Sermon Delivered April 15, 2012 – Easter (2B)Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
“Question Everything” read the bumper sticker on a friend’s car in seminary. It was right next to another that read, “Eve Was Framed.” That was my first introduction to what they call bumper sticker theology over at C.U.P.S. I decided to go and get my own immediately, but it was some time until I found an appropriate expression. Finally I happened upon a bumper sticker that said, “Denial Is Not A River In Egypt.”
My beat up truck with its snarky statement generated a lot of laughs, but it never approached the severity of a statement like “Question Everything.” At first I thought the idea of questioning everything was cool and rebellious, but later I realized that the demand of such a statement was much higher than I wanted it to be.
Question everything - really? I thought for sure this must be some kind of nouveaux hippy kind of thing. Yeah - question those who are in power, because power corrupts. Question the expectations of society that are based on materialism and greed. Question organized religion that is filled with ritual and devoid of spirituality. Question those who have more than they need when there are others who do not have enough.
Or maybe it was an existentialist and post modern statement. You know - any perspective is valid and good, and all questions lead to a greater understanding of the whole. Question everything so that you can get a sense of the values of the other person. Question even your own understanding of things in order to understand the essence of ideas and other things.
The thing is - I’ll never know what she meant by it. I never asked her. The command itself - Question Everything - has been attributed to, or at least influenced, contemporary and historical figures ranging from Ernest Gaines to Karl Marx to Thomas Jefferson, but it probably originated with the Greek playwright, Euripides, who wrote, “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.”
Evaluate. Discern. Remember that your way of understanding is not the only way of understanding. The idea of questioning everything forces me to realize that everything is up for grabs. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but there is nothing that exists that will remain as it is. Life is dynamic, fragile, and brilliant!
I think that is why we have such a tendency toward nostalgia sometimes. We look to those shining moments where it seems like everything worked, or we push ahead - grasping for the Holy Grail of unity and perfection. You can hear both of these in the Psalm today. “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron...”
Stories of the unity of the infant church in Jerusalem are much the same. I often hear non-denominational leaders talk about returning to the practices of the First Century Church, but I never hear them acknowledge how much it looks like socialism - or the fact that the First Century Church was more like a bunch of dispersed communities than an organized social institution.
Then there is Thomas. Oh, how we love to tell the story of Thomas - the doubting one. Sometimes we tell his story to demonstrate how great we are for believing in Jesus sight unseen. Sometimes we tell his story to remind us that it is OK to question God’s active presence. Rarely do we tell his story because we find motivation and encouragement through this unbelieving skeptic of a man, but that is actually why I like to tell his story!
In the past I have found myself defending him - even admiring him - but lately I think he simply illustrates what I have come to know. The thing he illustrates is that sometimes I am too limited to experience Jesus as a symbol and a metaphor. Sometimes creedal statements and correct doctrine leave me feeling a little left out - like those who are entirely satisfied by them know something I do not.
The thing is, I don’t think I can fully understand God without the experience of God. Statements and prayers, poems and songs - these are all expressions of an experience of the resurrected Jesus, but without the experience of Jesus they are just pretty words. So, how do we experience Jesus? How do we place our finger in his wounds and press our hand upon his side?
Well, for one, it seems to me that our texts all point to the idea of being gathered with other believers. Within that gathered community, it seems confession is pretty important. Thomas confessed his limitations. 1 John reminds that if we confess God will forgive, and that is the gift of grace we have through Jesus!
Still, that all seems pretty head oriented and not very physical. Although we certainly need to consider our need from within and be still to know of God’s presence, the places where I believe I have encountered God most clearly have routinely been in service to someone in need. Most people think of that in terms of doing something good for someone because the do-gooder represents God. That’s not really what I am talking about.
I am talking about reaching out to someone else who is in pain because it is in that space that I find Jesus most present. In the vulnerability of reaching out and touching someone who is hurting I realize that God is present. And so when Thomas says, “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,” it encourages me to believe that it was not just his disbelief but also his understanding - maybe even his calling - to connect with the suffering of Jesus. And Jesus - the resurrected Jesus - is wounded. Thomas is not simply being selfish, he is acknowledging the part of our souls that cries out, “Let the things that break the heart of God break my heart, too.”
Think of your deepest relationships. Are they only filled with joy or is there a shared experience of sorrow that binds you like nothing else can? That is the connection that Jesus offers us through the difficulties of life. In connecting with the suffering of others we become connected with the suffering of Jesus. And connecting with the suffering of Jesus means that our pain, our suffering, and our sense of loss are not only touched by Jesus but they are swept up by him into the light of the resurrection. The scars of the past and the pain of the present no longer hold any power over us, and the future holds nothing but promise. Seeking out those who are hurting is not simply an opportunity to play “Super Christian”; it is a means to connect with the active presence of God in the here and now.
This congregation is no stranger to these ideas, and we have a long history of activity and generosity in support of the wounded who might be as Christ to us. Yet, I have the sense that some do not believe that we can still do that type of thing very well. Personally, I think that service opportunities are vital to our experience of God. Certainly there are those who cannot do what they used to do, but that does not mean that something similar cannot be done.
In fact, just last Thursday I met with the Rev. Anne Sutton of Northwood United Methodist. She told me that there are still several hundred homes with serious needs following the floods in Carencro. Anything from work crews to food for volunteers to financial support is still needed.
You know, interestingly enough, Anne told me that there are basically two categories of folks that have been affected by that flood. There are those who own homes and have insurance and there are those who rent or just can’t afford the additional flood policy. It seems the later are still shell shocked, and some of them just don’t even know where to start. There are emergency groups working with the more extreme cases, but the majority is simply overwhelmed. They are awaiting resurrection. They are waiting for someone to recognize Christ in them. They are waiting for someone to become as Christ for them. Can we do something? Can we send a team or some sandwiches? Can we offer the presence of Christ? Can we see them as the presence of Christ for us?
Sometimes the wounds of another are more than we can bear. Sometimes there is suffering that we cannot alleviate. And that’s OK. Placing our hope in the resurrection does not mean that everything will be perfect. In fact it pretty well assures us that everything will not be. Placing our hope in the resurrection means that we can experience the presence of God even in the midst of brokenness, for in Christ God became limited so that we might learn to let go of our limitations.
Placing our hope in the resurrection means that we, like Thomas, are willing to question everything that does not seem to offer an experience of God. In fact, that is the very question we must ask of everything, “How does this offer an experience of God?” My expectation is that you will find - if not immediately then in retrospect - that God has somehow snuck in.
For God is always present in our common unity. God is always present in our doubt and pain. And God is always present in our desire to experience the holy space of vulnerability where we find that God is at work bringing light into the darkness of our otherwise unquestionably safe and secure lives.
We are a people of the resurrection, and that means that we are called to experience the risen Christ here and now - even as we will there and then. And to God be the glory for that - now and always. Amen!