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Tuesday, April 17 2012

John 20:19-31

          I’m sure you’re all aware that this is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  You know that, right?  It’s kind of hard to miss.  It’s in the news – there’s been a whole mess of TV documentaries – analyzing what went wrong – and where the ship is now – talking about who was on board – and who managed to survive.  Even the TV game show Jeopardy had a Titanic category on Friday.  And by the way, I want you to know that I knew the name of the ship that was the first to come to the rescue.  The correct Jeopardy question was, “What is the … Carpathian?”  Right.  Some of you know that too.

           And did you know that in a well-known area restaurant – right over on Transit Road –you can enjoy a Titanic 8-course dinner at a local restaurant – created from the original Titanic menu – for just $135 per person?  And then of course, there is also the tour ship that left the same port just a few days ago that the Titanic set sail from.  You hear about this?  Folks are in period costumes as a sort of reenactment of the Titanic’s journey – attempting to reenact the same voyage that the Titanic took – with one BIG exception – yeah – the actual sinking of the Titanic.  They are, however, hoping to have a memorial service at the spot where the Titanic went down – at the time that the Titanic sank.

           So yes – it’s difficult to escape hearing and reading about – or seeing TV documentaries – and movies about the sinking of the Titanic this week.  Our fascination with this epic disaster I find interesting.  100 years after her sinking – we are still fascinated with the Titanic.  However – I don’t think any of us would ever say, “If only I had been there.”

           Well let me tell you something.  We’re going to be examining another event today – an event that took place some 2000 years ago – and I suspect that most of us just might be willing to say, “If only I had been there.”  It’s a literal, historical event that we are still fascinated with – 2000 years after it happened.    

          I’m talking of course about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Although we didn’t dress in period costumes to reenact the event – we did move through the events of Holy Week – you know – the Palm Sunday triumphal entry – the Last Supper between Jesus and his disciples – the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane – his trial – his crucifixion – his death and burial – and finally – with shouts of “He is risen! – “He is risen indeed!” – we celebrated Christ’s victory over sin, death and the power of the devil.  If you were here for any of that – then you remember how we reenacted and retold that story. 

           And we have returned here today because we heard that Good News – the same Good News that the disciples heard on that first Easter day.  And if you’re like me – well then – you want to hear more.  So today – that story continues.  And we read about the disciples – those first disciples who were there.  Man – that must have been something!  After all, they were there, right?  They were all there.  Peter and John.  They saw the empty tomb.   Mary Magdalene.  She actually saw the risen Lord.  She was the first to see the risen Lord – the first person to proclaim Jesus risen from the dead is a woman!       

          There’s just one problem.  No one believed her.  Peter and John run to the tomb so they can see for themselves.  And yet – that night – the night of the day of resurrection those first disciples are huddled together in fear.  They are shocked.  They are stunned.   Even though they were there when everything happened – still the whole thing has caught them completely off guard.  As I’m sure it would have caught us off guard had we been there.                                                               

          So this is where we find these disciples today in our Gospel lesson – these champions – these fearless heroes of the faith.   Well – not quite yet.  Scared.  Cowering together behind locked doors.  After all, what happened to Jesus could happen to them, right?  Every time they hear a noise, they think someone is coming to get them to haul them away.

          But suddenly – out of nowhere – Jesus appears.  He doesn’t use the door – he doesn’t climb in through a window – he simply appears to them – in his solid – physical – resurrection body.  And he shows them his hands.  He shows them his side.  The wonderful thing here is that Jesus comes to them when they are confused – when they are bewildered – when they are frightened.  He greets them with  familiar words, “Shalom, ”which means, “Peace be with you.”                                                                       

          Can you imagine?  Can you imagine their reaction when they see Jesus?  Can you imagine their surprise?  Do you think joy might fit the bill? Joy?  Yes, joy!  Here is Jesus – Jesus their Lord – standing right there in front of them.  He’s not a vision!  He’s not a ghost!  He’s Alive!  They can’t believe it.  And yet there he is.  Don’t you think their worries and fears turned to joy?

          Man, if only I had been there.  Have you ever thought that?  If only I had been there.  To have all my doubts – all my fears erased – just like those first disciples.   Why, if I had been there – I wouldn’t have any doubts at all.

          And of course the disciples are all there.  Well, almost all of them anyway.  Thomas – the one named Thomas – is not there.

          So when the disciples and Thomas finally get together again, what do you suppose the disciples said to him?  “Hey Tom!  You won’t believe it!  We saw Jesus!  He’s alive?”  And Thomas says, “Yeah.  You’re right.  I don’t believe it.”   He refuses to believe.  He refuses to believe that Jesus is alive – UNLESS – he can see – and touch those scars – the marks of the nails – the spear in his side.  Unless he can see and touch and hear the voice of Jesus for himself – he will not believe.

          Now before we start beating up on Thomas, remember that the other disciples did not believe at first either.  Peter and John did not believe Mary when she told them that she had seen the Lord.  They were skeptics.  They were doubters – until – until they too had seen the Lord.  For them – seeing is believing.

          And Thomas takes it one step further.  It isn’t enough for Thomas to see and hear about it from somebody else.  He needs proof.  And the proof he is looking for is literally in the hands of Jesus – as well as in his feet and his side.

          Guess you could say, Thomas is a realist.  He won’t believe in fairy tales.  And he’s not about to believe the words – of his friends.

          Now imagine what that whole next week must have been like.  Thomas is struggling with what he’s heard.  He sees that his friends – the other disciples – have an excitement and a joy that he does not have – and that he cannot explain.  But still, he continues to meet with them, even if he can’t quite share their joy and enthusiasm.  Even if he can’t believe what they’re telling him.  And the other disciples, for their part, in spite of the way Thomas feels – continue to include him in their fellowship.

          And do you know what that tells me?  It tells me that it’s all right to be a part of the group – it’s all right to be among believers – and still have questions.  To still have doubts.  It’s a good thing to ask questions.  It’s a good thing to wrestle with your faith.  Christians are not people who believe blindly what has been told to them.  It’s okay to ask questions.  It’s okay to look for evidence to support your faith.  And if you were here last week on Easter Sunday – you know that I gave you six reasons why I believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead really happened.  Six pieces of evidence for us to think about and digest.  And if you weren’t here – or if you didn’t hear the sermon – you can go to Zion’s website and read it for yourself.  It’s not on the website yet – but it will be by sometime on Monday. 

          So Thomas was not excluded – he was not kicked out – because of his unbelief.  A week later, while the disciples are meeting – the risen Jesus appears to them again.  This time – yes, this time – Thomas is with them.

          “Thomas!  Put your finger here,” says Jesus.  “Place your hand here in my side.  Do not doubt, but believe.”  Well, that’s all Thomas needed.  And in fact, the scriptures do not tell us whether Thomas reached out to touch those wounds or not.  My guess is that he did not.  He didn’t need to.  But the Bible says that he does react.  He proclaims what I would say is perhaps the greatest statement of faith ever made.  He falls to his knees – okay, it doesn’t say that he fell to his knees, but a little drama never hurt.  He falls to his knees and says, “My Lord, and my God.”

          And in those words he identifies just exactly who Jesus is.  He is the Lord.  He is God!      

          And Jesus says, “Do you believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.”

          Oh, by the way.  That’s you and me, folks.  Someone somewhere in some place told us about Jesus and his resurrection.  And maybe we believed – or maybe we were skeptical – or maybe we didn’t believe the resurrection at all.  As Those really are the only three choices we have when we hear the Good News that Jesus Christ is indeed risen from the dead.  But it is a choice we have to make.  Folks – the resurrection is huge.  We might even call it titanic.

           So even if we’re tempted to say, “I wish I had been there.”  Well – we weren’t there.  We’re not there.  We’re here.  And just like last week – on Easter – we are to here to meet the risen Lord.  And even though we have not seen – we believe.  Even though we have not seen – we have heard the witness of those who did see.  Throughout the Scriptures – we hear their words.  Listen once again to the close of our Gospel reading.  This is so good! I think it sums up the entire witness by the disciples to Jesus in the whole New Testament.  Listen!:

          “These [things] are written so that you might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in his name.”  That’s why we’re here.  With our doubts.  Our questions.  Our fears.  There may indeed be someone here today who is wrestling with – who is questioning – this whole thing called faith and belief.  This whole business about the resurrection.  I can only invite you to examine the evidence – and to meet the risen Christ right where you are. 

          And Jesus does indeed come to us.  He comes to us today in his Word.  He comes to us today in bread and wine.  And he says to us, “Shalom.  Peace be with you.”  He wants to meet you where you are – doubts and fears and all. 

          The hymn we are about to sing says, “We walk by faith and not by sight.”  We walk by faith even if we were not there – even when we wish that we had been there.  And still we believe.  And because of that, we of all people are called blessed:

          “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe ... [that] you may have life in his name.”


Posted by: AT 08:51 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 16 2012

Mark 16:1-8; Acts 10: 34-43; I Cor 15:1-11

          You probably do not remember the name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. During his day he was as powerful a man as there was on earth.  A Russian Communist leader he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution 1917, was editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda, and was a full member of the Politburo.  His works on economics and political science are still read today.  There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism.  Addressing the crowd he aimed his harshest criticism at Christianity hurling insult, argument, and proof against it.

          An hour later he was finished. He looked out at what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of men's faith. ‘Are there any questions?’ Bukharin demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium but then one man approached the platform and mounted the lectern standing near the communist leader.  He surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right. Finally he shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church: “CHRIST IS RISEN!” En masse the crowd arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of thunder: “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”

          My friends.  My dear friends.  Listen to me as I say to you this morning, CHRIST IS RISEN! (“HE IS RISEN INDEED!”) 

          And let me tell you – of this I am convinced.  All the evidence points to this one thing.  That Jesus Christ was crucified, died and was buried – but this is also true – that He rose from the dead – he is resurrected from the dead – and that some day he will come again in glory.

          Everything that we believe – everything that we do – everything that that we are about – hinges on this one thing.  On this one truth.  This historical event in space and time.  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Without the resurrection – the whole thing falls apart.

          The questions that people have about the resurrection are not new with 21st Century Americans.  The first Apostles – the early church – had to defend what they knew to be true.  And we know it is true because they experienced it.  They were eye-witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That’s why the Apostle Paul writes in our reading today from I Corinthians 15:

          If the dead are not raised – if there is no such thing as the resurrection of the dead – then Christ has not been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised – then our proclamation has been in vain – in other words – we’ve been wasting our time.  If Christ has not been raised – then your faith is what? – futile – your faith is in vain – and you are still in your sins. 

          And then what does he go on to say?  “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact,” he says, “Christ has been raised from the dead.  The first fruits of those who have died.”

          Paul's point is this: If Jesus is still dead, then all we have is another great teacher who died like everybody else.  If his bones are still stuck in some tomb, then it means there's still no clear path to the Creator, no certainty about our life after death, and no trustworthy teaching about why we exist in this world.  If he is still dead, all we have is our emptiness.

          Folks – do you see?  If the literal– physical – bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is not true – the philosophical atheists of our day are right.  The literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus form the dead is the best – in fact it is the only reason we have for accepting Jesus for who he is.

          Again – this is the central issue to our faith.  Christianity rises and falls on the truth and reality of the resurrection.  And let me tell you that the resurrection of Jesus defines who I am.  The resurrection defines who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ.

          So since this is THE central event that defines who we are as Christians – and since this is THE defining moment upon which faith is based – then it seems to me that we have some choices to make.  One of three.  And the choices we make concerning the resurrection are critical.  Eternity lies in the balance. 

          The first is to be bewildered.  The message of the resurrection is so stunning – so spectacular – so unimaginable – that some people don’t know what to make of it.  Not sure if it’s true or not.  Not wanting to believe – and yet – fearful that it just might be true.  Some folks choose to remain bewildered or skeptical at best.

          The second option is to be in total denial.  You can examine the evidence and still choose to ignore it.  And let me state for the record that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is overwhelming.  Having said that, the resurrection cannot be proved.  But neither can it be disproved.  All efforts to do so fall flat on their face.  But the evidence remains overwhelming in favor of a literal, physical, bodily resurrection.

          Listen.  This is what I want you to think about – now and after you leave here today.

          The most compelling piece of evidence that I can give you is the witness of the disciples.  Think about it.  If the resurrection is a lie – then those first disciples are the ones who made it up.  And what happened to them?   All of the original disciples – with the exception of John – who was exiled to the island of Patmos – died martyr’s deaths.  And not one of them at the last minute recanted and said, “Hey!  Wait a minute!  That resurrection thing – we just kind of made that up.”  No.  They had nothing to gain either politically or financially – and it cost them their lives.


·        The disciples recorded it and later willingly died for it.  

·        Then you have to consider the transformation that came about in the disciples.  After Jesus was raised from the dead, these were different men and women. 

·        And then there is Paul.  Paul was a witness to the resurrected Christ – and it changed his life from a persecutor of Christians to the greatest missionary the church ever had. 

·        Speaking of Paul – he reminds us today – again from our reading from I Corinthians – that there were more than 500 witnesses to the resurrection.  Some had died, but the rest, he said, are still with us.  The clear implication is that he is saying, “If you don’t believe me, ask them.”  500 plus people could not have imagined this – nor could that many people be part of a mass conspiracy – and never once did any deny what they had seen.

·        Neither the Roman authorities nor the Jewish religious leaders ever disproved it.  They didn’t even try to.  And by the way – if they could have produced the body – they would have.  But they couldn’t because Jesus had in fact been raised from the dead.

·        And then, in a male-dominated world where women were second class citizens – the testimony of women was regarded as worthless. Why would the gospel writers, like Mark, dare make up a story about women being the first to find Jesus?  They would be inviting scandal and scorn; unless, of course, it actually happened – and since that’s the way it happened they did not dare say otherwise.

          Listen!  I am here to tell you today that the resurrection of Christ is not a fairy tale.  It is not myth.  It is not a rumor.  If you need evidence this is what I offer to you.  After this it is a matter of faith.  But this was enough for the disciples.  It changed their lives.  And this is why I believe in the resurrection.  Because it also has changed my life.


          That then leaves us with a third choice – and that choice is to believe.  To believe that the resurrection of Jesus is true.  To accept it and believe it by faith.  Based upon the evidence – based upon the witness – based upon the changed lives of those first disciples – and the changed lives of those who have not seen, and yet believe. 

          When it comes to making choices – these – it seems to me – are the choices we make.  You can be agnostic and cynical by saying that you don’t know what to make of this.  You can deny it as a fairy tale – a product of wishful thinking but not something that actually happened.  Or you can accept the fact of the literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  Not only does it lead to a transformed life in the here and now – but eternity hangs in the balance.

          So what will you do with the evidence?  Which choice will you make?

          My friends – Christ is not dead. Christ is alive!  And because Christ is risen from the dead, it means that death is not the end!  Death does not have the final word.  Jesus has the final word, and that word is resurrection!

          Let me finish with this story.  “An ancient legend says that in the early church a believer was to be martyred for his faith.  As they tied his hands and led him to the stake, he was asked if he had any last words.  He shouted out, ‘He is risen.’  Unknown to the authorities, in the surrounding hills, the Christians had gathered to watch the execution.  When they heard the words, ‘He is risen’… They cried out with one voice … ‘He is risen indeed.’”

          That’s how they greeted one another in the early church.

          “He is risen!”  [“He is risen indeed!”]

          “He is risen!”  [“He is risen indeed!”]

          “He is risen!”  [“He is risen indeed!”]

                                                                             Hallelujah!  Amen         

Posted by: AT 08:36 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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