Monday, April 24, 2006

Show Me Your Wounds

Psalm 133; John 20: 19-31
******** United Church of Christ
April 23, 2006

Did you know that this reading from the gospel of John about ‘Doubting Thomas’ is read the Sunday after Easter every year? It makes me wonder if there was some hidden agenda with those who decided what the lectionary readings would be and when they would be read. Perhaps these decision-makers were preachers or sympathetic to them, thinking that because a preacher has to be so eloquent and original Easter after Easter, that they could use the same sermon for the Sunday after, year after year. It’s one of the lowest attended services in the Christian year, so who would know? I know a retired pastor who has what he calls his “$1,000 sermon”; he’s preached it ten times, in ten different churches, and each time he got paid $100.

Or perhaps this was the not-so-hidden agenda: that having witnessed the resurrection year after year we would also need to examine our faith and our doubts about the resurrection as well. If it’s one thing I love about Easter and the resurrection, it’s that God does not take faith as something fait accompli, as a foregone conclusion. This Easter event wasn’t the very convincing magic show where God the Magnificent saws a man in half and then puts him back together again, the crowd “ooh-ing and ah-ing” over all the smoke and mirrors. God has just done one of the most wonderful things since creating the heavens and the earth but also one of the most frightening and unbelievable. We all need to catch our breath and figure out what all this resurrection business is about, not just for our own faith, but more importantly, what it means for us as a church.

The Sunday after Easter is the perfect time for all us doubters to come to church, hungrily seeking the truth after all that Easter hoopla. It is quieter and there is room for us to wonder and ask questions. But over the years it seems this passage has been misused to beat the heads of those who have doubts. We read this incident with the focus on Thomas and all of us who question the resurrection: “There’s always a dullard in the crowd, someone who just doesn’t get it. Boy, do I feel dull myself for not understanding this whole ‘Jesus raised from the dead’ thing”. We haven’t always gotten the message from this reading that it is okay to have doubts about our faith; that a church community can be a safe place to reveal the wounds we’ve received for loving and believing in that which we cannot see.

However, I don’t think Thomas was only expressing doubt. I think Thomas was grieving and feeling very much afraid, as we are when someone we have lived with, shared each other’s wounds, loved through good times and bad, dies. All the other disciples got to see Jesus except Thomas. All the other disciples received the Holy Spirit except him. Maybe he’s thinking he missed his only chance to ever see Jesus again and receive the Spirit’s power to forgive. How wounded can you get? Do his friends and fellow followers of Jesus kick him out of the house because of his declaration not to believe unless he sees and touches Jesus himself? No. Thomas is there with them the next time Jesus comes to them. This tiny, emerging community of faith cannot afford the luxury of conformity at the price of friendship and the witness of faith. They stick together, even though Thomas cannot accept the resurrection sight unseen.

But truly this story is not only about Thomas and the disciples; it’s not about us, really, either. As with all the stories in the gospels, it is more about Jesus and what he is willing to do, how far he is prepared to go to reveal to us God’s great love for all people.

What I love about this scripture lesson is how matter-of-fact Jesus is in showing his scars and wounds to the disciples and to Thomas. He’s not showing off, he’s not bashful about it, he just says “Here they are. Look at them. Touch them. Believe.” He is completely vulnerable with them, exposing his strength through his weakness. Jesus shows the disciples and Thomas the cost of extravagant love, what happens to us when we risk, when we believe, when we love: we will indeed be wounded but we will also be raised and healed. And we will not be the same as we were before. We will be transformed, still bearing the scars of love upon us.

Most folks would not be as straightforward as Jesus about revealing wounds as a result of love. Some of us may even deny that we are wounded. But if we have loved and been loved, we have hurt and have been wounded. Episcopal priest and theologian Margaret Guenther writes that “[most] of us present carefully prepared façades. The self we offer to others is not the product of conscious deception, yet we want no one to disturb the meticulously maintained surface. The message is implicit: Don’t look at my wounds too closely.” The trouble is we may have difficulty seeing the resurrection when we keep our wounds hidden from one another.

But the remarkable thing about this church is that you don’t have a meticulously maintained surface—and hallelujah for that! Your surface is sometimes chaotic, unruly, unkempt. You’re come-as-you-are, not some carefully applied layer of what you wish you were. And that, to me, shows your reverence for Christ and for his spirit of extravagant love. The resurrection is very present in this church precisely because you have loved and been wounded and have been raised again, and you don’t try to hide it. I would advise you not to wear your wounds on your sleeve but if you do, wear them as stripes earned in your on-going mission to be the church.

Educational activist and author Parker Palmer writes, “The mission of the church is not to enlarge its membership, not to bring outsiders to accept its terms, but simply to love the world in every possible way—to love the world as God did and does.” Jesus models in his ministry what we are to do in our ministry: to love the world in every possible way, even by we the church exposing our wounds gained by loving, so that others would not doubt the possibility of the resurrection but come to know and to believe it to be very real and absolutely true.

By your wounds you are ordained and have been given gifts of the Holy Spirit that you might be the church in the world. What are your wounds, ******** United Church of Christ? How have you been scarred as a result of believing and loving in Christ’s name? When you look at your church in the mirror, what do you see, what do you feel? Jesus came to the disciples on the eighth day, the day of God’s new era, the kingdom of God; how do you experience this church as being a part that kingdom and building toward it? Jesus came back for Thomas, that no one would be excluded; who are the ones who are not here who may need you to extend yourselves in a new way?

Thanks be to God for doubt, grief, and fear shared in open, loving community and in the healing presence of Christ. Thanks be to God for the wounds gained by loving and believing in the resurrection of Jesus, that none would be excluded, that all would have life in his name. Thanks be to God for life lived in community, in all its chaotic, unkempt, glorious diversity, there to find life’s blessing—life forevermore. Thanks be to God for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who loves us in every possible way and call us, the Church, to do the same. Amen.

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