April 23 Sermon Showing up

Second Sunday of Easter April 23, 2017

1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

showing up

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!




I have a favor to ask you. Be present for one another.  Choose words that build up.  Participate as you are able in this life that Christ gives, this spirited life that says the resurrection life is already here at the same time as it is not yet.


Easter Day and its joys are so much easier than the week after Easter, than the day after Easter, than the afternoon after Easter.


Today, this Second Sunday of Easter, we are welcoming Rachelle and Elise, Holly, Pete, Stephine, Isaiah, and Elijah today into the living and breathing body of Christ at Bethesda.  And we are a blessing to them.  And they are a blessing to us.


It is so easy to give in to anxiety.  It is so easy to give in to doubt.  In family systems theory, which has helped me to lead communities of faith, it says that there wherever anxiety can wheedle its way into our lives, it will find a way.  God gives us gifts not to eliminate anxiety altogether, which is impossible, but God gives us gifts to manage anxiety, to choose healthy responses to the fears that are close at hand.


In our worship, in our rituals, in our proclamation of scripture, in our conversation with and listening to one another, it’s like we can conjure up a Patronus to eliminate our Dementors.


I’m talking about Harry Potter, the wizard in the stories by JK Rowling.  Dementors are these creepy dark floating figures that suck all the life out of you, that reduce you to a pool of dread and nothingness.  I know people in my life who are like dementors, who never have a good word to say, who are always hyper critical, who when I or others are in their orbit zap all the energy I thought I had.


A Patronus wards off dementors.  A Patronus charm is conjured up by filling up with happy memories, the happiest memories which you can summon.  And for Harry, it’s his memory of his parents.  And for Harry, he is able to conjure a very powerful Patronus that takes the shape of a stag.  And when he does this, there is an immediate and countering effect on the dementors.  Just for your information, if you want to try this at home, the incantation is Expecto Patronum!




The scriptures for Easter spill over with Patronus-like powers.  The early church was without Jesus in the flesh, who died, rose, and ascended, yet somehow his memory proved powerful and effective.  Like immigrants who fear for their lives in these United States, and Europe, and the Middle East, the first century band of Christians did have much to go on.  Their future was uncertain.  Those to whom the first letter of Peter were addressed have been called aliens.  The letter is addressed “to the exiles of the Dispersion.” 


And today’s second reading from 1 Peter spills over with verbal hope poured out, so that the reader has a hard time getting a breath, because the writer speaks not of the end of Jesus or even the community being snuffed out but a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.


And this improbable present-tense joy for the minority rag-tag counter cultural barely clinging to anything diaspora 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.


Expecto Patronum!


The scriptures are incredible for what they say.  Here is the experience of new life in Christ.  Here is the entry point into new life at baptism.  Here in the book of Acts (the first reading) is the gift of the Holy Spirit that prompts language out of the mouth of previously denying Peter, now exuberant Peter, preacher Peter, conjuring up an image of Jesus as being raised up by God as if it was perfectly understandable, that the last power over humanity should itself be overpowered, and that Peter saw it.


But Thomas didn’t.  And we didn’t.  But Thomas then did.  And we still don’t.  Or do we?


I’m talking about one labeled doubting Thomas.  I’m talking about Jesus’ first post-Easter appearance to his disciples in the gospel of John, the evening of Easter Day. 


As I read the gospels, it seems like Jesus likes playing with people after his resurrection.  It just does. In the gospel of Luke, on a beach, Jesus asks for something to eat.  In the gospel of Luke, as we will hear next Sunday, he asks grieving Cleopas and his companion what things happened over these last days.  In the gospel of John, from the Easter gospel read at the Easter Vigil, starting a conversation with Mary in the garden without her knowing it was him. Mary thought it was the garden who asked her, “Why are you weeping?” And in today’s gospel from John, not letting any locked doors or fear or anxiety stop him from somehow showing up and saying, “what’s up?” I mean Peace.


And then, one whole week later with Thomas the skeptic unconvinced and absent the week prior, Jesus goes right up to him and tells him to shove his hands in his wounded hand and side, go on I dare you, which he doesn’t but showing up was good enough.  And the kicker out of the resurrected mouth of Jesus “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet who have come to believe.” Wink, wink to us.


In my humble opinion, the idea of belief is misunderstood and misapplied by religious people like us.  Believe the right way?  Belief is too often so content-driven by overzealous people. Say the right words and you’re in.  At its root, believe simply means “give one’s heart to.”  Doubt is not evil.  It is a seed toward faith.  It can be a healthy response just to want to believe.  Sometimes, when we can’t muster whatever it is that we think we need to believe, it’s all we can do to show up, and muster up the courage to say the words, or let others say the words for us.


One of the greatest responses to an unpredictable Jesus was from a father wracked with anxiety over his son’s behavior, convulsive, foaming at the mouth, uncontrollable.  He had to be trembling when he said to Jesus “if you are able to don anything, have pity on us and help us.” He had to be scared to death.  Unpredictably, Jesus says “If you are able—All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately, the father of the child cried out “I believe; help my unbelief!” And that to me is the seed of faith.


Dear church.  If all you can do is show up, may you be blessed.  If you have peace to share, that is a blessing.  If you can open up your hands for bread, and swallow some wine, you are showing up.  And you know God does.  You know Jesus will. 


Happy Second Sunday of Easter, Doubting Thomas Sunday, Low Sunday, where we are happy that people show up.  And we are happy today that Holly, Isaiah, Pete, Stephine, Elijah, Elise, and Rachelle have shown up, and that we can be here for them, as the body of Christ.


Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia

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