Tag Archive: Aslan


God Keeps Showing Up

This morning’s sermon on John 20:19-31 from Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

Thomas was framed! Every year we hear this story the Second Sunday of Easter and I think – oh man, Thomas was framed! All of the other disciples disregarded Mary Magdalene when she ran back Easter morning and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Yet, we don’t collectively refer to them as “doubting disciples,” although maybe we should. Poor Thomas. He gets stuck with this permanent label of “Doubting Thomas” when, in fact, the word doubt doesn’t even show up in the Greek – he’s disbelieving or not believing.

So I was thinking about all of this and a song from the musical “Oklahoma!” kept popping into my head, but with different words.

Here is tune I used as the inspiration for my song about Thomas – “Poor Jud is Dead:”

Poor Thomas was framed,
Poor St. Thomas was framed,
He wasn’t there when Jesus appeared,
And when he said to believe,
He needed to touch and see,
All through history people jeered.

Poor Thomas was framed,
Poor St. Thomas was framed,
He always looks so doubtful and so sad,
He wanted to meet Jesus,
He’s got a lot to teach us,
And really I think he’s pretty rad.

This is what I do in my free time… Anyway, I do think Thomas has a lot to teach us. And I do think he’s pretty rad, although that’s a word I wouldn’t normally say – it just rhymed in the song!

So what exactly do we know about Thomas? As we hear in the reading for today, Thomas was called “Didymus” or “twin.” He shows up throughout the Gospels, but only speaks in the Gospel of John. We’ve already encountered him once in the past couple of weeks, when Jesus says he wants to go to Bethany to resurrect Lazarus. At that time, even though there was the fear that Jesus would be stoned, the Gospel records that, “Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” Pretty bold fellow, I think.

Then, a few chapters later, after the Last Supper, Jesus speaks about going to prepare a place for the disciples in his Father’s house. He says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” But Thomas, apparently the most inquisitive of the bunch says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Reflecting on these little snippets of Thomas that we get in John’s Gospel, it doesn’t seem to me as if Thomas is a doubter. It seems instead to show that Thomas is someone who wants to be engaged in his faith. He wants to follow Jesus, to ask questions, to understand more deeply, and he wants to really encounter the crucified and risen Christ.

Think about it, on Easter, the disciples, except for Thomas, were locked up in the house, shaking in their boots for fear that they might be persecuted and killed like Jesus. Mary Magdalene had come running, telling them about her garden encounter with the risen Christ, but they were still scared and confused and didn’t act on the good news she brought. With the doors still dead bolted, Jesus came into the house, stood in front of their weary eyes and said, “Peace be with you.” Then, in order to show them that he wasn’t a ghost or an apparition, he showed them his scars. And when they saw it was really him, in the resurrected flesh, they were finally able to rejoice!

Jesus then tells them as God the Father has sent him out, he is sending them out. In order to empower them to serve in the world, he breathes on them, filling them with the Holy Spirit.   It’s like the lion Aslan breathing new life into the statues in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Jesus breathes new life into disciples turned to stone by fear, worry and doubt. But Thomas missed out. It was the worst kind of “Oh, I guess you had to be there!” experience.

Later, Thomas returns and hears about what his fellow disciples have experienced. And surprise, just like the other disciples listening to Mary Magdalene before their encounter, Thomas doesn’t jump on the bandwagon when he hears that the others have seen the Lord. And so, Thomas says his now famous line: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

But then, a week after the empty tomb, something happens. The doors are shut again, but this time Thomas is there. And Jesus shows up again, saying “Peace be with you.” Then, Jesus turns to Thomas and offers him exactly what he needs. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” And Thomas, so overcome by the event, exclaims this beautiful confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!” He’s so moved by his experience of the risen Christ that he doesn’t even need to put his fingers in the wounds. He’s so moved, overjoyed and maybe even relieved, that he claims Christ as his Lord and his God. None of the other disciples did that. He sees the resurrected Christ and he knows that it’s really God in the flesh.

Thomas needed to have his own encounter with Jesus. He needed to see him risen and encounter him, in order to continue his relationship with him post-resurrection. The other disciples had that kind of experience and relationship because Jesus appeared to them. They saw him, they heard him giving them his peace, and they even received the life-giving Spirit when he breathed on them. Thomas missed out on all of this. And then he had to wait for a week until he had his own experience. What was that like for him? He must have wanted to see Jesus so badly – just like the others did and, yet, there’s nothing…for a week. He must have been longing for an encounter with the crucified and risen one, but feeling left out from the experience that the others had had, and probably feeling separated from the other disciples, too.

How often are we like Thomas? We ask questions of our Lord and our God, trying to make sense of it all. We wrestle with God’s Word for our lives and try to follow what Christ has called us to do. We see the violence and hurt in this world and wonder how the resurrection has changed things. We long to encounter – to stretch out our hands to touch the crucified and risen Lord and know that this is for real. We want something personal and tangible in our faith.

And God knows that. Thomas had to see Jesus before his very eyes in order to believe, so Jesus shows up and offers his hands and his side to Thomas so that he can believe. God knows what we need in our lives, and amazingly, God keeps showing up, making Godself known to us. The wounded God shows up and reaches out his hands to us in our woundedness and brokenness. And we experience Jesus, maybe not like those first disciples, but we see him nonetheless. We see the God that journeys with us in our wounds and the scarred Jesus in the scars and hurts of others. We encounter God in sharing a great evening with family or friends. We experience the joy and hope of the resurrected One in the laughter of children. We are awestricken by the beauty of creation and the creativity of the One who shaped the world. We touch and taste Jesus in broken bread and wine poured out for the healing, forgiveness and redemption of all creation.

Yes, Christ keeps showing up, pointing to the wounds of the world, and inviting us to see how he is at work. He calls us to look at the scars and to see his very own wounds. To walk with others in their brokenness, working to bring healing, and to be surprised, shouting out, “My Lord and my God!” when we recognize Christ’s presence in the world. And he calls us blessed that we believe when we encounter him in the word, in water, in bread and wine, and in community.

The lesson for today ends with two sentences. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The writer thought it important that we hear this account and that we know that even if we don’t see Christ like the first disciples, God will keep showing up and helping us to see, understand and believe in different ways.

The writer thought it was important to share this so that we could believe and continue believing, and have abundant life in Christ. So that we wouldn’t remain locked up in our rooms of fear, doubt, worry, or stress, but that we would be filled with Christ’s peace and the animating breath of the Holy Spirit. Christ is calling us to go into the world and to encounter him in the woundedness there, so that we too may see and believe, saying “My Lord and my God!”

I’d like to end with blessing. Thomas was blessed and transformed by his encounter with the risen Christ. And we, too, are blessed and transformed by Christ as he walks with us in our beliefs, as well as in our doubts, wounds, brokenness, struggles, and unbelief.

So in a few moments, I will ask you to stand up, find a neighbor and bless them.   With their permission, you can trace the sign of the cross on their hands, a symbol of their work in the world. And maybe you can offer a blessing such as, “God bless you, bring you peace, and help you to see Christ in the world.” So start blessing!

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Scandalized by God

This was the sermon I preached at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA on Sunday.

 

This week I received a chain e-mail from a friend of mine.  Now normally I skip over these things pretty quickly, but I was intrigued by the subject line, “The ‘W’ in Christmas,” so I opened it up and read.  Maybe you’ve received this as well, but for those who haven’t, the story goes like this.  There was a mom who, despite all her best efforts to cut back, still found herself running around like a crazy person trying to get ready before the holidays.  She found herself exhausted, frustrated and unable to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

Her son was in kindergarten that year and he’d been excitedly memorizing songs for his school’s “Winter Pageant.”  Unable to make the actual nighttime performance, his mom went to the final dress rehearsal that morning.  Joined by other parents in the audience, she watched as each class stood and sang their song.  Being a public school, she expected songs about winter, snowmen, reindeer and joy.  However, when her son’s class was up, they announced they’d be singing “Christmas Love.”  As they sang, the children in front held up large letters: “C is for Christmas,” “H is for Happy,” continuing on down the line.   Everything was fine until they reached a small, quiet girl in the front row, holding her “M” upside down.  As the elementary school kids began to snicker, the teachers tried unsuccessfully to quiet them down, but the girl continued, proudly holding her letter, unaware of her mistake.

As the final letter was held up, a hush fell over the crowd.  Suddenly people realized why they were celebrating Christmas to begin with, and why, in the middle of all the chaos, there was still plenty of room for rejoicing.  The message spelled out on the cards: “Christ was love.”

Now, even if this story isn’t something that actually occurred, it still tells us something powerful about expectations.  A mother’s expectations that her son’s pageant would be full of secular songs were turned upside down when she encountered the very Christmas message she’d been seeking in the chaos.

This morning’s reading from Matthew is all about expectations as well.  Pr. Joe reintroduced us to our wild and fiery prophet John the Baptist last Sunday.  Well, John finds himself in a difficult position in this week’s Gospel.  Sitting alone in prison, John is wondering if Jesus really is the Messiah.  Now remember, earlier, John had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.  And not only that, but John initially didn’t want to baptize Jesus at all, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Now, locked in a prison cell, he’s wondering if he’s really picked the right messiah.  After all, Jesus wasn’t walking around with his winnowing fork in hand burning up chaff with unquenchable fire.  He hadn’t overthrown the oppressive Roman rulers.  He hadn’t come in like a powerful king, ready to reestablish the Golden Age of King David.

Instead, of fulfilling all of John’s expectations, he’d been teaching and healing people, wandering throughout the land and consorting with all the wrong types of people.  I imagine John pacing around his cell, wondering about this Messiah he’d decided to support, wringing his hands and muttering, “is Jesus really the one?”  Finally, he can’t stand it any longer and he sends his disciples out to ask Jesus directly if he’s the Messiah.

But Jesus doesn’t answer him directly.  He tells John’s disciples to report back to John, bearing witness about what they’ve seen and heard and experienced with their own senses.  “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”  Jesus tells them to tell John they’ve seen and heard the promises of Isaiah’s oracle coming true before their very eyes.  In other words, the proof is in the pudding… and maybe since it’s around Christmas, we can say, “the proof is in the Figgy pudding.” It’s up to John to decide who he believes Jesus to be.  This is a theme we will hear ripple out through Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus asks his disciples, “who do you say that I am?”

Jesus doesn’t just tell John’s disciples to bear witness to these healings, he also tacks on this last sentence: “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”  Hmmm…  what’s that all about?  The Greek word used for “offense” is one we’re more familiar with that you might think: it’s scandalitzo (σκανδαλίζω).  Say it with me: scandalitzo.  “Blessed is anyone who is not scandalized by me.”

While this word is used figuratively here to indicate taking offense at Jesus and his words, it literally means to cause someone to stumble.  Is Jesus telling John not to be offended or not to trip up over the fact that he doesn’t meet John’s expectations of who the Messiah should be and how he should act?

I hear these words about taking offense at Jesus and I don’t think they’re just meant for John the Baptist.  I hear Christ asking each of us if we are offended, scandalized or tripped up by who he is.  What do we find difficult about this Messiah we follow?  Where do we find ourselves stumbling?  Is it when Christ speaks words of judgment in the Gospels?  Is it when Christ calls us turn the other cheek or welcome outcasts?  Is it when we hear Christ’s call to pray for our enemies? Or do we find ourselves tripping up over really believing that the good news is real? And that it’s for each of us?

Rather than being upset or distraught that we are scandalized by Jesus, it’s an opportunity and a challenge to reflect on why we are offended.  It’s a chance to examine where God may be inviting us to grow in different areas in our lives.  If I am scandalized by the fact that Jesus lifts up the poor, perhaps I am being called to grow in my understanding of stewardship and generosity.  Or, if I find myself stumbling over the fact that Jesus calls us to forgive others seventy times seven times, perhaps I’m being called to look again at what it means to forgive and be forgiven.  And in doing this work, it’s important to keep in mind that even John the Baptist was scandalized by Jesus to some extent because he didn’t meet his messianic expectations.  I know I take comfort in hearing that one of the great heroes of the faith struggled with doubts and uncertainties even after he baptized Jesus!

In this morning’s reading, after encountering John’s disciples, Jesus affirms the Baptist’s important role as not only a prophet, but, “more than a prophet.”  In fact, Jesus says he’s the very one who prepared the way for the coming Messiah.  But Jesus isn’t one to just explain things.  Instead, he asks the crowds who have been listening to him about John the Baptist.  “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet?”

Jesus makes it very clear that this person who appeared to be a wild, raving man was actually the greatest among those born of women.  The one preaching in a wasteland was the one come to prepare and point the way to new life and growth.  He wasn’t what he seemed.  But this isn’t just a message for the crowds that gathered over two thousand years ago.  It’s a message for us.

“What did you go out to look at?  What then did you go out to see? What were you expecting? When you came to church this morning, what did you expect?”  Jesus asks us to think about our own expectations about encountering the holy.  What do we expect to see and hear from God? How do we expect or want God to act? What do we expect God to do? Have those expectations been fulfilled, let down, or changed altogether?

Our tendency is to try to make sense of things.  To organize things into categories and boxes so that we can understand them better, or at least pretend that we understand them! And I think we often try to confine God to a box, describing God in our own terms and putting boundaries on God.  But the amazing thing is that God keeps breaking out of the boxes that we try to keep God in.

C.S. Lewis’ children’s book and Christian allegory, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, describes this well.  In this book, Aslan, the magnificent lion that represents Christ, leaves to go about his mission in the world.  One of the characters explains his departure in this way: “He’ll be coming and going.  One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

I love that! God isn’t tame.  God is consistently breaking through the barriers we try to put up, which makes us a little uncomfortable and maybe even frustrated.  Bursting through the boxes we try to stick God in and shaking up our expectations, God is wild and mysterious.  And God, in Christ, comes to stir things up – to turn the world upside down through bringing about a new kingdom!  God is active and alive, not confined by our preconceptions.

This time of year, we celebrate God coming to earth and bringing about this kingdom.  We think about Jesus as an adorable baby in a manager surrounded by sheep, donkeys and oxen, which is totally appropriate.  But it’s also important that we remember that this baby is one who came to change the world and bring about an entirely new way of being – to bring life out of the barren wilderness, and to bring light into the darkness.

So, what do you expect see and hear when you encounter God? And how might God be changing that? Are you open to having those expectations changed, or does that offend and scandalize you?

I invite you to take the card you should have received when you came in this morning.  Write down your expectations of God and write down where you feel offended.  Pray about these things.  And listen for God’s response in your life.  How might these places be areas to grow and change in your life this Advent and into the coming year?

Let us pray… Open our hearts, O God.  Scandalize us with your gospel and your love!  And may we grow closer to you as you continue to challenge us to go beyond our comfort zones into the places and spaces to which you call us.  In the name of your dear Son we pray, Amen.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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