Category Archives: Theology & Culture

This is not the end of the story

Mark 6:14-29

…Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
(Read the whole passage)

They came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. 

Familiar isn’t it?

We have heard that story before. We heard it just in April… Jesus died on the cross, and one of his disciples Joseph of Aramathea came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Except today, it is not Jesus but John the Baptizer. It is not crucifixion but beheading. It is not Pilate but Herod. And John will be not raised from the dead in three days. 

This story comes in the middle of Mark’s gospel. A brief departure from the things we have been hearing about, from the parables, healings, exorcisms and miracles. We stop for a moment to hear a dark and disturbing, story. Political intrigue – a King who lives lavishly, takes what he wants, and yet is perplexed by the preaching of a wilderness prophet and hermit. Pride and incest – A queen who will not stand to be shamed for leaving her husband for his brother, the King, and especially not by this lowly Hebrew religious hermit and religious nut. Murder — A young girl who is used by her parents as a pawn in a political game. A prophet is murdered so that a drunken tyrant can save face. 

No happy ending. No drama to come. Simply power, greed, lust, and pride getting what they all want. Mark doesn’t leave out any of the dirty details. This is not a feel good story. This is too much like real life, too much like the world around us. This is not enough like a Hollywood feel good ending and too much like a bad night for news.

John the Baptist, the wild Advent preacher of the Messiah’s coming to make paths straight has an ignominious end of to life… a public execution simply to satisfy the political and prideful wrangling of the ruling elite. And then his disciples come and take away his body… and thats it. 

Sometimes the story just doesn’t end well. Sometimes life doesn’t figure itself out. Sometimes there is no happy Hollywood ending. 

This strange story, today, sets itself apart from the rest of the Mark’s gospel. It feels like it doesn’t’ fit. It is selfish motivations and actions, pure and simple. And yet, it can feel so familiar. It is the story of the world at its’ worst. It is our story at our worst. We don’t need to have the drunken parties, the incestuous relationships, the desire to show power and control, or pointless death to know what it feels like. This story of Herod, Herodias, Salome and John is just as much about us. It is the story of the dirty details of life. The story of broken families and marriages, the story of job loss and bankruptcy, the story of political games and corruption, the story of money and greed, the story of poverty and powerlessness, the story of disease and illness, the story of grief and death.  

And it is missing something… or rather it is missing someone. Someone who is hinted at at best and completely absent at worst. 

This is the only part of the Gospel of Mark where Jesus isn’t front and centre… in fact, Jesus isn’t in the story at all. It makes us wonder why Mark would include this terrible event, why tell us the details? Why lay out the whole thing for us?

This story is there because it is not the end. 

Not the end of Jesus’ story. 

Not the end of our story.  

If these dirty details was all there was to story, we wouldn’t need to hear about victory of evil and sin because we live it all too often. We hear about it on the news too much. We know that this happens in the world. 

But Mark has chosen to tell us this story. To boldly include all the dirty details of power, control, pride, lust, greed and evil. Mark has chosen to include this in the story of Jesus. To include the dirty details in the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

They came and took his body and laid it in a tomb is not the end of the story of God. And it is not the end of our story. It is not the end of our stories of suffering and sin, of evil and death. God includes all our dirty details. Includes them in the story of Jesus born in flesh. Included in the story of God’s great love for us. And they are not only included, but as our stories become God’s, God’s story becomes ours. God makes the ending that we know, the empty tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the news of the risen Christ, God makes this the new ending of our stories. God makes us the new end, the new point, the new purpose of God’s love.

The Good News of Christ is that in the midst of all the evil, all the sin, all the death that exists in our world, in our lives, in relationships, in our stories, God is joining our story, our world, our lives. God joins us by coming in flesh and dwelling among us. God joins us to the Body of Christ. The dirty details, they are not what make the story any more. Rather the new plot twist, the surprising new reality is New Life. New Life in Christ, New life in the ongoing story of God. 

Sometimes life just seems full of the dirty details. Sometimes Jesus is nowhere to be seen. Sometimes all there is pointless evil, rampant sin, and needless death. 

And sometimes when our stories feel too terrible to be anything like God’s, God reminds us that we haven’t reached the end yet. There are still chapters to be written, still details to be added. God reminds us that in Christ, that because of Christ, there is only one ending possible to our story. 

God reminds us today, that our ending is life and our ending belongs to God. 

Amen. 

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Jesus could do no deeds of power…

Mark 6:1-13

 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Read the whole passage)

 

The Gospel of Mark has not been easy on us the past few weeks. In fact, as we explored the parables and teachings and experiences of Jesus, we discover that Mark is not easy on us at all. As Jesus preached about Satan’s House being undivided, we were reminded that our houses, that our communities cannot avoid being divided. We heard of God the radical gardener who plants the weed like mustard shrub in the garden, knowing that it will take over everything and grow out of control, and that this what the kingdom of God is like. We watched as Jesus calmed the storm, but in the process terrified the disciples and us, causing them to question who really is this Jesus. Last week, we saw Jesus break boundaries and rules, in order to bring God’s love near to us. We saw the way in which Jesus creates a new community among us and how uncomfortable this makes as we are stripped of the ways in which we like to be in control. Mark has held up a mirror, and it has shown us a reflection that we don’t always like to see. 

Today is no different. 

As we hear about Jesus preaching in his hometown following by the sending out of his disciples, it would be easy to focus on the instructions that Jesus gives. To preach to those who will listen, and to move on from those who won’t. If only ministry was that simple, work those who like you – ignore those who don’t. 

Focusing on those instructions of Jesus to his disciples is the easy way of bypassing the part of today’s reading that really makes us uncomfortable, that really makes us squirm. 

And he could do no deed of power there. 

What?!?!

Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth on his preaching tour. Jesus goes back to the place where he is well known, and his reception is a little frosty. Those of us who have left home and then come back, know the feeling. No matter how long we have been away, no matter how much we see and experience, no matter how much success we achieve, once we come home, we become what we were before. Mary’s son. The child of that family. The sibling of this person. The relative of those folks. The carpenter, the class clown, the paperboy, the nerd, the high school star athlete.  

Jesus comes home and no one can see more than the little boy, that young man who lived in their community and had a very certain place among them. A place that didn’t include being a prophet or teaching the word of God. For the people of Nazareth, Jesus was not going to come home and preach to them. They could not let go of the image of the boy who grew up in their community and was just another common man, they could not consider that Jesus just might be preaching something worth hearing. 

And because of Nazareth’s refusal to hear, we become uncomfortable with the results. As much they could not see a prophet preaching in their midst, we get squeamish with the idea of a God who can do no deeds of power. 

(Pause)

The TV series, the Walking Dead, portrays a post-apocalyptic world. A world where a plague has wiped out most of humanity and turned people into re-animated corpses bent on consuming the living. The world is full of zombies. The show focuses on a small group of people struggling to survive in this nightmarish world. 

The main character, Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes, leads a group of friends and family through this world trying to simply survive each day. The stress of finding food, weapons ,fuel and safety takes its toll. As disaster after disaster strikes the group, Rick finally finds himself standing in a vacant church, standing before a large crucifix, and feeling at the end of his rope. Despite himself, he offers up this prayer:

“I am not a religious man, I have had faith in other things, my job, my friends, my family mostly. But the thing is, we need… I could use a little something to help us keep going. Some kind of acknowledgment, some kind of indication I am doing the right thing. Just a little sign. Any sign i’ll do.” 

(Pause) 

In our world with such a complicated relationship with power, we get the struggle that Jesus encounters. He hasn’t come to conquer or destroy. He has come to preach the good news… and if people don’t want to hear it, what power does he have over them to compel them?

Power comes in so many different shapes and forms in our world, and along with everything else these days… power is changing too. We once thought we were masters of nature, yet now with climate change we struggle to contend with disaster. We once thought progress and democratic freedom would march us towards greater prosperity and stability, yet now the structures the hold the world seems to be fraying at the edges, teetering on the brink. We once thought the church was the great central guiding institution of our communities, yet now we are a shell of former glory. Politicians, officials, experts and the famous used to command the public respect and deference, yet now anyone with a phone can be famous, can start a revolution, can influence the world. 

So when Jesus shows up and people don’t want to listen, we get what that looks and feels like. 

And Jesus could do no deeds of power there. 

To imagine a God that doesn’t have the power to do miracles makes us wonder if God is God at all. Is Jesus really who we think he is, if he all of a sudden couldn’t show his power. Yes, the sinful self within all of us attempts to be God in God’s place. But in our moments of desperation, in the moments when we need something bigger than ourselves, we want to at least know that there is someone who is exerting control over this chaotic world. A

No wonder we would rather just leave that verse, that idea alone. 

(Pause)

Before leaving the empty church and the crucifix, and returning to the troubles of the world of the Walking Dead, Rick Grimes, concludes his desperate prayer:

“I just need an indication to know whether I am doing the right thing. You have no idea how hard that is know…”

And then he pauses and looks up at the image of Christ… blood dripping from the crown of thorns… hanging from the cross. And Rick takes a breath. 

“Well, maybe you do…”

(Pause)

And Jesus could do no deeds of power there. 

This powerless moment of Christ is meant to catch us, it not meant to simply be glossed over. While we have watched Jesus calm the storm, heal the bleeding woman, and raise a little girl to life with a word, we are being prepared for where Jesus is going. 

Jesus has not come into our world to heal our wounds, still our fears or prevent us from dying too soon. Jesus mission is something completely different. Jesus is headed for a different place of powerlessness. 

Jesus is rejected in Nazareth, but it will not be the last place. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem as a powerful king, he will be carried out as crucified criminal. But it is not just that Jesus will be rejected. As Christ goes to the cross, it will become the place where God’s power seems to completely disappear. 

At least where Godly power on our terms will seem to be gone. In fact, the cross will become the place of humanity’s most godlike act. The place where we will not just crucify and kill a common carpenter, but the cross is the place where humanity will put God to death. 

With our most God like power, we will kill God. 

And so God shows us a different kind of power. It is not a power that is about mighty deeds, or miracles. It is not a power that compels us to believe. Jesus does not come down from the cross as King and force us to kneel at his feet. 

God shows us power in weakness. God shows us love. Love that even when put to death will not stop loving. God will not permit even that mightiest power of death to prevent God from loving us. God’s love cannot be ended or destroyed. 

And it is because the miracles will not solve our problems. The deeds of power will not save us. God’s love is the only way we can be healed or reconciled or brought to new life. God’s love is the only way to truly saved from ourselves. 

And he could do no deeds of power there. 

Yet God’s mission, Christ’s purpose remained the same. Deeds of power or no deeds power, Jesus came into the world to show us God’s love, not God’s power. And yes, that makes uncomfortable, and makes us squirm. Despite our desire for power, God is willing to go do the cross to show us that love and life, that forgiveness and mercy are the true actions of God like power. God is willing to die… so that we may be loved. 

Do you not care Jesus?

Mark 4:35-41

 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” (Read the whole passage)

For the past few weeks, Mark has been taking us on an intense ride through the beginning parts of his gospel. The pharisees began by plotting to kill Jesus for healing a man with a withered hand on the sabbath, Jesus’ family believed he has crazy and wanted to take him away, and last week Jesus told parables about the Kingdom of God being like the mustard bush, the worst weed in the garden. 

Yet still, with our own news is full of extremes… world cup upsets, legalization of another kind of weed, and of course children being ripped from families at the US border… it isn’t like these intense scenes from Mark are that different from what is going on around us.

Today, of course, is no different. The disciples find themselves on an ill fated boat ride with Jesus. As they cross the sea of Galilee, a violent storm comes upon them. As fisherman, they shouldn’t have been surprised as violent storms have the habit of coming on suddenly on Galilee. But even as experienced fisherman, they wake Jesus because they are afraid of drowning. 

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

It is a rather loaded question. It is not a direct request for help. It is not the usual cry to God that we might expect. It is not a “Help me God or Save me Jesus”. 

It is almost as if the disciples are saying, 

“Wake up Jesus! Wake up so that you can drown with us!”, 

And Jesus does wake. Jesus wakes up and rebukes the wind. He literally muzzles it. He tells the waves to stop and be still. And then Jesus chastises the disciples. 

“Why are you afraid? Have you still no trust” or more accurately, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not trust?”

And then something interesting happens. The wind and the waves were calm. But the disciples become fearful. More than fearful. They fear a great fear. They are Terrified upon terrified. Frightened upon frightened. 

And instead of looking to Jesus, they look to one another. 

“Who is this in the boat with us? Who is this guy that even the wind and the waves obey him?”

We know these fears of the disciples well. We have been through the storms of life too. 

Our storms might not be found in boats, but they rock us just the same. They are the accusations that so many throw about, “Do you not care about children being ripped rom their parents?” They are the fears of trade tariffs and economic hardships. They are broken relationships and hurting families, illness and disease. Our wind and waves are change and upheaval. In our congregations, our cries to Jesus and asking if he cares are about the future, about declining numbers, about uncertainty and conflict. And sometimes it can feel as if these storms hit us, one after another. 

But all of these fear and worries sit on above a greater fear buried deep within us.  fear that comes from a more primal place. Fear rooted in sin, in self centeredness. Fear rooted in our wanting to be God in God’s place. Fear that shows itself when we are faced with the reality that God is in control and we are not. Fear that makes us wonder, who is this Jesus. Who is this Jesus that is in the boat with us, in our homes with us, in the church with us?

Whether we admit it or not, we like to think that Jesus is only around when we bother to pray or read the bible, but probably goes home when we are busy. We like to think God is an ever available problem solver, always waiting but never intruding. And as congregations, we act as if were we ever to close up shop, God would close up shop too. 

And so on days like today, when the storm is calmed and we cannot help but see God in the world and in our midst, we are left with the disciples asking, “Who is this Jesus?”

Who is this Jesus?

The storm is the least of the disciples’ problems. In fact, the disciples ask the question that is at the core of their being. “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

Do you not care? 

We long to know that we are cared about, that someone, something out there believes that we matter. 

And does this Jesus actually care?

Does Jesus care about us, about me?

Deep within us is the fear that no one cares, that God does not care about us. That we don’t mean anything, that we are of no value. When the dispels ask Jesus, “Do you not care that we we are perishing?” It wasn’t about the storm, it was the fear that Jesus might not actually care about them after all.

Do you not care Jesus?

And yet, it is precisely because God cares has come to be ride with us in our boats. Because God cares about sin and death that God has been born in flesh. 

God has come to live life among us, and God come to die with us. 

It is isn’t the storm of wind and waves that Jesus has come to still. 

It is the storm of death. 

Jesus has come to muzzle death. 

Jesus has come to die on the cross in order to silence death.

As the disciples wonder at who is this Jesus that is in the boat with them, their wonder is not truly about this one among them who even the wind and wave obey. It is a wonder about whether this God in flesh actually cares about them, about creation, about all of us. 

And for us who know the end of the story, the wonder is no different. The wonder and fear of the one who can muzzle and silence death from cross still doesn’t make us certain that we are cared about.

But that is our stuff.  

Because Jesus still comes into our boats. Just as Jesus road in the boat with disciples, Jesus rides with us into our storms, our places of fear and uncertainty. The places where we fear that no one cares about us, we fear that we will die and becoming nothing.

Just like the disciples whose fear was only multiplied by not knowing who this Jesus is, we too fail to see Jesus in the storms and in the calm. And yet, Jesus gets into our boats anyways. Jesus comes into our world, lives among us and goes to the cross anyways. Because there in the boat and in the storms, there on the waters of creation where the distance between creation and creator is shortened… Jesus claims us. Jesus names us as God’s own. In the waters of baptism, Jesus reminds us that whether we live or we die, we belong to God. 

God is in control whether we like it or not. God is saving us from sin and death whether we see it or not. God is loving us, whether we like it or not. 

“Do you not care that we are perishing? “

“Do you not care God?”

And there in our boats, in our storms, in the midst of our accusations and fears, Jesus reminds of just how much God cares for us. That no matter the wind and the waves, we belong to God. That no matter how many jobs might be lost because of one man’s pride, or how many families might be separated because of cruelty and fear, or no matter what dangers that might cause us to believe we are dying we encounter, 

Jesus is with us, in our boats, in our cages, in our fears and in our anxiety… reminding us that we are not alone, and wether we live or wether we die, we belong to God. 

And even when we still have no faith, 

God has faith in us and for us,

because God cares for us, 

and for all. 

A Millennial Pastor with a Blog

The first church I served out of seminary was a small open country church, literally on a quarter section of farmland just 25 minutes outside of my hometown Edmonton. In my first week, a couple of knowledgeable members of the congregation took me on a tour of the 6 acres of land that the church sat on. The church and parsonage on one end and of course the cemetery on the other. As we walked to the cemetery in order to meet some of the “older” folks of the congregation, one of the members told me about how he remembered when electric lights came to the countryside. [All of sudden it wasn’t just blackness when you looked outside of the farm house at night, you could see your neighbours.] The other member told about how her parents would heat rocks in the wood stove in order to put them under their feet in the horse drawn sleigh, which they rode to church in winter. 

And there I was making notes of all this on my iPhone, of course.

For 3 years this community frozen in time loved this weird kid pastor from the city who liked to be emailed and texted rather than called, even though the same phone line rang in both the church and parsonage. 

But during those years, there was always something of a disconnect that I just couldn’t put my finger on. And it really wasn’t until I started ministry at my 3rd church two provinces away in Manitoba that I started to figure things out.

I like to call my first summer here in 2013, the summer of millennials. The first of us had just turned 30, the world was about to discover we existed. Rachel Held Evans a blogger you may have read, wrote a piece for CNN called, “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.” And all of a sudden we were everywhere. 

Everywhere but church that is. 

If you look around mainline denominations these days, particularly in Canada it is pretty rare to see millennials in church, let alone as pastors. In fact, here in Manitoba there are only two millennials serving Lutherans churches – my wife and I. 

Yet…getting the youth back seems to be of a chief concern for many churches these days. And by youth, we mean people under the age of 50. 

Being a millennial serving a church desperate for young people to come back has been a weird and mind-boggling experience. 

My wife often likes to say that while we graduated from seminary ready for the church of today, no one got the church ready for us. Churches want millennials in the pews, but aren’t exactly sure of what to do with a millennial in the pulpit. 

Still with the arrival of millennials and the the generational lens it provided, I finally began to understand what wasn’t connecting between me and the people I had been serving. My experience of faith, and in particular church, was fundamentally different than that of the mostly older generation of people in the congregation. I do not remember the glory days of bursting full Sunday Schools, regular potlucks that could feed the 5000, churches being built on every street corner and pews full of families with 4.2 kids and a stay at home mother with time to volunteer. Nor am I grieving the loss of this church… The church that I know and grew up in and love and am called to serve has always been aging, shrinking and struggling to pay the bills. 

The churches that I have served so far in my time in ministry have been primarily ones centred around different generational cultures than my own. The frames through which the world is seen, and the references and images used to make meaning are not mine. So ministry has been a constant exercise in commuting to another culture, often resulting in feeling like an alien in a foreign land. Nadia Bolz-Weber, another blogger and pastor you may know, calls this a cultural commute. 

Every time someone makes reference to leave it to Beaver or Hogan’s Heroes, or Beattlemania or where they were when JFK was assisinated, all I have is a blank stare to offer in return. Still, I have had to go and look up all these references, so that I can speak in the cultural language of the people I serve. But the commute isn’t always a two way street and when in a sermon I reference a meme from twitter or a scene from an episode of The Walking Dead, I can hear the crickets chirping in the background. 

And so to begin thinking through what it means to be a millennial serving different generations, I started a blog. The Millennial Pastor – An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church. I never expected anyone to read it, it was just a place to organize my thoughts and experiences. 4 and half years, and over 500,000 visitors later, I am starting to sense that I may have hit a chord with some people. My experience pastoring declining, grieving churches and doing so as a millennial is resonating with the experience of others out there. I am still regularly surprised when people who aren’t my parishioners or my mom tell me that they are reading my blog. 

That being said, I don’t think my blog is about figuring out the answers or offering solutions to the struggles we face as church. Rather, I think of the exiles in Babylon with the prophet Ezekiel. He preached about the destruction of the temple for 5 years before it finally sank in. And it is taking the church some time to accept where we are now, rather than looking back to where we used to be. 

The thing is, along with the message that we are where we are, is also the reminder that God is with us now as much as before. And in fact, the church we are now just might be the church God is calling us to be. Because it is the church we are now and the church that God is calling us to become, that will be church for the next and future generations.

Now I just need to keep repeating that for 5 years and it might sink in. 

*This is the manuscript of presentation I gave at an ecumenical continuing education event on May 9, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

 

Clinging to the Ghosts of the Past

Luke 24:36b-48

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Read the whole passage)

Today it is the still the day of the Resurrection. Even though this is the third Sunday in the season of Easter, in keeping with the tradition of the church we treat this whole 50 day season as one great day of celebration. And so we go back once again to the day the resurrection, and we hear a similar story to last week’s story of Thomas… yet, this time it is Luke who tells it to us. 

It is situation that can be pretty hard to identify with. We may know the Easter story and believe that we encounter the risen Christ here in this place each time we gather for worship, but how many of us have witnessed the death of a close friend and teacher, only to have that person show up in our house a few days later? Don’t answer that…

Jesus’ moment with the disciples today comes as the third such moment where the disciples struggled to understand their encounter with the risen Christ. First it is Peter who runs to check the empty tomb, after the women from their group report back that the tomb is empty. And Jesus walks with other disciples on the road to Emmaus, who cannot see who they are walking with until he breaks bread with them. 

And now, with all the disciples in one place, Jesus shows up again. 

But of course, the group thinks he a ghost. 

And so Jesus goes through elaborate ancient tests to demonstrate that he isn’t a ghost. He shows them his hands and feet, invites the disciples to touch him, to see that he walks on the ground and doesn’t float in the air like a ghost. And he eats a meal with them, because ghosts don’t eat, people do.

Yet, the disciples still don’t understand what is going on. 

They are stuck, they are stuck back on Good Friday, back in Holy Week, back in the wildness of Galilee, back on all those dusty roads, small town synagogues, back among the crowds of people clamouring for a piece of Jesus. 

It us more than seeing Jesus as a ghost, they are clinging to the past. They still have not moved on from what once was, from the way things were, from the pre-crucifixion Jesus that they knew and loved. 

They are holding onto the ghost of what was before because they are afraid to move on. Peter was more than willing to run out into the world when he thought Jesus was dead, but once he found an empty tomb, he and the others are hiding in fear. 

They hide because it is easier to hold on to the ghosts of the past then to begin new life with new purpose. And so when Jesus shows up, they would almost rather that Jesus were a ghost than risen from the dead. 

The disciples are not much different than we are. 

Like the disciples, we too cling to the ghosts of our past. 

As our country continues to feel the pain and loss, the grief for the lives lost outside of Tisdale Saskatchewan a week ago Friday, we might have some insight into what it means to be in a mental and emotional state that can’t quite get past what has taken place. Because we know what it is to be driving on rural highways. Because we know what it is to send our kids, our loved ones, out into the world that we know is unsafe, where accidents happen everyday.

And so we we grieve and pray, we wear jerseys and put hockey sticks on porches. We cling to one another searching for hope and peace, much like those disciples after the tragedy that they had encountered. 

Yet,  ghost our pasts come in many forms not always rooted in grief and loss. They may have to  do with church, and with our memories of the past and wanting things to be like they were. To bring the young people back or perhaps really to ourselves the young people that we remember sitting in the pews. 

But the ghosts of our past can also be personal. We might cling to relationships that ended long ago, to times in our lives that we wish never ended, to jobs we once held, to youth we once enjoyed, to eras that we once understood. 

The ghosts come in many shapes and sizes, and the desire to cling to them is not anything but a normal human response to grief, loss and even change.

Yet, we know that refusing to accept change will not work. Staying stuck in the past, clinging to things as they once were, holding onto the ghosts of what once was, in the end, is impossible. 

Because the more stuck and unwilling to move on we become, the more like the ghosts we cling to we become… Like the disciples who found the tomb of Jesus empty, their response was to hide away from the world in a tomb of their own making. A tomb where they could stay at Good Friday, cling to the Jesus they once knew refusing to imagine to new life, the new Jesus that they sense is coming. 

And again, Jesus comes into their midst offering peace. 

Peace to the troubled hearts of the disciples. Peace to those who are stuck in the tense conflict of holding onto a past that is slipping away. 

Peace to our troubled hearts, peace to our grieving world, peace to those unable to let go. 

But Jesus doesn’t end with Peace. 

Once Jesus shows the disciples that clinging to ghosts is not possible, he takes things a step further. 

And all of a sudden the Easter moment, the resurrection moment extends beyond the empty tomb of Jesus and reaches into his hide away of the disciples. 

Jesus begins to transform these stuck and hopeless disciples clinging to a ghost of the past. 

“Everything you know, everything you believe in” Jesus says, “From Moses, to the prophets, to the psalms” or in other words the whole Hebrew bible, “has been fulfilled.”

And Jesus opens their minds, Jesus begins to transform these disciples giving them a new understanding and a new experience of their world. 

Everything that they thought they knew about God, about religion, about meaning and purpose in the world has been changed. The Messiah’s death on a cross and resurrection from an empty tomb changes everything. Everything moment in the story of God’s people that has come before has been leading to this moment… to this Easter moment. 

To this moment of the disciples’ Easter, to this moment of our Easter. 

“You are witnesses of these things.”

A witness is more than someone who saw something or experienced something. 

A witness is someone with a story. 

A witness is someone with a story to tell. 

Jesus transforms the disciples, transforms the world, transforms us. Jesus brings us into God’s story. Into God’s story of new life, new life given for the sake of the world, new life found in empty tombs where there should only be death. 

By making us witnesses of the Messiah, by making us witnesses to this story of God bringing new life into the world… we are given new life, we are given new meaning and purpose. 

Everything we thought we knew, everything we thought we understood has been changed by Messiah, by the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

And every week, every Sunday, every Easter morning, Jesus reminds us of this again. Jesus reminds us that that ghosts we cling to will not root us in past, and we no longer will be stuck. 

Jesus has made us witnesses. People tied inextricably to the story of God. People whose purpose is to tell that story to world. 

And Jesus continues to make us witnesses in the word of God that is proclaimed here, in the holy waters that we are washed and claimed in, and in the bread and wine, body and blood of Christ that we share together. Jesus makes us resurrection people, free from the ghosts and the past and given a story to tell. 

Today, Jesus says to us,

I have made you witnesses to resurrection and new life. 

Thomas, Fake News and Resurrection

John 20:19-31

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!” (Read the whole passage)

It has been a week since we released the alleluias from their captivity, since we gathered around the story of the empty tomb and pronounced that Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed! Easter has come after a long time spent in the wilderness of Lent, after a Holy week where we did holy things like wave palm branches, share in the eucharist and lament at the foot of the cross.

And even though we are now a week into the Easter seaason, we a reminded today of that first Easter day…. the whole 50 days of Easter have been long held up as one great day of celebration of the resurrection.

So we go back to day one, we hear a story from that first Easter day. And it is a familiar one.

Thomas… We always get Thomas on the second Sunday in Easter.

There must be something about this story that we hear it every year.

It begins on the day of the resurrection, the disciples have heard the news of the empty tomb so they are naturally hiding away in fear. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they did watch their teacher and master be executed by the state and now three days later to hear that he has risen from the dead. This probably seems like too much to handle.

So while they are hiding away, Jesus shows up in their midst. He offers them peace… peace after of the chaos of the previous week. He then blesses them and sends them out, reminding them of the mission that he had been preparing them for.

But Thomas wasn’t there.

Perhaps he wasn’t afraid like the others, or maybe he drew the short straw and was sent to the grocery store for some milk.

Regardless, when Thomas returns he hears the news, the story from the others. Jesus has appeared to them. The rumours are true, Jesus has risen from the dead.

But Thomas will not believe.

So often we portray Thomas as some kind of skeptic… almost scientist like. Thomas the crime scene investigator who needs some evidence, some DNA to put under a microscope, some unassailable proof that Jesus is indeed alive. But those are 20th century concerns… not 1st century ones. And in some ways our 21st century world has moved much closer to the Thomas’s 1st century one.

Thomas lived in a world much like ours. Political leaders or dictators ruled cruelly and with fuzzy relationships to the truth. People were desperate for hope, for salvation, for quick fixes. Jesus wasn’t the only healer and miracle worker around. They were a dime a dozen, messiahs on every street corner collecting followers with promises of salvation, promises of revolution, promises of a better life. And most were fake news.

Thomas had heard the crazy stories before, his world was full of them. He knew what fake news sounded like, stories or conspiracies or promises too good to be true.

And after the week that he had just lived through, one where his beloved teacher and friend Jesus had been crucified because of fake news, because of false claims brought against him by the religious authorities and mobs, because of the heartless Romans who knew very well that the charges were false yet executed him anyways… because of all the events of the previous week…. this news that Jesus was alive was probably too much to deal with.

Thomas wasn’t a scientist or crime scene investigator. He was a hurting human being. Someone who was too wounded and grief filled to get his hopes up again for story that was too good to be true.

Because what if he did believe that Jesus was risen from the dead and it turned out to be another false hope…

We have been living in Thomas’s world for a while now. Despite all our technological advancements and progress, we find ourselves in a society where truth and facts are largely irrelevant. Fake news is everywhere. Just the other day I saw a news story about a group of people in the United States who believe that mass shootings are conspiracies. Fuelled by internet conspiracies, this group travels around the country to confront the families of victims of mass shootings… to tell them that their loved ones were not killed and probably never existed in the first place.

Horrific

Of course, not all fake news is so extreme.

A recent survey of Canadians and their perception of climate change revealed that one third don’t believe that human beings have contributed to climate change, and only about half believe that addressing climate change should be a government priority.

And who among us hasn’t received a spam email from a Nigerian prince offering to give pass on a fortune to us.

Christianity isn’t immune from those who peddle fake news or false hope either. Turn on the tv and find any number of prosperity gospel preachers offering miracles, health and wealth all for a modest contribution to their ministry.

We know what Thomas’s world was like, we know that we cannot trust every story we hear out there. We know what it is like for those in power to twist the truth for their advantage, we know what it is like for those who lead our world to lie to us.

It is easy to see that Thomas might be distrustful of a story that seems too good to be true.

And we also know what it is like to have a lot invested in Jesus, to have all our hope and all our faith in the Christ.

Especially having just come through Holy Week ourselves, having been gathering together week after week proclaiming the importance of this story of Jesus’ resurrection… we too know the heartbreak that would come if it turned out to be just fake news.

That heartbreak is exactly what Thomas is guarding himself against. He knows that he just wouldn’t be able to handle getting his hopes up, only to have them crushed all over again.

So when Jesus shows up again, he does so to give Thomas exactly what he needs. Just as he came and stood among the disciples, he comes and stands before Thomas.

And both times, Jesus does something that is so opposite of how our world would choose to spread the news of someone back from the dead.

Jesus begins with peace.

So often Fake News declares, “Look at me!” “Be surprised!” “Be enraged!”

Yet Jesus speaks, “Peace.”

Peace, so that the disciples can see their Risen Lord.
Peace, so that Jesus can break through Thomas’s guarded heart.
Peace, to calm our troubled hearts that need to know Jesus.

And then Jesus offers Thomas his hands and his side.

It is easy to think that it is holes that are important for Thomas to see. The holes in Jesus hands and the holes in Jesus’ side.

But it is the hands that have shared bread with Thomas for years that reach out.
It is the body that has walked and sat and slept next to Thomas that is offered.
It is the flesh of the one whom Thomas loves and follows who breaks through to Thomas’s guarded heart.

Thomas wasn’t looking for evidence of crucifixion and death, Thomas needed to see that Jesus was alive.

And that is what Jesus gives him.

And is what Jesus gives us.

Because Jesus does the same for us. Jesus continually breaks into our fake news world offering peace and life.

Peace to our troubled hearts.
Peace so that we can be calmed down in order to hear God’s promise given to us.
Peace so that we see.

Jesus breaks through to us, through all the stories and people of our world that we are suspicious of, that we know are too good to be true, that we cannot unguard our hearts for.

And Jesus reaches out to us in the hands that share peace with us,
the hands that place the bread and wine into our outstretched hands,
the hands that welcome us here.

And Jesus offers his side,
his body given to us in the bodies of our brothers and sisters
who sing and praise and pray next to us,
the bodies who come to table and receive next to us,
the body of Christ that we eat and share,
the body of Christ that we become.

Jesus has been breaking into our world over and over again, from the empty tomb, to the upper room, to the waters of font, to the table of the Lord.
Jesus breaks through to us in order that our guarded hearts might know Peace.
Jesus break through in order that we see the Christ, God in flesh.

God in wounded flesh, Risen from the dead.