Creation, Yet Again

Easter Lily (DT 8087007)

Scripture Text:  John 20: 1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

THE LORD IS RISEN!

THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!   Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!

Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!  Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!  Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!

Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!  Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!  Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!

Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!  Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!  Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!

Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!  Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!  Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!

Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!  Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and Heaven, Alleluia!  Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!

Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!  Hail, the resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!  Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!

Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!  Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

(Charles Wesley, 1739)

The day has arrived!  After all this time of anunciation and birth, of baptism and ministry, of teaching and healing, of calling and response, of temptation and darkness, of dying and crucifixion, this Day of Resurrection has dawned.  After this long and difficult journey that we have taken, we come to this day with new eyes and as a new creation.  Christ has risen!  Christ has risen indeed!

But lest we lapse into thinking of this day as a commemoration of The Resurrection of Christ, as a mere remembrance of what happened on that third day so long ago, as some sort of shallow anniversary of Christ’s rising, we need to realize that this day is not just about Jesus’ Resurrection; it is also about our own.  We who carried our cross, we who died to self, we who journeyed through the wilderness and through those gates, are this day given new life.  God has recreated us into who God calls us to be.  And, in a way, that is almost more scary than the dying.  There is no going back.  The self that we knew before is no more.  We are a new creation.  We are a re-creation.

We have risen! 

We have risen indeed!

From the void, from the darkness, God created Light and Life.  No, correct that.  The Scripture begins “while it was still dark”.  God did not wait until the light to come to begin the work of Creation and this time is no different.  While it was still dark, while we strained to see hope and grieved what had come to be, God began.  That is what we are called to do.  We cannot wait until the world is ready.  Our work begins in the darkness with God.

Truthfully, if you look at it from a literal view, nothing has really changed.  Jesus, sadly, is still dead.  The human Jesus, the Jesus born into this world on that long ago night in Bethlehem, was gone.   But through eyes that have been resurrected, nothing will ever be the same again.

Maybe resurrection comes not in raising one above life, but in raising life to where it is supposed to be.  Jesus was the first to cross that threshold between–between death and life, between the world and the sacred, between seeing with the eyes of the world and seeing with the eyes of the Divine.  Hell has been vanquished.  Wesley wrote that “Christ hath burst the gates of hell”.  What that means is that everything, everything that God has created, everything above, below, within, around, everything we see, everything we know, everything we wonder about, everything we do not understand, has been made anew.  Resurrection is not about being transplanted to a new world but rather being called to live in this one as a new creation.  It means being recreated into the one that God envisions you to be.  It means being given a new way of seeing where love is stronger than death, where hope abides, and where life has no end.  It means being capable of glimpsing the Holy and the Sacred, the promise of Life, even in this life, even now.  This day of Easter is now only about Jesus’ Resurrection; it is about ours!  So, what do you plan to do with your new life?

The end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time. (T.S. Eliot)

 

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia! Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!

Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia! Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

Everlasting life is truly this!

Happy Easter!

Shelli

 

Wilderness Re-Created

14-11-02-#6-Sermon-Thin PlaceScripture Text:  John 20: 1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

Whew!  We made it through the wilderness.  The tomb is open and all is good.  The morning was glorious, full of light and life and, finally, alleluias.  THE LORD IS RISEN!  THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!  The long Lenten wilderness journey is behind us.  Whew!  We made it!

But don’t you remember what kept happening in the wilderness?  In the wilderness, when we’re so unsure of where to go, when darkness seems to overtake us at times, when we often feel stripped of all we know, God comes.  God comes and re-creates in the most incredible ways.  God comes and brings light into darkness and life into death.  God comes and we are changed forever.  That happens in the wilderness when we no longer have the familiar and the comfortable to which we can hold.  Like Mary at the tomb, we are reminded to not hold on to what we know but rather to open our hands to the newness that God offers.

After Lent, we go back to our lives.  The time of giving up and emptying out is behind us.  So with what do we fill our lives?  If we go back and pick up where we left off, cramming our lives full of all the stuff that we just stored in the closet for the season, it will all be for naught.  But if we finally know that in all of God’s resurrecting, we, too, were raised.  If we remember that in all of God’s re-creating, even the wilderness, the chaos, was made new again.  If we find ourselves with eyes that see differently and hearts that beat in new ways, we will see that the wilderness is where we are meant to be.  We were never meant to settle into ways of thinking and be satisfied with routine ways of being.  Instead we are called to go forth into newness, into what we do not know, down roads that our faith calls us to follow.

It seems that God is continually calling us into places and times that we’ve never been, constantly empowering us to push the limits of our “comfort zones”, to embark on a larger and more all-encompassing journey toward a oneness with God.  It seems that God always calls us beyond where we are and beyond where we’ve been, not to the places that are planted and built and paved over with our preconceptions and biases but, rather, to places in the wilds of our lives with some vision of a faint pathway that we must pave and on which we must trudge ahead.  Perhaps, then, this wilderness journey is not one in which we launch out and pursue a new life but is instead one that brings us to the center of our own life, one that brings us home, but changed.

The end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time.  (T.S. Eliot)

FROM NOW ON:  Make the wilderness journey your home.

 

Well, we have come to the end of the season.  I am honored that once again so many of my old friends joined me for the journey.  And along the way, there were others that I am so grateful chose to join us.  That’s what happens when you travel unfamiliar roads!  I’m going to take a break from the “every day” writing and will try to post at least once a week or so.  Stay tuned!  Keep journeying!  AND, email me and let me know YOUR thoughts!  I’m going to try to put my email in “code” below my name so the spammers don’t find me, but you are smart people and you can figure it out!  Thank you again for journeying with me!  Happy Easter!  WE ARE RISEN!  WE ARE RISEN INDEED!

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Shelli Williams 13 (run all those together), then [that funny little a with the circle], gmail.com

So, What Next?

Dancing on the roadScripture Text:  Luke 1: 46b-55

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

So, what next?  What comes after all this journeying, all these vast and varied emotions?  What comes after this 40 days of moving toward the cross?  What comes after Easter morning?  What exactly are we supposed to do with a Risen Savior?  What are we supposed to do with this redeeming work of God?  What are we supposed to do with a world that is filled with the Divine?  What do we do with vanquished death and a Creation created yet again?  What do you do when you find that you’ve been re-created?

If the 40 days of Lent are our journey toward who God calls us to be, the 50-day journey of Eastertide is our becoming.  (50 DAYS???  This journey is LONGER than the one we’ve just finished?)  It may have seemed easier before, when we were being called to follow, being called to look to Jesus for our teachings, for our way of becoming what we should be.  But now, we are not being told to follow.  We are being told to “Go”.  Go?  Go where?   Go and become.  Go and be disciples.  Go and embody all that is Jesus Christ.  Go become the Word incarnate, the Spirit of Christ here on this earth. Go and live as one resurrected, as one who IS a new creation, as one who walks with a Risen Christ.   (Wow! And we thought LENT was hard!)

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
                             (from “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, hymn by Charles Wesley, 1739)
 

So, go forth into the world, into your life. Go forth and become the Living Christ, the embodiment of the One who has Risen. Take the road of new Creation.  But, remember, you are never alone. The very Divine has spilled into our world.

I don’t know Who—or what—put the question. I don’t know when it was put.  I don’t even remember answering.  But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone—or Something—and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.  From that moment I have known what it means “not to look back,” and “to take no thought for the morrow.”  (Dag Hammarskjold)

Christ the Lord is Risen!  The Lord has risen indeed!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

So, what next?  I’m grateful that you have joined me on this daily journey through the Lenten season.  Now there is work to do.  I will continue to post on this blog perhaps once or twice a week, so stay tuned!  I will also continue posting my notes for the Lectionary scriptures on http://journeytopenuel.com once a week, so I invite you to join me there too!  Thank you again for journeying with me!  Keep dancing!  Shelli 

 

Re-Creation

Easter Lily (DT 8087007)

Scripture Text:  John 20: 1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

THE LORD IS RISEN!

THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!   Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!  Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!  Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!  Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!  Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!  Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!  Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!  Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!  Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!  Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and Heaven, Alleluia!  Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!  Hail, the resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!  Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!  Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

(Charles Wesley, 1739)

The day has arrived!  After all this time of anunciation and birth, of baptism and ministry, of teaching and healing, of calling and response, of temptation and darkness, of dying and crucifixion, this Day of Resurrection has dawned.  After this long and difficult journey that we have taken, we come to this day with new eyes and as a new creation.  Christ has risen!  Christ has risen indeed!

But lest we lapse into thinking of this day as a commemoration of The Resurrection of Christ, as a mere remembrance of what happened on that third day so long ago, as some sort of shallow anniversary of Christ’s rising, we need to realize that this day is not just about Jesus’ Resurrection; it is also about our own.  We who carried our cross, we who died to self, we who journeyed through the wilderness and through those gates, are this day given new life.  God has recreated us into who God calls us to be.  And, in a way, that is almost more scary than the dying.  There is no going back.  The self that we knew before is no more.  We are a new creation.  We are a re-creation.

We have risen! 

We have risen indeed!

From the void, from the darkness, God created Light and Life.  Truthfully, if you look at it from a literal view, nothing has really changed.  Jesus, sadly, is still dead.  The human Jesus, the Jesus born into this world on that long ago night in Bethlehem, was gone.   But through eyes that have been resurrected, nothing will ever be the same again.

Maybe resurrection comes not in raising one above life, but in raising life to where it is supposed to be.  Jesus was the first to cross that threshold between–between death and life, between the world and the sacred, between seeing with the eyes of the world and seeing with the eyes of the Divine.  Hell has been vanquished.  Wesley wrote that “Christ hath burst the gates of hell”.  What that means is that everything, everything that God has created, everything above, below, within, around, everything we see, everything we know, everything we wonder about, everything we do not understand, has been made anew.  Resurrection is not about being transplanted to a new world but rather being called to live in this one as a new creation.  It means being recreated into the one that God envisions you to be.  It means being given a new way of seeing where love is stronger than death, where hope abides, and where life has no end.  It means being capable of glimpsing the Holy and the Sacred, the promise of Life, even in this life, even now.  This day of Easter is now only about Jesus’ Resurrection; it is about ours!  So, what do you plan to do with your new life?

The end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time. (T.S. Eliot)

 

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia! Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia! Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

Everlasting life is truly this!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

We Have Risen! We Have Risen Indeed!

To read today’s Gospel passage, click on
http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=200846939

THE LORD IS RISEN!

THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!

“The Resurrection of Christ”
Vyssi Brod Hohenfurth, c. 1350

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!  Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!  Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and Heaven, Alleluia!  Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!  Hail, the resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!  Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!  Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

(Charles Wesley, 1739)

The day has arrived!  After all this time of anunciation and birth, of baptism and ministry, of teaching and healing, of calling and response, of temptation and darkness, of dying and crucifixion, this Day of Resurrection has dawned.  Christ has risen!  Christ has risen indeed!

But lest we lapse into thinking of this day as a commemoration of The Resurrection of Christ, as a mere remembrance of what happened on that third day so long ago, we need to realize that this day is not just about Jesus’ Resurrection; it is also about our own.  We who carried our cross, we who died to self, are this day given new life.  God has recreated us into who God calls us to be.  And, in a way, that is almost more scary than the dying.  There is no going back.  The self that we knew before is no more.  We are a new creation.  We have risen!  We have risen indeed!

You see, Jesus did not die and magically come back to life.  God did not undo what had been done.  There was still a bloody cross standing on an unknown hill called Golgotha.  Rather, God created something new–a new way of seeing and a new way of being.  Do you remember the first time God did that?

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1: 1-5)

From the void, from the darkness, God created Light and Life.  Truthfully, if you look at it from a literal view, nothing has really changed.  Jesus, sadly, is still dead.  But through eyes that have been resurrected, nothing will ever be the same again.  Maybe resurrection comes not in raising one above life, but in raising life to where it is supposed to be.  Jesus was the first to cross that threshold between–between death and life, between the world and the sacred, between seeing with the eyes of the world and seeing with the eyes of the Divine.  Resurrection is not about being transplanted to a new world but rather being called to live in this one with a new way of seeing.  It means being recreated into the one that God envisions you to be.  It means being given a new way of seeing where love is stronger than death, where hope abides, and where life has no end.  It means being capable of glimpsing the Holy and the Sacred, the promise of Life, even in this life, even now.  This day of Easter is now only about Jesus’ Resurrection; it is about ours!  So, what do you plan to do with your new life?

The end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time. (T.S. Eliot)

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia! Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia! Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

Everlasting life is truly this!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Thank you for joining with me on this Lenten journey!  I have been so blessed by all the comments and the reflections that you have shared.  We will do this again.  In the meantime, I’m going to take a little “blogging sabbatical” and return on April 25th with posts two or three times a week.  I will do the “every day” thing again later!  Let me know if you or others that you know want to join the Google group and get emails each time I post.  And comment!  Let’s start a discussion!   You can email me at swilliams@stpaulshouston.org.  Let me hear from you! 

EASTER 2A: In the Shadow of a Doubt

Lectionary Text:  John 20: 19-31
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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.” 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.” 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 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.” 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.

This Scripture probably scares all of us a bit.  Are we just supposed to believe unconditionally, take on a sort of blind faith without questioning, without trying to figure it all out?  I don’t really believe that (but maybe I have my doubts!).  No, really, the Scriptues tell us to believe but nowhere does it say that we’re not supposed to explore that belief.  The truth is, we fault Thomas here and, yet, the others HAD seen.  Of course they believed.  Thomas, though, alone, had the courage and, I would say, the faith, to question it all.  And Jesus gave him the gift of himself, the gift not of answers but of illumination.  Thomas probably still couldn’t explain to you how or why or even if it happened.  He just believed that it did.

Swiss-born theologian and writer Hans Kung said that “doubt is the shadow cast by faith. One does not always notice it, but it is always there, though concealed. At any moment it may come into action. There is no mystery of the faith which is immune to doubt.”  Isn’t that a wonderful thought? Doubt is the shadow cast by faith. Faith in the resurrection does not exclude doubt, but takes doubt into itself. Faith is a matter of worshipping and doubting, doubting and worshipping. It is a matter of being part of this wonderful community of disciples not because God told us to but because our doubts bring us together. Examining our faith involves doubts, it requires us to learn the questions to ask. And it is in the face of doubt that our faith is born. God does not call us to a blind, unexamined faith, accepting all that we see and all that we hear as unquestionable truth; God instead calls us to an illumined doubt, through which we search and journey toward a greater understanding of God.

At the risk of disappointing some of you, going to seminary did not give me all the answers to the faith.  It taught me how to ask the questions.  I think that’s what faith is about–not having the right answers all the time but having the courage and indeed the desire to continue asking those questions that lead us to a more illumined faith.  Who is God?  What is God to you?  Who is Christ?  What does it mean to be Christ in this world?  What does it truly mean to show your brothers and sisters in this world what the Risen Christ means to you?  The list is endless, far into the shadows up ahead.  Faith is not about memorizing doctrines or dismissing questions in light of what some choose to call “orthodox” belief.  And I don’t think we’re called to have the answers but rather to live a faith that becomes alive and illumined by our questions and our exploration and our continued search for what it all means in our life.  That is the way we connect with God.  That is the way we journey toward God.  That is the way to living a life of faith that is propelled by our doubts rather than pulled down by them.  Maybe our doubts are not supposed to live in the shadows of our lives but way out in front, pulling us into a greater understanding of this God that we so desire. Maybe a life of faith IS lived in the shadow of a doubt.  Hey, remember what creates shadows?  Light…  Isn’t that illuminating?

So in this season in which you see the Risen Christ, go ahead and doubt and then let it lead to faith, to the belief that it is so.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

EASTER 2A: Epilogue

Lectionary Text: 1 Peter 1: 3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

There’s lots of “Easter” language in this text–new birth, living hope, resurrection.  It speaks of all those things for which we hope, for which we look.  But, truth be told, none of it can really be proven, now can it?  The writer of this letter obviously has a strong faith, a faith that looks toward what will come, toward what we have been promised.  And yet when you’re hurting in the deepest part of you, what good does that really do?  Perhaps this doesn’t speak well for my level of faith, but it drives me positively crazy when someone responds to grief or deep despair by saying, “just put your trust in God and God will take care of it”, or “God never gives us more than we can handle.”, or (even worse!) “it’s God’s will”.  But you and I both know that most of the time you get up the next morning and it’s just as bad or worse.  And these sorts of comments are not only unhelpful; I think they’re just downright mean and often harmful.  The truth is, it IS my faith that gets me through times like this–not faith that God will fix it or make it go back to the way it was but faith in a God that is there with me every step of the way, faith in a God that will see me through the end and on to the next beginning.

This letter was first written to people who were going through some really tough times, possibly people who were suffering because they WERE who they were.  They are not being promised a quick fix.  In fact, there’s a possibility that this is just not going to get any better at all.  Faith is not believing that God will fix it; faith is believing that there is always something more, something beyond what we know, something beyond even this.

Come to think of it, there are lots of great stories that don’t really end the way that you would have rather seen them end.  I remember reading “Little Women” as a child.  In fact, it may have been the first time that I really dealt with heartache and death.  I liked the first part of the story much better when all four girls were there.  After Beth died, no one and nothing was the same.  I finished it and to this day, I love the story, but I just remember feeling so sad. It’s not the only story like that–“Titanic”, “Anne Frank”, “Gone With the Wind”…the list goes on. The point is that sometimes (I would say possibly most of the time) life just doesn’t go the way that you would have written it given the chance.  Prince Charming almost never shows up with a glass slipper and whisks you away to material riches and a life without care.  Suffering is part of life.  We will all suffer, we will all grieve, we will all have something that doesn’t go as planned.  If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be real, we wouldn’t be human.  (I guess we’d be characters in one of those Harlequin Romances or something!)

Faith is not about the story going well; it’s about knowing that there’s an epilogue–the “word after the word”.  No, epilogues are generally not part of the actual story.  Their purpose is to resolve the plot, bring it together, make it once and for all make sense.  I think that’s what faith is.  It’s not believing that God will fix the story but rather believing that God has already written the epilogue.   In the meantime, go ahead and finish the story.  I think this one’s going to get better in the end!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli