Contrary to all appearances, I have not abandoned my blog; I just took a week or so off because of other priorities.
I preached this past Sunday. Here's my sermon:
I bring you grace and peace from God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray: Lord, sanctify us in your truth; your word to us is truth. Amen.
A continued Happy Easter season to you all…as a friend of mine puts it, “Jesus is on the loose again!” Because the Easter season runs 50 days – more than a month – for the next few weeks we’re going to hear Gospel stories of the risen Jesus on the loose again in our world.
Let’s revisit the first part of our Gospel text. The first Easter morning has come and gone; a few of Jesus’ friends have encountered this empty tomb, or even the risen Christ himself; but as a group the disciples are still confused, afraid and in hiding for fear of the religious and political authorities.
Suddenly, that evening, Jesus appears ; the door of their hiding place is locked, but he nonetheless appears. What do you think that would be like? Imagine being at the deathbed of a loved one, and three days later having that person show up in your living room. It’s no wonder that Jesus’ first act in this story is to bid his friends peace…twice, even.
Jesus shows his wounds to the disciples; in other words, “I’m not a ghost. I’m not an hallucination. I’m real.” Because when the risen Lord is on the loose in the world, in these last chapters of the Gospels, sometimes he’s able to do things that defy physics; he appears and disappears; he walks through solid objects; so people are confused. But Jesus convinces them of the reality of his presence among them.
And then, as his disciples rejoice at this incredible miracle in their midst – Jesus gives them a job: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He gives them the authority, the responsibility, to be like him in the world. And to help them do that job, he gifts them with the Holy Spirit.
A few years ago, one evening after work, I was shopping at Glen’s Supermarket in Gladwin. I had a half-hour window before I needed to be home; so I was in a hurry. You probably know how that feels, shopping with the clock ticking. I was rushed; impatient; on a mission. Suddenly, I rounded a turn and encountered…a smell. Have you ever smelled the smell of an unwashed human being, so pungent that it creates a kind of wall of smell? That’s what I smelled. I looked up. A woman, dressed in layers of dirty clothing, her hair disheveled, was standing there in the aisle, rocking back and forth on her heels, mumbling to a row of canned tomatoes. She was, as they say down South, afflicted.
Being the good Christian, good citizen, compassionate defender of the rights of the oppressed, my first thought was…”Maybe I don’t need to go down this aisle.” But I did; I needed something in that aisle. My second thought was, “If I don’t make eye contact, maybe she won’t talk to me.” I used to live in the city; I used to encounter verbally abusive, whacked out street people; I didn’t want to deal with it; not this evening, not while I was in a hurry. So I grabbed my shopping cart with extra firmness, stared straight ahead, and proceeded to walk purposefully past the afflicted woman.
I’d gotten maybe three long steps away from her when I heard a quavering voice: “Excuse me?”
I knew it. I knew she was going to talk to me. I turned around.
The afflicted woman was no longer talking to the tomatoes. She was smiling at me – despite her wild, darting eyes, she was smiling at me.
She said, “I have a message for you from the Holy Spirit. Would you like to hear it?”
How do you respond to that, in a supermarket aisle? My mind was churning with a mixture of confusion and irritation and shame for being so unkind…and fear; fear of her; fear that this scenario was spinning completely out of control.
“I have a message for you from the Holy Spirit. Would you like to hear it?”
I finally said, “Okay.”
The woman then clapped a grimy hand on my forehead, there in the supermarket aisle. She closed her eyes and began rocking on her heels. I thought, Please don’t let anyone else turn the corner right now and see this.
The woman finally opened her eyes. She was still smiling.
She said, “God wants you to know that He loves you very much.”
I honestly don’t know what I said to her in return; “Thank you,” or “God loves you too”:. But I got out of that store, and into my car, and just sat there in the parking lot for a long time. Because something big had just happened to me.
Equipped and called to be Christ in the world; to tell the good news that God loves us no matter what; that God forgives us; that God wants to be our friend; that God will do whatever it takes to draw us into relationship. Do I believe that this woman in Glen’s Supermarket, despite her illness, had somehow been equipped and called to be Christ for me, to shake me up a little, to wake me up and remind me who I am and whose I am? I do. And I tell her story now because I believe her message to me is also a message to you, and that my job is to tell it.
We Lutherans talk a good game about justification; how we are justified, made right with God, purely through God’s grace and mercy and not because of any real or perceived merit on our parts. We know we are given new life, life as children of God, through our baptism. We know about “saved.” But sometimes we forget why we are saved. That salvation isn’t all about our own little private, personal get out of jail free drama with Jesus ; that it’s about Jesus calling us to help him love and heal the world, as any situation arises for us to do so. That is our job, each one of us and in community, as the called, forgiven, freed and equipped people of God.
And the thing about Jesus being loose in the world, equipping us with the Holy Spirit and giving us the job of loving and healing the world: He doesn’t care about our qualifications. He doesn’t care about our resumes. We don’t have to achieve some special level of maturity, education or purity of intention for him to show up. We know that from Scripture, from lessons like today’s…the disciples to whom Jesus appeared were the same people who’d turned tail and abandoned him when he needed them most. They were the same people who, day after day and month after month with Jesus, didn’t get what he was telling them. They were grumbling, quarrelsome, fearful….generally clueless. In today’s Gospel lesson we find Thomas, in the face of his friends’ amazed testimony about meeting a risen Jesus, putting conditions on his belief: “Unless I can see and feel Jesus, I’m not buying it.” And yet Jesus came back for his disciples; even for Thomas.
And Jesus comes back for us. Jesus comes back, though the locked doors of our busy, complicated, confused lives, every time we meet together to hear him and to share the Sacrament with him. He comes back for us when we are touched by something we hear in a prayer or a sermon or in the stories we hear here of one another’s lives.
Jesus is still on the loose in the world. He wants to take us with him. He’s given us our assignments. He’s given us the tools. Let’s go. Amen.
And now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding,keep our hearts in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ. Amen.