Posts Tagged ‘ sermons ’

A Community of Questions?

The texts for this sermon, in particular the Gospel passage from John can be found here.


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.

Now before you go calling Thomas names, like “Doubting,” put yourself in his shoes for a moment.
He and the rest of the disciples have been through a lot lately- have seen their rabbi, their teacher, their friend, the leader of their movement arrested, tried and convicted and brutally killed as a common criminal. To say the least it’s been a traumatic week.

And now the others are saying that they’ve seen Jesus. 
That he’s back – that he appeared to them while they were hiding away in the locked upper room.
That yes, he has died, but he’s not dead.

You can almost hear the gears turning in Thomas’ head.


You can’t uncrucify the crucified.  They must be mistaken. 
What if it wasn’t really him?  What if the stress and fear of these last few days has turned them all delusional?
Or harder and scarier yet…what if they are telling the truth?
What if he did appear to them and I missed it? What if he really is alive again? 
What does that mean? What have we gotten ourselves into if he has somehow risen from the dead?

These must have been the kind of questions racing through Thomas’s weary head when his friends came to him with this unbelievable news.

Doubt has become a dirty word in the Christian Culture of our University. Most of you, I’m willing to bet, have heard in some form or fashion, from other students or from pastors or preachers in and around College Station, that our job as followers of Jesus is to just have faith or to just accept the Truths (capital T) of the Bible – that questioning these things is a sign of faithlessness, that doubts about Jesus mean you’re not a true follower or that becoming more mature in your faith means stomping out those doubts.
I remember hearing those same messages from other Christians here 12 years ago. 
And they are just as mistaken today as they were then.

Brené Brown, who is a brilliant scholar and story teller (and an Episcopalian in Houston to boot) talks about this tendency in her research work on vulnerability.  Watch Brené’s Ted Talk here. She’s found that we Americans, particularly when we feel afraid or vulnerable, try to make everything that’s uncertain certain and that religion has gone from a belief in mystery to a list of certainties to ascribe to: I’m right, you’re wrong, there is only one way to be a real Christian and it’s our way not your way, in order to really be a disciple of Jesus you have to believe this and this and this and you can’t ask any questions about it because it’s a certainty whether you like it or not.  There’s no discourse, no conversation. 
Here’s what you’re supposed to believe.  Now believe it.  And that’s it.

Well, my friends, I don’t know what that is, but it’s not Christianity. It’s not the faith that’s been handed down to us over the last 2000+ years.  It’s not what Jesus taught and did at all.  If it were, he never would have reappeared a week later when Thomas was actually there. 

Thomas missed it the first time, then he didn’t believe when he was told about it, so that’s it.  He’s out.  No room for doubt in our religion, you have to be certain.  Sorry. Sucks to be you Tommy.  No. 

What happens instead?  Jesus shows back up when Thomas is around and offers him exactly what he’s asked for – Here, Thomas.  Put your hands in the hole in my side.  Touch the places where my hands have been pierced.  It’s me.  It’s really me – I’m here. 

Jesus doesn’t tell Thomas that his questions are keeping him from being a true follower. 
He shows him that there is plenty of room for his questions by offering to give him the evidence he needs.

 The Episcopal Church, you and I, have something unique to offer our fellow followers across the street over there.  We are a community, this is a place, where questions and doubts are welcomed. 

Not because we think we have all the answers but because we trust that God can handle our questions. Not because we want to nay-say the mega churches in town but because we want to be the kind of community that wrestles through hard questions together. 

Dr. Tiner told a few of us on Monday night about a sign that one of the former priests here put up on campus to advertise the Episcopal Student Center (and I totally think we should bring it back).  It read: “Jesus died to take away your sins not your brains.”  If you want a simple checklist of things you have to accept and believe in and that makes you a member of the community, then you are in the wrong place. 

In this community, we engage God fully- physically, spiritually, and intellectually.  Questioning the Scriptures is exactly the work we are supposed to be doing. Wondering whether all this resurrection stuff is true or not is one of the reasons we are here.  Talking and discussing and dialoguing about different interpretations and possible solutions to the problems that we have with Jesus’ way of life is the very stuff we are supposed to be about because, if Thomas’ story has anything to teach us, it’s that in those places of questioning and wondering and wrestling, the Risen Jesus himself shows up and says, “Here I am.”

You have reached the moment in your lives when it’s time to stop believing stuff just because your parents believe it…or because someone told you this is what you should be doing…or because being a Christian is a cool thing to be in Aggieland. It’s time to grow up and make your faith journey your own. It’s time to start asking the hard questions because you’re not sure or because you see something in the church that doesn’t look like Christ or because you see something in the world that doesn’t jive with a God who is all-loving and all-powerful. 

What if we were a community who did that together? 
What if we were the band of Jesus followers in CS who invite questions rather than shutting them up?
What if we were the place where all of us voiced our doubts and wrestled and prayed through them together?

Being a follower of the Risen Jesus is not an idea to be grasped or a case to be proved.  It is a life to be lived. It’s messy. It ebbs and flows.  It’s a process of becoming. It has to be yours and not someone else’s. It requires you to engage the world, one another, and your own lives with all that you are.

Tonight’s story of Thomas isn’t a story about a doubter.
It’s a story about a believer who came to believe because he asked some hard questions.
May we be so courageous as our brother Thomas, and in living our questions may we touch the Risen Jesus.


The Anointed Ones

Following is the first sermon I preached as the new Campus Missioner at Texas A&M this past Wednesday during our first liturgy of the semester.

 Here are the texts used for this sermon.

I am so excited to be here.
This place, this community, this ministry were incredible gifts to me during my years in college here, and I am honored and humbled to be back.

I’ve been looking forward to tonight for months; I’ve been soo ready to kick this semester off tonight with good food and meaningful worship, to get a great start on our time together.  You all have been in my prayers since October, even though I didn’t know many of your names (sometimes I just made some names up for you, like Jehosephat.  It’d be really cool if we had a Jehosephat here).

And a big part of what I’m so excited about is that I’m not the only one who is excited.

The churches in Bryan and College Station are excited too– I’ve had a dozen offers in as many days from their members to help cook or clean on Wednesday nights and even to host students in their homes for weekly or monthly dinners, I even had a parishioner who helped me find and buy us a new dishwasher for the kitchen!

Even many of you are excited – for starters, you are here tonight!

I’ve had lunch or coffee with several of you, 9 of you showed up on last minute Facebook notice to help us hang some lights outside on Monday, Emily is teaching us some new music, a few of you baristas have some cool ideas about re-arranging the furniture and improving the setting of the café, and 2 of you have already decided to design some new t-shirts for us.

I am so excited to be here.
I can’t wait to get to know you better and to let you know me.
I look forward to learning about the things that you hope for, the kinds of things you want to do, about your talents and all of the things you are most passionate about – all of those have a place at this Table because, as Paul would say, your passions and talents and dreams are like all the various and equally important parts of our Body, they are the very elements of the Body of Christ in this place, and without them the Body is not whole.

I’m excited because tonight’s passage from Luke’s Gospel sets an incredible tone for our ministry together here– gives us a purpose and a vision for where we ought to be headed in the days and months and years to come, all the while reminding us of who we are and where we come from. Tonight’s portion of the Jesus story has profound implications for you and me as we begin this journey together, so why don’t we start there…

With the hot desert sand still clinging to his sandals, Jesus emerges from the temptations of the wilderness and begins traveling back to the region he grew up in.  He is making his way toward home, toward Nazareth, perhaps to rest and recover, perhaps because after 40 days of nothing to eat out there, the food he is most hungry for is his own mother’s.

But something is different about him.   Almost as if he has had new life breathed into him, as if he holds some new authority, possesses some new power.  As he travels through the region of Galilee, he occasionally stops along the way in some of the synagogues to worship, to listen and to teach – all of which were his rights as a Jewish man. But the people are so impressed with what he has to say and how he says it, that word of him is growing and spreading and preceding him to the next village.

By the time he arrives in Nazareth and enters his home church for Sabbath services, the whole town is waiting breathlessly to hear what he has to say.  The anticipation is palpable as Jesus gets up to read the lesson from the Prophets – the attendant hands him the scroll and he unrolls it to place in the third section of Isaiah that says:

The spirit of the LORD GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor…

And then, taking the posture of a Rabbi, Jesus sits down among the people and does something radical.  He tells them that he is the embodiment of these ancient words.

“Even while those words are still ringing in your ears,” he tells them, “while they are still in your hearing, they are being fulfilled. Today.  Right here.  Right now. Because the LORD GOD has anointed me.”

samuel anoints davidAnointed.
That word has some deep connotations that we might miss at first glance.
Anointing is an old ritual practice– the pouring or smearing of perfumed oil on things or on people in order to set them aside for a holy function and a sacred use.  In Greek, the root word is christos, in Hebrew, meschiah, and if those words sound familiar, good…they should.  “Messiah” and “Christ” mean the same thing – “anointed one.

The prophets, who were most of themselves anointed for their holy work, spoke of a Meschiah, an anointed one of God, who was coming, who would transform the world around them by (in Isaiah’s words) doing things like setting prisoners free, giving sight to the blind, releasing those who are bound up, bringing good news to the poor and proclaiming the year of God’s favor.

In claiming fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic words, Jesus is saying, I am that Christos. I am that Meschiah – I am the Anointed one that you and your ancestors have been waiting for. I’m the one who will transform the world.

What a radical thing to say.

Do you remember your baptism?

Or how about a baptism you’ve witnessed…
After dunking or sprinkling water on your head, what does the priest or bishop do?

Whether it’s for a baby or an adult the very next thing that happens is that the priest or bishop puts perfumed oil on your head…in the sign of the cross…anoints you and says,
“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.”

The same Spirit that was in Jesus, the same Spirit of the LORD GOD that anointed him, seals you, envelops you, runs down your forehead and throughout your whole being, and you are forever thereafter marked, claimed by Jesus as his own.

See, by virtue of your baptism you are anointed ones.

Little Jesuses on the loose, running all around Aggieland – you.
And so, these ancient Scriptures still ringing in our ears are being fulfilled…in us. Today.  Right here.  Right now.

What does that look like? What does it mean?
How should we do this?  What kind of community should we be?

Well, that’s the thing I’m most excited about.

Starting tonight, we get to discover all of that together.
And it’s going to be fun.  And it’s going to be hard work.
And it’s going to be meaningful and scary and new.

And as we learn what it means to consciously and intentionally become followers and not just admirers of Jesus,
as we become more and more like the one we are marked by,
then the Holy Spirit’s presence that has sealed us, and is upon us,
and is within us can and will transform the world around us.
Right here.  Right now.

What a radical thing.