Idle Tales and Other Stories We Dare to Believe

Prepared for the Ecumenical University Chaplaincy’s Cathedral@6 (cathédrale18h de l’Aumônerie œcuménique universitaire) Sunday evening service on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, based on Luke 24:1-12.

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I have this bad habit of not believing people. I always think they’re bending the truth, making the story a little bigger than it is, or skirting around the timeline.

“Did you put the laundry away?”

“Yes.”

But all I hear is, “No I have not put away the laundry, but now you’ve reminded me of my intention to do it, so I’ll say yes, and then go and quietly put it away before you notice.”

Belief is about trust.

I am not inclined to trust that people are being truthful. I am not inclined to trust that people know right from wrong—especially if it has to do with how to wash the dishes. I am not inclined to trust that people know better than me.

**

The disciples, certainly don’t think much of the women in Luke, who bring a perplexing story back with them from their morning visit. They are dismissed…

“Women like to gossip.”

“Women like to stir up trouble.”

“Women are so gullible.”

Can you hear the angry muttering of the disciples? Crowded together in a house somewhere in Jerusalem, tired, worried and grieving.

Have you ever been in a house like that? Some people have brought over food—a lasagna. You’re in the living room, perched on couches and dining room chairs, feeling a bit numb. Grief washes over you in waves of sadness, anxiety and fury.

Because grief comes with a special kind of anger—it just sits below the surface, bubbling up with the slightest irritation.

And here these women come, talking about the Teacher. They were supposedt o be bringing spices to his tomb, they were supposed to go and care for his body—and then they come back with this crap? Shame on them!

**

Besides, if he wasn’t there, then what? If wasn’t really dead, which we all saw, then where is he?

Because he’s not here, with us.

He’s not… here.

**

Sometimes imagining the other possibilities, the impossibilities, is more painful….

But Peter—Peter who never wanted any of this to happen—he listens. He doesn’t believe the women at first, but… but there’s a chance.

Peter, who loved the Teacher so deeply, with the wild abandon of a toddler who would rushes forward so quickly he inevitably falls and stumbles. Peter who gets so much right and so much wrong in a single breathe.

Peter’s heart asks, What if?

And suddenly his sandals are slapping the packed dirt road, his cloak flapping madly behind him.

“What if” moments are terrifying, because while they go unanswered our deepest fears and greatest hopes hang in the balance.

What if… I don’t get accepted to the program?

What if… the cancer comes back?

What if… we can’t make this relationship work?

But, “What if” moments also offer us that tiny terrifying sliver of hope:

What if… the impossible could be true?

What if… there’s more than this?

What if… everything works out ok?

“What if” moments are terrifying—they are vulnerable acts where we silently mouth our deepest desires and squeeze our eyes shut tight, fingers crossed, barely able to breathe because as long as the question goes unanswered there’s that infinitesimal amount of hope.

**

Resurrection stories are not about proof, Luke shows us women who encounter two strangers when they find the world not as it should be—strangers who tell them the impossible has become reality.

And the women are “perplexed”, confused. Yet, they embrace that “What if?” and bring it back to the others. They open themselves up to the terrifying possibility of more.

There’s the risk in this story: the risk of sharing your hope, and of trusting it with another.

And, what happens when we dare to hope, even if it’s just that infinitesimal amount?

Well, this story is not tidy. Those who risk, who make themselves vulnerable, and they don’t get the kindest greeting. Even more frustrating is the fact that Jesus doesn’t show up and settle the issue for a little while yet.

But, it is the start of something, the beginning of the Easter season.

The belief that there is new life beyond death is the small shoot springing up from the desolation of the forest fire—it is small, fragile and painful.

As a church and as a community, we can choose to sit in the darkness of Good Friday, drinking sour wine, and beating our chests in grief, or we can dare to imagine an Easter morning filled with the hope and possibility of new life.

And that’s terrifying.

Believing the impossible could be true, that there could be more than this, that everything could work out ok, is terrifying.

Yet, every time we recite our baptismal vows and wet the head of an adult or child, we make a declaration of hope.

Every time we break bread at the Table, sharing the cup of remembrance together, we make a declaration of hope.

We say together, that despite the death and grief around us, we’re willing to let ourselves be vulnerable for the chance at something more.

Over Lent we’ve spent six weeks contemplating our human nature, our mortality, our creatureliness. And, now we step into Easter with the declaration that the Spirit transforms and uses us—springing new life within us as a response to the hard things in our world.

Good things come and go, tragedies strike, and we are reminded of our smallness and our humanity, but God offers us more. She calls us blessed and invites us to trust her, to risk ourselves and hope.

Hope that she will take what we find impossible and make it true.

Hope that she will offer us more than this, more than we can imagine.

Hope that she will work everything out in her way and time.

Stirred by this terrifying leap of trust we are invited, like the women and Peter, not to stay silent and patient, but to be stirred to action.

**

Have you felt hopeful this Lenten season? Have you watched the news and said, I feel really optimistic about where we’re headed?

Maybe not.

Yet, we are dared by a God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine, to face the new morning, hearts in our throats, with an infinitesimal amount of hope.

So what will you dare to hope for, this Easter?

A planet loved and cared for by humanity.

A city without poverty and addiction.

A news cycle without violence and massacre.

And, if you’re willing to risk that hope then who are you going to go and tell it to?

What road are you going to race down? 

**

May we dare to risk this Easter season, dare to see God’s new life taking root within us. Amen.

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#FOMO and Resurrection Sightings

This sermon was prepared for Wesley United’s Sunday service on April 8, 2018 (Year B Easter 2) the Gospel reading was John 20:19-31.

Have you ever heard of the word FOMO? It’s an acronym to describe one of the most prevalent anxieties in our society today. It means the fear of missing out. We now have unprecedented access to one another’s lives—at the touch of a button, I can scroll through a tidal wave of information about what my friends, family, and colleagues are doing right now.

But, that makes me ask myself… what am I doing right now? Am I on a trip? Out to brunch? Am I living my best self? Am I at that party, or concert? Am I missing out?

A January CBC article on the fear of missing out pointed to a pair of studies from UBC which “examined the mental health effects that FOMO can have.” The first survey showed that 48% of survey respondents felt that their friends had more friends—more social connection—than they did. The second survey linked these sentiments to “a lower sense of belonging and overall well being.” The research shows that we’re now spending more time, and more money, on trying to combat this anxiety—with trips, meals and experiences. We’re trying to combat that sense of “lack”.

It’s an emptiness that tells us our worst fears—that we’re not as special, or popular, or wanted, or loved, or smart, or capable, as everyone else.

***

Now, when I was preparing for this Sunday I laughed aloud while reading the gospel text because I could not stop imagining Thomas, sitting in his dusty robes and sandals, at a computer. I imagined him scrolling through selfies that the other disciples had posted of themselves and the risen Christ. They had big smiles on their faces as they celebrated together. And then, there was poor, poor Thomas—at home alone.

Of course, that’s not how it happened in John’s story. Instead, Jesus’ closest friends were gathered at a house following his death. And, I say his closest friends, because earlier in the story we hear of how many of Jesus’ followers deserted him. But, these Twelve (or eleven in this case) stayed faithful. So, his closest friends were gathered together, and they were filled with uncertainty and anxiety. And, a question hung in the air: What now?

What do you do with yourself when the revolution fails? When the king who road into the city with a parade the other week, is dead and buried this week? Rome hasn’t fallen.We are changed, but how do we return to how things were before?

So, they gather together—unsure and terrified of the Temple officials.

Then, suddenly, Jesus is there with them. They recognize him. They recognize his tortured body. They see, but don’t touch—this is a very important piece for John’s gospel—they don’t touch but they see his scars. And… it’s him.

So, they celebrate! Their friend isn’t dead, the revolution isn’t over, Rome and even death, can’t defeat him!

Jesus then gives them an important gift—a calling. He tells them the game plan, he gives them a mission and authority to carry it out. Their reward for their faithfulness is to receive his same spirit. …wow!

But, who isn’t there? Who doesn’t get to see, to celebrate, to receive?

Thomas.

Thomas isn’t there. Maybe he’s working, or picking up groceries, or visiting other followers somewhere else. In any case, he’s not there.

Instead, Thomas gets the leftovers—second-hand accounts from everyone else. And what is his response? I need to see too… I want to get what you got… I want closure… I want to see my beloved friend and teacher too!

Can we blame him? Should we really call him names, like “Doubting Thomas”? Is that fair? Would we have felt differently?

***

Jesus hears Thomas and comes back for him. When they’ve gathered in the room again, Jesus appears and offers for Thomas to see and touch his scars—so that he too will believe. Now, of course, Thomas doesn’t actually touch Jesus, instead, he recognizes him immediately and cries, “My Lord and my God!”

 

The resurrection, in John, is relational: Jesus appears first to Mary, then to the disciples, and then Thomas. This resurrection story is not possible without witnesses who knew Jesus, who recognized him. So too, God’s promises, in John, are relational—it is through Christ that we come to the Father. By seeing, hearing, and knowing Christ we come to know God and are transformed.

It is also relational, in the sense that Jesus comes to meet people where they are—waiting at the tomb, huddled together, or feeling totally alone in a room of friends.

***

Returning to our story, we then see Jesus address the reader, as he asks Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

If this was a movie, this would be the part where Jesus swivels and looks directly at the camera.

This text is our ‘Thomas moment’, a way of having the risen Christ in front of us—to see and hear, but not touch.

The author of John and the other gospel writers have made available the risen Christ to us in their works. So that we don’t miss out so that we can know him—his life, his message, his death, and his transforming power.

This theme of transformation is integral to the Christian message. These people we’re reading about were transformed by their relationship with Jesus; and, so too are we.

Jesus offers us the Easter promise of new life—new life made available through relationship with him. We are offered the same new life as the Samaritan Woman at the Well, of Mary Magdalene, and of Thomas. This offer is particular, to our circumstances and our pain.

He may call us out of shame, out of oblivion, or out of rejection, but it is always into new life. Paul tells us that we die and are raised with Christ, and so we find ourselves part of this Easter story, resurrected and liberated from death—transformed through faith and made alive again.

What a great mystery to be part of. My prayer is that, over this Easter season, with the budding trees and other early signs of spring, you will reflect on your own resurrection story, of how God has called you into goodness and life abundant.

Amen.

 

A reflection of a reflection

This sermon was prepared for the Camp Hill Veteran’s Memorial Building (at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital ) chapel service for Sunday, May 28th, 2017. The scripture reading it is based on is John 17:1-11 (Year A, Easter 7).

Jesus, in our scripture reading today, says these words to God: “you have given [the Son] authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God.”

Jesus tells his disciples, in the Gospel of John, that through knowing him we know the Father, this one true God.

Jesus also speaks in a way that often sounds a little like a riddle. The words are confusing in English, as well as in the early Greek. However, with a little patience, we can hear him echoing this idea of knowing God over and over again.

Jesus says that he has made God’s name known. He also says that God gave authority over believers to Jesus during his time on earth. He speaks about teaching these believers the word, or truth, that he learned from his Father.

Jesus, in our John passage, makes it abundantly clear that those who follow him also follow God, and that they do this in truth.

Through Jesus, whom we call The Christ, or the Anointed One, we learn about who God is. This idea invites us to go back, to re-read and reflect on the man we see portrayed by the different gospel writers.

What did he stand for? What did he call us to do?

And, if we believe, that through Jesus, we are presented with this God, we must then conclude that those things Jesus calls us to, God is calling us also.

When Jesus says: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.” It would follow that, in our glorification of Christ, by living in the truth he taught us, that we are also glorifying God.

As we read about Jesus’ ascension last week, on Ascension Sunday, we heard about how we are God’s representatives here on earth. We have the opportunity to glorify God, and Christ, in the world.

In the Acts passage which is part of the lectionary today, we see the disciples standing dumbfounded on the hill after Jesus’ ascension. Two robed men, who we believe to be messengers of God, come and laugh at the disciples, saying: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

They’re saying, are you going to stand here forever? Until Jesus comes back? This would never let them fulfil all he had asked of them—to be his witnesses out in the world. To go and care for others, the impoverished, lonely, sick and incarcerated.

Jesus didn’t ask the believers to just stand around twiddling their thumbs, how would that glorify him or the father?

Instead, he commissioned them and sent them out. And, he does the same for us, wherever we are in our lives.

The Gospel stories are just the beginning of the Story of Christianity. The Book of Acts and the Epistles tell us stories of men and women, Greeks and Jews, slaves and free persons, living out their beliefs.

We read their stories to find strength in common struggles, to learn from their wisdom, and to become part of this larger story.

We join with them, acting as witnesses to Christ’s “Good News”, reflecting his image in the world, thereby reflecting God through Christ.

And so, I wonder how you might be that reflection of Christ in your daily life. What are the ways you represent the Gospel message of forgiveness and redemption? (pause) What, in your character, reflects the character of God? (pause)

Do you practice those gifts that Paul extolled in Galatians? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? (pause)

I firmly believe that each of us is able to live out the Gospel message, in our own ways, in the lives that we have been given. We are not all called to be preachers, missionaries, or Biblical scholars…

Instead, God calls us to do well with what we have been given. To steward our talents, to be good neighbours, and to be open to the call of the Spirit—the presence of God in this world.

So, as you go out this week, I pray you can reflect on all you’ve been given, to steward it wisely, to be neighbourly, and to be stirred by the call of the Spirit.

Amen.