pause)

Now remember, that Jesus gave a bit of proof to this new life by eating something…and in a few more minutes, we’ll do the same…because we will share together in a meal in which we hear the words that Christ’s body and blood were broken and shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Do this for the remembrance of me.

Eat it…drink it…and remember it, and know that this is what you have witnessed to be true…and that you are called to testify that it is true.  Amen.

A Locked Door 4-8-18

In this sermon, based on John 20:19-31, I explore the first few post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and what they mean for the disciples who were present.

You can listen the the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-locked-door-4-8-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Anyone ever found themselves on the wrong side of a locked door? It’s the worst isn’t it? As I think back, I can remember encountering this situation twice. Now the first time was during my first year at Iowa State. I got up one morning, like any other morning, and headed down the hallway to the bathroom for a shower. Now…during the time that I was in the shower, my roommate headed out for the day…and he did not realize that I was still on the floor…and so as he left, he locked the door.

And a moment later I came walking back down the hallway only to discover I was locked out…and wearing nothing but a towel…Panic ensues…Actually it wasn’t too bad…and a quick knock on a neighbors door and a call to the RA on duty got me back into the room within a couple of minutes.

Now the second time actually occurred on my wedding day of all days. 2 of my friends and I had taken my soon to be wife’s car to the carwash to get it all nice and shiny for the big day…and then headed back to my apartment. We got out of the car…out of habit I hit the door lock and slammed the car door…and instantly knew I had just locked the keys inside.

Fortunately, we hopped in one of the other’s guys car and zipped across town to my in-laws house…where we quickly managed to find an extra set of keys for her car…and I also managed to avoid the bad-luck scenario of seeing the bride too early on our wedding day…so all in all it worked out fine. (pause) But being locked out…That is the WORST feeling in the world, especially knowing that you did it to yourself.

Now…this idea of locked doors points us in the direction of today’s gospel lesson…a common one…one that comes up each and every year the week after Easter…that of the disciples locked away out of fear…and the Resurrected Lord appearing among them.

Now the setting is important here…and so’s the narration that we’re given by John…because we see the passage of time within this story…and if we’re paying attention we notice that this includes not 1 but 2 resurrection appearances of Jesus, though not the first one…but before we jump into this story…it’s probably a good idea to glance back at the first one.

Now, it probably goes without saying that the Easter Resurrection story here in John is a little different than what we heard last week out of Mark…a week ago we heard that the women who found the empty tomb ran off and said nothing to anyone out of fear. But John offers slightly different detail. Here in John, there’s only 1 woman at the tomb…Mary Magdalene…and this time we hear that the resurrected Jesus actually appears and encounters Mary.

If you’re familiar with the story…you know that she doesn’t recognize him at first…mistaking him for the gardener until he calls her by name, revealing something intimate in their connection…and with it Mary recognizes the Risen Lord. She runs off to tell the disciples with the mind-blowing testimony That “I HAVE SEEN THE LORD.”

Now here’s the weird thing…her passionate testimony…this story…this proclamation…this message that, maybe we would call “good news.” It doesn’t seem to take root…it doesn’t seem like the disciples, a couple of whom have already seen the empty tomb for themselves…it doesn’t seem like they buy her story…and so we fast forward from that morning…the morning of Resurrection Sunday…to evening of the same day…

And this is where the story picks up today. For us, its been a week…and maybe we’ve all experienced the come down from the celebration that is Easter Sunday…but regardless, here we are…but for the disciples, as we pick up today its just Sunday.  Jesus was betrayed and arrested and tortured and killed all within the past couple of days…and they’re huddled up behind closed doors…locked in out of fear…whatever Mary told them that morning, doesn’t seem like its had much of effect in the joy category does it?

I can only imagine what the mood was like in that house…in that place where they’ve gathered. Doesn’t seem like they’d be laughing and joking…its probably like any house that’s just experienced the death of a loved one…its usually quiet…subdued…as everyone there tries to process the reality that the person they loved is gone…and in this case…not only is the grief present…but so is the fear.

Jesus had been arrested and killed as an enemy of the state…that’s why he was crucified by the Romans…but he was targeted because he posed a threat to the cultural status quo of the powers that be in the Jewish culture…and the disciples were associated with him…this is why we hear of Peter’s denial during Jesus’ trial…this is why they all fled from the garden when Jesus was arrested…and this is why they’re locked away now…out of fear that they are going to suffer the exact same fate.

Perhaps its no coincidence that John tells us that now its evening…darkness is falling…and keep in mind that theme that runs throughout John’s gospel of light and darkness…the light of life shines, and the darkness of sin and brokenness and death within the world fights tooth and nail to squash it out…maybe its not out of line to say that the disciples were experiencing a “dark night of the soul” in this moment.

And yet…here in the midst of their grief…in the midst of their fear…this hopeless sense that they were metaphorically locked up in…not to mention the literal locked door of the house where they were hiding…in the midst of it…suddenly the Resurrected Jesus is there with the words “Peace be with you” and he says it not once but twice as he’s showing them the marks in his hands and side.

There can be no doubt…this is Jesus…somehow alive again…somehow here standing among them…and it is in this moment of recognition that the truth of Mary’s testimony…of HER good news begins to sink in…as they, in turn, are encountered by the Risen Lord, just like she did in the garden.

With this…we hear that Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them…certainly reminiscent of the story that we’ll hear from Luke at Pentecost in a few more weeks…and now, empowered by the Holy Spirit within them…strengthened by their own personal encounter with the Risen, Resurrected Jesus Christ…we hear “Just as the father has sent me, so I send you.”

And with this…these 10 individuals, experience a change in identity…For up to this point, they’ve been disciples…followers of Christ…for that’s what disciples are…individuals who follow along after another…learning from them…being shaped by them…and up to this point, that is what they have done…that is what they have been.

But now, with Jesus literally sending them…they take on a new name…Apostle.  Because that’s what apostle means…one who is sent by God with a message. Sure we tend to use disciple and apostle interchangeably…but they do mean two different things. (pause)

Now here’s the thing…a second ago I said there were 10 disciples here…but when we think disciples we think 12 right? Well Judas is gone…he’s committed suicide by this point…and as we hear…Good ole Thomas the doubter is somewhere else. But these 10 Apostles, empowered the Spirit, they fill their new role by finding their friend Thomas and sharing the good news, just as Mary had shared with them. We have seen the Lord. (pause) And how does that go?

Yah…ummm unless I see his hands and stick my finger in the nail holes…I don’t buy it…WAY TO GO THOMAS…what do you think guys…let’s give him a nickname that will stick for the next 2000 years. (singsong) DOUBTING THOMAS…DOUBTING THOMAS.

But wait a sec…didn’t they JUST do the exact same thing?  Didn’t they just hear the good news of the resurrected Jesus and ignore it? (singsong) DOUBTING DISCIPLES…DOUBTING DISCIPLES. (pause) Now we know what happens next don’t we…a week goes by…and apparently, they’ve got a pretty short memory, because once again, they’re all locked up…and the same thing happens…once again, Jesus passes through the walls…through the locked door…and is standing among them…and this time there’s Thomas…and he has his encounter with the Risen Lord…and unlike the rest of the disciples turned Apostles…he makes the proclamation My Lord and my God…he’s the only one who ever does that. (pause)

Here’s the thing…long has Thomas gotten a bad rap…but I can’t help but think that its misplaced…Thomas needed to experience a personal encounter with the Risen Lord before this mind-blowing reality of a risen Lord could sink into his heart. And I find myself wondering…are we any different?

I often think about my own experience…and how many times I had to hear the gospel…the good news…before it actually touched my heart…before I experienced that spiritual 2×4 that I often talk about…and I think about the “locked doors” that prevented it… “Locked doors” some of which were self-inflicted, whether I realized it or not…and I wonder about the “locked doors” that existed, or perhaps still exist…in your lives.

The doubts…the fears…the concerns…pride…whatever it is that stands in the way…somehow Jesus has overcome it…maybe this is why we hear, not once but twice…in two different occurrences that Jesus is able to somehow pass through the barriers that stand in the way in order to be revealed to those that he loves and claims as his own.

And so when we stop and think about that…what does it reveal about our God?  That we have a God who willingly wades into every single place of death and despair in order to bring new life out of it. This is what the resurrection shows us…that there is no length that our God will not go to for you…that no matter what the barrier…no matter what the closed door…no matter what the lock…not even death is enough to keep our God away from you…this is what the resurrection is about…about our God bringing new life out of every single place of death and brokenness…even the ones that we create for ourselves.

We’re all Thomas…every single one of us…at one time or another…and maybe even a lot times over the course of our lives…but you know what…that’s not a bad thing…that’s just the way it is…and that’s not a reality to mourn…it’s a reality that reveals over and over again, a God who cares SO much about every single individual that no amount of locked doors, whether literal or metaphorical, will ever be able to get in the way…and it is my hope and my prayer that we can be a people who will continue to share this good news…because I believe that we have been sent…just like the disciples…we are apostles, called to carry the good news of this God who won’t stay dead…whether it makes sense or not. Amen.

Peace in the Midst of Life 4-23-17

This morning’s sermon is based on John 20:19-31. This story is commonly known as Doubting Thomas, but yet makes up 2 separate examples of Post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/peace-in-the-midst-of-life-4-23-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I’ve got quite a few pictures that decorate my office. Some are pretty new…others quite a bit older…they were taken in a wide variety of different situations and places…but a couple of them were taken in one of my favorite places in the world. Rainbow Trail Lutheran Bible camp in the mountains of southern Colorado.

Most of you have probably heard me talk about Rainbow Trail before. Once a year, my family packs up the car and road trips out west for a week of family camp. We drive and we drive…and finally after winding our way around countless mountain peaks, we turn off the main highway, and drive about 3 miles up a bumpy gravel road to camp.

Its usually the highlight of our year. We are refreshed and rejuvenated. We enjoy the company of wonderful people that we’ve gotten to know over the course of the past 11 years. We spend every waking moment taking in glorious views, with the constant programming we are going from morning till night…and perhaps most wonderful of all, up in the mountains there is zero cell reception…so there are no interruptions from the outside world.

But inevitably…the end of the week rolls around…and we pack ourselves back in the car…and the tiredness of the week catches up…and the cramped feeling of being in the car at the beginning of more than 11 hours’ worth of driving sets in…and as we drive back down that bumpy gravel road…back into the presence of cell service…the phone starts beeping with all the missed calls and texts…and usually before we’ve even driven 5 miles, we’ve started bickering.  And when that happens, one of us, usually my wife makes the statement “Welcome back to real life.” (pause)
I can’t help but think that same sort of situation has been our reality in our very recent history. Just 1 week ago…we all experienced the mountaintop that is Easter Sunday…and it was glorious.  Here at the church, Easter kicked off with our Confirmation Students leading the worship for our Sunrise Service…This led into a wonderful time of fellowship downstairs for breakfast…a couple hours later the sanctuary was packed to the rafters for our regular Easter service…and after that everyone scattered out in their own directions for various family dinners and gathers and celebrations…and it seemed…for that brief moment anyway…that everything was perfect…and nothing could mess up that feeling. (pause)
But I find myself wondering…just how long that feeling lasted for everyone? How long did it take for real life to take hold again…how soon did the craziness of life push that mountaintop experience of Easter to the back burner? (pause) THE TOMB IS EMPTY…HE HAS RISEN…HALLEJAH!!!!!! Oh, but guess what, welcome back to real life. (pause)

As true as that seems to be for us today…I can’t help but think that the earliest followers of Jesus must have been experiencing the very same thing…and I wonder just how quickly real life…how quickly reality…got in the way for them. (pause)

Over the course of the next several weeks…we’ll continue to encounter the various stories that occurred when Jesus made post-resurrection appearances…times when various individuals would encounter the risen Lord. And as we begin to take a look at those different stories…those different encounters…we begin to see some similarities between them…but we also see some pretty major differences for the individuals who have these experiences.

Now interestingly enough…our story today…commonly known as the Doubting Thomas story…it begins on Easter…so as we pick things up today, we almost need to backtrack a week…almost like the beginning of most tv shows anymore that give you a quick reminder of “previously on our show.” (pause)
Well previously on this show was Easter Sunday…when the tomb is empty and as we hear in John’s gospel…Mary Magdalene is the first one to encounter the risen Lord…but at first she doesn’t recognize him…and its only through their ongoing encounter that she does…but when she does, she goes off and tells the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” (pause)
Well now, we jump ahead a few hours…to the evening of Easter Sunday…and we find 10 of the disciples, no Judas, no Thomas…but the rest of them…huddled in a locked room out of fear. They’ve heard Mary’s report, but it doesn’t seem that its made much difference for them…and they are stuck in the reality of fear…afraid for their lives…afraid that their association with Jesus might just land them in the same boat with the Religious leaders…and they might be arrested or killed just like Jesus had been.

Suddenly…out of nowhere…Jesus is standing among them. We don’t know quite how he manages this…but he does…and he says to them, not once but twice. Peace to you…and he shows them his wounds so that they know its really him…and then he strengthens them by breathing out the very spirit of God…the Holy Spirit into each one of them. (pause)

Amazing right? Now, here in the midst of their fear…the resurrected Jesus has appeared, defying all logic…and for these men, everything is different for they have encountered the Risen Lord…all except Thomas. Poor guy.

When he hears the news he can only think that he’s missed out…that he’s missed his opportunity…but since he’s heard the reports…it seems that he hopes to have the same experience.  Mary encountered the Risen Jesus and reported “I have seen the Lord.”  Then the other disciples encountered the Risen Jesus and gave the same report “We have seen the Lord.”

So don’t sell Thomas short here…even though history remembers him for doubting…it seems to me that he’s simply expressing his hope…his desire…to physically encounter the Risen Jesus just as the rest of them had….and low and behold…a week goes by…and the situation is still pretty similar….they’re all still locked away…and so it seems that the fear is still hanging around…and this time Thomas is there…and once more Jesus is among them with the same message…Peace to you…and then he turns to Thomas, who gets his personal encounter with the Risen Jesus…and once he does, Thomas makes the ultimate confession…My Lord and My God. (pause)
Now these are just a few of the different stories we have of the Risen Jesus and the encounters that different have with him.  We also hear of the road to Emmaeus when two disciples encounter him…and walk along side him for 7 miles…talking…and they don’t recognize him…being to consumed by grief.  (pause) We hear of the disciples encountering Jesus on a mountain, and they worship him…but we hear that they doubted.   We hear that Jesus appears on the seashore after Peter and handful of the others decide to go fishing.

And interestingly enough…John tells us that there are others stories that we haven’t been told…that he did many other signs in the presences of his followers that are not recorded…but we hear about these ones so that we might come to believe…and even Jesus himself reminds us that blessed is the one who has not SEEN…and yet comes to believe. (pause)

Now I bring all of this up…all of these stories…to remind us that countless people encountered the Risen Jesus in many different circumstances…and it would seem that none of those individuals was in an overly happy mode when it happened.

Likewise…I think its safe to say that as wonderful as our Easter mountaintop experience was last Sunday, real life came crashing back in pretty quickly didn’t it…because real life is still happening at the same time as our celebration of the Risen Christ.

This craziness of life comes at us in many different ways. Different for each of us. I discovered it first hand as I tried to deal with a malfunctioning air conditioner and lack of internet connection in the office. Granted these are minor problems, but they added up to create a couple of crazy days this week. But there are others out there who have experienced a whole lot more “real life” than this. Some are dealing with the last days of a loved ones life.  Some are dealing with surgeries and sickness. Others with unease in their employment and finances…others experiencing broken relationships…and the list goes on and on.

Every single one of us is experiencing the ups and downs of life…the roller coaster…with wonderful things happening in one instant…and devastating things happening in the next…and that’s life.  But here’s the thing…that is where we encounter the risen Lord.  Remember that from last week…no one encountered Jesus in the tomb…they encountered him in the midst of the pain and the anguish of life…and so do we.

But if there’s one thing we can take away from today’s story…and the encounter of Jesus with the disciples in the locked room, both the first time around as well as a week later when Thomas was around…its this…the first words of Jesus to us in the midst of the craziness of life…the first words uttered by the Risen Lord are this. Peace be with you. (pause)
He doesn’t tell them not to be afraid…he doesn’t tell them hi or anything else so trivial as that…in the midst of whatever anguish and pain that life had dealt them in that instant he offers them peace.

This is what our Lord can do…this is what our Lord has already done.  He has come into our broken existence…and through his life, death, and resurrection has somehow, some way made it possible for us to find a sense of peace right in the middle of all of it…he has given us something to cling to when things are darkest…he has given us hope…and we receive this hope through the power of the Holy Spirit that he has given us. (pause)

I can’t tell you just how you have encountered the Risen Lord…because as we see in the scripture, that’s different for everyone…and its especially important to note that our experience is very different from his first followers…for they were actually able to see him…and like Thomas they were able to see the marks in his hands and feet…they were able to physically encounter the Risen Lord…but our reality is a little different…and our encounter with the Risen Lord comes through the proclamation of others…through their stories of ways that they have encountered the power of God at work…through their stories of what the Holy Spirit has done….and yet Christ reminds us that we are blessed because we have not seen and yet we come to believe. (pause)

Whatever craziness of life you are facing in this moment…whatever storms are raging in the back of your mind…because they are the reality of your life…remember this…the Risen Lord grants you peace in the midst of it….a peace which passes all human understanding…a peace that we cling…just as we cling to one another for support…and as we look around this room today, may we see one another as a gathering of people who are willing to offering this to one another…for this is why we gather together today, to get through this thing called life…knowing that with the peace of God given to us by Christ, and the strength that we find in the united body of Christ here on earth…that somehow, some way, we will find God’s peace in the midst of the craziness of this life. Amen.