Sermon by Rev. Todd Weir
April 15, 2017
Easter 3B Luke 24:36-48
(In Eastertide, we have 40 days to reflect on the challenges of understanding the resurrection, and the whatever doubts and complications arrive theologically as we think about if we believe in miracles, are open to mystery, and want to have faith along with our questions. Consider this part to of dealing with doubt, while living in faith. I believe, help me with my unbelief!)
The first Easter did not have any good music yet, no trumpets or handbells or “Hallelujah Chorus.” Jesus arose without a sound track, no “selfies,” no PR firm coordinating Youtube videos, showing Jesus smiling with the common people of demographic significance. (Also no Cambridge Analytica or Facebook fake news add placement to give you the Pro-Pilate point of view!) So obviously there would be lots of confusion, skepticism and rumors, and wild speculation, sort like watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN.
Here is a quick summary of post-Easter reactions displayed by Jesus’s disciples.
Mark 16:8 “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.” Really inspiring isn’t it? Nice work disciples. Carpe diem!
On several occasions Jesus’s disciples do not recognize him. In Matthew’s Gospel, Mary thinks he is the gardener, and asks Jesus if he knows where his body was taken. (That’s a bad Monday morning. More coffee please!) On the road to Emmaus, two disciples do not recognize Jesus. “17 And (Jesus) said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” This is like the TV show where the CEO dresses in jeans and a hoodie to find out what his workers are doing, an episode of “Undercover Boss.”
Since everyone is confused, I don’t know why John’s Gospel has it in for Thomas, the rationalist who said he would not believe in the resurrection until his autopsy was complete. Jesus says, “Thomas would you like a stethoscope, you want an EKG, CAT scan, whatever you want, ask me to turn my head and cough.”
Here’s my favorite line from today’s Gospel reading when Jesus appears to the disciples. “41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” What a great description of the emotional impact. You could use that line for falling in love – “While in my joy I was disbelieving and still wondering…” When the Boston Red Sox came back in the 2004 World Series from three losses and beat the Yankees in Game 7, you could say, “While in their joy, Red Sox fans were disbelieving and still wondering.” If we could pass some reasonable gun control laws or perhaps there will be a turning of the political tide in November, we might say, “in our joy and disbelieving and still wondering.”
So if you have any trouble with doubt, understanding, believing the meaning of the resurrection, welcome to the club. What club, you ask? Church! Church is the one place you can have your joy and disbelieving wonder too! When did we start editing out the very human doubts and confusion and replace it with a misguided and destructive quest for certainty and proof?
In most spheres of life there is a level of faith and trust that exists without certainty and proof. Take the financial crisis and the state of banking. Does the Federal Reserve know what will happen next to our economy? Will it be prosperity or hyper-inflation? Who knows, just keep putting money in your 401K and have faith. Despite scientific sophistication in forecasting the weather, we cannot predict with certainty whether you will get 2 inches or 2 feet of snow. It’s an educated estimate. Physicists have found it is impossible to predict the exact path of an electron. There is a degree of randomness and unpredictability in the very nature of existence.
If you only believe and act upon things with proven certainty, what are you going to do? Martin Luther King, Jr. warned activists against “analysis paralysis.” At some point more data will not help, you need a plan. Just do it. The need for certainty can be stifling. Certainty can become a tool of repression of all our fears of the unknown, and this repressive reflex creates three problems, 1) it blinds us to reality, 2) separates us from one another when we need to be right all the time, and 3) the desire for theological certainty is at the roots of religious violence, which has become the major threat to Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Faith, hope and trust are not a sign of a weak mind, it is realism in an unpredictable world.
So here is my main point. Don’t let your doubt get in the way of the joy of disbelieving wonder. Life is a leap of faith, every act takes faith in something. Getting in your car to buy groceries takes faith in a few hundred drivers, plus the of farmers and agribusiness who have produce your food. Every bite you eat is a faith in some beleaguered FDA inspector. But you are going to eat that sushi anyway aren’t you?
How do we move beyond the dangers of analysis paralysis, and act with confidence in the face of the unknowable. Example #1 comes from 12 Step AA advice, “Do the right thing, then do the next right thing.” Focus on the first step, not the master plan for the rest of your life. Sometimes we avoid the first step to change, because we know we are afraid of step 4 or 5 down the road. We don’t know how it is all going to fit together, so we never start. The question that I ask myself is-“What is one thing I can do right now today to make things even a little bit better?”
If your house is a mess, it is hard to know where to start, because you know it might take an entire weekend to get it in shape, so why bother. It helps us to say, “Let’s start with keeping the kitchen island clear.” If I can have one clear space that is organized, there is hope! It’s the same with your spiritual house. If you feel far from God, like your spiritual life is just going nowhere, we can get trapped into thinking, I need a complete change of heart, to spend hours in prayer, read three books, join a prayer circle. By the time you have thought about all that you are so disheartened that you never take a step. Take one step to God. If you have 3 minutes to wait somewhere, don’t pull out your phone. Close your eyes and say the Lord’s Prayer, or remind yourself of three things for which you are grateful. Get yourself off automatic pilot and talk to your co-pilot. Apply this to your close relationships, to doing peace work and social justice. None of it gets solved today, just do the next right thing.
Here is part two, from my favorite book on writing and creativity, “The Artist’s Way.” Author Julia Cameron says, “When you commit to writing something expect to be accompanied.” Cameron believes that great writing does not simply come from talent and self-discipline. It comes when we open up to something greater than ourselves, and the best writing seems to flow through us, almost from another source. Some called it their muse, inspiration, or we can call it God or the Holy Spirit. We take a step, however shaky and imperfect it might be. Then we are met. We find out we are not in this alone. Then we take the next step. And in our joy we are accompanied, and disbelieving and still wondering if it is possible, we move forward.
How do we stand living in the uncertainty of the world? Along with the first disciples and the witness of scripture, we embrace faith, in our joy, while we are “disbelieving and still wondering.” Faith is choosing to live beyond fear, beyond false certainty. Faith is choosing gratitude for what is in front of us. Faith is a path of accepting forgiveness for our imperfections and mistakes, because who has it all figured out anyway. It is the hopein things unseen. Faith gives us the desire to love when we don’t know what will happen next, the courageto enter the struggle for justice and peace, a trustin the steadfast love of God in whom we live and move and have our being.