The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.
Sunday, April 19, 2015
was a time in the 70’s and early 80’s, or so I’ve been told, when preachers
decided that the sermons in the book of Acts were examples of the Earliest
Christian preaching. Then, they added, that time period in the book of Acts was
a period of enormous church growth…
So, they concluded, if modern preachers
were to use those sermons as a model for their preaching, they would have the
same kind of success.
are a few flaws in this theory—two that come to mind right off the bat are that:
a lot easier to double Christianity when there are only 12 or so members.
of the preachers of these sermons in Acts—the Apostles and Paul, were martyred
(that is killed for the faith) which is, I would venture to guess, hardly the kind
of success those 1970’s preachers were looking for.
these sermons in the book of Acts, do pack a certain punch—they’re worth
mimicking every now and again.
today’s case, we read of Peter assuring the people the miracle performed before
them, when he healed a bent over beggar—he makes clear that the healing isn’t
his doing, but instead is from God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The
same God found in Jesus, who is the righteous and living one—the one promised
to us to save us from our sin—and therefore we ought to turn to him and be
Let us pray.
what Peter is getting at today could be summed up by the ELCA’s tag line—God’s Work, Our Hands…
that we recognize none of this—none
of what our church, or synod, or congregation does, is from us—ultimately our hands are empty, our work is
not our own—they are from God.
Yes, over 6 millions Americans who are
suffering and in need are touched by the ELCA’s service arm, be they immigrants
escaping persecution and being resettled, or a family looking to adopt, or just
folk with too much hunger and not enough pay check—yes 6 million people a year—the equivalent of the ELCA serving the
entire state of Massachusetts.
Yes, we recently helped plant a
congregation in rural China—no small feat.
Yes, we are decimating the disease of
Malaria in 13 countries.
it’s not us who do these things
—these amazing life giving, miraculous things
—no it is God.
Yes, our own Bishop, Bishop Tracie
Bartholomew recently shared a pulpit with Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Donato
in Bayonne, an unprecedented act of ecumenical hospitality—a Roman Catholic
Bishop inviting a female Protestant Bishop to share in proclamation of the
Yes, the New Jersey Synod has called my
colleague and cousin Beau Nelson to serve as chaplain to the homeless folk in
Yes, the Red Cross recently had 166
people still displaced from Sandy in need of help, and Lutheran Disaster Relief
responded, “Don’t worry, we got this.”
it wasn’t we who had it—it never is—always
it’s God who’s got this!
I think of the ongoing embarrassing
thing that keeps happening to me at Synod Council Meetings—the meeting is going
along, they’re talking about innovative stuff in the Synod, and next thing I
know they’re talking about me and about St. Stephen.
--Look there is a Pub Theology in
South Plainfield, they gush, and there I am cleaning wax out of my ear, or
looking at cat videos on my cell phone.
--Or they start saying, “Pastor Chris
must be a managerial genius the way
from 3 different towns—Edison,
Plainfield, and South Plainfield, in a state where people take boarders between
towns very seriously,
congregations, even of different
racial and ethnic backgrounds,
are finding ways to work together and
strengthen one another’s ministry. Good on you Pastor Chris”
And I just kinda perk up like a cow that
leaned against an electric fence.
didn’t do any of that.
Any good thing, and good fruit, in this
place—that’s God’s doing.
Yes, good things are afoot among God’s
people in South Plainfield and New Jersey and all across this nation and this
world—with bare hands outstretched and a befuddled and joyful look all we can
do is look up and say, this is God’s
doing… always God’s doing.
admit, just as our forbearers of the faith did, that all good things come from
disciples were betrayers, deniers, and distrustful—yet God made them bold proclaimers of the Gospel.
was a wayward son of the Church and Francis of Assisi was a spoiled rich kid—yet upon one God built our minds and the
other our hearts.
detractors called him a drunken little monk, and so he was—yet God poured from his pen and formed from his temper, a rediscovery
of grace that stoking the engine of a great reform.
Yes, the God of the Disciples, the God
of the Church Fathers, and the God of the Reformers, reveals the goodness of
the one whom we call Lord, Jesus Christ.
the righteous one, rejected, the author of life, killed.
Jesus Christ, Righteousness returned—
if there is anything you regret in
any time you’ve missed the mark or
fallen short of any goal
the goal has been obtained,
the mark made,
the regret held, honored, and healed.
Jesus Christ, Life revived—that deep and dreaded whisper that
ends our days, that holds us all in it’s grasp, Death
—does so no longer,
the grave’s weight and death’s sting,
have no power over us
—Christ has shattered them so that we
might live in fullness, dying with him and rising with him.
pray that all that we do—serving 6 million, swapping pulpits in impossible
ways, partnerships across towns and Gospel-exploration in pubs—that it all
point’s to this promise of Resurrection
the message to us from God found in
the Old and New Testament,
the message passed on from Pentecost
to the present day,
the message I preach from this pulpit
the message of every part of the
the message of our lives the moment
we step out of these church doors.
have resurrection and righteousness through Christ.
your Baptism into his death and life.
yourself in the one who makes us whole and alive.
can hear you whispering “Look, the doubter. Look, Doubting Thomas.”
really not fair.
don’t name any of the other disciples that way.
don’t say “Look, Abandoning Peter.”
don’t even say “Look, Betraying Judas.”
that matter, why can’t you call me “Twin
Thomas”—that’s what the gospels call me…
Or you could even call me “Brave Thomas”
After all, when all the other
disciples were whining:
“Oh, if we go back to Judea
we’ll get stoned to death… poor us.”
I said, “Well, then we’ll go to Judea and die
you could call me Inquisitive Thomas—after
all, there was that one time when Jesus told us that he was going someplace—and
he claimed we already knew where that was (Truth be told, Jesus really gives us too
much credit sometimes)
Everyone else just nodded
solemnly like they knew what he was talking about
—Not me though, I actually wanted
to make sure I knew what this was all about
—I chose to ask the dumb question
that no one else wanted to ask, “Where
are you talking about?”
I’m stuck with that name
I’m stuck as Doubting Thomas.
Doubting Thomas. All because of that one
He’d died for crying out loud!
--we’d all seen it. Our Lord, hung
out there like a criminal.
then, later, Mary told us he’d risen from the dead.
didn’t believe her. None of us, not one!
We ALL doubted her.
why the other disciples locked themselves in the upper room. They didn’t trust
that if Jesus could come to Mary he could come to all of us
—yetI get the bad
wrap as “Doubting Thomas.” …
My point is this, we all doubted.
at least went outside
—I wasn’t afraid to die
—I didn’t lock myself in that
room out of fear
—I figured if they killed me, for knowing Jesus, then so be it…
Yet I’m the doubter
wasn’t in the room the first time.
I missed out.
time I saw them
—the other disciples
told me about being breathed on, how that changed
everything for them.
seemed kind of strange to me, honestly… being breathed on by a dead guy…think of the halitosis…
But I couldn’t knock it. It gave
—it changed them from frightened
fishermen hiding-out, to bold preachers front and center.
was jealous of that—maybe that would be a better name for me “Jealous Thomas” I’d cop to that.
was jealous of their new status—their new boldness.
mean, I was the bold one, after all.
not after seeing them.
felt like the person who misread the worship time for Easter and got to church
in time to pick up a Lilly and go back home… without even hearing the good
felt like I’d missed Easter.
I couldn’t believe them
—I couldn’t believe they’d seen him.
I couldn’t believe the transformation that had overcome them.
I couldn’t believe…
(hmmm)Well, if I’m really honest… I couldn’t
believe I’d missed it.
I missed Jesus
I missed this
peace they all felt.
I felt left out.
I was jealous of them.
I went so far as to cut myself off
from the community by not trusting their words…
And I want to be clear, it was their words I doubted—not him… never him. Never God and never Jesus…
just missing his
return, missing out on what they all had …that changing moment… I missed it.
And it didn’t help that they were so
excited about that forgiving and retaining sins thing.
In fact, they
tried it out on me. I think they were
meaning it well—but…
it felt like they believed doubt was a sin.
you know what it feels like to have your brothers and sisters whisper, and even
say aloud, that you are a sinner because you doubt? A sinner because you
weren’t there in that room.
A sinner because
you missed out.
A sinner because
they were all certain… and your uncertainty makes them feel uncomfortable.
1They were changed, and I missed it /
they were gung-ho and I was still in the depths of mourning.
2It made me pull away from them, even
though they were trying their best to continue to be my brothers.
3They went so far as to call me a sinner
for missing that moment… for doubting.
And because of all that I blew up—I said something I didn’t really mean.
I said I would
only believe if I squished my fingers around in his wounds.
Pretty gross if you stop and think
about it—macabre even…
but I was in
else had experienced resurrection… I was still in despair.
but despairing. Despairing Thomas / not Doubting Thomas.
Somehow, I toughed it out. I came
back—despite all that, I showed up in that room, with them, the next week.
There … with them… a voice came from
behind me, and said:
“Peace be with you.”
And he took that gross challenge I’d
thrown at my brothers,
and at God,
the challenge of
“poking my fingers in his wounds,” and made it a redeemable moment
—a place from
which I could believe…
a place beyond
And I shouted out, “My Lord and my God.”
That’s where things get complicated.
Most people think what Jesus said to me next was a rebuke… that Jesus too
called me a sinner for not being with them… with the other disciples—for being “a
But it wasn’t a rebuke. He just asked
me a rhetorical question, “Have you believed because you have seen?”
Then he looked passed me, through that
room, and out into eternity
generations… to all of you…
them, saying, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to
It wasn’t a rebuke, it was a blessing
for all those Christians who came after us… He was promising them
—his love and
his gospel, for
It wasn’t about me
—but about his blessing,that conquered the grave,
our despair and division,
and continues to
bring life to this day
—to this very
If I’m “Doubting
Thomas” … You all are “Blessed Disciples”