april 11, 2010

Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage
April 11, 2010
Psalm 150
John 20:19-21

Poor, poor Thomas. I feel bad for him. Doubting Thomas, as he has become known. A symbol of disbelief, resisting rather than recognizing the reality of the Resurrection. I think Thomas has gotten a bad rap. Perhaps I am sympathetic to Thomas because I can see my own response buried in his.

Thomas, the Doubter, the Twin, one of the Twelve…he missed the spectacular show…he missed the proof…the glory revealed…the explanation…the why and the how…

The others had already seen the Risen One with their own eyes. Jesus, alive, showing them his hands and side. Jesus, breathing his breath on them…breath…ruach…pneuma…spirit…wind…blessing. Jesus, teaching them what resurrection means, what the Holy Spirit enables—new life! forgiveness! being forgiven…forgiving others…building the reign…beloved community…living in right relationship…turning from revenge, and reconciling…

But Thomas missed all this. And all he asked for, all the proof he requested, was what the others had already seen.

So I don’t blame Thomas. I imagine I would have done the same thing. Faced with news too good to be true…with a miracle beyond miracles…of the impossible made possible…the unimaginable not only imagined, but made real…embodied.
Poor Thomas. He only wanted a bit of assurance, so he wouldn’t be made a fool…believing something that seemed downright foolish…

Thomas had to see to believe.

Jesus asks us to believe, even when, especially when, we cannot see…”Don’t be so scared! Reach out your hand! Believe!”

Jesus teaches that sometimes our fear of feeling foolish keeps us from being faithful. Our doubt is less disbelief, than a desire not to be duped.

Pastor, preacher, and writer Frederick Beuchner reflects on all this foolishness…He writes, “If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully—the life you save may be your own—and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he or she can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.

We are fools for Christ’s sake, Paul says, faith says—the faith that ultimately the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of us humans, the lunacy of Jesus saner than the grim sanity of the world.”

The foolishness of God is wise than the wisdom of us humans…the lunacy of Jesus saner than the grim sanity of the world.

Revenge makes sense, in the grim sanity of the world. Forgiveness is foolish, part of the lunacy of Jesus, and faithful. Self interest make sense. Being our brother and sister’s keeper is foolish, and faithful. Self protection makes sense. Following the footsteps of the good Samaritan is foolish, and faithful. Death makes sense, is certain. Eternal Life is foolish, and a faith-filled promise. The fear-filled power plays of religious and political leaders makes sense. The love-filled power of Jesus is foolish, and the cornerstone of our faith.

The Resurrection…the Resurrected One…calls us to be fools for our faith.
I’ve already confessed to you I am more like Thomas than not. I want to see, then believe. I want signs, reassurance, proof. I don’t like being or seeming a fool.

This past week, one of the other pastors in town shared with me some talk about town that I hadn’t yet heard. Perhaps you have. It seems some folks think I’m a bit foolish… ☺ …about the community garden we started last year. It didn’t work, they said. The community didn’t get on board, the congregation didn’t care. It flopped, they thought. How foolish of that Methodist pastor, to think it would catch on. Now, I want to be clear—I am NOT sharing this with you because I’m upset by it, or because my feelings are hurt.

While I don’t especially desire being thought a fool, any of you who have talked with me and taught me about gardening knows that I already know I’m a gardening fool. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if it will work. I am still in awe that the simple act of putting seeds in the ground, fed by water and sun, will yield bright purple eggplants, and thick bushy basil, and oh, the tomatoes…I didn’t know if a community garden would work, but I felt the Holy Spirit moving when the idea was raised…I do know that not many people got involved. That it was the same handful of us planting seeds, pulling weeds, tending tomatoes, picking peppers (although there was increased traffic once the garden was ready for harvesting!) We didn’t start it because we knew it would work, but because I believed, others believed, that there was possibility…possible connection…community…care…that feeding each other, connecting with our food, and working so that others might be fed can teach us something of faith, and how to be faithful. That God’s reign of justice and love begins in our own backyards, and that we are all called to find ways to participate in the building and becoming of God’s reign, the Kingdom come on Earth…
So, we’re trying the garden again this year. Perhaps it’s foolish. Perhaps it will cement my reputation as a “fool.” I hope more people will be involved. Mostly, because I hope more people can experience what I experienced with the garden. It might not work. I don’t even know what success is, really, in the case of a community garden.

But I know that I learned that Bryce Hickle grows a mean cabbage, and that he has wisdom and experience to share, and that he isn’t the only child or youth in this congregation ready to teach us, if we are ready to learn.

I know that Penney is devoted to this community, and is willing to give something a try because of what might be, and become…I know that people in this community are weary and wary of the chemicals used on and in our food, and the harm it causes our bodies, and the Earth, God’s body, and want to see more options available locally for healthy, affordable, fresh food…I know that fresh homegrown tomatoes, tended and anticipated, proclaim something of God’s goodness, and glory…I know that last summer, during a hard week, one of great loss, with two funerals back to back, I went to the garden, sat in the dirt, and cried, and it offered sanctuary, and sacred space, and signs of persistent life…I know that the eggplants and tomatoes and peppers and basil were fed to you all, and made into a meal for the people who participated in the Bible Study on sexuality, and that gathering at that table was Holy…sacramental….and that we fed each other in body and soul.

I know that the salsa I made from the garden and took to the District Office helped them see signs of new life in this congregation…of people willing to put their faith in action…try something new for the sake of making disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. I know that the community garden helped me sustain my spirit, helped me feel connected to this community, helped me invest in this community…I know it offered opportunities for sharing and showing the Good News of what God is doing here, among us…

I know this, even if it means learning that people are calling me a fool for doing it.

But of course, I had the benefit of seeing, seeing these God-signs revealed. Some of you did, too. Others haven’t seen, yet, but are still invited to look. To touch. To experience. To believe. To participate. Blessed are those who have not seen, yet have come to believe. This is what it means to be God’s Easter People.

I want to close by sharing another piece of writing with you, by Johann Christoph Arnold. In it, he writes of the power of Easter, of God’s forgiveness unleashed in the world, the foolishness, and the faithfulness, of it all.

Arnold writes: “Easter is far more than a holiday or a celebration; it is power. Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to bless those who persecute us. These are not just words. As his compassionate plea from the cross shows—“Forgive them, for they know not what they do”—he practiced what he preached…

Many people, including Bible-believing Christians, dismiss such an attitude as self-destructive foolishness. How can we embrace someone intent on harming or killing us? Why not fight back in self-defense? What about payback? [What about getting their due? An eye for an eye?]

All the while we eagerly pray, “Forgive us our debts, our sins, our trespasses, as we forgive our debtors, those who have sinned against us, those who have trespassed against us.” Familiar as they are, I sometimes wonder whether we really mean what we say when we repeat these words from the prayer Jesus taught, and whether we sufficiently consider their meaning. Besides, Jesus was adamant when it came to the issue of forgiveness: “Go, and be reconciled to your brother [and sister]; then come and offer your gift…If you forgive others when they sin against you, God will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins against you, God will not forgive you your sins.” (Matthew 5:24; 6:14-15)…

When Christians do put Christ’s command into practice by forgiving, they create a ripple effect that can touch thousands of lives and even affect the course of history…

If the cross and resurrection are not just historic happenings but present realities, which I believe they are, then what we celebrate at Easter is the healing power of God’s forgiveness at work in our world today. God’s forgiveness can transform lives on a personal level, but it can also impact events on a much broader scale.

Jesus offered his disciples the “keys of the kingdom.” We hold the key of forgiveness in our hands. And we must choose whether or not to use it. Christ wants to use our hands, wounded as they may be, to extend God’s forgiveness, love, and care to the world. Will our hands be closed, [or in fists, or pushing away,] or outstretched, [inviting?]”

May we reach out our hands and outstretch our arms. May we dare to believe, even when we can’t see. May we be fools, for the sake of Christ, and Christ’s love. May we follow the way of forgiveness, and remember that we are forgiven. May we search for what is possible, and then nurture tentative, new life. May we be and become God’s Easter people, living, sharing, and delighting in the Resurrection. May we proclaim the great good news: Christ is alive! God is with us! God’s love surrounds and sustains us! Praise be! Amen!

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