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Easter 2C Sermon
John 20: 19-31

April 3, 2016


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

I have a friend who is a pastor in Wheeling, West Virginia. His wife is not an ordained pastor, but is enrolled in a program of the ELCA where she can be ordained through attending theological education events, and serving part time in a congregational setting. This person, Sherri, posted a little teaser on Facebook this week about what her message is going to be today with her congregation: “You may be the only Bible people read. You may be the only Jesus people see.” I told her I was mentioning her and this little teaser this morning – and we pastors like to share insights with each other – so I am not really committing any crime of plagiarism here, but her statement made me think of a couple of important things on this second Sunday of the Easter season.

First of all, it made me think of how we, in this day and age, don’t have the advantage that those disciples had when they were locked behind closed doors, wondering what they were going to do next. Yes I said, “advantage.” They have witnessed not only the teachings and miracles of Jesus’ life first-hand, but they saw him die; they saw his lifeless body placed in the tomb, and they were finally afforded the opportunity to see him, risen and alive in their midst. Thomas even had an advantage over us- he may have doubted, or more accurately, not-believed what the others told him about Jesus’ visit when he wasn’t there with them, but a week later his faith was confirmed with a face-to-face, personal encounter with the risen Christ, holes in his hands, feet and side still intact!

Sherri’s comment made me think about how we who do not have the privilege that those disciples had, are part of the risen body of Christ in this day and age. We are the ones who are to be going about preaching and doing miracles in the name of Jesus Christ. We are the pierced hands and feet of the risen savior, showing the scars of being beaten and abused by a misunderstanding world, and yet alive to share God’s peace and presence with all. Whether we want to believe it or not, the world looks to us - a broken and yet holy church - to carry out the mission of witnessing to Jesus today. A number of years ago, NBA player Charles Barkley said in a commercial for Nike, “I am not a role model. I am not paid to be a role model. I am paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball, doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” He did have a point – parents should be having conversations with their children about values and goals and disappointments in life. But by his very status as, “celebrity”, Charles and Michael and LeBron and so many other athletes are instantly role models for young people.
In the same way, the church is being watched by people, young and old, to see what we are doing as Jesus’ risen body in the world today. Many times we don’t want that responsibility because when we fail, we are called hypocrites and liars; we seem to be held to a higher standard because we are the church. There are times when that kind of power and responsibility has gone to the heads of leaders of the church, and abuse has occurred. I pray, though, that we can repent and ask forgiveness, so that we can still retain the respect of our society and that our communities look to us positively to see how we live as guides for the whole world. You may be the only Bible people read. You may be the only Jesus people see.

The other thing that Sherri’s statement made me think of was a sermon I preached on the second Sunday of Easter about four years ago. I focused on the question, “What does it mean to you to believe in God?” For many people, the answer to that question takes the shape of church membership and achievements, “I am Lutheran, we like our potlucks and coffee, simil justis et pecator, priesthood of all believers, law and gospel” or, “I am a Methodist, and let me tell you about my theology, history and worship style,” or, “I was baptized as a Mennonite, Episcopalian, Catholic, but I have skipped around churches for a while now.” Many of us, and I am guilty of this as much as anyone, believe that the answer to the question, “What does it mean to you to believe in God?” takes the form of a verbal answer, often a little too long for the average person to pay attention during its course. In fact, when a person wants to know what it means for each of us to believe in God, they are looking for actions. We show to others the presence of the living Christ in our lives by our worship, by our outreach here at Clinton Heights, and by the way we treat those around us, from the closest family to the most remote stranger. Here is what I think it looks like to believe in God – people who voluntarily gather together on a day when they could sleep in, get things done around their house, go and do some kind of leisure activity, or even get extra hours of work in for more income; and the reason we do this is that we are so grateful for the many gifts and blessings that we do not deserve that we gladly sacrifice our time and opportunity to be together to hear, sing, pray, eat and love in Christ’s name.
Here is what it looks like to believe in God – 169 cans and 15 bags of tuna along with 72 boxes of Tuna Helper to provide protein to people whose diet might be lacking because they cannot afford it; and next month it will be stacks of buckets in the narthex which, when they are filled with the right ingredients will be used to help people recover when rising waters damage their homes; it regularly looks like groups of men, women, youth and combinations of them all reading a collection of books called, “The Bible” and discussing and doing activities that help us to know God’s will and direction in our lives; soon it will look like the youth of our congregation singing and acting out some of the things that Jesus did that point us to the power and presence of God.

You may be the only Bible people read. You may be the only Jesus people see. What does it mean to believe in God? It means living our lives like the whole world is looking for the presence of the savior, so that they might witness him in us! Amen.