The Ins and Odds of Revelation

sermon for 4th Sun of Easter

Revelation5:11-4; John10:22-30; Psalm23; Acts9:36-43
Throughout this season of Easter, we’re hearing from Revelation, from start to finish—from the first chapter all the way to the very final words of our Bibles. Normally we would try to avoid it, thinking of this book as so foreign to our faith, yet in this part of our three-year cycle of lectionary readings, we are exposed to eight Sundays of Revelation. The Greek title, Apocalypse, is about, indeed, revealing or unveiling, about making something known. But our typical conception is that this is a strange and frightful book with mysterious interpretations, obscuring rather than revealing or clarifying our faith.

It may also, then, seem unusual that these readings we hear don’t seem to have much of the curious imagery and mysterious messages we associate with Revelation. I paged through this week to find out what we’re skipping past, and here’s a partial list: We skip someone man-like with white hair and fiery eyes and bypass lukewarm Christians and various markings on foreheads. We went past an open door to heaven and “casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea” (from the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy”) as well as the fiery lake burning with sulfur. There would have been the famous four horsemen and Armageddon the sun black as sackcloth and 100-pound hailstones and stars falling from the sky and a bottomless pit. There’s a talking eagle and carnivorous armor-wearing locusts that sting like scorpions. A pregnant woman wearing the sun contrasts with the whore of Babylon (sorry for the language). Plus Revelation has loads of sevens: seven trumpets, seven seals on a scroll, seven stars and seven lampstands, seven plagues, seven angels, and seven thunders, seven mountains and seven kings and also a lot of three-and-a-halfs, as half of seven and maybe implicitly imperfect. There’s a seven-headed dragon and a great battle and the beast is conquered by the blood of the Lamb (an important concept we’ll come back to). There’s “Glory, glory! Hallelujah” (of “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”), and “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (of “Hallelujah Chorus”). There’s “Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes!  The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!” Okay, that last part I actually took from the movie “Ghostbusters.”

So if there’s all this other stuff—the creepy stuff and the strange and crazily unusual—we may wonder why our assigned Bible readings for this season ignore it. It’s even more noticeable given what we are picking up. For example, last week we heard the chorus of all creation singing “power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing,” and this week that choir’s anthem is “blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might.” There’s some variation, but not lots. They could’ve chosen a reading that showed some of the diversity of this peculiar book, that exposed us to something less repetitive and picked up the whacky wild weirdness of anything skipped.

So why skip it? Why bypass so much that seems to be the popularly intriguing or memorably fascinating parts?

One reason the Revised Common Lectionary may not choose those parts of Revelation is that they so often have been misread, misused. By skipping them, it is not only a protection for our beliefs, but also a protection for our neighbors on this planet who have been harmed by wrong readings of Revelation. Such wrong reading has most often tried to forecast, as if these images were predicting what might happen in the future.

That isn’t for just a few religious nuts who let their fundamentalism and literalism get the better of them. Rather, it has huge marketing sales, and shapes perceptions of all us Christians, and these problems even warp foreign policy of our nation. A theology invented just about 100 years ago not only came up with the rapture and naming antichrists, but still more outrageously claimed that humans can force the endtimes to begin through the political situation established in the Middle East, that Jesus will return when Israel has enough control, and when Jesus comes he’ll wipe out those Jewish people they’d formerly acted like they were helping. This Christian Zionism is convoluted and disgusting and is part of what makes our tax dollars contribute $10 million per day to Israeli military. To set some of this straight and not be deceived into strange misbelief is part of why I’m eager for you to experience the facts on the ground in the Holy Land with me this fall.

But I’ll say right now that Revelation was not written predicting what’s coming. It was written about the reality Christians were already facing. For them, it wasn’t just fantasy, imagination, and invention but real symbolism. They knew what this all meant because they knew their Bible and knew current events. They knew Babylon was the epitome of the Bible’s bad guys and knew seven hills meant Rome, the current imperial oppressor. It wasn’t language for us to decode or assign meaning that would only apply at some obscure point in history when the so-called stars aligned. It was sort of a graphic novel, a comic book portrayal of life as they already knew it, using classic creative imagery borrowed from the Bible, the Jewish Scriptures.

That isn’t exactly our circumstance. If I’m behind on the news or if I need to explain in a sermon why climate change is real and relevant, then we can’t do what Revelation was doing. The same if you don’t know the stories of Elijah and Elisha raising people from the dead to see the parallels in the Acts reading, or if you didn’t recognize that the “Ghostbusters” line wasn’t actually part of the Bible. Those realities for us change the playing field as we encounter Revelation.

What isn’t different, or may at least have remarkable parallels for us, is what those early Christians were going through. That they were using stories of faith, using the Bible to understand their circumstances is a valuable model for us. Faith isn’t locked up back in the past, nor waiting for some mysterious impending turning point, but is about God’s presence with you and assurances now.

Revelation, at its heart, is a message of encouragement, about persevering, about hope that endures. It becomes almost a refrain repeated over and over in the book. There is a long litany of all the terrible stuff, but then suddenly hope returns, reassurance is voiced, good news triumphs. A professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, Barbara Rossing, phrases it that “just when we’re expecting more destruction” then comes a “salvation interlude.”* That can be too true and too relatable for our lives, that you expect catastrophe after catastrophe, calamity after calamity, the other shoe dropping, and more bad news, when you can’t catch a break, and things continue to go wrong, and doubts really haunt, and the temptation is to give up. You know those moments? If so, you need a salvation interlude!

We should note that, in the original meaning, this wasn’t only the worst things that could happen, not just being thrown to the lions in the gladiator pits or persecutions threatening genocide or the capital-M martyrdom of dying for faith. Professor Rossing also points out that the word we have here as “the great ordeal” (in older versions “the great tribulation”) that word (thlipseos) isn’t about state oppression but applies more to “social, economic, and religious marginalization.” This is about choosing to live in a way that doesn’t make reasonable sense to society, because of your convictions hazarding to confront prevalent wrongs. One example would be that understanding God as Creator could lead to hurting your pocket book by divesting from fossil fuels. Even though it would cost you, it is believing the cost is worse by not doing it. Still at this point in history, that faithful decision would result in being marginalized socially, economically, and maybe even, unfortunately, religiously. Would you choose that? Are you ready for that uphill struggle? Are you able to persist in doing what you believe is right? Can you continue on when you’re frustrated and exhausted?

We’re at this intense point in the season of Easter. You can feel the move deeper and deeper into it. We go from the surprise proclamation of resurrection on to the second week where Easter means a commissioning for us and where we also, with Thomas, ask what it means if it seems too hard to believe and we just can’t quite grasp it for ourselves yet. Then last week was the moment of asking what Easter means for our regular daily lives, what this has to do with our jobs and school and distractions and meals and being at home. And now, on this 4th Sunday of Easter, there’s the still harder question of what good news could mean when we’re facing too much bad news, what this new beginning of Easter means when we’re stuck in too much that’s old and rotten and harmful.

Matching the trajectory of the 23rd Psalm, with Shepherding gifts we’ve been sustained in green pastures and led beside still waters and along right pathways. But then we get to the darkness, to valleys of the shadow of death. Yet the Psalm declares, “I fear no evil, for thou art with me.” That’s the message we’ve been hearing in these passages from Revelation, too.

And that may be the central reason the lectionary skips the gruesome and awful scenes, that whole long list we went through before. Those passages aren’t interesting or entertaining but are about your reality. And your life already has too much nastiness and violence and sadness. You don’t come to church for caricatures of corrupt leaders and images of intolerant injustice, don’t come to be entertained by bad news. You come needing a salvation interlude, needing God. You need Jesus, you come here in need of relief, for hope, for good news, for a way to endure, for encouragement to continue striving for justice.

This is where you gather with that band of saints, “the great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,” to know that you are joined in the hymn of all creation, to be reminded that you are not alone in your sufferings or struggles to do right, to be assured that you will come through the great ordeal, that God will wipe out hunger and wipe away your tears, that power and might don’t belong to those who oppress and manipulate and threaten, but belong to God and the Lamb, forever.

The most amazing, the wildest image in Revelation that appears over and over is of this Lamb who was slain, slaughtered yet alive. The portrayal in this last book of the Bible, then, is not of a bullying God coming to conquer and wipeout the infidels with a battle sword in a violent bloodbath. Just the opposite, here nonviolence triumphs, a victory not in murdering but in dying and rising. This features death and resurrection, the one who was killed as alive, of the one who was despised as adored on the throne, of the Lamb of God who has become the Shepherd, of Jesus. Today the vision is those who wash in the blood of the Lamb, a vision that your sufferings are the sufferings of Jesus. In your suffering, he suffers. Yet those are not the end. The story continues that he will bring you also to newness of life. This is all so that you may hold onto and trust that, as Jesus himself says, “I give them life, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

This is how we continue to proclaim: Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 

* https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1694

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Setting things Rights

sermon for 3rd Sunday of Easter

John21:1-19; Revelation5:11-4; Acts9:1-20; Psalm30
The purpose of this reading—which I mentioned last week was a later postscript to the Gospel of John—could be seen as trying to set things right. Actually, the whole season of Easter could be seen as God’s ongoing effort to set things right, to overturn wrongs, to stop injustice through the ever-expanding kingdom of God, to overcome death with life. Last week, that setting right focused on making sure sins are forgiven and that those who doubt and are uncertain are still welcomed and given what they need.

So what exactly is being set right in this week’s reading? Depending on the perspective, one view of the purpose for this section being added is either setting right or else turning unfortunate. This view observes that John’s Gospel is quite different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and that John promotes sharing of love in close-bound relationships, laying down our lives for each other as a beloved community. It could be that John’s congregation or set of followers had some different understanding, then, than the others who followed the Matthew-Mark-Luke synoptic-style of believers. Notably, in John’s Gospel Peter is much less central. He is more simply among the disciples rather than being their spokesperson. So maybe instead of a community of equals, this addition to John’s Gospel reinforces the other vison of Peter’s leadership, helping John’s group to integrate with the larger church by accepting this figure as central, who would become bishop of Rome, a role eventually enshrined in the hierarchy of the pope.

If that leaves you questioning whether this passage is actually setting something right or was accepting a less-ideal turn of history, we’ll move on to something more favorable: the location of this reading. Last week, we ended still behind locked doors in Jerusalem, but this takes us back up north to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It’s not only a more pleasant, pastoral place of scenery, but also a return home. It is a logical subsequent step of the story, because we have to wonder what happened next.

And that parallels our own story. On Easter Sunday, amid fresh lilies and the joys of bottled up Alleluias and crowds in worship and brass and rich, sweet treats, amid the newness of the thrill, it seems almost anybody could believe. It seems not too good to be true, but just good. It seems—maybe most of all—like a pleasant diversion. Then Easter passed and Monday came and you went back to work and normal rhythms and then school resumed and homework and what happens in these busy spring weeks, what decisions need to be made, chores accomplished, details taken care of, and you couldn’t ignore the election forever, and now are thinking about what comes next.

While the disciples weren’t worried about presidential primaries and the state supreme court, those original followers of Jesus and witnesses to resurrection also soon must’ve fallen out of the radical newness, the exciting disruption of Easter, and returned to the rhythms of life. This reading is setting straight that vital matter, that we can’t keep the after-effects of Easter locked up, but need to, must encounter them at home and amid the flow of our lives if they are true and consequential.

So the disciples went home and have gotten on with life. Maybe we’d wish Easter would’ve made more of a difference for them, more impact, that life just plain couldn’t be the same afterward. But we know this is actually how it works. We want Jesus to have shown up and changed everything, for God to be so lively and present and amazing that each moment of our lives would be imbued with a radiant glow and holiness so pervasive that we’d all don haloes like in the paintings and share so much love, peace, goodwill it would overcome all our problems and all evil. It would be nice, but that’s just not how it goes, at least in my experience. Instead life kind of goes on. Work goes on. We get busy with living our days and occupying our time and trying to make sense of our world and to do something that feels worthwhile.

In that way, the disciples went fishing. Not a bad choice for spending some time. But it also was indicating the three-year pilgrimage with Jesus had come to an end. Although John didn’t tell the story of Jesus calling fishermen out of their boats to follow him, to “fish for people” as he says it in the other gospels, we can’t help but hear this story as the bookend to that. They’ve given up on catching people and gone back to their boats, back to their nets, back to their old life.

We might be disappointed in that, wanting them to be doing something more special or powerful, to be permanently changed by their close encounter with God and time with Jesus. But as they go fishing, they seem to have moved on…or moved back. Maybe they’re like the original college grads who have to move back into their parents’ basement, after transformative experiences, with other opportunities not panning out, returning to the family business and same old way of life.

But then Jesus shows up on the shore. What will that mean? Last week he sent them on a mission; will he criticize them for goofing off, rebuke them for so soon neglecting their calling? Will he tell them they should be doing something more important than fishing, lecture them to take more seriously God, resurrection, and Easter?

Well, actually, in this encounter, Jesus seems less concerned with any of that. There’s no proving himself with holes in his hands.  He doesn’t explain the Scriptures about suffering, dying, and rising.  He doesn’t seem motivated to share the peace or to breathe on them, giving them the Holy Spirit.  He doesn’t so much talk about forgiving sins or healing or teaching.  He doesn’t reiterate a call away from fishing boats to catch people or even—for that matter—mention God.

Instead, Jesus essentially says, “I will make you fishers of fish.” He tells them where to cast their nets so they can catch the lunkers, 153 fish all at once. And then he wants to have breakfast.

That is extremely important to tell in this story and is another thing being set right here, that is: following Jesus is not always about a call to forsake your old life and journey to a new strange way of being. It may be that for some, but for many—including, apparently, for much of this group of disciples, Jesus called them exactly to where they were, a calling to fish for fish and eat some brunch. In your calling and vocations, too, in your lives of work and engaging with family and the regular stuff at home, in your volunteering and all, a calling from Jesus is not necessarily more spectacular or glamorous or pious or rigorous, but may well be the blessing in your tasks as you already face them, and your skills already in use. It’s the guidance of how to fish, so to speak, and sharing a meal, of his presence with you right where you are.

Peter may be the exception in this case. Jesus is repeating a call to him away from fishing, toward shepherding. With that is another occasion of setting things right, with the issue of love for God or Jesus. Do you love God? That’s hard when you can’t see God (as the letter of 1st John will explicitly remind us) (4:20). Peter may have loved Jesus, but he was running out of chances to show that devotion. Soon Jesus would be gone. What then? Well, Jesus sets it right by saying that your love, your devotion ought well be given to those who are there, to sisters and brothers you can see, to care for the lost and tend the hungry, meeting needs around you of those Jesus also loves. That’s a good role, a worthy responsibility.

And in that particular calling, Jesus was also setting something else right for Peter. This story is notably paired to reverse the events on the night of Jesus’ arrest, when Peter was huddled at another charcoal fire and three times denied even knowing Jesus. Here, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to undo his denial, to reclaim the relationship.

Now, for some of you, that may be extraordinarily good news, that you have a God of second chances, and third chances, and in this case fourth chances, and probably a lot more beyond that. It may be an amazing amount of grace, that no matter how much you feel you’ve strayed or done wrong or neglected God and faith and how you ought to be living that there’s room for a fresh start.

That is, indeed, a central aspect of our faith, of repentance met by the embrace of forgiveness. We might even claim it’s the Spirit that does this work in us, of warming our hearts, of turning our minds, of returning our feet and rejuvenating our lives.

Yet I also have to confess that I have discomfort if it depends on devotion, on my sustained vigor, on being able to stay interested, on how long our attention spans are. One of the most disheartening phrases I hear is when somebody who has been away from church for a time exclaims, “I’m not going to miss a week!” Mostly they don’t even make it once. Or when they lose their goal of perfect attendance, then they feel like a failure and give up. Jesus may be ready to forgive 99 times, but what if I’ve only turned to repent 98 times? Even at three, Peter is aggravated, worn out on the process. How directly, how eagerly must we love for this to work out? Is it our responsibility to seize opportunities?

Sure, our God is able to restore Peter and set right his denial. Yes, our God is able to transform murderous terrifying Saul into missionary Paul, from persecutions into proclamation of life. Sorrow may last for the night but joy—indeed—come in the morning.

But we need a God who claims Peter during his denial, a God who embraces Saul even as he rebels, who puts up with Ananias refusing to heal, who doesn’t just overlook our failures but loves us all the way through them, who doesn’t give up on us when we ignore discipleship but will call us to fish for fish, who isn’t looking for us somewhere else but right where we are, at home over breakfast, who isn’t waiting for us to make amends or just encouraging us to mend our own brokenness, who is able to right our wrongs and to raise up our lives from the pit, bringing you also from death to new life, who is also there in sorrows and darkness and disappointment and death and redeeming it for us. We don’t need just a process for restoration and reconciliation, nothing that is so easily explained or apparently routine, but somehow we even more need the Revelation of a wild unbelievable newness of a slaughtered Lamb ruling as king, and angels and chickens and myriad thousands of unexpected tongues and every last creature singing in praise: Alleluia! Christ is risen!

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2nd Sunday of Easter (3Apr15)

John20:19-31

 

Next week we’ll hear an epilogue added later. But in the original version, this was the end of John’s Gospel—a summary statement, a final hurrah for the story.

As the concluding capstone, this offers John’s definitive vision for us. Similarly, Matthew has the Great Commission of “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them…and I am with you always” and Luke has the Emmaus story, with a form of worship seeing Jesus in Scriptures and in Communion even when we can’t see him otherwise. (Mark’s Gospel, for whatever reason, doesn’t follow this pattern with such shaping and guidance from Jesus.)

In this culminating message, John gives a structure we may use for absorbing these final words: Thomas is pejoratively known as “Doubting” Thomas from the line of Jesus saying “do not doubt but believe.” But actually the original Greek says “do not become unbelieving but believing” or “don’t persist in mistrust but be trusting.” So let’s follow that pattern John commends to us as both what faith is and what it isn’t, or how it doesn’t and does.

I’ve picked up ten of these areas in the reading. It could be ten because, in spite of liking Colbert, I still miss Letterman’s Top Ten lists. Or it might be that while my grandpa used to give three point sermons, though I am terser and briefer than he was, I’m also more scatter-brained.

At any rate, without further ado, ten things from this Gospel reading on what our faith is and isn’t, about how we do or don’t come to believe, of what we reject and affirm. Here’s the list, which we’ll explore and explain more:

  1. not other days, but Sundays
  2. not individualistic, but communal
  3. not self-originating, but received
  4. not only receiving, but giving
  5. not exclusionary, but accessible
  6. not safe, but vulnerable
  7. not morally superior, but forgiving
  8. not supernatural, but earthy
  9. not charming, but unattractive
  10. not unbelieving, but believing

(1) Both parts of this reading are set on “the first day of the week,” on Sunday. Partly that coincidence is since Easter was on Sunday. More fully, this probably reflects what was already standard practice from the earliest times, that church met on Sunday. We come to believe by being in church. Said another way, more than a Tuesday afternoon or Friday night, the important moments of faith where your convictions are fostered are likely to happen here and now. Flowing from that, we notice:

(2) Church is a communal gathering, a place of relationships. The reading’s repeated refrain is Jesus three times saying “Peace be with you.” That seems to indicate it takes practice being in community. Still, we keep working on reconciling and remaining together because you can’t be church alone. Evidently God finds you more in a group than individually. At least partly, that aspect matters because

(3) faith is not self-originating but comes from each other. The disciples were breathed on by Jesus, and then he explicitly sent them to do the same for others. Now, they couldn’t force Thomas believe. We all probably have experiences wishing we could but knowing we can’t totally hand faith on to make somebody else believe exactly how we want them to. Nevertheless, faith’s foundation is in hearing the stories, in learning from each other, by some preacher’s voice. God speaks through each other. We can’t come up with it on our own or find our way to what we need to believe but receive it from the shared faith of community. We’re mutually indebted to and mutually responsible for each other. That points inevitably to…

(4) Faith is not only received, but given. It is heard, and also spoken. This is a two-way street. No spectator sport, faith begs for your committed involvement. We’ll say more about forgiveness at #7, but for now we can note that God’s work is somehow dependent on us. When Jesus gives you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, in traditional language, saying that whatever you forgive is forgiven as if by God’s own voice, that seems to indicate you had better get on speaking forgiveness and offering God’s grace and proclaiming God’s love, because there are people who need to hear it. If you don’t do it, it may not get done. Or at least you’ll be missing out on the really cool chance that God speaks through you. Talking of missed opportunity:

(5) With a show of hands: who wasn’t here for worship last week? You might be in company with Thomas. He missed the main gathering of the resurrection on Easter. But faith is not like a fishing trip of “you should’ve been here last week” or a sense that you had to be there or you’ve missed out forever. It involves commitment, yet it does not reject those who have been absent. It remains accessible. There is always room for newcomers who haven’t been part of the group before, another chance at the good news, still time for Jesus to find you and bring you to believing. This isn’t about being a charter insider versus permanent outsider. Speaking of outsiders, though,

(6) we also have to notice that Jesus busts through locked doors to come into the midst of the believers hunkered in fear, intruding on the barriers they were trying to erect. So faith does not keep enemies at bay or avoid strangers. It isn’t only being where we feel most comfortable, nor about security and that internal sense of sanctuary. Faith involves vulnerability, uncertainty, some accepting discomfort. We can never set up impermeable borders or airtight resolutions. Even if we put up “keep out, no trespassing” signs, there will always be new questions that invade. We should never try to claim a place where Jesus isn’t allowed or couldn’t be present. Maybe that’s also part of why we keep practicing peace here, why Jesus has to keep repeating it, because we’re so apt to be fearful and wanting to view others in the worst light. Yet Jesus comes to find us when we’re scared and confused and also to interrupt our segregations and prejudice and bigotry and resentments. Like you can’t be church alone, you can’t be well or have the fullness of God’s shalom in isolation. That, then, also makes central

(7) the practice of forgiveness. Our faith is constructed not in trying to be holier than thou, trying to be more morally upright, to do more good deeds, or claiming to be the most philanthropic. Comparing ourselves against others, we might not stack up very well. More vitally, church quickly loses its purpose. If you’re only here to learn how you ought to live, much less if you’re here wanting to think that you’re better than or better off than others, you’ll discover rather quickly you might do just as well elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you recognize that you need grace, need room to keep trying, need someplace where you’ll be loved even when you fall short, then this place of forgiveness is precisely for you, and is a good place for you to continue trying to comprehend and embody that forgiveness for the sake of others, too. You are, after all, no angels. You’re only human, as they say. That being human certainly connects into

(8) and (9) (Let’s get two out of the way in one fell swoop.) In the story, Jesus shows up with both breath and nail marks in his hands, bodily stuff. Ours is not an escapist ethereal faith, not the elitism of a heavenly spiritual vision, but the very living, breathing, flesh and blood actuality of this life. It isn’t first supernatural, not above nature, but is natural. It is earthy. It is tangible and touchable.

This is the great thing about Thomas’ insistence on touching Jesus. When he missed out on that first Easter resurrection gathering, the other disciples were commissioned as agents of God, they were told they had authority to forgive sins, they were breathed on by Jesus, received the Holy Spirit. That’s pretty amazing stuff. Yet Thomas doesn’t ponder whether he, too, is sent as an apostle, whether he can forgive, whether he will get the Holy Spirit. No, his protest is that he wants to touch Jesus. If we don’t understand that our faith involves actual lives and actual bodies and actual eating, we’ve missed it. We can’t avoid it for the so-called spiritual stuff. The Spirit finds her way to you in your very regular life.

But it’s also kind of gross that Thomas wanted to touch the nail marks, right? That’s the other part of this fleshy faith. This isn’t only for beautiful bodies or for immaculate moments of life or the charmingly attractive. Our God spends a lot of time and energy where things are ugly and hurting and life is struggling. Which all seems utterly foolish: why would we want to spend time on faith that is unattractive, that isn’t attracting us? God finds you and keeps striving not only in serene beauty, but in the worst moments. Well, that brings us to

This is the great thing about Thomas’ insistence on touching Jesus. When he missed out on that first Easter resurrection gathering, the other disciples were commissioned as agents of God, they were told they had authority to forgive sins, they were breathed on by Jesus, received the Holy Spirit. That’s pretty amazing stuff. Yet Thomas doesn’t ponder whether he, too, is sent as an apostle, whether he can forgive, whether he will get the Holy Spirit. No, his protest is that he wants to touch Jesus. If we don’t understand that our faith involves actual lives and actual bodies and actual eating, we’ve missed it. We can’t avoid it for the so-called spiritual stuff. The Spirit finds her way to you in your very regular life.

But it’s also kind of gross that Thomas wanted to touch the nail marks, right? That’s the other part of this fleshy faith. This isn’t only for beautiful bodies or for immaculate moments of life or the charmingly attractive. Our God spends a lot of time and energy where things are ugly and hurting and life is struggling. Which all seems utterly foolish: why would we want to spend time on faith that is unattractive, that isn’t attracting us? God finds you and keeps striving not only in serene beauty, but in the worst moments. Well, that brings us to

(10), which also brings us back to the beginning: do not be unfaithful but faithful. Don’t remain distrusting, but become trusting. This is very different than claiming that belief equals not doubting. This is about a trajectory of openness, about leaving the question open, about what you practice. A genuine, investigating, inquiring faith is always becoming, searching for more. Yet if you resist, digging in your heels, avoiding the surprises, you may very well not be surprised, find an answer closed. If you expect to be disappointed, most likely you will be. But if you expect to believe, if you keep your skepticism and suspicion, your openness and availability to this peculiar mystery at work in and around us, then you may just wind up encountering Jesus and this God who

  1. shows up especially on Sundays
  2. finding us in community,
  3. in what we receive from
  4. and give to each other,
  5. the God who is not exclusionary about attendance, but continues to be accessible as you arrive here
  6. to practice exploring the vulnerable edges,
  7. of not feeling morally superior, but with the hard but fruitful task of forgiveness
  8. just as it is shared by this strange God who isn’t sought in the supernatural, but Jesus who is in the fleshy, earthiness of our lives,
  9. in your worst moments and biggest struggles, through scars and sufferings and cross.
  10. To find this strange God in these strange ways amid this strange community, you’ll have to practice not unbelieving, but believing, which is why we keep repeating the weird Word: Alleluia! Christ is risen!
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