Thursday, April 27, 2006

Blogger troubles & Sermon

Just like this picture being - just a bit off - accessing this blog has been a little messy. I don't know if it was my end or what but for 3 days or so Firefox just wouldn't load anything from Blogger. But we're good now.

Sunday, I preached for the second time at church, this time on John 20:24-29. I think it went fairly well. No one left the sanctuary in the middle of the sermon. No one sat me down afterward to tell me I'd offended them. And no one threatened to call my CPM and warn them not to certify me to be ordained. So, all in all, I think I did ok. I trust God will use it for good. Since I'm in the middle of Reading week, preparing for my 3 final papers, I don't have a lot of stuff to write, so I figured I'd put up my sermon so anyone can read it for themselves and determine if I really am a heretic. This Sunday I'll be leading worship as the liturgist for the last time as an intern. Then my internship will be complete. It'll be nice to have one last year without responsibilities every Sunday before I dive into the Ministry fulltime...

Sermon: Who’s Story is it?

Text: John 20:24-29 4/23/06

Story is a powerful tool. We read them, we watch them and we tell them constantly. We measure them against each other and have an innate sense for what is a good story. Telling a story is an art form. Have you ever tried to tell a story and got mixed up in the details? Maybe got the characters confused and the story came out wrong? I have to confess – I’m terrible at remembering names. I’ve often found myself wanting to tell a great story but not being able to remember the names of the characters involved. There’s nothing worse than getting to the climax of the story and having to ask the person you’re telling the story for the name that makes the story make sense. It’s embarrassing. If you don’t get the characters right, you just can’t tell the story, you don’t get the right message.

Our Scripture text for this morning, from John 20, is the intriguing story of “Doubting Thomas” as he is often referred to as. It begins with Thomas being given the news that Jesus had been spotted – alive. Of course, Thomas had not been there. The other disciples had “seen” Jesus, supposedly. They had “seen” the man whom they all knew had died on a horrible Roman cross - and buried in a tomb, stopped up by an enormous stone. Yes, these other disciples had “seen” Jesus alright… but whatever mystic phantom or fear-induced hallucination the disciples had experienced – Thomas wanted none of it. Thomas lived in the real world – aware that death was present. He had been ready to die with Jesus just a few weeks ago, at the news of Lazarus’ death… it was not that Thomas didn’t want to believe – but facts were facts and dead men don’t rise – even if they did have amazing insight and miraculous powers. The only thing that would change Thomas’ mind would be cold, hard evidence. No, mere words would suffice. Thomas needed to see Jesus – the nail marks, the lance wound. But no, his eyes might play tricks on him – he would need to feel the wounds – put his finger in the wholes, his hand into Jesus’ side. That’s what it would take.

So a week later, when Thomas was gathered with the disciples in the same house – you can imagine his astonishment when Jesus appears out of nowhere! Jesus – alive? This can’t be, and yet it is. In the flesh – his wounds, visible to the naked eye. And he offers Thomas to touch him – to test him out. But by this time, Thomas needs no more convincing. And the words that he proclaims are the greatest statement of faith found in the gospel of John – “My Lord and my God!” Thomas goes from skepticism and unbelief to the greatest statement of faith uttered in John’s gospel. What a turnaround.

But the last words in the story are not those of Thomas – they are the words of Jesus himself – “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” And I have to say, that it is here, that if nowhere else gives rise to the question – “Who’s story is this?” So far, we’ve read this as if Thomas was the central character, the hero if you will. It’s all about Thomas missing Jesus’ visit, Thomas unbelief, Thomas’ requirements, Thomas’ faith… But the last words are Jesus’ and if we look carefully at the story, I wonder if we may have gotten the leading role and the supporting roles reversed.

Because, even though we began reading at verse 24, that sentence is really a continuation of the story Jesus’ appearances before – to Mary at the tomb, and to the disciples in the house. It’s almost a side note that Thomas had missed out. The primary actor here is Jesus – because it was Jesus that came to the disciples – Jesus presented himself to them to show them that he was alive. And not only that, but he came back for Thomas! I find that utterly amazing. I mean, Jesus came back for one disciple, who by all accounts had written Jesus off as dead. But Jesus’ not only comes back specifically for Thomas, he offers him to touch the nail scars, put his hand in the spear wound in Jesus’ side. For all of Thomas’ unbelief, Jesus goes the extra mile to ensure that Thomas would believe. Jesus goes the extra mile to offer Thomas all that he requires to make this magnificent statement of faith…

And this statement is about Jesus. It is not a testament to Thomas’ deep theological understanding – but to what Jesus’ has done. Jesus, God in the flesh, makes himself known to Thomas in such a way that Thomas can make this statement. Jesus, God incarnate, has done the miraculous work on the cross and in the resurrection, that makes Thomas’ allegiance not only worthy but necessary!

And the final words of this story – they belong to Jesus. It is an affirmation and a blessing, directed first to Thomas and then to those that would come after – that would not have the benefit if seeing Jesus in the flesh. Those that would be dependant upon the faithful witness of the disciples, and the story that they would tell – the story of Jesus. This passage, this story is undoubtedly about Jesus. Thomas, for all his attention, plays merely a supporting role. It is Jesus’ story from start to finish and Thomas simply adds some flavour. And if we focus too much on Thomas, we can end up telling the wrong story.

I wonder myself, if as Christians, we sometimes get caught telling the wrong story, focusing on the supporting characters instead of on the lead role… I sometimes wonder if we focus a little too much on “what God did for me” instead of what Jesus Christ has done for all of us. I feel like every time I turn on the television or pick up the newspaper – I hear another story of a person whose life was changed by a good book, a nice friend, a tragic experience. And I wonder, what is the difference between their story and my own? They were saved by 12 steps, I was saved by Jesus – their life is healthy and full because of Dr. Phil’s advice, and mine is healthy and full because of Jesus… But if this is how I conceive of the gospel, as my story against others, I’ve confused the actors – I’ve gotten the names all mixed up and the story doesn’t make sense. Because the gospel is about what Jesus Christ did on the cross. That is the central focus, not on something in my life, something that happened to me – but something that Jesus did. And I firmly believe that if we are to share our faith, we need to focus on Jesus’ story. Because ultimately, it is Jesus’ story. We are supporting actors. And part of proclaiming Jesus as Lord, is about subordinating ourselves, bowing our knee and acknowledging who the hero is…

One of the greatest statements I have heard regarding the empowering of sharing the story of Christ comes from the pastor, missionary, theologian Lesslie Newbigin, “I have been called and commissioned, through no merit of mine, to carry this message, to tell this story, to give this invitation. It is not my story or my invitation. It has no coercive intent. It is an invitation from the one who loved you and gave himself up for you.”

When we are sure in the knowledge of who the gospel story is about, who’s work is central and who’s work is secondary, we are empowered to share the gospel story without worry or fear – knowing that the God who overcame the grave is the ultimate hero.

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Note: If you steal this sermon and preach it as your own... God will know.

1 comment:

DennisS said...

Not sure of the context for this sermon. How many in worship, what are their background and ages?

I'm rather conscious of using the word "story" when speaking of the Biblical text.

Some consider a story to be along the lines of a fairy tale - a made up story where everything turns out all right in the end.

Yet lives don't always turn out right in the end - some turn away from God, some struggle with doubts all through their life.

BTW - who's story is this sermon? What did you envision that the people would "take home" with them (what difference does it make?).

I not suggesting that the sermon isn't completely valid, and filled with the work of the Holy Spirit. My main reason for posting is to push you to think about the words used by you - the editor.

The God who "overcame" the grave? Is this like overcoming an addiction or a disease?

In this season of Easter, are you happy about the resurrection? Is there a story/witness of someone who's life has been impacted significantly by belief - even though they weren't in Roman occupied Israel before the ascension?

You kept it rather short, I don't see deep conviction, and I object to the use of "story" and "overcome".

Do not take any of this as a suggestion that you are on the wrong path. Just think about it a bit and let it go. When you are preaching consistently, to a people you know very well, you might look back and see how you would preach it differently in your new context.