Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sunday Sermon-March 30, 2008

I haven't posted one of my sermons in a while. As many of you know, I don't have a call right now, but I've been doing a ton of supply preaching at various places in and around the Twin Cities. Last Sunday, I preached at a United Church of Christ congregation in Maple Lake, a small town about 50 miles west of the Cities.

“Go Ahead, Touch the Wounds.”
John 20:19-31
March 30, 2008
Bethlehem UCC
Maple Lake, MN

A number of us have scars. Some are scars from an accident, some are surgical scars. I have a scar on one of my eyebrows from the time I banged my head against a marble coffee table when I was about a year old. I have another scar from the time the placed a catheter into my side to drain the fluid that had built up around my lungs when I was battling a major infection a decade ago. My mother and aunt have reminders of their battle with breast cancer in that there are scars from having a breast removed or a lump removed.

All scars involved pain at some point. Even long after we get better, those scars remind us that things were not always well, that there was sickness. Scars remind us that the world can be a very unfair and cruel place.

In today's passage, we see the disciples locked up in a room fearful of the religious and political authorties. Peter had just seen the tomb was empty and might have wondered who took the body and who was coming for them next. Would they suffer the same death Jesus did? Would their bodies be taken away by the authorities, not giving their loved ones a body to mourn.

Then, Jesus appears. Jesus, who they thought was dead, was alive. The disciples were joyous, except one: Thomas. He couldn't be joyous since he wasn't there. Why he wasn't there, we don't know. But when he does show up, he is not convinced by the disciple's joy. He wanted to see Jesus for himself, in fact he wanted to see the wounds himself.

Well, Jesus does appear and tells Thomas to touch his wounds and believe. And Thomas does.

Usually, people tend to focus on Thomas in this story. “Doubting Thomas,” who refuses to believe in the risen Christ. He should stop doubting and simply believe that Jesus is alive.

But this time around, what interests me is the fact that Thomas wanted to see the wounds of Jesus and that Jesus showed them to him. Why did that matter? Isn't it enough to see Jesus alive? It was enough for Mary, and the disciples, so why wasn't it enough for Thomas?

The Bible doesn't really answer that question. But we know that Jesus does what Thomas requests. He tells his disciple to place his finger in his wounds and believe.

Go ahead. Touch my wounds. That was what Jesus was saying to Thomas. And it is something that Jesus is saying to us as well.

The God we serve is not a God that is disconnected from life. This God came and walked among us and suffered like any human being. The wounds remind us that this was truly the Immanuel, God with us- one that shared our common lot.

I have to believe that Thomas didn't want to just meet a Jesus that all was all well and better, as if he never suffered. He wanted to meet a Jesus that had really gone through hell; anything else was just an apparition, a figment of the imagination.

Jesus wants us to touch the wounds of the world outside the walls of this church. We are called to touch the wounds of the hungry, the outcast, the lonely and see Jesus in them. As Jesus said in the parable of the Sheep and Goats in the book of Matthew, Jesus is found in the face of the poor.

I grew up in Flint, Michigan, a rust belt city. The first church I was a member of was New Jerusalem Baptist Church. We had baptism and communion on the first Sunday of the month in the evening. While we went up to receive communion, I remember hearing an old Spiritual that went like this:

I know it was the blood, I know it was the blood,
I know it was the blood for me.
One day when I was lost, he died upon a cross,
I know it was the blood for me.

I have no idea where the song comes from. But I do know that like many Negro Spirituals, it comes from people familiar with pain, in this case, racism and discrimination. The song talks about a God who suffered like my ancestors. This was a God that they could identitfy with, a God who could understand their pain. It was as if Jesus was showing his wounds to African Americans who were dealing with such unfairness.

The Season of Easter is a time of celebration. Jesus is alive, death has been defeated. But we miss the point the Easter if all we do is keep it to ourselves. Instead, we are called to go and “touch the wounds” of those who don't know the good news of Easter. We are called to suffer with them and bring them this wonderful hope that Jesus is alive and the powers of death will not have the last word.

So let us go and and tell others that Christ is Risen. Let us shout Alleluia! But let us also touch the wounds of the hungry, homeless and lost. Let us see God in them and let us share the good news of Easter. Amen.

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