“Are You the One?” Matthew 11:2-11; December 15, 2019; Boeuff Presbyterian Church

“Are You the One?”
Matthew 11:2-11
December 15, 2019, Boeuff Presbyterian Church

“Surprise!” It’s a common movie and tv trope, I’m sure you’ve seen it: a room full of people all prepared to surprise a guest of honor and then someone else comes in right before. And the moment is ruined, the good surprise used up. 

Reading our text this week a scene of a ruined surprise came to mind. John asks the question, “are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

The messiah, after all, had been greatly anticipated. Not just for a few minutes of people crouched behind a couch ready to welcome a guest of honor, but for hundreds of years. And the people really didn’t want to be wasting the good welcome, the good celebration for some person who wasn’t the messiah.

Today is our Advent week of Joy, but unlike the other lectionary texts that highlight Mary’s Magnifcat, her song of great joy at learning she is to be the mother of Christ, this passage is much more tempered. It’s trying to decide if there’s something to be joyful about. It’s cautious, wary of getting too excited.

There is so much in this world that tempers our joy, environmental crisis, divisive politics, and social unrest. In this polarizing world, we are wary of that which doesn’t come right out and identify itself. “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for?” We want salvation from everyday trivialities and from the overarching unrest of earthly existence.

The lectionary narrative this week takes us out of the manger scenes of the season and into John the Baptist’s prison cell and among Jesus and his disciples. It’s towards the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Right before this story Jesus is commissioning his twelve disciples and sending them out. So, while we’re in the season of celebrating the baby Jesus entering into the world, this text draws us forward to the adult Jesus’ entering into his ministry.

“Are you the one?” It’s a haunting question really. And one that it takes a certain level of gumption to ask. John wasn’t really known for being subtle. He’s described as some sort of unkempt man of the wilderness. He rolls into town preaching and prophesying, his radical nature landing him in jail.

“Are you the one?”It’s one thing for the question to be asked by those who don’t know Jesus or those who are new to his company of followers or by those who oppose Jesus and his teachings. But this question is asked by the one who perhaps had the most intimate knowledge of Jesus. From John’s first time in the presence of Jesus he seemed to react to his divinity, leaping in his mother’s womb.

Tricker still, this question was being asked second hand, as John himself was in prison and unable to ask. I’m not sure what disciple it was that was tasked with asking this question, but can picture those who had talked to John drawing straws to see which one of them would have to be the one to ask Jesus:” are you the one?”

I don’t know about you, but John specifically being the one to ask this question feels like the pressure being taken off a little. It makes it easier to be vulnerable with our own questioning when someone this in the know has doubts too. I can imagine the disciples breathing a sigh of relief that someone was willing to bring this up, at that it was one with such thorough knowledge of Jesus. I’d hazard to say, that as Christians, approaching our faith with our own questions showcases a vulnerability that invites others to be a bit more transparent with their own doubts too.

Jesus responds to John’s question by sharing accounts of the ways that the world has been changed in the wake of his coming. He says to that messenger disciple, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

This is not just a report of what’s transpired, it’s a reference to the prophecy that preceded Jesus. In Isaiah 35 we read, “Here is your God… He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”

Our Advent wreath theme of the day is Joy, and while it is very present in Jesus’ account of what the world is like now that he has come and prophecy is being fulfilled at that very moment, John’s question holds joy at a distance, not wanting to jump in too soon, to be too excited if there’s still more waiting yet to come.

“Are you the one?” When we’re not one hundred percent assured that God’s Good News is good news for us, we can find ourselves asking that same question. Are you Jesus, the one that can transform our lives, our hearts? Or should we wait for another? There are so many idols of this world that can look like salvation when our joy is not fully rooted in Christ.

But salvation is not just meant to be personal, it’s meant to be for the whole world. So, while we might not always be able to identify how God is at work transforming our world and our lives specifically, Jesus’ list in this passage invites us to view these radical healings and transformations already taking place all around us. One of the greatest joys of being community, of being the Church universal is that the Good News of Jesus Christ is not just for us, but for all of us. Thanks be to God.

In this season, may we be willing to ask the difficult questions so that we can make way for Christ to be revealed in this world around us and received more authentically by all those who are awaiting his coming.

Amen.

“Great Commission” Matthew 28:16-20; June 15, 2014, FPC Jesup

“Great Commission”
Matthew 28:16-20
June 15, 2014, First Presbyterian Church of JesupSLIDE 1 - Great Comission

Our scripture today is a familiar one, likely that you have heard in a variety of contexts: at baptisms, during confirmations, and before mission trips. Perhaps in reading this passage you feel energized to do the work of Christ, emboldened to go out into the world. Perhaps. But more than likely it makes you feel the way it makes most people feel: inadequate and perhaps even guilty. When we read familiar scripture we inevitably bring to it all the other ways we have experienced it, and since this one is so often used in contexts of people’s faithfulness, it can be convicting and perhaps frustrating to place this commissioning alongside our own lives. And so let’s dig in a bit deeper, and hopefully God will have a new word for each of us, emboldening us to take on this commission of discipleship in our own lives.

Our scripture tells us that the eleven disciples went to Galilee. All throughout the gospels we are told of the 12 disciples, their recruitment, their unity as brother’s in Christ, their perpetual need to have things explained to them by Jesus time and time again. But now, one disciple is markedly absent, Slide02 Judas, the one who betrayed with a kiss, the one who was lost. Starting this passage with this numeration of the eleven rather than the twelve, draws attention to the way that even Jesus, the one who shared the gospel and was the Gospel, had a disciple that chose a different path.

SLIDE 3 - WorshipNext our scripture tells us that when the disciples saw Jesus, they worshiped him, but some doubted. Notice that all worshiped, even though some doubted. Doubt and worship are not mutually exclusive expressions of relationship with God. Remember Jesus did not admonish his disciple Thomas when he doubted, but rather drew close and revealed his side for Thomas’ touch. SLIDE 4- DoubtDoubt is welcome, even and especially in worship. Our doubt gives room for a deeper understanding of God, it’s when we think we have God all figured out that we lose room for growth.

Luther Seminary professor, David Lose writes, “I find it striking that in each gospel account, Jesus’ own disciples — that is, those who had followed him from the start and knew him best — do not at first believe the story of the resurrection … even when they see Jesus! Matthew reports that even now, at the close of his story, and just as the disciples are about to be commissioned as Jesus’ witnesses, they still have a hard time believing in Jesus even as they worship him. That’s who we are – people made up of a mixture of faith and doubt, hope and fear, successes and failures. And remembering that doubt is part and parcel of our life as a faith community is helpful to welcome people wherever they are on their faith journey. Moreover, if it feels daunting at times to believe the gospel, we can recall that we are not alone in feeling this way and that, ultimately, God will take responsibility for keeping God’s promises.”[1]

SLIDE 5 - Heaven and EarthNext in our scripture Jesus speaks out of his authority of heaven and earth, telling these disciples, to also go and make disciples of all nations. With Jesus speaking on behalf of both heaven and earth that means that our work is not simply relegated to one’s lifetime on earth, but also their eternal experience beyond anything we can know. This is a hopeful thing when we feel like our work as disciples has been ineffectual.

Slide06As C.S. Lewis put it: “It is not your business to succeed, but to do right; when you have done so, the rest lies with God.”

This business of following God in seeking to right can be disheartening. We live in results oriented culture and so we seek immediate and measurable progress. We very well might not be witness to the transformation that God seeks to take place through us. We are called to reveal God’s love, to offer the joy of the Gospel, but we might not see a response. Trusting that God is responsible for God’s promises, we can have confidence that our work is not in vain.

Slide07It is not lost on me that this Great Commissioning passage came up in the lectionary on the very same week that I have offered my resignation as pastor of this church. It has been a quite a difficult decision to do so. It is hard not to feel like I am letting you down, and letting God down in the work that I have been called to. I received council from wise pastors who reminded me that though I am called to minister to specific churches at specific times, my larger vocation is a call to serve God, and that never changes. And so part of my task of ministry is one of discernment, determining whether I am called to stay or to go, whether a particular church at a particular time requires my gifts or the gifts of another minister. And while it’s certainly not an easy decision, I do believe it is the right one. Sometimes the commissioning for ministry looks like staying put, sometimes it looks like going out, either way, God uses us to be the Church.

Slide08In our scripture today, Christ affirms that we are called to make disciples through baptism, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, concluding with the promise that Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age. The “go therefore” of this passage is possible for us and for the disciples because we are not on own own or left to our own devices.

Slide09The Trinitarian formula of this passage, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” is particularly highlighted on this Sunday, as we acknowledge today as “Trinity Sunday.” The trinity provides a framework whereby we may better understand our relational God, through the various way we relate to God. The Holy Spirit is the aspect of God that remains with us, enlivens us with the energy and joy of service. The Son, Jesus Christ, is the aspect of God that shows us how to live through example, through Christ’s life and ministry on earth. And God the Father, is the aspect of God that has to do with creation and formation. Through all these ways we are able to know and relate to God.SLIDE 10 - People of the ChurchGreek scholars will be quick to point out that just as God remains with us, our call is not just for us alone, but for all of God’s disciples together. In the Greek the verbs of this commission are in the plural. This is a commission not just for one person, but for the whole community. We need each other in order to fulfill God’s call on our lives and on our world.

We are called to worship even as we doubt, to baptize on earth even as we struggle with what is to come in heaven. We are called to do all of the things in “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[2] May we be emboldened to do so. Amen.

 

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3254

[2] Matthew 28:19

Doubting Thomas

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 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!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
– John 20:24-29

As we continue to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on this day after Easter, I am reminded of the stories that follow Christ’s resurrection: the empty tomb, Christ’s appearance in the garden, and one that is particularly on my mind tonight, Thomas’ doubt of Jesus’ resurrection.

I get why Thomas wanted to see Jesus and touch his wounds: he wanted to know that Jesus’ resurrection was real. He wanted to know that this Jesus to whom he had devoted himself was truly much more than simply human or a apparition or a hoax. 

Jesus obliges, offering his hands and side to Thomas for inspection. Jesus, the resurrected, incarnate, God allows himself to be poked and prodded for Thomas’ doubt to be satisfied.

Jesus doesn’t leave it at that though, but questions Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” He admonishes him saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Belief in something you can see and feel is simply an understanding of the tangible, unquestionable, entirely fathomable facts. However, God is so much greater and more complex than anything that can be explained by reason. Only through faith can we fully welcome all of God. Thomas understood the basic facts about Jesus’ resurrection, but without mystery-welcoming faith, he could not fully embrace what that resurrection truly meant for our salvation and the Kingdom of God.

Nickel Creek’s song, “Doubting Thomas,” speaks with great vulnerability to this text.The lines, “Can I be used to help others find truth, when I’m scared I’ll find proof that it’s a lie,” speak directly to the fear of any of us seeking to teach other’s about God. But that’s exactly where faith comes in. Trusting in God means being open to even the confusing, scary, or complicated parts about God. The very nature of Divinity is the beauty of inexplicability. Accompanying inexplicability with trust in it’s dependability is a frightening thing to do, but in doing so we free ourselves from self-sufficiency and are able to embrace grace.

A favorite StoryPeople story says:

“Can you prove any of the stuff you believe in? my son asked me & when I said that’s not how belief works, he nodded & said that’s what he thought but he was just checking to make sure he hadn’t missed a key point.” – “Belief,” Brian Andreas

Here is a beautiful cover of Nickel Creek’s, “Doubting Thomas.”

“Doubting Thomas,” Nickel Creek

What will be left when I’ve drawn my last breath
Besides the folks I’ve met and the folks who’ve known me
Will I discover a soul-saving love
Or just the dirt above and below me
I’m a doubting Thomas
I took a promise
But I do not feel safe
Oh me of little faith

Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face
Then I beg to be spared cause I’m a coward
If there’s a master of death
I bet he’s holding his breath
As I show the blind and tell the deaf about his power

I’m a doubting Thomas
I can’t keep my promises
Cause I don’t know what’s safe
Oh me of little faith

Can I be used to help others find truth
When I’m scared I’ll find proof that it’s a lie
Can I be led down a trail dropping bread crumbs
That prove I’m not ready to die

Please give me time to decipher the signs
Please forgive me for time that I’ve wasted

I’m a doubting Thomas
I’ll take your promise
Though I know nothin’s safe
Oh me of little faith