But one of the Twelve, Thomas, called Didymus, was not there when Jesus came to them. So then, the other disciples said to him, “We’ve seen the Master!”
But he said to them, “If I don’t see in his hands those nail wounds, if I can’t put my finger in them, and if I can’t put my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
And after a week, again the disciples gathered together and Thomas was with them. The doors being shut, Jesus came and stood in the middle of them. He said, “Peace be with you!”
Then he said to Thomas, “Bring your finger here and see my hands. Place your hand in my side. Don’t disbelieve — believe!”
Thomas answered him, “Oh my Master and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you believe. Blessed are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
“I don’t believe in the resurrection. I know. I’ve been around here for a while, and it’s just kind of the expectation for people like me. I know, I know. It’s been a week. I know everyone was celebrating last week, there were songs, there may have been some dancing somewhere, I know everyone was happy. I know everyone was happy, but I didn’t see it. I don’t have that kind of hope, you know. I can’t just believe. I know you’ve got your arguments. I know they’re there, and I think they’re pretty convincing sometimes, but it’s just not enough. It’s just that after everything I’ve seen in my life, since I was born, all the war, all the hunger, all the suffering … It’s just — how can you look at all that suffering, all that pain, all that misery and say he got up? I just can’t believe it. What makes you think that we’re so special, that we know the Messiah, the Savior? What makes you think somebody from Nazareth of all places was so special? Didn’t Nathaniel say it right? ‘What good can come out of Nazareth?’ What makes you think some carpenter’s son who could pull off some neat tricks is the Savior of the world — that he got back up. They killed him, guys. They killed him. If he could save himself, surely he would have done it beforehand. I just can’t believe this story, it’s too much. Peter, I know what you say you saw. Mary, I know what you think you saw. John, I know there wasn’t anything there — but there are so many kinds of explanations! I don’t have that kind of hope. Don’t get me wrong, I think what he said was right, I think what he asked us to do was right, I think building this Kingdom is still our job … at least I still think that most days. But some days I don’t have that kind of faith. Not today, not now. Not after what we saw last week — they killed him. I just don’t have that kind of faith. If I don’t see in his hands those nail wounds … if I can’t put my finger in them … and if I can’t put my hand in his side … I will not believe.” Read the rest of this entry
[[Here's the video of my sermon from the 2013 National Festival of Young Preachers! You can find the manuscript here. I'm running a bit behind on stuff right now, but more on our more controversial topic next week. Sorry for the delay!]]
[[This past week I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the Academy of Preachers' National Festival of Young Preachers. I spent the week with fellow Christians of all theological temperaments, races, ages, denominations, and preaching styles. The themes this year was the Gospel and the City. You can also find the collection of last year's sermons, in which I also have a chapter, here. Also, this marks my 250th post and the first post of 2013! Happy Epiphany!]]
He went to his hometown, Nazareth. As was his custom, he went to the synagogue that Sabbath day. He stood up to read and they handed him the book of the Prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found where it is written:
The Lord’s spirit is upon me,
because God anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
God sent me to proclaim
pardon for prisoners,
sight for the blind,
freedom for the oppressed,
to proclaim the time of God’s favor.
He closed the book, returned it, and sat down. Everyone’s eyes were on him.
“Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he said.
They all started talking about him, amazed at the words of grace falling from his lips.
“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
“Surely, you will remind me,” he said, “‘Doctor, fix yourself!’ and ‘Do what you did in Capernaum here in your hometown!’ But I’ll tell you that no prophet is well-liked in his hometown. Truthfully, there were many widows in Israel during Elijah’s time when the sky closed up and there was a great famine for three and a half years. And Elijah wasn’t sent to any of them; instead, he was sent to a widowed woman in Zarephath in Sidon. There were many lepers in Israel while Elisha was around, but none of them were cleaned, only Naaman from Syria.”
Everyone in the synagogue was enraged when they heard these things. They got up, kicked him out of the city, and brought him to the cliff at the edge of town so they could throw him off it.
He passed through the middle of them and left.
Luke 4:16-30 (author’s rendition)
There is an old story that Irish theologian Peter Rollins like to tell about the second coming of Jesus. “It is said that he arrived anonymously one dull Monday morning at the gates of a great city to go about his Father’s business. There was much for him to do. While many years had passed since his last visit, the same suffering was present all around. Still there were the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. Still there were outcasts, and still there were the righteous who pitied them, and the authorities who exploited them. For a long time no one took any notice of the desert wanderer with his weather-beaten face and ragged, dusty clothes — this quiet man who spent his time living among the sick and unwanted. The great city labored on like a mammoth beast, ignorant of the one who dwelt within its bowels.” The story goes on, but that first part has always left me disturbed. A question plagues me; a realization haunts me. At this point in my life, when I hear that story — and when I read the Gospels — I cannot escape the sinking, nagging feeling that we might be missing something. I read about the life of Jesus, I read about what he said and did, and I read about how God chose to spend God’s time on the earth, and I am perplexed. All of it seems so foreign to me, and not necessarily foreign in a first-century Palestinian sort of way. Read the rest of this entry
[[This sermon was given last week (13 November) in the convocation hour at Samford University. Alas, it was not recorded as convocations usually are, but I thought I would post the manuscript as I used it. Unlike usual, there were a few points in which I deviated from the manuscript a bit. Those points are marked with brief explanations of what I said/did. Explanatory remarks are also present for allusions that might not make sense for non-Samfordians. --W]]
[[The Scripture was Galatians 3:26-39, NRSV:
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
It was read prior to the sermon by multiple members of the present congregation.]]
All right, it’s early, so let’s stand up again and stretch for a second. Now that you are all so very uncomfortable standing next to each other without any song to sing, look at the person on your left. Now look to the person on your right. Now what did we learn from this little exercise?
Not much? You’re not very observant then.
No, that’s what I thought. We’ll come back to that later. You can sit down again.
How many of you have heard this passage before? I would wager that a great deal of you should be raising your hands with me right now. I think this is a part of Paul that we like to throw around with reckless abandon. It sounds nice, doesn’t it? But what does it mean?
The New Testament tells us that Paul himself founded the Church in Galatia and taught them much of the theology that you and I have grown up hearing in churches around the country. They were taught all of this, yes, but after a while, other people showed up in Galatia teaching some things that Paul did not care for. Many scholars believe that these were Jewish Christians who still adhered to the Torah and thought others ought to do so as well. Now, since his meeting with Peter and others in Jerusalem, Paul had been very adamant (even more than a little angry) about this not being the case. But what happened was not that Paul simply won the argument over the Torah but the two sides of the theological debate began to think that the other was dead wrong, that their Christianity was bankrupt.
Undoubtedly, there were questions of who was following Jesus and who was not, who was listening to the right authority and who was listening to a fool, and Paul steps in to settle the issue.
I think that’s the moment when we truly had a church, don’t you think? It was that moment when we had a church with one kind of Christian who thought one way and another kind who thought another way. We have a Church where Christians call each other anything but Christians. We have a Church where circumcision trumps discipleship, Sabbath observation overrules devotion — we have a Church where piety usurps love. Read the rest of this entry
I live in a very spiritual culture, a very religious culture. The American South is an environment saturated with religion and symbol. And not only that, but I live within a religious context in a religiously-saturated environment. Birmingham has its own tumultuous spiritual heritage, but I also attend a Christian university there. Christianity is all around me all the time. Even living off its campus now, I still live a life full of spiritual exposure. All of this inundation with spirituality and religion makes it hard to see the little things sometimes. When you are surrounded by religious thought and even study it like I do, you miss things. You tend to miss things in favor of their historical or social significance. I fail to grasp the fullness of very small things sometimes. Perhaps you do, too, I do not know.
I was reading in Mark’s Gospel today when I noticed one of those little things. It was in the story within a story in the fifth chapter. While Jesus is on his way to heal the daughter of Jairus, a woman approaches him in the crowd. Unbeknownst to him, she is committed to finding a way to touch his robes because she knows that will heal her. She has been bleeding for years and no matter how much money she pays doctors, none of them have been able to fix it. She’s desperate — this attempt might be her last hope for healing. She touches his robe and feels that healing come. Jesus feels that this happens, as well. He turns around and asks who touched him. The disciples laugh at him a bit and gently remind him that he’s in a crowd. Tons of people are touching him. But Jesus knows someone did it on purpose. So, “He looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’” (Mark 5:32-34, NRSV)
There are many little things to notice in this story. One might wonder why this story appears in the middle of another one. One might wonder why the woman comes to this conclusion, that she just has to touch him and not even talk with him to be healed. One might wonder how Jesus feels power leave him. One might wonder why he so needed to see the woman. There are so many phrases to consider: “fear and trembling,” “the whole truth,” or “your faith has made you well.” The phrase that stuck out to me today, however, was the simple “go in peace.”
Go in peace. Jesus says this phrase once in Mark’s Gospel and twice in Luke’s account. In Luke, it is in his version of this story and when the woman anoints him with oil. The phrase stuck out to me because “peace” is something very important to me. It is a concept central to my Christianity. Peace. Why? First, Jesus talks a lot about peace. The word is mentioned at least twenty-four times in the Gospels alone and almost one hundred times in the New Testament. I am committed to peace in my nonviolence and pacifism. Peace has always been something innately good to me. I want to strive for and bring peace into the word. As the famous prayer goes, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
This phrase, though, “go in peace,” seems odd. At first glance, it just seems like a salutation. I think we may have turned it into that. We say it when we leave each other sometimes. It is a passing greeting accompanied by a hand gesture. In the liturgy, it is how we greet one another in the context of worship: “peace be with you.” But I wonder if we can contemplate this phrase of Jesus a bit more deeply. “Go in peace.”
Three thoughts; each build on the others:
We go in peace after an encounter with Jesus.
For Christians, peace comes after an encounter with Jesus, with God. The fruit of the Spirit is peace (Gal. 5:22) and the unity of the Spirit is peace (Eph. 4:3). God is a God of peace (Rom. 15:33, 16:20; 1 Cor. 14:33). If God is truly a God “not of disorder but of peace,” the outcome of our interactions with God should be that we go in peace.
We go in peace.
To go in peace, according to this passage has to do with healing. We are able to go in peace, because we have been healed of our disease. Whatever has plagued us, whatever grabbed us and will not let go, God is an agent of healing in that process. He does this through his love and we are able to go in peace when we recognize and embrace that love. Henri Nouwen says that to recognize that love is to express “the core truth of our existence” — that we are Beloved by God. In that unconditional, inexhaustible, unending acceptance we are in peace. (Life of the Beloved, 33)
We go in peace.
Nouwen also says that we become the Beloved and that means, “letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do.” (45) Being Beloved does not mean that we contemplate our own Belovedness on our own. That kind of peace that only remains in itself slowly diminishes and becomes less confident that it is in fact true. We are not simply told in peace but peace is paired with a verb. In our going, we should be doing what we do in peace because of this core truth. Because we are not the only Beloved; everyone around us is Beloved as we are.
So, to go in peace is to allow ourselves to be affected by the love of God. The peace that comes with that overflows into how we interact with other people, how much patience we have, how giving we are, how understanding we are, and how accepting we are. If God has accepted us and called us Beloved, if God has healed us and told us to go in peace, how much more ought we think to do that for others?
Do not let peace be your property, it is meant to be given away. At your fingertips is in inexhaustible reservoir of peace — let’s give a little, if for nothing else because we are Beloved.
Go in peace.
A lot of people are very bothered by curse words, cuss words, or whatever you’d like to call them. Sometimes they bother me, other times they don’t. However, I think the concept could be somewhat useful for the current Church — the idea that certain words are either inappropriate for most contexts or entirely inappropriate for much use at all. In fact, there are a couple words in the American Christian vernacular that I think would be best relegated to this category of “Christian Curse Words.” Here are a few examples:
The Word: Biblical — this word has become one of my least favorite in the entire English language
The Original Definition: The word originates in a seventeenth century theological text referring to anything relating to or contained in the Bible. Strictly speaking, all the word means is what might be in the Bible. Seems innocuous, right?
The New Definition: The Word now means something akin to “whatever I think is right.” For example, “My way of spending money, shopping, watching movies, handling healthcare, and voting is biblical.” Or again, “My understanding of politics, academics, science, and marriage is biblical.”
Why to Get Rid of It: Because we do not mean that what we think comes from the Bible or is contained therein. We certainly allege that most of the time, but what we really mean is that our view is right and his/her/your/their view is wrong. “Biblical” no longer has much to do with the Bible at all but only with our own preconceptions, assumptions, and positions. To say something is (or is not) “biblical” is to circumvent argument, discussion, and cooperation.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome brought spice so that they could come and anoint Jesus. Then, very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb, just at sunrise. They were saying to one another, “There’s that stone at the door of the tomb —who’s going to roll it away for us?”
Then, when they looked up, they saw that it had been rolled away. (It was extremely large.)
So they went into the tomb, and there they saw a young man sitting on the right-hand side. He was wearing white. They were totally astonished.
“Don’t be astonished,” he said to them. “You’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He isn’t here! Look — this is the place where they laid him.
“But go and tell his disciples — including Peter — that he was going ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, just like he told you.”
They went out, and fled from the tomb. Trembling and panic had seized them. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
The Gospel according to St Mark 16:1-8; Kingdom New Testament
Mark leaves us with a sense of incompleteness, because while there are some more verses following what we just read, they are likely not part of the original Gospel. At the end of it all, Mark does not show us that Jesus has risen; he simply shows us that the earliest believers ran from the tomb in panic doing nothing. “Trembling and panic had seized them. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Now, there are a lot of things that ministers could do with that. They could pontificate about evangelism and how we must be better at telling people about Jesus. We cannot be like these believers who were too frightened and ran away from telling everyone they knew about Jesus. How bad a people are we for not telling people about Jesus? But I do not think that is what Mark is trying to tell us.
The resurrection is not a message about evangelism. The resurrection is not about trying to convert people. The resurrection is not about putting you down for not talking about Jesus enough.
The resurrection, especially in Mark, is begging us — whoever we are and wherever we are at — to come and see. He is going ahead of us to Galilee. We will see him there, just like he told us.
The resurrection is about seeing something new.
I will not try to persuade or argue about Jesus. My only reply is, “Come and see.” Come and see what he has done for me. Come and see what he is doing for people all over the world. Come and see Jesus in Galilee. Come and see the Jesus who said, Blessed are you.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, … those who mourn, … the meek, … those who hunger and thirtst for righteousness [and those who hunger and thirst], … the merciful, … the pure in heart, … the peacemakers.” Blessed.
The resurrection is about a world that works a different way. It is the ultimate statement by God for us that says, “Things will be different now. Things are going to change.”
No, things don’t always look that way. It is hard sometimes to look around the world and see all the bad things going on and all the people suffering and believe in the resurrection.
But I think that’s where we come into the story.
When we look and see the resurrection on one hand and a suffering world on the other, we ought to feel like Jesus when he saw the hungry, the blind, the oppressed, and say, “Things will be different now. Things are going to change.”
And that’s resurrection in our lives here right now. Because the “Good News” of the Gospel is not that heaven is coming in some distant future and it’s saving us from hell. The “Good News” is, as Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”
And that starts with Jesus working in our lives. It starts with letting this news change the way we look at the world, the way we look at the people we pass on the street or sit next to on the Tube. It starts with us. So, it’s my hope that Easter is not just a nice little holy day for us, but that it propels us into the rest of the year. It’s my hope that we will go to Galilee and see, and let it change us, too.