Sermon for April 19, 2020 -- "And Then What?"

 

 

April 19, 2020

"And Then What?"

Pastor Bill Dow

 

WE LISTEN TO GOD’S WORD

 

EPISTLE READING 1 Peter 1:3-9

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish – an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time.

You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you’ve never seen him, you love him. Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. You are receiving the goal of your faith: your salvation.

 

GOSPEL READING John 20:19-31

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus in the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

 

SERMON “And Then What?”  

     My youngest brother is a retired firefighter and paramedic. He has many stories to tell…a few you could tell from a pulpit. He knows the powerful moment when a dead person is revived back to life. It’s usually not a pretty picture, but it is a moment of great joy and satisfaction that the hours of training and practice meet with success. 

     The gospel writer of John includes the image of Jesus breathing on the disciples with the words, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

     One can’t help make a comparison to the image of God in the creation story breathing life into Adam. Pneuma. Breath. Life. Spirit. 

     Place yourself in the room with those who had left their families to follow Jesus. Grief. Guilt. Confusion. An empty tomb. Jesus enters the room where the ministry he started is all but dead. He resessitates that ministry with his presence and his breath.

     So just like Thomas, we weren’t in the room either. Sure, we’ve heard the story, but hey, that was them. This is me!

     Jesus reponds to Thomas and I believe that Jesus has responded to both you and me in some special way that provides an opportunity for us to believe.

     At the beginning of this journey Andrew asks Jesus, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus answers, “Come and see” (John 1:38b-39a). 

     There are two climaxes in John’s gospel. The first is when the un-named disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, finally enters the empty tomb. He saw and believed (John 20:8b). The other climax is when Thomas, upon seeing Jesus complete with wounded hands and side responds with “My Lord, and my God” (John 20:28). 

     Come and see. Saw and believed.

     The way the writer of John has written the gospel allows the reader to insert themselves into the narrative. Jesus loves you and the writer identifies a disciple as the one whom Jesus loves. You are invited, even urged to ask the question, “Where are you staying?” And Jesus answers, “Come and see.”

     It doesn’t take long to figure out that Jesus relates to the world from the starting point of love…agape love…the kind of love that assigns concern for others even at personal risk or expense…the kind of love we’ve been seeing in the images of overworked healthcare professionals, trained to bring life back from the edge of death. That’s agape love and the starting point for the Christian journey. Come and see.

     The epistle lesson today is written in the name of Peter, the rock, the foundation of the Church. He’s also the one who denied Jesus three times in the courtyard of the high priest for fear of his life. He, too, receives the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ breath lifts the burden of guilt and inspires him to preach a sermon on the Day of Pentecost that launched the Christian movement that still goes on to this very day.

     You know, every now and then someone says or writes something that lands on the fertile ground of an open mind and it grows steadily until it becomes part of the landscape. For me, it’s Bishop William Cannon who emphatically writes that the Church is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.   

     I’ve been to churches where there’s no evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The liturgy is dead. And in other churches the very same liturgy is alive and there’s energy all around. I’m thinking it’s the difference between surviving and thriving. 

     These are challenging times for churches. The pre-recorded services are all right, I guess, but being able to see and hear each other in the live setting helps me to feel the connection we have because of the breath that re-energizes the soul of our being.

     The epistle of 1Peter is a pastoral letter intended to help followers of Jesus understand their identity while living in a culture that sees things differently. The author points to the inheritance, that which is to come at a later time. And then what?

     Pastors are often included during the time when earthly inheritance is the matter at hand. It’s a vulnerable time for families and it’s easy for things to spiral out of control, particularly if there is a family member that has caused strife over the years. 

     We are heavily invested in the notion that people get what they deserve…you make your bed and that’s where you lay. You make it or break it. Work. Earn. Get. That’s how it goes. Maybe that’s why there’s resentment aimed toward those who inherit wealth. And oh by the way…we are the wealthy of the world. 

     Chuck Collins wrote an important book about inheriting. It’s called Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good. Mr. Collins is the great-grandson of Oscar Meyer and used his inheritance in ways that caused great concern within his family.

     The secular world sees things in terms of power and money…to be able to do what you want, when you want to do it…with little or no concern for those around you. Jesus sees things in terms of beloved community. And just as the Bible tells us, it’s difficult for someone who is rich to follow Jesus into eternal life. But nothing is impossible for God.

     As libraries begin to open again, Born on Third Base is worth your time.     

     Our world has been paused by a deadly virus. But already people are protesting that things should return to the way they were before the virus. And then what?

     Has this been just a big inconvenience? I don’t suggest saying that to those who mourn. Will the increased awareness of our interdependence fade away as wealth and health fall back into parameters of acceptability? Will the church find new meaning in its identity and purpose. Will it embrace its inheritance with a renewed spirit?

     In a moment we will be singing “Breath on Me, Breath of God; fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost, and do what thou wouldst do.”

     By staying at home we are refusing to give this virus a ride to its next victim. It is an act of agape love. It is foolish to think that our rural setting and our low population density is protecting us and that we are safe without the benefit of mass testing.   

     This is a time for us to examine what it is that we truly love and why we love it.

     Let’s consider the idea that God, Eternal God, Timeless God, has breathed upon US for purposes beyond our personal comfort.  

     Jesus’ disciples emerged from that room inspired by the same Holy Spirit that counsels us in this very moment. They were all martyred, by the way. The secular world finds this to be strange. Yet here we are, still trying to discern the will of God in our lives as individuals and as a church family.

     Worship is a time to express our gratitude to the One who creates, redeems, and inspires. And then what? Methodists have a pot luck with lots of desserts. But it’s the holy conversation that matters. It’s here where we learn to care about beloved community. It’s here where the life stories of faith and hope. It’s here where compassion and concern break through the façade we present to the secular world.

     The holy conversation within beloved community gives us the strength and the vision to continue the movement that began when the first disiples emerged from that room with a renewed sense of purpose and joy. Thanks be to God!

 

 
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