Sermon 5.01.2011 The Hang
I want you to listen to today;s bible story from your life. To hear the story as if that problem or struggle you are dealing with is about to be answered. As if today's story will make you see it in a new light.
What if you would live your live as if it were a series of firsts. I wonder what it means see the world with eyes of the first. Last Sunday was my son’s first Easter egg hunt. He had fun picking up the eggs and shaking them for the sound. He would bang together exploring rhythm he is beginning to learn. Then one egg split in two like the temple’s curtain revealing its surprise, chocolate. He was filled with wonder at this. His face was soon messy with chocolate. He ran away as mom tried to clean him up. He knew where the good stuff is.
Today we are going speaking about the first Easter and we started with the ending scene of Homer Smith leaving the nuns after he built them a church in 1963 film, Lilies of the Field. I am using if the video to point to the power of firsts and how to build the church. It was the first time an African American won an Oscar. Another man before Sidney Poitier was awarded the Oscar before him and in 1939 Hattie won one for Gone with the Wind, but this is the first time it was won for a lead, and what a lead. It helped to humanize African Americans and help build support for the Civil Rights movement in the early sixties.
Sidney plays Homer smith. Homer was a traveling handyman down on his luck when he stumbles on a group of Nuns that had escaped from Communist East Germany. Sidney’s Smith helps the Nuns out of a sense of compassion. They, especially Mother Superior Maria, pushes Homer to bigger and bigger projects, until she demands him to build them a chapel. He has to come up with the materials, and with no promise of payment. The movie then shows Homer going through a series of firsts. He then has to learn to have others help him, and through all the trials and tribulations, the chapel is built. The church is built. We then learn his deepest desire had always been to be an architect. In living a life of deep compassion, he finds an outlet for his own deepest desires. While he thought he was doing the Nuns a favor, it is he who is most blessed.
The text for this Sunday is the doubting Thomas story in John. When this text is usually preached the focus is on doubt and over coming doubt. Lets look at the story with fresh eyes. The text is fascinating because it is also a founding text for the church as it describes the first and second Sundays of the first Easter season. It should tells us what is next after Easter, and the story does, indeed tell us what's next. There are four major characters to the story. Three of these characters drive the action in the story, and interestingly Thomas is not one of the three. So, it would be good for us to look at those other three: Jesus, the church represented by the disciples and the Holy Spirit.
The first Sunday started with fear and uncertainty. The disciples are huddled in a dark room fearing for their lives. For good reason, they are strangers to the city; their leader has been brutally killed by the authorities, and the Romans have shown no mercy to those perceived as enemies. They right feared for their life. Then Jesus comes among them. He brings them peace. They are suddenly energized and they are given their mission for the rest of their earthly life. Jesus is sending them out. Then they are given the gift to make their sending out successful, Jesus, in a reenacting of genesis 2 breathes life into them. The Holy Breathe, the Holy Spirit moves into them, and fear has no room in them. They can see the world as a first. They are born again. It is best to remember the Tanak, the Old Testament’s of the Holy Spirit. The spirit brought us life, and it did it continuously. God is always breathing into you nostrils new life.
They go out and share their experiences. Thomas, their friend, is not buying it. He looks at them and gives them the answer that I am sure many of you here have heard. Unless x, I will not believe. Why? They share the mysterious that is hard to believe. Now, they answer with the best evangelical technique ever devised, they say fine, but come and be with us. They stay in relationship with him. Belief, for them, is not the admission ticket to church, relationship is.
They say to him, we have a great worship band, the music is best in town and the treats are so yummy. Sometimes the sermon is not too boring. So, he goes because his friends are there. Then Jesus shows up and it is he who does the hard work of converting. I think we sometime think the admission cost for coming on Sunday is a test of belief. We miss the purpose of worship, which is encountering Jesus. For when two or more gather in his name, he is here. These are not empty words. I have experienced Jesus in the music, in the ancient words repeated, and yes a few rare times in the sermon. But mostly in the meal of wine and bread. We miss the purpose of evangelizing to share our experiences, our firsts we experience in our life together with Jesus. Jesus is the one that calls the sheep. We are called to love the fellow sheep. I cannot convert anyone, and neither can you. And that is good news.
Church is a place to encounter Jesus and not a place of rules and agreement. When we encounter God, God changes us. The spirit leads us. The Holy Spirit leads us into life of first. Of seeing new possibilities not the same old. Of finding the sweetness of chocolate, when we go about making music.
The Good News is that Jesus has called us to a new life. One were we can see the world new again. Feel the breath flow through you now. And he has given us a purpose to find and fulfill our deepest desires. To build a church. To build his church. We are sent out, and this is the greatest gift of all, to experience the world as love, life and new life, a series of firsts.
Theology lesson time. Repeat after me.
“I build the church.”
“You build the church.”
“We Build the church.”
“He builds the church.”