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!]]
[[A few weeks ago, I gave this brief sermon on a retreat in which we were focusing on practicing Sabbath.]]
Do you remember the first time you got in a hammock? How old were you? How tall were you? Was it easy or was it hard? The first few times you got into a hammock seem to be a profound experience to me. There is a lot involved in your first hammock experience. Someone else has to set up the hammock for you or maybe they help you set it up. At least, perhaps, you had to adhere to some sort of instruction manual. Even if not, that hammock concept came about long before you got there and you had to figure it out. Hammocks look odd when you’re not using them. Even when you set it up right and take a look at it before you use it, it looks odd — it’s this stretched piece of cloth suspended between two poles, two trees, two somethings. It doesn’t look like it’s meant to hold much of anything. The label says 400 lbs, but you’re just not 400 lbs sure — Do you believe it, you know, just looking at the thing? Will it hold you up? Do you believe it? Do you trust it? It’s a risk thing, getting into a hammock for the first time — or even the first few times. Sometimes the thing just seems set up too high; it’s too lofty for what you want. People assure you that it’s supposed to look like that but you don’t quite buy it just yet.
So you try and get in. It’s perplexing. There’s this point where your butt is just not high enough to plop yourself in even when you’re standing on your toes — you have to make a little jump and now it’s got to hold you and all the momentum you’ve got. Or maybe you’ll try that upside down flip thing — now that’s a risk there. You know in that jump you might fall, it’s a risky commitment. You might get hurt in some unanticipated and unpleasant way — you could get hurt … but that’s OK. Otherwise, you’d never get in the hammock. So you’re in, but it’s weird. It’s not quite what you expect. It’s not sturdy — it’s rocking back and forth, to and fro, wavering in the breeze. You’re up with nothing but air between you and the hard unforgiving ground. Then, one of two things happens. Either you get to the point where you can settle in and you feel the rest and lean into gentle slumber or you’re restless in the motion, the unexpected instability that is only now apparent … but in either case, it will be over soon. It will be over soon and you’re not ready to get out yet — ’cause getting out is just as harrowing as getting in!
Getting back out requires effort and overcoming just a little bit of fear. It’s a risk too! It’s re-entry into normal life in an abrupt and often uncomfortable way. You’re just as likely to get hurt getting out as getting into a hammock. But whether you like it or not, whether you’re ready or not, your time in the hammock is going to end. But once it’s over, you can do it again. And every time it gets a little easier, a little more enjoyable, and a little more appealing. Bits of the fear, doubt, anxiety, and clumsy frustration never go away — the risk of messing up and getting hurt is always there, after all — but that’s OK. That’s part of using a hammock.
Now, I was at a conference over Jan-Term and I heard an author I like give a six minute speech on hunting with his dog. He’s a spiritual guy, and I’m certain there was some level of depth to his little parable, I’m sure he wasn’t wasting our time — but for the life of me, I still can’t figure out what he was talking about. So, in case you were wondering, I wasn’t talking about hammocks. I was talking about Sabbath.
Sabbath is like using a hammock, especially at first. You’re using something that’s been set up for you, a day built into the order of the kosmos, rest that is a necessary part of the nature of things. You don’t choose whether or not your body needs rest — it is only your choice how much rest and what kind of rest you give yourself. Sabbath may even seem too lofty a goal, a bar set a little too high for us unsaintly people here — and it looks odd, it looks weird. Sabbath is an affront to our modern sensibilities, our rhythms, our priorities.Sabbath requires risk — practicing Sabbath requires us to reorient our lives, it requires us to choose things at the expense of other things; it requires not just intellectual belief, but trust. It, like any serious practice or relationship requires a leap — it’s not something you just enter into. But it will hold you up, the label that says “holds up to 400 lbs” is a reliable one.
That doesn’t mean you won’t get hurt or trip up. An early attempt at Sabbath of mine resulted in a week knocked off kilter that was actually more stressful than restful. Barbara Brown Taylor says that even if done right, Sabbath can leave us sick in withdrawals from our productivity, business, and hurry — but in the end there is something more rewarding in it. While you’re in Sabbath, it’s not what you expect. It’s sometimes unstable, sometimes worrisome, but it’s worth it. But at some point you come out of it, and that transition can be abrupt and painful, but it’s good. And whether you like it or not, whether you’re ready or not, Sabbath ends … but the good news is that it’s coming around again.
Now, if you’re a really astute observer and listener, you’ll know that I’m not really talking about Sabbath either. Sabbath is a small representation of faith. Our faith did not begin and nor does it end with us. Our faith is risky, and we can get hurt. Our faith seems too lofty sometimes and when we’re in the swaying hammock of faith, it’s not always what we expect. There’s doubt, pain, and frustration — and that’s OK, it’s all part of faith. There are ups and downs and it all requires overcoming a little bit — or a lot — of fear. But the good news is that faith doesn’t depend on us. Faith exists apart from what we have faith in, and the God in whom we have faith, who created the Sabbath, and sustains all things in that hammock experience, that God is there, that God is here, God is good, and God will be with you. Amen.