Tag Archives: Lord

John 1:6-8, 19-28; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 – Dressing Points to Skin and Solidarity

John 1:6-8, 19-28; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 – Dressing Points to Skin and Solidarity

Caitlin Trussell for Augustana Lutheran Church on December 14, 2014

[sermon begins after these three Bible readings]

John 1:6-8, 19-28 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
8 For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

 

[sermon begins]

Like many of you, my family has a few traditions when dressing up our home to get ready for Christmas.  The first part of our tradition is to panic a bit about when we’re going to get started. This year it’s especially delayed because I went to California for a few days to go see Mom and Larry right after Thanksgiving.  So, for now, Advent candles sit in a wreath on the dining room table and one of my favorite Nativity sets in the living room.  Eventually, there will be a tree with white lights and a few other treasured family mementos.  Things like the kitschy plastic, “stained-glass” Santa with the green beard. And things like the silver tinsel star taped together on the frame of a bent-up wire clothes hanger.  All these things in our home point to the birthday of the one was birthed in skin and solidarity among us.

Here at church, we have traditions of dressing up the sanctuary to get ready for Christmas, too.  Trees and stars and the blue cloth to convey the sense of hope during Advent.  Today we include in the mix children dressing up to sing and point us toward the one who was birthed in skin and solidarity among us.  And this evening we include the in the mix the Chancel Choir and Musica Sacra Chamber Orchestra whose dressed up music and singing also point us toward the one who was birthed in skin and solidarity among us.

Isaiah does his fair share of dressing too:

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.”[1]  It’s important to note here that Isaiah talks about a garland, oil, and mantle specifically using those things to dress the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the prisoners.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton is elected by the people of the ELCA denomination of which this congregation is a part.[2]  She extended an invitation made to all churches by the historic American Black Churches. Their invitation is to dress in black clothing today as a sign of solidarity. Given the short notice, some of us are dressed in black and some of us aren’t. Some may be excited to respond to the invitation.  Some of us may be relieved we didn’t know about it to have to make the decision whether or not to dress in black.

Regardless, the language of solidarity used in the invitation from the American Black Churches is an important one.  Solidarity is not sameness.  Solidarity is reaching out to connect through difference.  Solidarity is relationship across difference even if it’s not entirely clear where we’re all headed together.  Make no mistake, in solidarity or not, we are in this creaturely existence together.  Perhaps we are even here in this place for such a time as this to see what might be possible in solidarity rather than separation.

Dressing in black clothing points us and other people towards the ones with whom we are in solidarity.  This is just one way to do it. There are many.  Dressing up our homes, our churches, and ourselves to get ready for Christmas points to the One who dressed in skin to walk in solidarity with us.  This is just one way to do it.  There are many.

John, the man sent from God in our reading today, is someone who understands his job of pointing.   John says, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”  This is not a self-esteem crisis.  Rather it’s a declaration of John’s clarity.  Nope, not Elijah, not the Messiah, not the prophet.  His simple, “I am not,” is the negative declaration to all those “I AM” declarations by Jesus in the Gospel of John.[3]   John is telling them to stop asking him for answers.  As John is pointing them to the One who is the answer.

We dress our homes, our churches, and ourselves to do all this pointing.  In the meantime, first and foremost, we rely on God’s act of solidarity to walk on the planet in the person of Jesus.   We do not create the solidarity with God by dressing up; God creates the solidarity with us by showing up.  God dresses us.

God dresses us.  Isaiah puts it this way, “ I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for [God] has clothed me with the garments of salvation, [God] has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”[4]

These are the clothes of freedom, my friends.  Because when God dresses us there is nothing to fear.  In the clothes that God gives, we can walk around the mall or sit at our sports events or in these pews or even around our kitchen tables and marvel that God loves ALL of those people too.  In the clothes that God gives, we can walk into worship and be held accountable through confession that we have not loved those people as we love ourselves.  In the clothes that God gives, we can walk out of here forgiven and free people who are accountable to those people because God showed up in skin and solidarity with us and for us…for the sake of the world.

As Paul writes to the Thessalonians, may you also receive this blessing, dressed by God…

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”[5]



[1] Isaiah 61:1-3

[2] ELCA – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  “Evangelical” is an historic term that means “good news” at its simplest.  “Lutheran” is a strand of the Christian church that was inadvertently kick-started by Martin Luther’s reform attempt of the Church in the 1500s.

[3] Karoline Lewis on Sermon Brainwave for Third Sunday in Advent 2014 at WorkingPreacher.org: https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=565

[4] Isaiah 61:10

[5] 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Matthew 24:36-44 A Future With Hope [or Enough With the Rapture Already]

Matthew 24:36-44 A Future With Hope [or Enough With the Rapture Already]

December 1, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

 

For one long summer, I was a day-camp counselor.  Not the super-fun-guitar-strumming kind – just kick that little bit of counselor stereotype right on outta here.  Oh no, I was the 17-year-old-in-charge-of-a-large-group-of-5-year-old-girls kind of counselor.  I was more the protector-against-mortal-peril kind of counselor – think mother hen.  Our location was cool but slightly tricky for herding 12 little girls.  It was a dried out river arroyo near Pasadena, California.  Water hadn’t run through it in eons and it was full of scrub oak and draught-resistant trees and the constant threat of poison oak.  We built a group fort and created a group flag which means that there was fort raiding and flag stealing going on.  It was utter triumph to show up at the end of the day flag ceremony with another group’s flag – a sign of a successful raid.

Victory and shame were the two-sides of that stolen flag event.  The ultimate in victory was to show up at the flag ceremony with another groups’ kid – but for the counselor with the missing kid, it was the ultimate shame.  Any of you want to guess who one of those shamed camp counselors was at the end of the day?  Yup, yours truly.  Oh, the ultimate shame…knowing your kid was taken and knowing the return would be anything but a triumph.  After all, even in this fairly innocent form, being taken was not a good thing…

Being taken is rarely a good thing.  In fact, our gospel writer seems to have a strong bias against being taken, a problem so big that no one would ever knowingly opt into it.  Revisiting the flood story reveals this negative bias.  The people swept away in the flood story, the ones not on the ark, were leading their normal lives until they suddenly were not.  Through the story of those lost in the flood, the gospel writer is setting up the negative lens of being taken.

The negative lens of being taken is the set up to read the next verses.  There are two workers in the field, one taken the other not; and the two women grinding meal together, one taken and one left.  Through the lens of the flood story, being taken out of the field or away from the grinding are big problems in this text.  And of course that’s problematic!  Who would want to be living life in one moment and only to be taken out of it the next?!

In the context of the gospel of Matthew, being taken is a bad deal.  At the time of its writing, chaos was in full force.  The Roman occupation left the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem destroyed, there were wars and rumors of wars, and many people were suddenly being taken away, kidnapped either to be killed or enslaved.[1]  In this text being taken is a bad deal.  For people curious about or hurt by rapture theology, this begs a critical question? [2] If being taken is a bad deal, might the gospel be suggesting that being left behind is the better deal?

For some of us long told otherwise about being left behind, just asking this question of scripture can be good news indeed.  And, for some of us, it may be the only good news needed today.  However, in the interest of full disclosure on the Bible text today, there’s more…you just have to wait for it – which is appropriate because Advent is a time of waiting.

As Advent begins, the first Sunday is filled with the image of actively waiting and keeping watch.  This scripture argues for watchfulness in the midst of life being lived.  Notice that the list of activities of those washed away in the flood were simply normal activities, not tied to judgment – “they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”  The workers in the field and the women grinding meal are doing the work of daily living.  So, by their example, we are also encouraged to be living and working and taking care of the things of daily life even, and maybe especially, in the midst of the chaos of the times.

This is part of the reassurance of this text.  There is a lot that cannot be controlled.  But there is still life to live.  And into the chaos, the wars, the kidnappings, and just as equally into the work, the life, the events of the day, comes the Son of Man.  The Son of Man is also called “the Son” as well as “Lord” in these verses.  All of these labels mean Jesus.  Jesus is the Son; Jesus is Lord; and Jesus is the Son of Man.  It’s important to spell this out because there seems to be a temptation to disconnect the Son of Man in this passage in Matthew from the Jesus revealed in the gospels as a whole.  As if somehow Jesus lived, loved, healed, and died, and then resurrected in a seriously bad mood ready to wield some divine wrath upon a fallen humanity.

It is not so difficult to fathom how idea of the Son of Man became disconnected from the Jesus who died on the cross.  It is the same disconnect made by the criminal on the cross from our gospel reading last week, hanging next to Jesus who was also on a cross and challenging him to save them both if he was the actually Messiah.  Regardless, the one who hung on the cross is also called the Son of Man.  And this is a word of comfort and hope to Jesus followers during the confusing times of the first century and the equally if not more confusing times of the 21st century.

Because, as Pastor Pederson reminded us yesterday at Nina Forgo’s memorial service, Christian people model life not on one particular morality or philosophy or piety.  In relation to this text today, I would add that Christian people do not model life on panic or fear either.

Rather, Christian people’s lives hinge on promise, God’s promise.

God’s promise that insists there is more to the human story and God’s own story than that which has been experienced already.

God’s promise that the Son of Man, for whom we wait and stay watchful this Advent, is the Christ who walked the earth as healer of those in need and died on a cross for all.[3]

God’s promise that draws us into the fullness of the future, a future with hope.[4]



[1] Barbara R. Rossing.  The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 178-181.

[2] Ibid.  Rapture theology is a 19th century construct.

[3] Arland Hultgren.  Commentary on Matthew 24:36-44 on WorkingPreacher.com. [http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1912

[4] Jeremiah 29:11 – For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 “What if the Means ARE the End?!”

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 – “What if the means ARE the end?”

July 7, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

 

I am immediately curious when a story begins with, “After this…”  My first question is often, “After what?”  So I want to back up.  Not too far; simply to a story that is told right before our story this morning.  In that story from Luke, chapter 9, Jesus had just “set his face toward Jerusalem” for the first time.  This is Lucan code that Jesus’ journey to the cross has begun.  Jesus and his disciples had entered a Samaritan village.  The Samaritans do not receive Jesus and the disciples’ response to this is to ask Jesus whether or not they should rain fire down from heaven and consume the village.  Let that one sink it for a minute…  Since when did it become an option for them to rain fire down from heaven?!

Fortunately for all involved, Jesus rebuked them (I like to imagine that he also rolls his eyes and gives himself a slap on the forehead) and they continued on their way in a mysterious conversation about foxes and birds.

After he rebukes his disciples’ raining fire plan, Jesus appoints seventy disciples to go into the towns ahead of him.  He must figure they need some guidance as they announce that “the kingdom of God has come near” because he gives them some basic instruction about how to be a good guest.  I like to imagine Jesus this way, “OK, tempers were running a little hot in that last town so here’s the game plan on visiting the towns – stick together, greet the people in peace, eat what they give you, and stay put – no trading up if you get a better offer.”

Perhaps more importantly, given the disciples penchant for retribution, Jesus instructs them on what to do if they are not welcome after they greet the town in peace.  Jesus tells them to dust off their feet in protest (read: no need for fire) and still to tell them that that “the kingdom of God has come near.”

Jesus gave them a job to do and the means to get it done.  The kicker is that the job Jesus gives them is still their job regardless of the townspeople’s’ response – an outcome they have no control over.

In the last few years, some faithful leaders of Augustana spent some time praying, reading scripture, talking, listening and working on a mission statement.  Mission statements are one way for congregations to organize their life together – taking advantage of the diversity and gifts given to that congregation by the Holy Spirit.    At their best, mission statements prioritize ministry decisions and mobilize a diverse congregation into action for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Similarly to what Jesus does by sending out the 70 disciples in different directions for the common mission of telling people that the kingdom of God has come near.

If you would, please take your worship bulletin and find Augustana’s mission statement on the back cover in the upper right hand corner.  Are we all there?  Please read it out loud with me. “Guided by the Holy Spirit we gather in Christian community, reach out and invite, offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ, and walk humbly with God.”  It’s lovely in its simplicity.  And from my perspective, earns extra points for getting the Trinity in there as the guide.

Augustana’s mission statement is something I read and thought about during the pastoral call process.  And it is mentioned occasionally in meetings here as a reference point when various decisions are being made or the future of Augustana is being discussed.  By my way of thinking about this mission statement, Jesus has given Augustana a job to do and the means to get it done.  The kicker is that the job Jesus gives us is still our job regardless of people’s response to us – an outcome we have no control over.

You may have heard the expression, “The end justifies the means.”  People use this expression to justify doing anything and everything that they feel is necessary to achieve their goal, their intended end. Yet,this gospel story is all about the means.  Jesus tells the disciples what to do and how to do it – the outcome, the end, the way people respond, isn’t within the disciples’ control.  It makes me wonder if the means ARE the end – for the disciples and possibly for us.

Augustana’s mission statement is all about the means.  Here’s what we are to do and how we are to do it, at least in general terms.  The outcome, the end, the way people respond, isn’t within our control.  Again, it makes me wonder if the means ARE the end.  This is to say more explicitly that the means ARE the end for us, not for God.  Because God’s going to do what God’s going to do as far as the end is concerned.  We don’t control the outcome, God does.  And I hear this as the very best of the good news.

While we’re on the subject of means, some of you may have heard the expression “means of grace.”  Lutheran Christians use this means-of-grace language to describe the ways in which God comes to us, meeting us on our level.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) website offers a quick explanation of the means of grace.  It goes like this…

“Jesus Christ is the living and abiding Word of God. By the power of the Spirit, this very Word of God, which is Jesus Christ, is read in the Scriptures, proclaimed in preaching, announced in the forgiveness of sins, eaten and drunk in the Holy Communion, and encountered in the bodily presence of the Christian community.  By the power of the Spirit active in the Holy Baptism, this Word washes a people to be Christ’s own Body in the world.  We have called this gift of Word and Sacrament by the name ‘the means of grace.’  The living heart of all these means is the presence of Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit as the gift of the Father.”[1]

Jesus directs the disciples into the towns, giving them the means through which they are to proclaim the kingdom of God coming near.

The Holy Spirit guides this congregation by our mission statement, giving us the means through which our life together takes action.

And Christ the Savior commands us to make available the means of grace and to avail ourselves of the means of grace, giving us the means through which God forgives and sustains us in faith.

In these three situations the logic of the incarnation, of God coming to us, of the means as the end, is real.  In these three situations the actual end, the consequence, the outcome is on God.  For us creatures, who time again pressure ourselves and each other to bigger and better success stories, this is good news indeed.  Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

John 20:19-31 “Doubt in Community”

John 20:19-31 “Doubt in Community”

April 7, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  21  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  22  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  24  But Thomas (who was called the Twin  ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”  26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”  28  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  30  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  31  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.

 

Very, very few people have been able see and touch the wounds of the Risen Christ as he is standing in the living room.  So, for those very few people, I celebrate what faith must look like and feel like beyond the shadow of a doubt.  There are a few more people who have told me that they have never struggled with their faith in Jesus – it just has simply always been there for them and remains with them as pure gift.  I have to imagine that this group is more widely represented in churches around the world than the first group.  Again, I celebrate the fullness of their faith with them and am grateful for the ways in which those people of great faith have impacted my own faith.

Then there’s a third group of people for whom the Gospel of John was expressly written.  Check out verse 31 again, it says that, “these [signs] 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.”  If the number of people in the pews of the church around the world is any indication, this is by far the largest group.  While conversations and theories abound as to why this is so, the Gospel of John presumes this is so.  There are people who believe and there are people who don’t.  Just as there are today.

At Luther Seminary, I took a course called ‘Jesus the Savior and the Triune God.’  Our first reading assignment was a named Doubt: A Parable.[1]  As a class, we had a lively discussion about doubt and its place in conversations about faith.  The various opinions about whether doubt or skepticism should be part of faith conversations are missing the point.  The reality is that most conversations about Christian faith in the western world are fraught with questions and skepticism pretty much since about the 17th century and the Enlightenment.

Many of the conversations people have with me about their own faith are on the very topic of doubt – as if faith and doubt are mutually exclusive, as if faith cannot exist while doubt exists or vice versa.  But they aren’t mutually exclusive, they are connected.  It’s right here that I need to give a shout-out to something called a dialectic.   A dialectic is when you take two ideas that seem in complete opposition to other but yet they are connected.  Today, the dialectic in this sermon is faith and doubt.  One of Martin Luther’s favorite dialectics is Law and Gospel.  Rather than saying that one cannot exist while the other does, a dialectic connection acknowledges their coexistence and allows the tension between them to reveal meaning.

In the Gospel reading for today, Thomas is on the outside of faith looking in at the disciples who have seen the risen Christ.   I wonder if he’s listening to all of that excited faith-filled testimony of the rest of the group and feeling left out, feeling frustrated that he missed out and wondering if he could ever trust as they seem to trust, could ever be comforted as they seem to be comforted.  Or maybe it’s something else entirely.  Maybe Thomas thinks the disciples have truly lost it.  The trauma of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion was simply too much and they were under the power of some kind of group delusion.

Regardless of his motive and tone, we can learn from Thomas.  Not only does he own his skepticism, he talks freely about it with his friends, his community.  He struggles, wondering about the truth of the risen Christ, and the people who know him best make space and hold his doubt.  That first day in the locked house, Jesus appears to the disciples but not to Thomas and when Thomas shows up later that same day he makes his big speech about what it would take for him to believe.  Then we are told that it’s a week later, the disciples are still in the house and Thomas is still with them.  He is still with them!  He responded to the disciples with skepticism but he is still there in the house…with the disciples.

So, yes, we can learn from Thomas.  But I think today we also learn from those disciples, those disciples who hold the space for Thomas even as they hold to their witness of the resurrected Jesus.  They are true to the story as they received it without ridding their group of one who stands resolutely against what they say they saw.

A few weeks ago in the Gospel of John class, I asked everyone to break into twos or threes and talk about something that they had heard or learned.  Two people from the same pair then shared their thoughts with the larger group.  I asked them if they agreed with each other or did they agree to disagree because at that moment it was unclear.  The conversation moved on without an answer but then a hand from the pair went up after they chatted a bit more and realized that they were, indeed, in disagreement on a particular point.  Their capacity to discuss and hold this disagreement is a powerful example to us all.

When I begin teaching a class, one of the things that I like to say is that, “Jesus is Jesus; what we say about Jesus, sing about Jesus or construct about Jesus is not Jesus.”  It is so tempting, so unbearably tempting, to hold up what we say about Jesus and slip into believing that whatever it is that we say is actually Jesus.  Listen to Thomas again.  He says, “My Lord and my God.”  This claim and confession of “My Lord and My God” is the starting point.  And in saying this with Thomas, we are freed into the conversations about Jesus that deepen our faith and expand our witness of Jesus in the here and now by the power of the Spirit.

Thomas is not an example of meek acceptance of the status quo.   He stands in the middle of that house and makes a demand – a demand that allows for the possibility of faith.  And who is able to respond to Thomas’ request?  It is the risen Christ Himself.  As Thomas stands in the presence of his friends who faithfully witness to the risen Christ, it is Christ who yields to Thomas’ demand.

The story of Thomas gets at some of the most daunting dimensions of faith because it’s clear that faith is not self-generated, nor can we generate it in others.  Faith can only be generated by God in Jesus through the Spirit working through the witness that people hear.[2]  As readers of the Gospel, we are the ones who have not seen the risen Christ, we receive only the witness about Jesus.  This means that seeing is not a precondition for faith as it was for Thomas but rather “faith is evoked by words from and about Jesus…through the work of the Spirit in whom the risen Christ is present and active.”[3]

By the work of the Spirit, the risen Christ is revealing his wounds and birthing faith.  He holds out his wounded hand as he challenges us to a new reality through the scriptures.  He turns and offers love from His side as He forgives, strengthens and renews the Body of Christ, His church, to make space for faithful testimony as well as doubt.  He immerses with us into the waters of baptism as He washes through our sin and brokenness to reveal the power of His resurrecting grace.  Christ beckons us through His meal as His wounded and resurrected presence offers love and forgiveness unknown except through Him.

May God grant that you be born out of Christ’s wounded side,

and be drawn to faith in Him.

 

 



[1] John Patrick Stanley, Doubt: A Parable (2005).

[2] Craig R. Koester, Class lecture, NT3211 “The Gospel and Epistles of John” (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary), December 18, 2010.

[3] Craig R. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 73.