Easter 7, Year C, 2013

We all know the story.  Brave Paul gets thrown in prison—again—and after hours of prayer and singing an earthquake flings the prison doors open.  Being a responsible sort of person, Paul doesn’t run away.  He sticks around and ushers an astonished guard into the Christian household.

It’s a lovely story, a story about the power of God who unbinds us and sets us free.

There’s only one problem, one small rub.

The girl.

After all, she’s the reason Paul went to prison in the first place.  This young girl, a slave, has a spirit of divination.  She can tell the future, see into people’s souls.  This is not a gift that is natural, some evil spirit has come upon her.  She is doubly bound—both by this evil spirit and because she is a slave.  She does not use her divination skills of her own volition.  She is paraded around by men who profit from her condition.

We read her story, expecting good news.  After all, we have seen Jesus heal so many people: blind men, lepers, the possessed.  He sees them in all their personhood and restores them to themselves.  But Paul isn’t Jesus.  He is a Christian, not Christ.  Paul is on a mission and this girl is bugging him.  She is following him around chanting about how he is a slave to God.  For days she repeats this line over and over again and finally Paul has had it.  He flings around and commands the demon to leave her.  And the demon does.

Paul never interacts with her again.  While she is healed in one sense, this healing has made her worthless to her owners and their discontent is what lands Paul in jail.

We never hear what becomes of the girl.  We don’t know if her owners find other work for her to do, whether they discard her, whether she finds her freedom.  She is healed, but she is not free.  Her circumstances constrict her.

While it may seem that we, with all of our status and wealth and democracy, are the epitome of what it means to be free, in my experience most people are bound by something.  I have a friend who is normally very energetic and positive, but every once in awhile his shoulders would slump, and he would walk around with an extremely grim expression on his mouth.  Eventually  I began to put together a pattern.  His slump always came a day or so before his mother came for a visit.

Mothers are complicated. On this mother’s day, we celebrate the gift of motherhood and the loving sacrifices so many mothers make.  But it is also important to remember that not all mothers have the gift of selfless love.  Many mothers are manipulative, unkind, withholding—all behaviors that can really bind a child.  And some women, who would be delightful, giving mothers are unable to be mothers for a variety of reasons.  Mother’s Day is wonderful, but it can remind us of the ways we are bound.

And of course this isn’t just about mothers.  Men and women both struggle with being truly free.  Mothers and fathers who are unable or choose not to love are often bound up in their own family history or mental illness.  Cycles of dysfunction can go on and on.

And like the slave girl with the spirit of divination, these are circumstances we cannot change.  Our parents are our parents.  No matter how much we plead, we cannot change them.  But, like the slave girl, we can be healed.

I like to think that after Paul so carelessly healed the slave girl, she had an experience of the holy.  I like to think that the Holy Spirit made up for Paul’s lack of interpersonal skills and gave the girl some insight into how loved she is.

I hope that even if she remained a slave, she experienced the internal freedom of belonging to God.

Whatever binds us—whether it is issues stemming from our childhood, or being stuck in a lousy job, or being financially strapped, or being overwhelmed by the commitments of family life—we have choices to make.

We can dull the pain that these constraints give us by drinking, watching tv, shopping, working out, eating. Brene Brown calls this being a “taking the edge off-aholic”.  But these are just temporary pleasures, giving a lift to our endorphins and helping us get through another long evening.

The alternative is painful.  The alternative is to face what binds us, to acknowledge our feelings, to lean in to the pain rather than trying to dull it.  The alternative is to turn to God and ask for God’s healing.  God’s healing, of course, is love.  We can be suspicious of God’s love, especially if we had parents who were not able to show us love in a healthy way.  We can think of God’s love as conditional, as based on our behavior.

We can think of God’s love like Paul’s healing of the slave girl—an afterthought, carelessly administered out of obligation or even irritation.

But that’s not what Jesus showed us, was it?  Jesus loved all sorts of people.  People that were respectable and people who weren’t.  Men, women, old people, young people.  Jesus felt enormous compassion for human beings.  He feels enormous compassion for you.

Dallas Willard, author of the wonderful The Divine Conspiracy died this week.  His whole life mission was to get people to get deeper and deeper with God.  He writes,

We must understand that God does not ‘love’ us without liking us – through gritted teeth – as ‘Christian’ love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core – which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word ‘love’.

This healing love can come from a direct experience with God, but it can also come through God’s church.  We belong to each other.  We are each other’s family.  We are each other’s mothers and brothers, sisters and fathers.  My mother, who was a very loving mother, died of atrial fibrillation suddenly twelve years ago.  While no one can replace her, since then I have received so much mother love from small group leaders, priests, friends, parish administrators, my sister, my father, my husband, my in-laws.  The church stepped in, and loved me.  God loved me, through the church.  As Jesus says in our reading from the Gospel of John today:

Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

This is one of those sloppy sentences in the Gospel of John you have to read three or four times before you get, but maybe sloppy sentences are the best way to describe the love of God and the love of the Church.

The church is more like Paul than Jesus.  We don’t have it all together.  We love really well some days and some days we act out all our pain and frustration on one another.  Love is messy and complicated.  Love involves forgiveness and repentance more often than we’d like to admit.  But Jesus gives us this gift and this charge: to love one another.

And this is my prayer for you—that whatever binds you, you might experience the radical, encompassing love of our God, who created you, redeems you, and loves you more than the very best of mothers.  May you be given the gift, even if only for a moment, of knowing in your soul how deeply you are loved.



Easter Vigil, Year C, 2013

God has a problem.

God made this amazing creation.    He made suns, moons, planets—galaxies full of whirling dust and light.  And in one of those galaxies he made this remarkable planet, this lush place full of water and rich soil and plants that nourish and shade.  He made animals of every color and station, invisible amoebas and awe inspiring whales.  And then he made people.

People are God’s problem.  God made people to love them.  And he does love them.  God loves people so much he allows them to be free in a way animals and plants are not.  But the trouble is, in that freedom, people turn out to be a real mix of wonderful and terrible.  We discover fire. We create art.  We create ideas.  We are the architect of St. Peter’s bacilica and the Declaration of Independence.  We learn to clothe ourselves and provide for our families and love our children the best we can.  But we also lie, cheat, steal.  We find old girlfriends on Facebook and betray our families.  We hoard money instead of caring for the poor.  We invent and use guns that can murder two dozen children in five minutes.  We too often turn our back on God, and our neighbor.  God wants to be in relationship with us, but we reject him.

So God tries everything.  He tries wiping us off the face of the earth with a giant flood and starting over again with Noah’s family.  But people are still wonderful and terrible.  So, God tries choosing one family, Abraham’s family, and makes a covenant with them.  But even that special family is still wonderful and terrible.  So, God sends a list of rules to Moses so we’ll at least know when we are being terrible.  But after we finish oohing and ahhing over the shiny tablets Moses brings down from the mountain, we just go back to being rude to our parents, coveting our neighbor’s cattle, and murdering those who become inconvenient to us.  God tries Judges to rule us.  No dice.  He tries kings.  The kings end up totally abusing their power and taking advantage of God’s people.  So God tries sending prophets.  These prophets really let us have it.  They yell at us to start worshiping God properly and treating other people with care and respect.   They don’t hold back one bit.  Some of us listen to them, but mostly we just feel kind of bad for the prophets since they smell funny and don’t have a lot of friends.  We continue to be wonderful and terrible.

Now, if we were out for a drink with God and heard him tell this story, we might pat God’s hand and say, “Oh my GOODNESS, break up with them already! They are never going to change.  Go get some therapy and find a hobby or something.  They are just not that into you!”

Thankfully, God is not interested in our advice. God is relentless and creative.  God made us and loves us and is going to be in relationship with us even if we are congenitally unable to be faithful to how God wants us to live.

God sends us his Son.  The God of the Universe, who made all those stars and suns and moons willingly takes on muscle and bone and flesh.  He becomes one of us, except he is able to live in a way God intended.  He lives a life of generosity, selflessness, creativity, and love.  He sees people for who they are and speaks to them honestly.  He heals the broken and brings life to the dead.  People start to see that obedience to God isn’t about following a bunch of rules, it is about relationship.  In fact, Jesus flouts some of the rules that clergy created. He always puts people ahead of rules.

This rule breaking freaks out the powers that be.  They can’t stand losing their power.  They can’t stand the idea that God’s authority could rest with someone other than themselves.  And so, Jesus dies.

This might be the end of the story.  This would make sense.  In a world filled with the abuse of children and corruption of governments and hopeless poverty, a dead God seems like the only explanation.

But we know, of course, that Jesus’ death is not the end of the story.  Because God is relentless.  Because God loves us. Because God won’t give up on us, even when we murder him.

God defies the very rules of the Universe that he created and breathes life back into Jesus’ body.  In so doing, he changes everything about our lives, too.  No longer are people sentenced to alienation and death for their terribleness.  Now, humans are judged through the lens of Jesus.  God can relate to us, because Jesus stands between and intercedes for us.  God can be in relationship with us, even if we aren’t perfect.  And we still aren’t.  We are still wonderful and terrible.  But we are forgiven.

We are forgiven not because of anything we’ve done.  We are forgiven because our God would not stop until we could be together. Our God loves us more than is reasonable, more than we can comprehend.

This forgiveness is not just a blank check.  As God forgives us, he draws us closer to himself and starts to form us into the people he intended us to be.  The more we realize our brokenness, and ask for forgiveness, and get forgiven, and get drawn closer to God, the more we live lives of honesty and grace and love.  We realize the greed and lust and corruption are all about fear—fear of not having enough, fear of not being good enough, fear of not being loved.

When we start to believe God’s love for us, we experience our own resurrection.  Finally, all those fears that have ruled our hearts are put to death, and hope and joy are borne from their ashes.

We rise from those ashes and say, Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

Easter Vigil, Year B, 2012

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are grieving.  They are expecting their Jesus, the one they loved, to be in a tomb.  They are going to anoint his body and prepare him for a proper burial.  They are coming because they love him.  They are coming to do right by him.

But Jesus is not there.

The Gospel of Mark does not give us the resurrection we expect.  Jesus is just. . .gone.  There is no celebration.  There are no alleluias.

Jesus is on the loose.

This is, and this should be, terrifying to the women who have come to anoint him.

When a person is nailed to a cross, and pierced with a spear, when his blood flows out of his body, he ought to die.  The rules of physics and biology and logic demand death.

The women who loved Jesus expect death.

And Jesus experienced death.

But not for long.

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark, God has been rewriting the rules.  At Jesus’ baptism, the very heavens tear open, the Holy Spirit descends, and the Father’s voice booms over the crowd, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.”

God the Father announces to the crowd, and to us, that everything about life as a human being is about to change.  God breaks into human history in a new way and reclaims us for his own.

Now, we tried to control that in-breaking.  We followed Jesus and listened to his stories, but as soon as Jesus got a little out of hand, as soon as Jesus began sharing his identity as the Son of God, we turned him over the authorities.

Those authorities helped us control the situation even further by killing Jesus.

But when God decides to reclaim his people, not even death can stop him.

So, Jesus is resurrected.  Jesus is on the loose.

The Gospel of Mark ends right there.

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The author leaves us in tension with this ending in which nothing is resolved.  Jesus is on the loose.  Mary and Mary and Salome are uncomfortable and so are we..

If you remember your Gospel of Mark, you’ll remember there is a long section that comes after this ending.  It’s marked in parentheses because scribes, uncomfortable with the original ending felt the need to tell the rest of the story.  They could not handle Jesus not wrapping up loose ends.  They wanted to pin Jesus down.  They wanted closure.

But there is no closure.

Jesus is on the loose.

We still try to pin Jesus down.  We set aside one day a week to worship him.  We celebrate his birthday in December.  We give him a week in the spring to remember his death and resurrection.  We say that his presence is kept in that tiny bronze box back there with the reserved sacrament.

But Jesus isn’t just in that box.  And Jesus doesn’t wait here in this church for you to come and worship him.

Jesus is on the loose.

Jesus is on the loose in your life.

Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, we were owned by sin and death.  They were our masters and we were forced to do their bidding.  But God defeated sin and death through Jesus’ resurrection and now we belong to God.

You may think you can control Jesus by setting aside Sunday to think about him and going back to your real life the rest of the week, but good luck with that.  The God who created the Universe is reclaiming you.  The God who saved Isaac is reclaiming you.  The God who parted the Red Sea is reclaiming you.  The God who enfleshed the dry bones is reclaiming you.  The God who broke through the heavens, and became a human being is reclaiming you. The God who defeated sin and death is reclaiming you.

Jesus is at loose in your life when you brush your teeth in the morning.  Jesus is at loose in your life when you write your Facebook status or balance your checkbook.  Jesus is at loose in your life when you commute to work, when your boss gives you a dressing down, when you turn on your television at night.  There is no moment in your life that is apart from Jesus and his Father who raised him from the dead.

Think about that for a moment and now tell me that the ending of the Gospel of Mark doesn’t just about sum up your reaction.

Terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The author of the Gospel of Mark gives us a little clue about this mysterious resurrected Jesus to calm our anxiety.  The heavenly messenger at the empty tomb tells the women,

. . .Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Why Galilee?

If you turn to the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, you’ll see that Jesus first arrives on the scene in Galilee.  Mark is pointing us back to the beginning of his Gospel.  The resurrected Jesus is the same Jesus that taught and healed and exorcised demons.  The Jesus that is on the loose in your lives is not some zombie, not some spiritual Santa Claus, spying on you in judgment. He is the Jesus who loved men, women, and children; brought wholeness out of brokenness; and spoke truth to power.  He is the Jesus who loved Peter, even through Peter’s betrayal.  He is the Jesus who loved us so much that he wanted to identify fully with our human experience and was willing to die so we no longer have to.

This is the Jesus who is on the loose, loving us, healing us and bringing us eternal life.

And for that we can heartily say,

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

Easter 5, Year C, 2010

Listen to the sermon here.

Yes, the Peter we read about today in our passage from Acts, is the same impetuous disciple who denied Jesus three times after his death.  In The Acts of the Apostles, we get to see Peter—and the other Apostles—grow up.  Peter begins functioning as the head of the church.

At this time, the church consisted primarily of disciples who found Jesus through the Jewish tradition. In fact, later in the 11th chapter of Acts, the author states the group was not referred to as Christians until a year after the events we read about today.

So, part of being an early follower of Jesus, was living a holy Jewish life.  That meant living faithfully to the Jewish law, including its dietary restrictions and becoming circumcised in order to become part of the community.

Peter has a vision that flies in the face of Peter’s understanding of holiness.  The vision is so shocking that we hear it twice in Acts—the first time when Peter is actually experiencing the vision and then this time when he is recounting his vision to the crowd in Judea.

To us, the vision is not that shocking.  Four footed animals, beast of prey, reptiles, birds—what’s so horrible about a day at the zoo?  But the animals Peter saw were all animals Jewish people were forbidden to eat.  We don’t have those kind of cultural restrictions on food or much else, really, so it can be hard to relate to Peter’s deep feelings of disgust.  But God is telling him in this vision to take up all these horrible, forbidden foods and eat them.  When Peter protests and says “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”  God says to him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Peter is receiving a life changing, world changing message, but he does not understand its full meaning quite yet.

When Peter wakes up from his vision, he gets a visitor, a Gentile named Cornelius.  Cornelius was an Italian Centurion who was a very godly person.  He gave money to charity regularly, he prayed every day, but he was still a Gentile.  Cornelius was instructed in a dream to go meet Peter.  When Cornelius showed up at his door, Peter suddenly fully understood his dream.

While God might be changing some dietary rules, what God really intends to communicate to Peter is that he is changing the rules about who is welcomed into God’s family.  No longer does someone have to be Jewish or become Jewish.  God’s chosen people are no longer members of one particular family, but the whole of humanity.

This is wonderful news, of course, but not to everyone.  The text helpfully points out that the circumcised believers in Judea criticized Jesus and questioned him about why he was spending time with uncircumcised people.  Their complaints echo the Pharisees complaints about Jesus, don’t they?  (If I were a man and had to get circumcised to join a religious tradition, I might be a little irritated with God’s new policy, too!)  When Peter explains God’s new vision for humanity, the circumcised Judeans are stunned into silence.  Even they cannot deny the weight of this good news.

God has been true to his vision—and God’s people now span over every continent, every race, and thousands of different languages.

And in the United States, which has embraced this same kind of pluralism, opening the doors to the stranger has been part of our religious tradition.  We have not always done this well.  Many a church still has the balcony where slaves sat when they were not allowed to sit next to their white masters.  Some churches still resist outsiders, especially if they are of other ethnicities.  But over all, Christians in this country, whether liberal or conservative, tend to believe that Jesus came for all people and that anyone who loves Jesus can become part of the family.

And this core belief is now putting religious leaders in Arizona in a moral bind.  In the immigration law recently passed in Arizona, there are two clauses that have the potential to affect churches.  The first is making it illegal to knowingly transport an illegal immigrant in a car.  The second is making it illegal to knowingly harbor an illegal immigrant.  Neither of these laws is directed at churches, specifically, but religious leaders are wondering if Christians could be prosecuted for driving a youth group that contained an illegal immigrant or whether feeding an illegal immigrant in a soup kitchen violates the law.

In the Unites States we are not often asked to choose between our faith and our country, because we are blessed to live in a country where laws generally support the principles of our faith.

However, when it comes to illegal immigration, Christians are forced to make a choice.  The United States has the right to make and enforce laws about who can and cannot come into this country.  Christians, however, come from a long tradition in which we are obligated to welcome and love the stranger, even if this comes in conflict with the law.

Catholic and Episcopal bishops in Arizona have made it clear that they will continue with soup kitchens and homeless shelters and youth group trips, without checking anyone’s papers.  They are making a choice to follow the Gospel, even if their government is not or cannot.

And we may think we are safely removed from the situation in Arizona, but did you know there are holding pens for detained immigrants right here in New Jersey?  My sister lives in New York and she is part of a ministry based out of Riverside Church that travels to Elizabeth, New Jersey on Saturday mornings to visit with non-criminal immigrants who have come to the United States seeking asylum from various countries.  Individuals are held in warehouses converted into detention centers with no access to the outdoors for months and occasionally years at a time until their cases are heard and decided.  And the warehouse in Elizabeth is only one of many throughout the United States.

Occasionally, my sister receives a jubilant phone call from someone who has been given permission to live in the United States, but more often people disappear and she does not know whether they have been deported or transferred to another facility.

These immigrants are not the ones that make the news.  These are immigrants from Somalia, Tibet, Columbia, Guinea, Senegal, India, Uzbekistan, Guatemala, Sri Lanka.  They are fleeing danger and oppression and seeking freedom in our country.  Instead they are caged.  The people of the Riverside Church have made a commitment to live out the full meaning of Peter’s vision—of seeking out the other, of offering love and humanity to people who have been denied both.

We may think of illegal immigrants as the lowest of the low in this country, but in God’s eyes they are his beloved children.  And if they are his children, that makes them our brothers and sisters.  And I know that to the good people of Trinity Church, I am preaching to the choir.  One of your greatest strengths as a church is the way you welcome the other.  But any of us, especially me, can be lulled into thinking that these kinds of laws and practices don’t have anything to do with our lives.

But God offers us the same challenge he offered Peter and asks us whether we can call profane a people he has made clean.  He asks us if we can accept a reality in which the church includes even those our culture sees as unclean.  He asks us to love our neighbor.


Easter 6, Year B, 2009

Since we are celebrating Youth Sunday at the 11:00 service today, I have been thinking a lot about school.  Specifically, I have been thinking a lot about rules in school.  In school you cannot do anything without getting permission.  There is no eating in class.  No chewing gum in class.  Skirts have to be a certain length.  You have to raise your hand in order to speak.  You cannot be found in a hallway without a hall pass.  For heaven’s sake, you cannot even use the restroom without getting permission!

Frankly, the best thing about being an adult is that you can use the restroom whenever you feel like it.

But, I digress.

Rules can feel arbitrary and annoying, even if you know they are for a greater good.  When we hear any word that sounds like rules-laws, restrictions, regulations-we know that we are about to have our behavior corralled, directed, and controlled.

In today’s Gospel reading from John, when Jesus uses the word commandment to describe how he would like us to behave, we might have that same reaction.  We might start to feel tense, wondering how he is going to restrict our behavior.  After all, we already know about the Ten Commandments, which are pretty restrictive.  We also know about the more than 600 laws in the book of Leviticus.  What new boundary is Jesus going to place on us?

But Jesus’ tone does not feel domineering.  Jesus says he is going to give us this commandment so that we can abide in his love and so our joy may be complete.  Clearly, Jesus has a different understanding of commandment than we do.  For Jesus, the word commandment is a gift, a rule that helps us gain intimacy with God.

And the specific commandment that he reveals in today’s lesson is this:  “to love one another as I have loved you.”

And how does Jesus love us?  He loves all of us, completely, to the point of death, whether we deserve his love or not.  Jesus loves us whether we are mature or irresponsible. Jesus loves us whether we are spiritual or secular.  Jesus loves us whether we are “cool” or “nerds”.  Jesus loves us no matter what our skin color.  Jesus loves us whether we are men or women.  Jesus loves us whether we are gay or straight. Jesus loves us whether we are old or young.

This commandment to love is not just an arbitrary rule.  This commandment is our marching orders.  This commandment is our mission.  This commandment is our deepest calling.

We are called to love everybody.  Period.

And how well are we doing at this job?

I watched a documentary a couple of weeks ago called American Teen that was a look at the lives of five high school students in a high school in Indiana.  One of the students, Meghan, was a typical mean-girl bully.  What was so fascinating about her story is how vulnerable she actually was and how she dealt with anger over a sister’s death and general insecurity about being a teenager by lashing out and making other people miserable.

I wonder what would have happened if she had, at her core, a deep understanding of Jesus’ love for her and the knowledge that her whole mission in life was to love others as she was loved.

Bullying is not just a painful, inevitable part of school.  Occasionally, intense bullying meets a particularly vulnerable child and devastating consequences ensue.  Just last month, eleven year old Jaheem Herrera hung himself after being repeatedly teased and bullied for no reason other than being from the Virgin Islands and being a new student who was an easy target.  Every day at school kids taunted him and called him names.  He sought help from his parents and they sought help from the school, but no one was able to stop the teasing.

I wonder what might have happened, if just a few kids at that school had understood Jesus’ command to we love everyone.  I wonder what would have happened if just a few kids stuck up for Jaheem, surrounded him with support and friendship.  I wonder what would have happened if just a few bystanders had the courage to step up to the bullies.

Loving our neighbors is not just about feeling warm and fuzzy.  Love requires concrete action, such as treating each person you meet with respect.  Love means being patient and kind and helpful.  Love means seeing the good in each person we encounter through the day and treating them like the valuable, created human being they are.

The command to love our neighbors takes great courage. Loving means standing up for those people who cannot stand up for themselves. Loving means risking our own reputations.  Loving means putting ourselves out for another person.  Loving our neighbors means teaching those who are bullied that they are wonderful, strong, beloved children of God who are worth Jesus’ very life.  Loving our neighbors means teaching our bullies that all people are children of God who deserve to be treated with respect.

I have been called by God to love my neighbor.  You, whether you are 8 or 80, have also been called to love your neighbor.  Those of you who are still in school may not be allowed to eat in class or go to the bathroom without getting permission from an adult-but no one can stop you from obeying God’s commandment to love your fellow students.  You have a chance to be heroes by being kind and respectful to everyone in your class and in your school.  You have the chance to be heroes by standing up for kids who are being teased.  If you are a bully, you have a chance to be a hero by apologizing for your behavior and starting over by being kind to your classmates. . . or family. . .or employees.

And when we do live a life of loving our neighbors, we will draw closer and closer to God.  Loving other people helps us to understand how much God loves us.  By loving other people, we will abide in God’s love and experience the deep joy of Christ.  What other rule can do that?


Easter 3, Year B, 2009

I love watching footage of Publisher’s Clearinghouse winners or housewives who get surprised by Oprah’s cameras.  We can watch an entire story playing out across their faces as they are told they have won a million dollars or are about to meet Tom Cruise.  At first they are embarrassed to be caught in their bathrobe.  Next, they are suspicious that they are being scammed.  Then they just stare blankly, usually with their mouths partially open, thinking.  Finally, the news sinks in and they start jumping up and down and screaming like crazy people.

Any life changing news, whether good or bad, takes a while to filter through the human brain.

We celebrate Easter for a full 50 days, representing the time that lapsed between Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. God gave the disciples a nice, long time to absorb the news of the resurrection before throwing the curveball of the Holy Spirit at them.

Our Gospel lesson today is from the Gospel of Luke.  You’ll remember from our time together at Easter that the Gospel of Mark does not contain any post-resurrection appearances, so the creators of the lectionary are borrowing from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke this year.  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus makes two post-resurrection appearances.

First, Jesus appears to two disciples walking along a road to Emmaus.  They don’t recognize him at first, but he says a few elusive things and then breaks bread with them.  In the act of breaking bread, they suddenly realize who he is.

The second appearance-the one we read today-happens when all the disciples are gathered together, discussing the first appearance.

Jesus materializes suddenly, out of nowhere, and the disciples are-here’s that word again-terrified.

Jesus understands their fear, Jesus understands that it takes our small brains time to absorb new information.

Jesus’ response to their fear tells us so much about God and the kind of love and patience that God has for us.  Rather than getting down to the business at hand right away, Jesus gives them time to absorb the experience of being with the risen Jesus.  He invites the disciples to touch him.  He invites the disciples to view his wounds.  He invites the disciples into this intimate moment of connection to reaffirm their bonds and reassure them of his identity.

Throughout all the resurrection appearances, eating is a theme.  The resurrected Jesus almost always eats something within the stories where he appears to the Disciples.  This story is no different.  After giving the disciples a chance to touch his resurrected body, Jesus then eats a piece of fish in front of them.  Eating the fish not only proves that Jesus is no ghost, but must have evoked many memories for the disciples.  So many important moments in Jesus’ ministry happened around food.  When the disciples saw Jesus eat the fish, they must have remembered the final Passover meal together, and the time Jesus fed 5000 people with just fish and bread, and the meal during which Mary poured oil over Jesus head and feet.  The extraordinary resurrected Jesus chooses to do something extremely ordinary to help root his disciples in the reality of the present in a gentle, calming way.

Jesus does not delve into bible study or instruction until all those introductions are out of the way.  Only when the disciples have come to understand that he is, indeed, resurrected from the dead, does Jesus begin to teach them about the implications of his resurrection.  He helps them to understand that their mission is to go out and teach others about repentance and God’s forgiveness of sin.

The church year also gives us time to gently absorb the news of Jesus’ resurrection.  We have all of Lent to focus on repenting and then 50 days of Easter to focus on the fact that our sins are forgiven.

And even with these 50 days of Easter, I don’t know that the good news really ever fully sinks into our hearts and minds.

I wonder what would happen if each of us took the next few weeks of Easter to really think and pray about how the forgiveness of sins affects each of us.  The phrase “forgiveness of sins” has sort of a stern Catholic-school connotation.  We don’t easily jump up and down in joy over the image of a stern God solemnly wiping our slate clean while giving us a one eye-brow raised nod.

But the forgiveness of sins is not about a schoolteacher God judging us and reluctantly changing our grade from an F to an A.  The forgiveness of God is about the gift of an abundant, loving relationship with our Creator. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God forgives us of our sins. Because Jesus mediates between us and the Father, we can be in a close relationship with God. Jesus modeled this kind of intimate relationship that is now available to us through his relationship with his disciples.

Jesus’ relationship with his disciples was marked by breaking bread together, walking together, and teaching.  While Jesus occasionally rebuked or got frustrated with his disciples, his relationship to his disciples could not be characterized as stern or cold.  Jesus loved his disciples and his disciples loved him.  Jesus reaffirms this warm relationship with disciples by continuing to break bread with them after his resurrection.

Experiencing a relationship with God can sometimes feel abstract and frustrating.  God does not literally walk with us or break bread with us.  But, our relationship with God is just that-a relationship.  The relationship is dynamic and intimate, just like Jesus’ relationship to the disciples was dynamic and intimate.  We may not experience God in a palpable manner, as the disciples were able to do, but if we lead lives of prayer we do occasionally get a strong spiritual sense of God’s presence and a very powerful sense of God’s love for us.

Maybe this Eastertide, as we slowly absorb the reality of God’s powerful love for us, we’ll have a moment of insight about just how incredible this intimate relationship with the divine really is and we’ll start  jumping up and down and screaming like one of those Publisher’s Clearinghouse winners!

Even for us staid Episcopalians, that would be an appropriate response to the Good News of God’s love for us!


Easter, Year B, 2009

Today is the most celebrated, exciting day of the Church year.  Easter represents the core of what makes Christianity unique.  The resurrection of Christ offers endless possibilities for our own redemption and our own new lives with God.  The resurrection is all about experiencing unbridled hope and joy where there was no room for either.

So, why then won’t Salome and the two Marys get on board with the program!?

In every other Gospel account of Jesus’ resurrection, the women who find the empty tomb are terrified, but they dutifully trot off to tell the male disciples the news.  In the original ending to Mark’s Gospel however, the women are so freaked out by everything that has happened that they run away and tell no one.

This ending of Mark is completely unsatisfying!  This ending is abrupt and unresolved.  We are left not with an image of a victorious, risen Lord, but with three shaken women, who cannot integrate this good news into their lives.

This ending reminds me of the ending of Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film version of Beauty and the Beast.  At the very end, when the Beast morphs back into the prince he had been before his curse, instead of looking thrilled, Beauty looks disappointed.  Cocteau refuses to deliver us the neatly wrapped up ending we want.  David Chase did the same thing when he ended The Sopranos so abruptly, in the middle of a scene.

While neither the ending of Beauty and the Beast nor The Sopranos was completely satisfying, in retrospect, both are considered pretty brilliant, poetic endings.

Real life does not deliver neat endings, wrapped up with a satisfying bow.  Real life is complicated and messy.  Real life does not have endings the way a piece of literature does.

So, I would argue that this ending of The Gospel of Mark is a brilliant piece of writing that acknowledges the messiness of real life and intentionally leaves us in tension.

By leaving us in tension, Mark drives two points home.  First, Easter Sunday cannot be celebrated independently from Good Friday.  Second, God does not need humans to get their ducks in a row before he acts.  The resurrection happened whether the women at the tomb were ready or not.

Easter Sunday is a wonderful, celebratory day, but it cannot happen without Judas’ treachery, the insecurity of Pilate, and the murderous crowds.  The resurrection cannot happen without Jesus’ painful death, and Jesus’ abandonment by all of his closest male friends.  The Good News does not come without the terrible news of the death of God and the abandonment of hope.  The resurrection is redemptive, yes, but not even the resurrection cannot erase the horror that came before.

And this is like life, too, isn’t it?

People have rich second marriages after the death of a loved spouse or a difficult divorce.  Some go on to have children after miscarriages or still births.  There are those who start a new, exciting job after being suddenly laid off from a previous one.

Our lives go on after painful events, but we don’t ever forget those tragedies.  We don’t forget the way grief shaped us.  We don’t forget the people who are no longer with us or who might have been.  We don’t forget feelings of rejection and shame.

Instead of ignoring the past, we integrate the past into who we are.  We are not thankful for bad experiences, but we do acknowledge how they shaped us and made us more complicated, sometimes better, people.

Those painful experiences help us treasure the good in life even more-help us to feel in our guts how lucky we are to be loved, to be safe, to be employed, to have friends.

In the same way Mark’s Gospel, by not prettying up the resurrection, helps us to feel the power of the resurrection in our guts.  Jesus was dead.  Dead, dead.  He was not sleeping.  He was not impatiently waiting in the tomb to jump out and surprise everyone.  Jesus had died.  And so, when Salome and the Marys find the empty tomb, of course they are terrified.  Dead people are supposed to stay dead.  As much as I miss my mother, who died nine years ago, if I suddenly visited her grave and found it was empty, I would be completely unsettled and afraid.  The women who come to minister to Jesus’ body will one day see Jesus’ resurrected body and be comforted and amazed and astonished, but for now they are just scared.  So they run.

And this leads me to my second point-Jesus does not need the women to have an enthused reaction.  He does not need Peter to stay loyal to him.  Jesus does not need to have all of his disciples sitting vigil for him.  God does all the work of the resurrection.  The resurrection is for the redemption of humanity, but God does not need humanity to make the resurrection happen.

Jesus’ resurrection happens despite the fear of the people who had been close to him. In the same way, God takes initiative with us.  God pursues us, loves us, forgives us even when we are afraid, freaked out, and incompetent.

There are those who truly believe that in order to be a Christian you have to meet a long list of requirements-including holding very specific theological and political beliefs.  But, I guarantee you that Mary, Mary and Salome had no deep theological understanding of the empty tomb. I also guarantee you that Jesus did not hold their reaction against them!

Jesus’ resurrection is good news for all of us.  Jesus’ resurrection is for us when we are filled with faith and when we are filled with doubt.  Jesus’ resurrection is for us when we are able to live how we want to live and when we disappoint others and ourselves.  Jesus’ resurrection is for when we are feeling blessed and when we are feeling forsaken.

Jesus’ resurrection and the new life it offers us is all about God’s overwhelming, powerful, all encompassing love for us, not about how good or deserving we are.  Jesus tells us that the entire motivation behind God becoming incarnate in Jesus is that love.  God wanted to find a way to be in full relationship with us. Since we are unable to live a perfect life, he chose to do all the work for us, to become like one of us, die like one of us, but then break the power of death over us, so that we might be in relationship with God forever.

And whether this news makes us shout for joy or makes us want to run away in fear, God still loves us and invites us to relationship with him.  And that is Good News.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Seventh Sunday in Easter, Year A, 2008

Matt and I got our dog Henry from the Augusta SPCA in December.  He was a pitiful little thing when we got him, very sick and very shaken by whatever had happened to him.  He’s fairly healthy now, and very sweet and more or less adjusted, despite a tendency to eat dirty Kleenex and dead frogs.  Despite his good health, I just hate leaving him when we go out of town.  I am never sure how he is going to react when we go.  When we left at Christmas, even with a dog sitter present, he tore up the Christmas tree and a piece of baseboard.  When we left on our last trip in April, he ate a healthy portion of a new book Matt had bought.  When we leave the dog, I am concerned about him on many levels.  First, what if he harms himself? Secondly, what if he destroys our house?  and finally, what if who ever is watching him never speaks to us again?

Leaving loved ones is hard.  While it is stressful to leave a dog behind, it can be heartbreaking to leave people behind, especially if you know you will not see them again.  Letting go is hard.

This is exactly where we find Jesus in our Gospel reading today.

Our Gospel reading takes place during the last supper.  Jesus has just made a long speech to his disciples and now he is offering a prayer on their behalf.  He knows he only has days to live and that during his death, and before his resurrection, he will not be able to contact his disciples in any way.  He will not be able to reassure them, to explain what is happening.  He will not be able to inspire them with his words or calm them with his presence.  And so, Jesus does the only thing he can do.  He prays to his Father.

Jesus prays that he would be glorified.  We think of glory in terms of praise and adulation, but that is not what Jesus means.  When Jesus asks to be glorified, he asks to be restored to the state he was before he was human.  After all, in the beginning of the Gospel of John, John reminds us that Jesus was the Word who was with God before the creation of the world.  Jesus’ prayer jolts us into remembering that Jesus was not just a really, really nice person, he was GOD incarnate.

Jesus does not want to be glorified back to his old self for his own benefit.  He wants to be glorified so his followers can experience eternal life.  And again, Jesus describes eternal life as something different from what we might expect.  We think of eternal life as something linear.  We think eternal life means having an infinite number of days before us, stretched out into the future.  However, Jesus does not describe eternal life in that way.  Jesus describes eternal life as knowing God.  What Jesus wants for his followers in his absence is for them to have a deep, knowing, loving relationship with his Father.

In the second part of the prayer, Jesus describes this beautiful and reciprocal relationship he has with the Father.  Among other things, he says, “the word that you gave to me, I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you.”  Jesus sees himself here as an intermediary between his Father and the people that his father loves.  This prayer reveals an intimacy about the way Jesus and the Father communicate, and what is even more astonishing-that they want to invite us, their followers, into their intimacy.

Saying goodbye to those you love is never easy.  Jesus was not worried about his followers chewing on old Kleenexes or wrecking a house because of their anxiety.  He was probably worried about Peter’s faith-and whether he would be up to the task of leading the Church.  Jesus was probably troubled because he knew that Judas’s act of betrayal would destroy Judas as much as it would destroy Jesus.  Jesus probably grieved the thought of his beloved community being splintered into pieces after they had all gotten to know each other so well.  Maybe he was afraid some of his followers would lose their faith in him and be deeply disappointed.

What Jesus wanted for his followers after his death was for them to be enveloped in the love of his Father.  He wanted his death and resurrection to unite his followers and for them to experience God’s love in a new way.  But even Jesus could not control what happened to his friends.  Even Jesus had to let go and turn to God and offer his loved ones to God.

So, who do we think we are to hold onto people, to control people, to protect people when even Jesus knew it was not his role!  We all have someone in our lives who we just wished made better decisions.  We all have a child who is too distant from us, or a friend who keeps dating horrible people, or a boss we can see making stupid decisions for our company, or a spouse who can’t seem to learn to pick up his socks, or a loved one that struggles with addiction.  Of course we are called to care for them, but we must not forget that ultimately we have no power over them.  Ultimately, the welfare of another person is not in our control and the best thing we can do, is to follow Jesus’ example and turn our loved ones over to God.

Remember, God wants to invite each of us into a loving, reciprocal relationship with the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  God longs to know and be known to each of us and everyone we love.  It is in that loving relationship where we experience forgiveness, healing and all the things that make us better people.  When we pray for our loved ones who are struggling, we hand them over to the One who made them and loves them even more than we do.  When we pray we are reminded that we are not alone, but we are in relationship with a God who has been in our position, who has loved a group of people and been afraid of what would happen if he were not there to lead them.

This very Jesus, after being incarnate, after being enfleshed, died, became glorified and resumed his pre-embodied state of being all so we could know God better, so that we could freely pray and beseech God and feel God’s presence without the help of any intermediaries.  This is a God we can trust with our loved ones, even my dog Henry.  This is a God who will help us let go.

Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year A, 2008

Have you all seen the ATT commercial with Sven?  Sven is a giant blonde Swede. We first meet Sven as he is sitting squarely between a sleeping married couple.  As they wake up, Sven tells them that the wife’s stocks are up, and the husband’s stocks are down. He tells the husband about all his emails as the husband walks to the bathroom. Sven then wakes the daughter and reminds her she has kung fu at 2:00.  Then, as the family has breakfast, he takes out a flip chart and makes sure everyone knows the day’s schedule.  At the end of the commercial, he greets everyone at the front door with giant wool sweaters as he tells them to bundle up because of the cold outside.  The products ATT are selling are their smart phones, but I am left wanting not a phone, but a Sven!

How great would it be to have a chirpy, efficient, tall Swede guide me through my day? Sven would make sure I ate a nutritious breakfast, remembered to do the laundry, wore the appropriate clothes for every occasion.  When I got distracted on Facebook, he would gently but firmly remind me the importance of finishing my sermon in a timely manner.  He would make sure I worked on my quilt instead of watching another episode of Jeopardy.  If I had a Sven in my life I would be more productive, more efficient, more in shape.  (Sigh.)  I want a Sven!

But, I don’t have a Sven.  My phone is not even smart-the only thing it can do is. . .make phone calls. It’s amazing that I remember to show up for church, really.

Sometimes, when I think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, I’d like him to be a little more like Sven.

I’d like the Good Shepherd to guide this little sheep around and make her more efficient, more effective, more focused.

But it turns out, the Good Shepherd is not a self-help guru.  The Good Shepherd is not Tony Robbins, Dr. Phil, or Stephen Covey.  If we follow the Good Shepherd, we won’t learn a new system for organizing our desks, or an exercise plan that will help us have rock hard abs, or a method to raise our children as productive members of society.

After all, sheep don’t have existential crises or schedules that need to be organized.

Sheep just are.  They eat, they sleep, they follow.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds heavenly to me!

I, like many of you, I’m sure, have a serious case of wanna-be-shepherd-itis.  Wanna-be-shepherd-itis is a terrible condition in which you forget you are a sheep and try to be a shepherd instead.  Instead of peacefully following the shepherd, the sheep tries to take over.

Let me describe to you how this goes terribly, terribly wrong:

My preparations for Chuck’s sabbatical have not been the most calm, centered and spiritual exercises.  Instead of quietly saying my prayers and waiting to see what God would have me to each day, I propelled myself into quite a tizzy.  I cleaned off my desk and filed a year’s worth of paperwork.  I made a giant list of all the tasks I need to accomplish, For some reason, I even insisted on frantically deep cleaning my refrigerator at home and organizing the spice rack, as if having expired tins of cloves and moldy leftovers hanging around might seriously affect the quality of my work this summer.

As I wound myself more and more tightly, the circumference of my anxiety widened and soon had nothing to do with the sabbatical!

Luckily, Matt pulled me from the brink and reminded me gently that I was worrying about things over which I had no control.  Matt reminded me that I am not the shepherd of my future.

What a relief!  In that moment I was able to take a deep breath and take my rightful place as a sheep.  When Jesus reminds us that we are sheep, he tells us that our job is to be responsible for the present.  We don’t need to worry about what has happened in the past, we don’t need to worry about what will happen in the future.  Our job as sheep is to learn our Shepherd’s voice and then be quiet enough to identify that voice among the throngs of voices we hear every day.

And we are inundated with voices, aren’t we?  One of the byproducts of our marvelous technology is that it multiplies exponentially the voices we hear.  Two hundred years ago, you heard the voices of your family, friends, colleagues, newspapers and books.  Then the radio was added, next television, then cable television, and finally the internet.  Now we can have access to almost any voice we want.  Even the soothing voice of Sven the Swedish home organizer.

Jesus refers to thieves and bandits presenting themselves as false shepherds.  At the time, he was probably speaking about the Pharisees or false messianic leaders who came before him.  I think, though, if we look hard enough we can find plenty of thieves and bandits in our own day.  Whether religious, political, or media leaders, there are plenty of people who would happily lead us by the nose, pumping us full of false information. Thankfully, none of these voices are our true Shepherd.  Thankfully, our Shepherd is a Good Shepherd who is full of truth, and honor, and love.

Distinguishing the Shepherd’s voice from the cacophony we hear every day is not easy, but it is worth the challenge.  Listening to that voice is not only the right thing to do, it is also in our best interest.  Remember-the Good Shepherd is not a self-help guru.  The Good Shepherd is not going to help us frantically do anything.  Instead, the Good Shepherd will help us to be-to be still-to know ourselves and to know him.

Our Shepherd longs to guide us to lush green fields, abundant with life’s blessings.  Our Shepherd is armed with a rod to protect us from harm and a staff to gather us when we go astray.    Our Shepherd wants only what is good for us, unlike so many of the voices we hear!

No matter what madness is happening around us, the Shepherd will lead us to a quiet place inside ourselves where we can feel safe and secure and loved.

No other voice, no one else, not even Sven, can lead us there.

Second Sunday in Easter, Year A, 2008

When I went through the ordination process, one of the first steps was to have several meetings of a discernment committee at my parish.  My discernment committee at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Richmond was filled with a wonderful variety of parishioners who asked me all sorts of good questions.  Mary Horton, a fabulous woman who single handedly inspired me about the beauty of pointy toed shoes, asked me, “Do you believe in resurrection?”  Now, I was thinking about human death, since my mother had just died, and I told them that I honestly did not know.  There was a long, awkward pause, and all of a sudden I realized she meant JESUS’ resurrection.  I quickly blurted out, “Yes!  Yes!  I believe in Jesus’ resurrection, I’m just not sure if the rest of us have the same kind of bodily resurrection!”

Phew.  I might not be here today if I hadn’t interpreted that long pause correctly!

I wonder if Thomas was met with the same awkward silence when he just could not believe the other disciples had seen the risen Jesus.

You can just imagine Thomas coming back into the locked room, completely innocent of what had just happened.  Maybe he went out to check on a family member, or to grab some lunch.  Maybe he just needed a break from the doom and gloom and wanted some fresh air.  Regardless of why he left, he was the only disciple not to see Jesus for himself.  He came back to the room and everyone was babbling excitedly about seeing Jesus.

Of COURSE Thomas was incredulous.  There are certain things you don’t expect in life-for, example, snipers shooting at cars right here in Greenwood.  Thankfully the thing Thomas was not expecting was not bad news-he had already heard the bad news of Jesus’ death-but really, truly wonderful news.

Thomas was a skeptic.  Thomas wanted more information.  Thomas wanted to see for himself.  He tells his friends that he wants to “see the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands, and put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in his side”.  Thomas wants evidence and sensory proof that what the disciples saw was actually the resurrected Jesus. Thomas is not comfortable with the certainty that his friends are experiencing.

Thomas could be the patron saint of the Episcopal Church.
One of the reasons I joined the Episcopal Church is that it welcomes all of us Thomases and all the questions we have. I used to be part of a church community that would tilt its head and tell you, “We’re praying for you.” if you asked too many questions.  Questions were a sign that your faith was wavering, in danger.  To them, real faith looked like an iron clad suit-inflexible and dogmatic. 

John Polkinghorne, the English priest and physicist reminds us that truth is not the same thing as certainty.

Many people confuse the two, but truth is a much broader idea than certainty.

When Thomas finally sees Jesus, Jesus invites Thomas to put his hands in Jesus’ side.  After all his big talk, Thomas cannot bring himself to touch his Lord. Suddenly, Thomas no longer needs the certainty of concrete evidence.  He has a personal encounter with a loving, resurrected Jesus and no longer needs proof of Jesus’ resurrection.

The truth of Jesus, and our relationship with Jesus is much more complicated, and much more beautiful than simple certainty.

If we become absolutely certain about who Jesus is and what God is like, then we close ourselves off to the power of the Holy Spirit to teach us something new.

Our minds are very small.  Even here, in intellectual Charlottesville, our minds cannot begin to grasp the complexity of the living God.  All of our rumination and theology is nothing more than an educated guess, really. 

We like to be organized, so we come up with books and books of theology and all try to agree on exactly what the Bible means, but even the Bible is a complex and multi-layered text.  The Bible is for exploration, not classification.  The Bible is an adventure, not a set of rules.

Being too certain can lead to a limited experience of God.  Being too certain can cut us off from people different from ourselves.  Being too certain can lead to ugly talk, accusations, and even violence.  Being too certain can even lead to personal collapse.

Once I got past the point of just giggling about the whole Elliot Spitzer debacle, I began to get really fascinated at what motivated him to act out the way he did.  For that matter, what made Ted Haggard behave the way he did?  Or any moral leader who has a moral meltdown?  What men like these have in common is an intense and narrow perspective on the world to which they are professionally obligated to adhere.  They built their reputation on moral certainty that left no room for them to explore their own deep thoughts and feelings in a safe and open manner.  They ended up compartmentalizing themselves into irresolvable pieces and that loose construction eventually collapsed in spectacular and humiliating ways. 

If Spitzer and Haggard had been in tune with the complicated truth of who they were and who God is, rather than being so certain of a set of mores for those under their care, they may have spared themselves the humiliation of sexual and financial indiscretions that later came to light.

Asking questions, even taboo questions, about ourselves and about God is one of the healthiest, most faithful acts we can do as Christians.  Thomas teaches us that we are allowed to ask whether God is real, whether the resurrection is real, whether the virgin birth is real.  We are allowed to doubt.

Faith would not be faith without doubt.  Inherently, faith is about taking a risk, taking a chance.  Over our life, our faith will ebb and flow.  There will be Sundays where we can say the Nicene Creed with confidence and other Sundays where we might need to skip a part or just listen to our brothers and sisters recite it.  In the Episcopal Church, unlike most churches, to join you do not need to sign a statement of belief.  You do not have to sign off on specific theological points or agree to a proscribed set of ideas.  In the Episcopal Church we believe faith is expressed by coming together and worshipping, by the act of loving God, rather than the act of believing facts about God. 

We can no longer put our hands in Jesus’ wounds, but we can encounter him at the Eucharist.  The physical contact and assurance Thomas, and we, long for can still be met as we kneel before him and accept his body and blood in the form of bread and wine.  The intimacy that Thomas shared with Jesus, the gift of being in Jesus’ presence is still offered to us. 

And when we come to share that intimacy in the Eucharist, we don’t need to have all our ducks in a row.  We can come confused about God, confused about ourselves.  We can come with robust faith or whimpering faith and Jesus will still meet us and open his arms to us.

Thanks be to God.