Not All Who Wander Are Lost

I know I’m a little bit off my regular posting schedule lately (usually I try to publish my posts on Wednesday/the middle of the week). Life has been kind of crazy since the new job and also by some miracle, I’ve been able to still be in school even when I thought I would have to drop out. Anyway, I’m probably going to be posting twice this weekend because I have a lot.

This past Sunday I gave my first sermon at my new church, which was an incredible experience and I’m still finding it surreal. So, I figured I’d share my transcript from that and maybe post the link to the recording of it if you’re interested at the end of the post. It was also a communion Sunday.

I plan on doing the other post on Lent/my first Ash Wednesday observance.

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Not All Who Wander Are Lost

John 20:19-31

Vs. 19-23: What would you do if life as you know it completely changed overnight? What you thought you knew about your world got flipped upside down and you were left devastated. Would you be afraid? I think most of us would be. So…what are we so uncomfortable with fear and doubt? Specifically, when it comes to doubting God and our faith.

We give the disciples such a hard time. The disciples were faced with an uncomfortable reality that their world has been turned upside down. And then Jesus shows up in the middle of their grief and turns this fear to hope. Fear of the Jewish leaders is contrasted with Jesus’ pronouncement of peace. Don’t miss what Jesus means by peace here. It’s a common phrase that’s used in the early church but in light of the Resurrection, it is anything but common. In a world that seems to be falling apart in this current political climate, we need to know what this peace means for us. It’s certainly not an absence of conflict or leaving things the way they are. By challenging the Jewish leaders and government authorities who held power at the time, many of the disciples would face a great deal of conflict. Many of them would die. There is risk involved in this peace Jesus talks about but it’s a risk that leads to life.

Jesus was sentenced to death for challenging the power structures of his day at the urging of his own people. Let it not be said of us in the church that we would in a sense do the same to other human beings for the sake of holding onto power. Whether it’s policing who uses what bathroom because it makes us uncomfortable or not letting certain people into our churches or our country, our job is not to be driven by our fear.

Your belief in God should not be used to oppress people with your self-righteousness and rules. God is the God of the vulnerable, the outsider, the misfits of the world. (Parallel Passages: 16:1-8 – focus on fear of disciples/Mary Magdalene/women at the tomb and their reaction to the Resurrection of Christ)

(Vs. 23: This verse poses some complications as it implies the disciples will have the ability to forgive sins or not forgive sins.) To understand what’s going on here, it’s helpful to look at the parallel passages of Jesus commissioning his disciples in Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Acts 1-2. It seems to be referencing Pentecost as well when the disciples and followers of Jesus received the Holy Spirit. It’s more of a precursor to the day of Pentecost and highlights the disciples being commissioned to help others know and believe in Jesus.

Vs. 24-29: This now brings me to Thomas who was missing in action during the events of the previous verses. Why do we give those who doubt such a hard time? Interestingly enough, the word translated as doubt has less to do with doubt as we understand it. I mean, we call Thomas “doubting Thomas.” I think this is because we don’t want to deal with how uncomfortable doubt makes us. Because maybe we know all too well what it’s like to not be sure if what we believe is true. What’s interesting about this encounter is that Thomas wasn’t the only one who was afraid and doubting, but maybe he was the one to voice it the most. There’s much we can learn from Thomas’s response of “My Lord and my God” to the Resurrected Christ both about Jesus and about doubt in our own lives.

How does this change how we live our lives in light of this truth?

What does it mean for us today and not just for our eternal future? Does this help us in the midst of a chaotic world when we can’t make sense of our doubt?

Doubt is unnerving. It taps into our insecurities and questions we have about our reality and what’s going on in the world around us. We are afraid to ask questions because of what that may reveal about what’s going on in our souls.

But maybe, instead of a sign of weakness and lack of faith…doubt is perhaps a sign of deep faith in God. Thomas wanted to know for sure that Jesus really was alive. From the disciples’ perspective, they desperately needed to know that this Jesus they had been following and sharing life with was worth following.

The disciples walked with Jesus and saw him do miracles no one else could do. They watched their hopes and dreams of a better world–because HE IS THE MESSIAH after all–they watched those dreams of a King who would save them…die for crimes he did not commit.

Thomas says, in effect, I need to see him with my own eyes. I need to touch the scars. Then I will believe. He isn’t saying, he doubts that it could possibly be true. He wants it to be true and wants proof. Why does he need this to be true? And why do we need it to be true?

Because…A God who can be killed and bring Himself back to life is a God worth following. That God is a God who has walked in our shoes and seen us in our suffering and seen the broken, marginalized, oppressed and said: I see you. And I am for you. And I have been where you are. We need to know that this God who can die and be raised to life again is the real thing. Rachel Held Evans, in her book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, she writes, “We could not become like God, so God became like us. God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of head, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground, God got up.”

Vs. 29-31: This doesn’t just need to be true for Thomas. Jesus says at the end of this interaction with Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

On a more personal note, I can honestly say that I need this to be true. And that I’m not always sure I have all the answers or that this journey is worth it. Sometimes it feels like wandering around in the darkness and hoping to bump into God there. I believe this God is real, but I have so many questions. I grew up in a very conservative environment where God was painted as angry, waiting to judge me for messing up if I didn’t follow all the rules.

My relationship with the church is in a word, complicated. But I’ve been in love with Jesus since I was a little girl. I have been both the Pharisee and the man beaten and left for dead on the road to Jericho. More recently, I have doubted that God loves me because how can he love someone so many hate and want to change? I have had people say to the effect: This Jesus is not for you unless you stop being who you are. I don’t know if you know what it’s like to be estranged from people who say they love you but that their God is not for you. Some of you do know what it’s like to feel Other. To feel the doubt that comes from the Church not looking like Christ.

Can I just say, who I am and who you are, whether others are comfortable with our existence in this space or not, does not change who Jesus is and what He has done. Because Jesus knows what this is like. Jesus knows what it is like to be Other. To never be enough and to be too much for this world. And there is room for your doubt here. Because this Jesus is the One who says: This is my body broken for you. This is my blood poured out for you.

To quote Rachel Held Evans again: “Something about communion triggers our memory and helps us see things as they really are. Something about communion opens our eyes to Jesus at the table…This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”

For all my doubt and confusion sometimes about Jesus and my faith, there is room for all of us here at this table. For he knows us and has walked in our shoes and his body and blood and his resurrection bring us together in love because one thing we know for sure: Not all who wander are lost and He was there in the darkness of death and here in these moments as we join together to remember that He brought peace for us to be here even in our doubt.

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Here’s the link to the recording: http://hillsong.org/sermons/

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