Asking, Answering, Believing

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Easter; Acts 5:27-32, Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31

Terry is a friend of mine from my home parish. We share 3 things in common: Holy Trinity at one time we were both in the computer business, and a love of good jokes. I’m lucky in this respect, he is the source of all kinds of great jokes and stories. Thursday he shared this:

 No English dictionary has been able to adequately explain the difference between these two words – “Complete” or “Finished”. In a recent linguistic competition held in London and attended by, supposedly, the best in the world, Samdar Balgobin, a Guyanese man, was the clear winner with a standing ovation which lasted over 5 minutes.

The final question was: ‘How do you explain the difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED in a way that is easy to understand? Some people say there is no difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED.’ Here is his astute answer:

“When you marry the right woman, you are COMPLETE. When you marry the wrong woman, you are FINISHED. And when the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are COMPLETELY FINISHED!”

It is amazing the truth we can learn when we ask the right question.

We all know the story of Thomas. We all know the story was wrongly named “Doubting Thomas” centuries ago. No matter what we just heard the word ‘doubt’ is now where in the passage (O’Day). The trouble is we get all caught up in Thomas’ reaction to the disciples telling him “Jesus is risen.” But think back to last week; the women come racing back from Jesus’ tomb and share their story, including that Jesus is risen. What is the disciples’ reaction?

But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

This verse is from Luke’s Gospel story, the equivalent verse in John Gospel story is unless I see … I will not believe (John 20:25). Thomas not believing the disciples’ story is just like the disciples not believing Mary’s story (O’Day).

To be honest, I simply wasn’t drawn to parsing the subtleties of all this again. I had decided to explore the glory of Psalm 150, the closing psalm of the Book of Psalms. the Psalm cajoles us

  • to praise God
  • where to praise God
  • why to praise God and
  • how to praise God, which is with everything we have, instruments, dance, and voice, literally breath, which is a sort of returning to God, the gift of life given to us as God breathed the breath of life into us (deClaissé-Walford) (Genesis 2:7).

My divine Muse had another idea.

On the road, between two events, and I have no idea which ones, or when, it occurred to me, I realized Thomas is just asking a question. It’s a hard question, and it is a risky question. Just as the disciples rebuffed Mary and her companions for a stance the disciples did not hold, the disciples may well have rebuffed Thomas for not accepting a stance they did hold. What matters is I was drawn back to John’s Gospel and Thomas.

So, I went digging. From the Greek – English New Testament Interlinear we hear Jesus say, “not do be unbelieving but believing.” The authors clean it up a bit: “Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (Olive Tree). Another resource for this kind of digging around is Young’s Literal Translation; which reads: “and become not unbelieving, but believing.” And that is the end of my search, the beginning of learning (Young).

I was troubled by the dichotomy, the stark choice between “be unbelieving”, and “be believing.” The key is ‘become’ which indicates there is movement from one position to another, thus, there is a gleaning; a choice to be made. The important thing in Thomas’ response to the disciples’ proclamation about seeing Jesus is not the parameters, fingers, hands, and wounds, etc., but the underlying question about Jesus and resurrection, and his desire to discover the answer, to discover the truth. While it is unusual to ask a question of one person or group and get an answer from another, sometime later, with no discernable connection between the two, it does happen. Thomas asks the disciples and Jesus answers. No matter how strange the path between question and answer, the glory in the story is Thomas’ confession “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). It is every bit as powerful as

  • Nathanael’s “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49),
  • or Peter’s “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:69),
  • or Martha’s “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (John 11:27).

The last verse of this chapter is:

But these (signs) are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31).

Here we find the purpose for asking questions and responding to questions. We should dare to ask questions so we may become believing and have life in Jesus. We should dare to answer questions so that another may become believing and have life in Jesus. I am beginning to see that in both the asking, and the answering we should take a queue from Psalm 150; we should both ask and answer with everything we have, instruments, dance, and breath, so that all may know the breath of renewed life in Jesus; know shalom, wholeness in the presence of God.

In our asking and in our answering, we are never finished, certainly, we are never completely finished. Nor are we ever complete, yes, we have begun to become believing and begun to have life in Jesus’ name. Still, the world we live in is dynamic, ever-changing, therefore our believing is always facing new things, and so we face new opportune times to become unbelieving and struggle with lesser life or continue to become, to grow in our believing, living an ever-evolving life in Jesus.

So      me                        Alleluia Christ is risen

congregation        The Lord is risen indeed Alleluia!

May your becoming believing bring you to be a blessing to all (Genesis 12:2-3) (Thompson).


References

Crouch, Frank L. “Commentary on John 20:19-31.” 28 4 2019. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy. Commentary on Psalm 150. 28 4 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 4 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 20:19-31. 28 4 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Linger A Little. 28 4 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

—. Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Thompson, Barkley. “To be a blessing.” 17 3 2019. God in the Midst of the City. <https://rectorspage.wordpress.com/2019/03/17/to-be-a-blessing/&gt;.

Woods, Joshua. “Among His Disciples, Easter 2.” 28 4 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon>.

Young, Robert. Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible. 1892: Public Domain, n.d.

 

 

 

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Believing More Together Than Apart

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Easter: Acts 5:27-32, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31, Psalm 150

 

Galaxy Quest is a curious science fiction tale, of a TV show that has gone bust, but whose actors still make the public appearances. A galactic civilization picks up the transmissions, believes them to be true and constructs their entire civilization around the show. They get into trouble with an aggressive civilization and come to earth seeking the show’s heroes help. It gets quite comical, dramatic, and has its tragic moments. Near the end, the commander uses the Omega 13 device, allowing him to go back in time, for a do-over of a catastrophic ending. I’m inviting us to make use of the Omega 13’s back in time feature before we begin exploring the ending verses of John 20. The change of scene is necessary because its preceding verses are so different from Luke’s story we heard Easter morning.

So here we go. [smack the railing]

Now that was painless. It is now last Sunday morning, two days after Jesus’ crucifixion and burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb, discovers Jesus’ body is missing and runs to tell the disciples. Peter and another disciple run to the tomb to see for themselves. They see the burial linens laying to one side neatly folded, well lying there. They don’t understand any better than Mary Magdalene did. They go to their homes. Mary Magdalene stays at the tomb, where she has a strange encounter with two angles, and the gardener, who turns out to be Jesus. He tells her

 … go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

That evening, the disciples are gathered behind locked doors because they are afraid of the Jews.

Commentator Scott Hoezee questions their decision to lock the doors. To this point in John’s Gospel, there is no hint the Jewish or Roman authorities are scouring the city for Jesus’ followers. So, why are they afraid? He also wonders why they are not out looking for Jesus? Don’t they believe Mary Magdalene? It seems unlikely they would have doubted Peter’s supporting witness, but the story says he went home. Why isn’t he out looking for Jesus? Where is his impetuous self? Why hasn’t he organized a search? Is it possible they are really afraid of Jesus? Have they remembered their behavior of the last week? It is not exactly like anyone stood in solidarity with Jesus. It is possible they haven’t gone to find Jesus because they are afraid they will find Jesus (Hoezee)?

In the end, Jesus finds them. He appears in the room, offers them peace, shows them the wounds in his hands and side. The disciples recognize him and rejoice. But, you get the feeling they still don’t get it; they are just really glad to see Jesus; they haven’t yet connected his appearance to his teachings that he would be betrayed, killed, and rise again. Undeterred by their continued struggle to realize who he really is, Jesus: gives them peace, tells them he is sending them into the world, just like God sent him, breaths on them, just as God breathes life into humanity in creation (Gen. 2:7), and gives them the gift of the Spirit. End of scene.

We don’t know anything else for a week. Well, except that they tell Thomas, who is mysteriously missing, that they saw Jesus. Thomas says

I don’t believe it; and won’t until I see what you saw, the wounds in his hands and his side.

The Bible doesn’t say where Thomas has been (Clavier). And Hoezee’s question about why the disciples aren’t out looking for Jesus has me wondering if that is where Thomas has been. Thomas has shown the desire, the willingness to follow Jesus. When Jesus invites them to come with him to awaken Lazarus, it is Thomas who, recognizing the danger of returning to Judea, where the people recently tried to stone Jesus, says

Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).

When Jesus is teaching about the glories of heaven and assuring the disciples they have a place there, and they know how to get there, it is Thomas who says

Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?  (John 14:5).

He wants to go; he wants to be with Jesus.

All this has me wondering if Thomas has been out looking for Jesus. I’m wondering if his disbelief is born of frustration

I’ve been out looking him, and Jesus shows up here, as you all cower.

As intriguing as the speculation is, there is no way to know.

What we do know is this. A week later all the disciples are again in the house. John says the doors are shut; he does not mention the lock. Jesus once again shows up; once again offers the disciples peace. Then he turns to Thomas and says

Do not be unbelieving, but believing (Olive Tree).

Thomas’ immediate response

My Lord and My God.

is the most profound proclamation of faith in the Gospels. Speaking to Thomas, and to those of us who follow, Jesus says:

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

John ends the chapter, which may have been the Gospel’s original ending, revealing that he has written this Gospel so those who read or hear the story may come to believe and have life (Harrelson).

This story is about resurrection, which is about being in relationship with Jesus; a relationship that includes the scars of life: Jesus’ scars, Thomas’ scars, the disciples’ scars and our scars (Hoch) (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). The story is also about the transition from being disciples, or followers, to being apostles, those who are sent. And remember that an apostle’s task is simply to go (Pankey). And on our way share the story of the Kingdom’s presence ~ here and now.

Sharing the story is not always easy. The disciples knew it first hand, and they locked themselves in a tomb, that looks a lot like a house. It is important for us to learn what our tombs look like (Hoch). That will help us understand how we experience here and now. This perspective of Thomas reveals that he is what in today’s world is known as data-driven (Hoch). Many of us are data drive, and this perspective may give us some assurance about the legitimacy of our faith journeys. However, not everyone experiences life this way; we experience life in all kinds of ways. All of them are valid. Not all of them agree.

I started with a bit of science fiction. I’m coming to an end with a bit of wisdom from Einstein. Relativity kind of eliminates the notion of where. The universe did not begin in a place; it began at a time. All our experiences are time-based. We see the moon as it was a second and a half ago, the sun as it was eight minutes and 19 seconds ago, Jupiter as it was 37 minutes ago, the center of the Milky Way some 26,000 years ago. We see you after in tiny time it takes light to get from you to me. Relativity also reveals that everyone’s experience is unique because we are all in different vantage points. This means that there is no such thing as universal knowledge. Knowledge overlaps and the more experiences we share, more and greater knowledge is available to all (Overbye).

Your relationship with the crucified scarred resurrected Jesus, whose experience of you includes all your scars, is unique. It is important to everyone else because it is only when we share all our experiences, whether they agree or not, that we can glimpse the fullest possibility of the Kingdom here right now.

The Omega 13 has done its job. And relativity always brings us back to the present. From here I have no doubts; that together we can be more believing than apart, and Jesus is sending us out there [point out] to share so everyone may be more believing.

 


 

References

Clavier, Anthony. “My Lord and My God, Easter 2 (C) – 2016.” 3 4 2016. Sermons that Work.

Ellingsen, Mark. Easter 2, Cycle C (2016). n.d. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 4 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoch, Robert. Commentary on John 20:1931. 3 4 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. Easter 2C. 3 4 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 3 4 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Resurrection is Relationship. 27 3 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

Overbye, Dennis. “Don’t Let Them Tell You You’re Not at the Center of the Universe.” 1 4 2016. New York Times. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/02/science/dont-let-them-tell-you-youre-not-at-the-center-of-the-universe.html?_r=0&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. “Becoming Apostles.” 30 3 2016+. Draughting Theology.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.