Archives for April 2015

Finding faith in moments of joy, disbelief and wonderment…..

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Most of you know I am part of the Ministerial Association here in town. We continue to search for common ground at our meetings and it seems we found some at our last few meetings. It seems that the Presbyterians, the Methodists and us all have chipmunks running around our church and they are showing up at the most inopportune times. So, as we hashed out possible solutions, the Presbyterian minister came to the conclusion that it was predestined for the chipmunks to be there and he wasn’t going to do anything. Well, since that decision, the chipmunks have multiplied and he is really at a loss because he doesn’t want to go against his doctrinal statement about predestination.

The Methodist minister went to the board and got approval to purchase some live traps. He caught the chipmunks and released them in the woods on the outskirts of town. But the chipmunks reappeared a few days later. So both ministers looked at me and asked what we were doing to get rid of our chipmunks. So I shared my plan.

I first asked the Methodist minister if I could borrow his traps and he obliged. I called the Bishop on the telephone and asked for special dispensation to baptize the chipmunks. I detected an uncomfortable tone amidst the Bishop’s laughter – a bit of joy mixed with confusion, disbelief and doubt about my plan. When things quieted down, the Bishop asked, “what exactly do you plan to accomplish by baptizing these chipmunks?” So I responded, “Oh that’s easy Bishop. Chipmunks are tenacious little creatures and I figure they will always be a part of the church, but the odds are pretty good that if we baptize them, we won’t see them but a couple times a year, you know, at Christmas and Easter…………….” My apologies to my Presbyterian and Methodist colleagues.

So here we are, two Sundays removed from Easter. This Sunday, we read Luke’s accounting of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples. The story has all of the same elements- the disciples are fearful, don’t really want to believe Jesus has been raised from his death and yet they don’t know where his body is located because his tomb is in fact empty. Peter has run to the tomb and verified that it is empty. Besides Mary Magdalene’s encounter at the tomb, two others, one named Cleopas have now encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus; they even go into their home and ask Jesus to come with them and break bread with him.

The disciples are gathered and discussing all of this. Jesus appears, seemingly out of nowhere. The disciples are frightened and think they are seeing a ghost. Jesus invites the disciples to look the marks of the wounds on his hands and feet and to go as far as to actually touch him to prove otherwise. “And while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” Then Jesus asks for something to eat and they give him a piece of broiled fish and they watch him consume it.

Jesus goes on to remind the spellbound disciples of the prophecy foretold in the Scriptures regarding the coming Messiah, and that he in fact is the fulfillment of all that was written and prophesied – the Messiah will suffer, die and will be raised on the third day, the end result will be repentance and forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed in his name to everyone, beginning in Jerusalem. Jesus looks into the eyes of those disciples and opens their minds to the Scriptures. Jesus then says – “you are my witnesses, you have seen these things, and you are seeing me now.” And yet, the disciples, even in their moment of “joy, are disbelieving and still wondering.”

This is where most of us live as we contemplate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus after Easter morning. As we get further and further removed from the hustle and bustle of Easter morning and attempt to fathom what the resurrection means for us at this day and this time, those of us who return on the Sundays that follow Christmas and Easter share a mixture of joy, disbelief and wonderment if we are really truthful with ourselves.

We ask, “what can the resurrection do for me or what does the resurrection do for me or what will the resurrection do for me?” Jesus introduces seemingly simple answers – he says, my resurrection is followed by repentance, forgiveness of sins in his name and to be witnesses to this wonderful gift. But honestly, how simple is it to repent, to forgive? More importantly, how simple is it to receive forgiveness and to see the world with new eyes and an open mind? How simple is it for us to witness to others and express what it means to be forgiven by God for the sins that we are not able to redeem on our own?

You and I wake up every day and return on these Sunday mornings experiencing this mixture of emotions – joy, disbelief and wonderment. Joy in the moment that Jesus rose from his death to fulfill the prophecy for the Messiah. Disbelief, when we ponder why Jesus would willingly die for us and call upon us as his witnesses to spread the message of his forgiveness even in the midst of killing him. Wonderment, when we consider how blessed we are for this unimaginable gift and ask the Lord to provide the wisdom to return thanks for what he has done for all of humanity and to make it meaningful for everyone including those who are with us once or twice a year.

We return on these Sunday mornings because we recognize that our baptism marks the beginning of our faith journey and not just as a steppingstone for a continued life of confusion and distraction but by an anchor that we can hold on to. We understand that Jesus gives us the choice to show up once or twice a year; but we have been captured enough by his mysterious love to return and seek him, knowing that he opens the eyes and minds of those who gather to witness and embrace the mixed emotions – joy, disbelief and wonderment – just as if you and I were with the disciples on that resurrection day.

We return here to this place of worship on these Sunday mornings and at other times, as those who seek that same Jesus who opens the eyes and minds of the disciples and who promises to open our eyes and minds to his message of grace and love. Even though we live and often arrive with a mixture of joy and doubt and wonder, we leave inspired and encouraged as his witnesses, empowered to share his message of redemption.

The lesson learned in a life of faith today is this: Our baptism truly means more than having the privilege to show up on Christmas and Easter. If this is our choice then we are still welcomed at the table of the Lord when we arrive. And so, nonetheless, we must continue to witness and baptize those in our midst and allow our Lord to do his work in opening the eyes and minds of those who have received this wonderful gift – repentance and forgiveness of sins is still being proclaimed in Jesus’ name to everyone and everywhere, it didn’t end in a closed room in Jerusalem. And I thank God for that. The Resurrection has changed the world forever. And a new life in Christ begins at our baptism.