Sunday, April 07, 2013

“Without a Doubt” | Second Sunday OF Easter 2013 | All Saints Church, Pasadena

Welcome to the Second Sunday of Easter.
Notice that it’s “Sunday of” not “Sunday after” ...
because Easter is a Season: not just a Sunday.

When I was a day school chaplain
we went through that every year
when the kids returned from their Easter break.

“Let’s review” I’d say.

“How many days in Lent?”
And having been well schooled on that one
lots of hands would wave because
they all knew the answer was “FORTY!”
[Good job!]

Then I’d ask:
“How many days in Easter?”

And …
because there was always someone
who hadn’t gotten the memo
or didn’t remember from last year
and answered “ONE”
that gave me the chance to say:
“Nope ... there are FIFTY days in Easter:
We do Easter all the way until Pentecost –
because Chaplain Susan didn’t do forty days of Lent
to only get one day of Easter!!”

And no one is better at “doing Easter” than All Saints Church.
With the flowers and vestments, candles and bells,
festival hymns and grand processions,
and the best darned first fire of Easter in Christendom

it’s a “pull out all the stops” liturgical occasion
as we do what we’re best at for the best of all reasons:
The Lord is Risen: The Lord is Risen, Indeed!
Alleluia, Alleluia!

So here we are at the SECOND Sunday of Easter:
the lilies are browning around the edges,
the ears are off the chocolate bunny,
the Easter dress is at the cleaners
and the awesome impact of those “alleluias”
we gave up for Lent fades
as we get back to business as usual.

There’s no question that we know how to do Easter as an event:
the question that comes to me this morning is ...
How are we at Easter as a way of life?

 My favorite Easter card says:

"The great Easter truth
is not that we will be born again someday --
but that we are to be alive here and now
by the power of the resurrection.”

But “here and now” is sometimes easier said than done ...
because – truth be told –
as the lilies fade and the chocolate gets eaten,
it is all too easy to make Easter a Sunday to remember
instead of a truth to live.

It is – without a doubt -- easy
to settle for observing the resurrection
rather than hold out for participating in it
as the rector challenged us to do last week.

If it’s any consolation, we’re in good company.
In fact, throughout this Season of Easter .
we will hear the stories of those who actually
had the direct experience of the Risen Lord –
and still struggled to figure out this resurrection thing.

There were the women at the tomb –
who seemed to have forgotten the part
where Jesus told them he would rise after three days.
It took the angels to remind them of that rather important detail.

And then when they ran back to tell the disciples,
and the men – Luke tells us –
“dismissed it as an idle tale.”

Then there was Mary in the garden
mistaking Jesus for the gardener

Which brings us to this morning’s Gospel
where Jesus appears to the disciples:
who John tells us “were huddling in fear behind locked doors.”

Nevertheless, Jesus appeared and “breathed on them.”

In John’s Gospel, this is the birthday of the Church ...
a kind of “fast forward” to the Pentecost story
we will celebrate at the end of this Easter season.
(When North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry will be with us –
and believe me you do NOT want to miss that!)

Anyway – back to John’s Gospel:
Jesus “breathed on them” and the Spirit came,
filled the disciples with faith rather than fear
and they left the upper room where they had been hiding 
and went out to take up the ministry of Jesus on earth:
to become the Body of Christ –
new, here and now, by the power of the resurrection.

This scene of new life and creation is reminiscent of
the original creation story in Genesis,
as the Spirit brooded over creation
and God breathed life into the first humans …
of the wonderful story from Ezekiel,
of new life is breathed into the valley of dry bones
and of  this favorite hymn of mine:

"Breathe on me breath of God
Fill me with life anew
That I may love what thou dost love
And do what thou wouldst do."

It is a favorite hymn has become for me an ongoing prayer:
to be filled with the breath of God
and to understand more fully the will of God ...
which is one way to describe Easter as a way of life.

A way of life we live one day at a time:
one step at a time --
trusting that whoever we are
and wherever we find ourselves on the journey of faith
we never journey so far from God
that the life giving breath of that Spirit
is beyond our reach:
even when we find ourselves in that place
where it seems impossible to believe --
the place Thomas found himself in this morning’s gospel.

who is stuck with going down in history as “Doubting Thomas” for his refusal to accept the testimony of others,
for his demand of his own experience of the risen Lord.

What took him away from the community that day?
Why was he out of the room?
Had they drawn lots for someone to run out for food?
We’ll never know -- but there are plenty of possibilities.

Imagine, missing one Sunday, and coming back to hear
“Guess who showed up while you were gone?”
Would you believe it?

It’s always seemed a bit unfair to me
how quick we are to make Thomas
the poster child for faithless doubt when –
truth be told -- the rest of the bunch
aren’t exactly stepping up.

The women at the tomb …
who didn’t believe their eyes until the angel explained it.
The men who didn’t believe the women …

And the “faithful” disciples –
who’ve already seen Jesus once --
are still in the locked, upper room.
wondering what on earth to do next.

What struck me particularly about this story this year
was that Thomas came back at all.
Whatever had taken him away from the community,
he came back.
And it was in the community that Jesus came to him,
and without so much as a confession or absolution,
went straight to Thomas – with hands outstretched – saying:
“Touch, me Thomas. Do not be faithless, but believing.”

One of Thomas’ great virtues
was that he absolutely refused
to say that he understood what he did not understand,
or that he believed what he did not believe.
There was an uncompromising honesty about him:
he would never still his doubts by pretending they did not exist.

Verna Dozier, the Anglican theologian,
wrote in her brilliant book “The Dream of God”
these words that I know I’ve quoted many times
but just have to revisit today:

"Doubt – Verna wrote -- is not the opposite of faith: fear is.
Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong,
I will trust that if I move today by the light that is given me,
knowing it is only finite and partial,
I will know more and different things tomorrow
than I know today,
and I can be open to the new possibility
I cannot even imagine today."

Thomas had doubts,
but he refused to surrender to the fear
which kept the disciples shut up in that locked room.

He both ventured out
and then had the courage to return:
to face a community which had had an experience he did not share
and to be willing to insist on his own experience of God.

And so for me, Thomas becomes a symbol not of faithless doubt,
but of courage.

Courage to trust
that there are no doubts so profound that God cannot answer --
to believe that Jesus cares enough to show up a second time ...
a third time ... an umpteenth time ...
to breathe that breath of life on Thomas – and on us.

"Breathe on me breath of God
until my heart is pure.
Until with thee I will one will
to do or to endure."

As we celebrate and journey into this Easter season,
we do so with the awesome privilege and responsibility
of being the church in the world:
being the hands and feet of Jesus on earth:
being the place where those who come seeking the risen Christ --
doubts and all --
seek that breath of new life that God offers all creation –
seek what the rector called last week “participation in the resurrection.”

When Ed preached about that on Easter Day
I recalled a baptism I attended
many years ago now over at St. Mary’s in Palms.
After the baptism, the priest said,
said the familiar words:
“Let us welcome the newly baptized.”
but he added this:
“And how is she going to learn to be a Christian?”
he asked: holding the baby high in his arms to face the congregation, he said,
“By watching you.”

Let’s face it
there are plenty of people out there
who think they know enough about being a Christian
not to want to be one …
because nothing they learned about Christianity
by watching some of the Christians around them
had any appeal whatsoever.

During Holy Week, I had the privilege of
being a guest lecturer in Don Miller’s
“Religion in Los Angeles” class at USC.

It was no small task to keep the attention of
100 undergrads right before lunch --
and right after spring break --
and you kinda wonder if anything you said got through --
but this comment -- shared by one of the teaching assistants --
was hugely affirming:
“one student said "I don't really like religions,
but this made me rethink my views."

 And what was the “this” that made him rethink his views?

“This” – my brothers and sisters – was watching you
watching what being a Christian is all about
at All Saints Church in a PowerPoint presentation.

What it means to be a community of faith
committed to
Spirituality, Community and Peace & Justice.

What it means
to take the Bible too seriously
to take it literally.

What it means to work to turn the human race into the human family
by stepping out and speaking out
on anything that keeps us from that goal:

• Ending gun violence in our cities and our schools

• Working for just immigration reform and championing economic justice

• Challenging the powerful by preaching peace in times of war

• Supporting a Protect Marriage Movement that protects all marriages and Family Values that value all families.

All of these – and many, many more,
are the ways we live out that “great Easter truth”
here at All Saints Church
even when it’s hard.

Even when we find ourselves
in those “tomb times”
Marianne Williamson wrote about
and Ed Bacon preached about.

Even when it seems that even God
cannot breathe new life into the challenge
of the death of a dream
or the death of a loved one.

 Even then.

When I was in seminary
I had a poster on my wall
that was a gift from a friend in Ventura.

It said:
I was regretting the past and fearing the future.
Suddenly, God was speaking: My name is I AM.
I waited. God continued.
“When you live in the past with its mistakes and regrets,
it is hard. My name is not I WAS.
When you live in the future, with its problems and fears,
it is hard. My name is not I WILL BE.
When you live in the moment,
it is not hard. I am here. My name is I AM.

To live in the moment --
neither regretting the past nor fearing the future --
is where we find the life abundant God promises us.

Not in the echoes of Alleluias of Easter past
or in the fears of what the future holds --
but in the Jesus who enters wherever we are
and says “Peace be with you”
just as he did to the fearful disciples locked in the upper room ...
who gives us whatever we need to believe
just as he did to Thomas …
who invites us to be present in the Easter moment
that is not a Sunday but a way of life:
a way of life that is nothing less than the Kingdom of God
come on earth as it is in heaven.

"Breathe on me, breath of God
So shall I never die
But live with thee the perfect life
Of thine eternity."

It is no coincidence
that the words conversion and conversation
both have the same root.
The conversion that Thomas experienced
he experienced in community: in “conversation.”

On his own, he had only his doubts for company;
in community, he encountered the Living Christ,
the same Lord who calls to us today.

“Come and receive the holy food and drink of new and unending life
and be nourished to go out and be my people in the world,”
Jesus invites us.

“Feed my sheep -- tend my lambs –
take up my ministry on earth as my Body in the world”
Jesus says to us.

“When you live in the moment,
it is not hard. I am here ... Peace be with you.”
Jesus promises us.

Thanks be to God. Happy Easter! Alleluia. Amen.

1 comment:

RonF said...

"and the best darned first fire of Easter in Christendom"

As it happens I'm in charge of the first fire at my parish. How do you do it?