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Sermon transcript for May 3, 2015

“Love One Another”
1 John 4:7-21
May 3, 2015—Belmont UMC
Ken Edwards

Audio MP3

Last Sunday we focused on God’s love for us and our response to that love. Much of that response is summed up in these challenging 3 words:  Love one another. When I read those words I always picture the church of my childhood, Mt. Zion UMC, in Robertson County. It’s an old church, one of the oldest Methodist Churches in Middle Tennessee.

Mt. Zion is the church in which I was baptized as an infant, welcomed as a new confirmed church member when I was 10 years old. My early thoughts and beliefs about God were formed by teachers, preachers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who were part of that church. We went to Vacation Bible School there in the summer, revivals in the fall, and we celebrated Easter and Christmas with special events and pageants. Homecoming at that church was/is a big event.

John wrote these simple words to the early Christian community, “Love one another,” and many years later we learned ‘love one another” in the elementary class at Mt. Zion. We wrote those words on handmade Bible markers and painted them on flower pots holding tiny marigold seedlings for our mothers on Mother’s Day. I’m not sure we understood the full impact of those words, but we learned them and we internalized them, and here they are again in our scripture reading for today.

As a pastor I have become sort of a family chaplain and I wind up doing funerals for many of our family members. The last funeral I did at Mt. Zion was for my great uncle Tom. He was 92, a big man, a farmer, with long arms and huge hands. He wore overalls and a straw hat. He loved working with cows and mules. When he was younger, he married a widow with two sons. He raised the boys as his own. They always called him “Thomas.” His sons said, “He wasn’t very demonstrative, but we always knew that he loved us.” He was a part of a generation of men that do not hug and I say, “I love you,” but they find ways of letting you know that they love you.

He did not like getting dressed up, and he had wanted to be buried in his overalls, but my aunt said, “Absolutely not!” He quit going places where he could not wear his overalls, like church, but he kept his prayer life up and he watched a TV preacher once in a while.

Uncle Tom never said, “I love you,” to me either, but he came to hear me preach one time. It was a big deal to see him in church, wearing a suit no less. He came up to me after the service with a smile on his face and said, “Boy, I don’t know what to think about you.” I translated it, “I’m proud of you and I love you.” Several years ago he took me aside and said, “I want you to preach my funeral when I die. Say you will.” “I promised that I would.” I translated it, “I love you and I trust you to say some good things about me when I die.” Uncle Tom represents a whole host of people who taught me, “Love one another.”

John writes, “God is love;” this is one of the early affirmations of faith for the Christian community. The whole nature of God is summed up in these words. The Bible is God’s love story—the story of God’s unrelenting, unconditional, unilateral, and sacrificial love.  Paul Tillich wrote, “In every moment of genuine love we are dwelling in God and God in us.” (source unknown)

“God is love” is evidenced by God’s great longing for God’s people and for the whole of creation. “God is love” is expressed in covenant making and keeping, it is revealed in liberation from bondage, expressed in the passionate words of prophets and psalmists. It is a longing that is expressed in the life and death of Jesus. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and sent God’s own son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

“Dear Friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other.” (v. 11 CEB) Love one another means to love as God loves. It means loving as an affirmation of the true nature of God. It means love extended to people we would not automatically think to love—love that stretches our sensibility and rationality.

I remember hearing a prayer in the early days after the 2001 terrorist attacks on our country, in which the person prayed for our attackers, and expressed a willingness to love and forgive. It was a surprising prayer, an uncomfortable prayer to hear, but we all knew that it was a prayer centered in the nature and heart of God.

Jesus taught us to love our enemies. We tend to think of love one another as loving the people in this room, or the people in our families or the people we like. God’s nature is to extend God’s self to everyone—even those outside our small, well-defined, and often exclusive circles.

We can be rather tribal in the way we group up. We are on the eve of another presidential campaign cycle and we will watch people group into red and blue tribes.

Brian McLaren has written about this tendency and calling for a unity energized by diversity. He writes, “That doesn’t mean all our tribes need to wear the same paint and feathers, speak the same language, cook with the same spices, and celebrate the same religious holidays. But it means all our human tribes . . . need to convert from what we might call dirty energy to clean energy to fuel our tribal life. True, the dirty energy of fear, prejudice, supremacy, inferiority, resentment, isolation, and hostility is cheap, abundant, and familiar. That’s why societies run on it, even though it’s destroying us. More than ever before in our history, we need a new kind of personal and social fuel. Not fear, but love. Not inferiority, but equality. Not prejudice, but openness. Not supremacy, but service. . . Not the spirit of hostility, but the holy Spirit of hospitality.” (We Make the Road by Walking. P.218)

God’s love holds nothing back. Throughout scripture, God chooses those we would deem unlikely, affirms possibility within them, awakens hope in them and causes them to do great things. That’s how God’s love works.

I watch this happen in our church community. I see adults, teachers, choir leaders faith friends, and counselors encouraging young people and bringing the best out in them. They affirm in these children and youth what they may not be able to see in themselves. I’m sure most of us in this room have been on the receiving of such affirmation.

It means living out the covenant of “steadfast love.” We say in our baptismal liturgy, “We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God and be found faithful in their service to others.” We promise to be responsible for their care, to love them and to model love and forgiveness in all we do. We cause their faithfulness to happen by our love and affirmation of them.

Mother Theresa said, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.’

Welcome to the love one another community! This is the place where we learn to love one another, to embody the true nature of God, to break down barriers to widen the circles and, in the words of Mother Theresa, live as little pencils in the hands of a writing God, sending love letters to the world.

The second thing that happens is that we feel compelled to respond. 1 John tells us, “Little children, let’s not love with words or speech, but with action and truth.” (3:18)/The love of God is compelling and we begin to think, “I can’t just leave this on the table. I have to do something with this.” And thus begins a wonderful and adventurous journey of faith.

Today, if you don’t remember anything else, remember this:  The most important thing is that God loves you. And God has loved you from the very beginning.  


Sermon transcript for April 26, 2015

Love in Action
1 John 3:16-24
Belmont UMC—April 26, 2015
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio MP3

“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16a CEB)

Over the next two weeks we will be focusing on the one thing that is basic to our understanding of our relationship with God: Love. Today will focus on God’s love for us and our response to that love. Next Sunday we will focus on loving one another. It doesn’t get anymore basic than this, but this is the most important thing for us to consider.

Heather Harriss, Richard and Martha Hooper and other staff members are leading our Confirmation Class and preparing them for membership on May 17. It’s a wonderful group of 6th graders and a delight to be with them. In my last appointment the Director of  Education and Program and I led those groups. We teach them many things to Confirmands like church history, understanding the Bible, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and the 3 movements of grace, worship and sacraments, but we decided that the most important thing was to teach them that they are loved by God. We would begin many of those classes asking, “What’s the most important thing?” And they would answer, “God love us!” And we ask, “How long has God loved us?” And they would answer, “From the very beginning.”

We have a baptism today. We seem to have lots of baptisms lately, which is a sign of a vital congregation. I told the parents, as I tell everyone, from 6 months to 60 years of age, that baptism is not a celebration of our decision to be baptized, but it is a celebration of God’s decision. God decided to love us from the very beginning of our lives and we can only celebrate it. I recall hearing Bishop Ken Carder saying something like that many years ago and it has stayed with me.

Why talk about God’s love for us? We all know this to be true. We learned this in our preschool years when we sang, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Right?  Over the course of my ministry I have met many people who have said to me, “God could never love me.” I’ve met many people who were told, “God could not love you.” Or they were told, “God loves you, but God does not love who you are.”

That is how people feel sometimes but 1 John says that even when our feelings (our hearts) condemn us, God is greater than our feelings and God comes to us to remind us that God loves us.

Jim and Mary (not their real names) had been attending the church I was serving for several months. They were dating. Mary had become a member, but Jim decided to wait. One day they came up to me after worship and Mary showed me her new engagement ring. I congratulated them and we talked about beginning premarital counseling and setting a date for the wedding.

At the end of our second premarital counseling session Jim said, “Pastor Ken, I want to go ahead and join the church, but I’ve never been baptized. I have lots of questions about this.” So the two of us set up some meetings to prepare him for baptism.

The best time for Jim to meet me was when he was finishing up work. Jim had a fencing business. He was very ruddy from being outside all day long and his had huge arms and shoulders from digging post holes and lifted heavy 4 by 4 posts all day long. And he would arrive at church, take off his muddy boots at the side porch, come in my office and go into the rest room off of my office, clean up and put on a clean shirt. He would apologize for being so dirty, but he knew I didn’t mind.

I love those visits with Jim. We talked about the theology of baptism and I told him what I tell everyone, that baptism is a celebration of God’s choice to love us from the very beginning. I told him that the water was a symbol of that love. We talked about a lot of other things as well, but I always had a sense that Jim was holding back something that he wanted to tell me. We met several times and then set a date for his baptism and church membership.

On the Saturday night before his baptism, Jim called me at home. I could tell he was upset and he said, “Pastor Ken, I can’t be baptized tomorrow.” He was crying a bit and I could hear Mary in the background saying, “You need to tell him.”

I said, “Jim, you have prepared for this. What’s wrong?” He didn’t answer so I said, “Can you meet me at the church office and talk with?” He agreed to meet with me in 30 minutes.

I waited for over an hour and worried that he wasn’t coming. Finally, Jim appeared in the doorway, bracing himself with his hands on the door frame. He was reluctant to come in. Finally, he walked into the room, fell on his knees and began to sob. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone cry that hard. I sat down in the floor beside him and put my arm around him and waited. Between sobs he kept saying the oddest thing, “I can’t take the water.”

Finally, he was able to say, “I can’t take the water. You said the water is a symbol of God’s love and I can’t believe that God could possibly love me.”

Then he told me his story. His mother had died when he was in middle school and his father had not handled the grief well. His father began to drink a lot and when he drank he became violent and he would beat Jim and his little brother. Jim told me that after the first beating he ran to a friend’s house to escape and the friend offered him some pills to calm him down. This was the beginning of a long history of drug abuse.

Jim told me that he had been clean for over a year but he also told me the things he had done to get money to buy drugs. It was a pretty ugly story but he let it all out. Before it was over I was crying with him. Finally, he said, “So now you know what an awful person I have been and why God could not possibly love me. I can’t take the water.”

I said, “Jim, God does love you and God has always loved you without condition. I wish someone had come to you when you were in middle school and helped you with this. But I don’t think I’ve met many people who need to receive the water of baptism more than you. And I’m not letting you out of this. Tomorrow you will come to church and kneel at the chancel and I will put the water of God’s love on your head and this will be the beginning of something new.” He said, “I need to think about it.”

The next day I had asked the associate pastor to lead most of the liturgy for the baptism because if Jim showed up, I knew I’d probably be too emotional to read it. And the associate pastor did not know the story behind this baptism.

I watched the crowd as worship started, and did not find Jim or Mary. We said the greeting and the opening prayer, and it was during the first hymn they walked in the sanctuary. Jim looked me, took a deep breath and shrugged. When it came time for his baptism he and Mary walked to the front and both of them were crying.

When he knelt for the baptism, I knelt beside him. By then I was crying a bit, also. I put my arm around him and whispered, “Jim, I know you are struggling to believe that God loves you, but today begins a journey toward believing and I’m here to help you.” I stood and scooped a hefty amount of water out of the font and placed it on his head. Water ran down his face. It was a beautiful moment and I’ll never forget it.

Two things happen when we begin to believe that God truly loves us unconditionally. The first thing is transformation. This reality of this love changes us, sometimes without our being aware of it. We begin to live differently.

I heard a man say that he had lived pretty recklessly during his young adult years but one day he and his wife had their first baby and when he held that little baby in his arms and felt overwhelmed with love, he thought, “You are going to have to pull yourself together and be a better person.” Love has a way of changing us.

The second thing that happens is that we feel compelled to respond. 1 John tells us, “Little children, let’s not love with words or speech, but with action and truth.” (3:18)/The love of God is compelling and we begin to think, “I can’t just leave this on the table. I have to do something with this.” And thus begins a wonderful and adventurous journey of faith.

Today, if you don’t remember anything else, remember this:  The most important thing is that God loves you. And God has loved you from the very beginning.  


Sermon transcript for April 19, 2015

The Hands and Feet of Christ
Luke 36b-48
Belmont UMC—April 19, 2015
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio MP3

Jesus said, “Look at my feet and my hands. It’s really me.” (v. 38)  

Jesus’ hands and feet, now wounded, are the points of recognition for the disciples. He did not say, “Look into my eyes.”  “Listen to my voice.” He said, “Look at my hands and feet.”

My wife tells me I’m not very observant. I’ll try to make a connection with her and someone I met at here at church. She’ll ask, “Was he wearing a red tie?” “Did she have on wire rim glasses?” “Was it the woman with striking pendant around her neck?” I can never answer any of these questions, but I can usually tell her about the persons facial features, points of origin, family connections and sometimes I recall the handshake, but rarely do we recognize people by their hands or feet.

I know my children’s hands. A child had been playing with the copier machine at church and the secretary brought me about 20 sheets of paper with the image of a child’s hand.  I immediately recognized it as my sons.

I would recognize my wife’s hands. When I think about her hands, I picture her stirring or kneading because she likes to cook. She usually has food on her hands when she’s preparing dinner.

My paternal grandfather died in 1979 but I think I would still recognize his hands. His hands were small but strong. He was a farmer and he always wore leather gloves when he worked, but his hands were worn and rough. I recall watching his hands work the fields, holding the reigns of his mules, Kate and Nell, milking cows, whittling a stick, sharpening pencils to precision with this pocket knife, and tying his neck tie getting ready for church. His hands were expressions of grace in my life. His hands were welcoming, loving and forgiving hands. Toward the end of his life he was in a nursing home briefly and I still remember holding his hand. His hand was trembling and pale but unmistakably his.

I would recognize the hands of my friend. His has kind hands, hands that have patted expressions of friendship and affection on my back. His hands have shared food with me. His hands have gently held the shoulders of his children as he looked into their eyes and explained something to them. I’ve watched those hands wave in frustration at me when I’ve been exasperating. I’ve watched those hands shoot a basketball with the graceful shooters touch.

The disciples would recognize the hands of Jesus. “See my hands!” The hands that broke bread, healed, prayed, and gestured. Now wounded, the marks of his love and life are recognizable.

Former Bishop of the Methodist Church of South Africa, Peter Storey, writes about the hands of Jesus. “These hands were carpenter’s hands, hands that had so often felt the texture of rough timber and shaped that timber expertly into something of beauty.
Carpenter’s hands.”

“These hands were healer’s hands, hands that had reached out with incredible sensitivity to touch the sore and broken places in people’s bodies. These hands that had gently touched their wounds, bringing wholeness and help from pain. From these fingertips compassion flowed.
Healer’s hands.”    

“These were also powerful hands, hands that had knotted a whip out of cords and struck blows for truth, hands that had been lifted up against the spirits that shackled people’s minds, casting those spirits out. These hands had been raised against wind and waves, bringing them into submission.
Powerful hands.”

“And these were praying hands, hands that had been lifted heavenward in supplication and in intercession for humankind, hands that had clasped each other in agonized wrestling with more than flesh and blood, which is what real prayer is about.
Praying hands.”  (With God in the Crucible, “These Wounded Hands are God’s” p. 88)

Hands and feet say a lot about where we’ve been or who we are. I watch people’s hands as they hold them open to receive the bread of Holy Communion. There are small, soft hand of gentle persons. There are gardener’s hands, calloused and rough; mechanic’s hands, no matter how much they clean them, the traces of grease tell who they are; there are arthritic hands, age spotted hands and tiny innocent hands of children.

Feet are not bared now as much as they were in Jesus’ day, but if we could see each other’s feet those fee would tell something what who we are. We had a foot washing service here on Holy Thursday and it is always a moving time of worship.

When David McKenna was president of Asbury Seminary, he recalled a foot washing service at the seminary chapel. “Stripping off the proud colors of my academic hood, the prerogatives of my presidential robe and the vestments of my clerical status, I took a towel, wrapped it around my waist, knelt on the floor and poured water in a basin. Sliding the bow ahead of me, I moved on my knees to wash the feet of people who represented different roles, status and segments of our campus community. . . . I washed and dried a narrow foot of Asian ancestry, a perspiring foot that betrayed discomfort in a public setting, an alabaster foot so dainty that it snuggled neatly into the palm of my hand, an outsized foot so big that I almost chucked as it overran the borders of the bowl, a trembling foot of a scholar that caught me completely by surprise, a heavily veined foot that showed the sign of advancing age.”

“In those feet I saw the whole word come together. I knelt before a microcosm of the world, its people and their needs.” (The Coming Great Awakening, p. 120)

Jesus said, “See my feet and my hands.” It is interesting that Jesus reappears as the resurrected Christ with the wounds of crucifixion. He was not afraid to show him self wounded and vulnerable, as if to say, “See my hands and feet! This is who I am. This is where I’ve been, where my life, my love (God’s love) for you and the world has taken me.”

In the hands and feet of Jesus we are reminded that God was not averse to becoming one of us, living among us, knowing us, and suffering with us. In this we can know the full extent of God’s love for us. Nothing is more important than this.

At the end of this passage, Jesus reminds the disciples, and us, that we are the witnesses of these things. In this we hear the call to share with the world the love we have seen in the hands and feet of Jesus.

There’s a saying, “Jesus has no hands but our hands.” It sounds simplistic, but it’s true that the world will only see the love of God, represented by the wounded hands and feet of Christ, if we show them this love.

We see this love a lot around the church. I see it in your hospitality and welcome to all. You are creating a welcoming place where people are finding love and healing. I see it in the way you reach out to children at Eakin Elementary, making sure that none go home hungry. I see it in the wonderful things happening in Malawi and Mexico because your generosity. I see it in the tutoring of children from the Edgehill community in the Brighter Days After School ministry. I see it on the smiles of our friends from the Golden Triangle Fellowship. I see it in the way you responded to Imagine No Malaria. I see it in the faces of children at Project Transformation. I see it in our outreach to homeless neighbors.

Where are the places that we will take the love of the hands and feet and Jesus this week? God will show us.


April 19, 2015
Luke 24: 36-48
Title: Bread and Fish, Flesh and Bones
10:30 Community Center Worship - Adam Kelchner, preaching

“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
~Luke 24:36-48

I give thanks to God for each of you who have gathered in this place to worship this morning. Thank you to each person who has assisted us with readings, prayers, and songs to bring glory to God.

Let us pray: Almighty God, we give thanks for the joy and hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Pour out your blessings on these words so that they will teach us how to recognize you. Amen.

Last week our preaching text focused on the disciple Thomas, who at first missed seeing Jesus when he appeared after the resurrection. But in a second gathering, Thomas was there when Jesus comes into the room. Jesus invited him to touch the holes in his hands and wound in his side so he would know it was Jesus.

Thomas’ encounter with Jesus may seem a little gruesome-think about the possibility of touching a flesh wound of someone you knew had died. But those scars proved to Thomas that the man before him was Jesus whom he had followed before the crucifixion.

Jesus’ wounds and scars show us that when he was preaching, teaching, and healing in his community that he was as human as you and I are. Even as he was God, he was fully human with emotion, pain, joy, and the need to eat and sleep like us.

As God became human in Jesus the Christ, God became able to know and experience and redeem all of the things we face. This is good news: there is nothing, you and I will ever face or experience in this human life that God’s grace cannot redeem.

And in this morning’s gospel text, we read of another post resurrection experience with Jesus among the disciples. The scripture story comes right after the walk to Emmaus.

Emmaus was a village outside of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. There were two people, one named Cleopas, who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus when another traveler joined them. The new traveler asked the other two what they were talking about and they explained the powerful actions of Jesus.

The two travelers explained how Jesus was a prophet but that he was executed by the Roman government. Then they explained that some of their friends had gone to Jesus’ tomb on the third day and he was not there.

Then the third traveler, who was Jesus, but they couldn’t recognize him, explained the stories of scripture to them starting with Moses. When the three of them arrived at the village called Emmaus, the two travelers invited Jesus to dinner. It was when Jesus took the break, blessed it, and broke it that they recognized who he was.
Just like in our monthly celebration of Holy Communion, we see God in Jesus Christ when the bread and cup are shared in remembrance of God’s love for us.

The two followers of Jesus rushed back to Jerusalem to tell their friends they had seen Jesus just like the women at the tomb. Then again, Jesus came to the community and spoke a word of peace and showed his wounded hands and feet so they would recognize him.

Then something very curious happens: Jesus asks for food. He says, do you have something to eat? The disciples give him baked fish and he eats it in front of them.

The writer of the gospel of Luke wants the church to know beyond all doubt that Jesus is alive and that he is fully human, not a ghost. But why does it matter that Jesus comes to us in a human body and not as a spirit?

For hundreds of years, preachers and priests have told Christians that the body is sinful and they should focus on the salvation of the soul in the afterlife. The emphasis was on whether or not someone is with God after they die, and it didn’t matter what condition their body was in during this human life.

In the worst ways, Christian conquerors in the 1500’s forced Indians to convert to Christianity before murdering them and their villages. In the 1800’s American slave owners in this part of the country would build churches and pay the pastors to tell the African American slaves that they were supposed to stay submissive to the slaveowner. They were trying to emphasize the afterlife of the soul so that people wouldn’t pay attention to the brutal suffering in their human life.

But we need to remember the scars of Jesus-he has suffered, died, and was resurrected by God’s power in a human body. Jesus cares about more than your soul, he cares for and loves every part of you, whether you are healthy or sick, young or old, blind, deaf, or injured for life.

We can’t be a church that only cares about someone’s salvation. American prophet and preacher, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said: “Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them, is a dead religion.”

When I read the Gospel of Luke I see Jesus who is healing the sick, preaching good news to the poor, and suffering and dying in a human body. And when I look at the church, the Methodist Church, I see Christians who in the 1900’s objected to child labor, endless work, advocated for protection of workers in dangerous industries, and a living wage to meet basic needs.

Right now there are over 300,000 of our brothers and sisters in Tennessee who can’t get healthcare insurance coverage because of government restrictions. Because the church believes Jesus Christ cares about the bodily suffering of our neighbors, I joined other pastors this past Tuesday to protest against the most recognized government officials in the state who are responsible for the restrictions.

Our neighbors are dying from all types of cancers and other diseases and can’t get the medical treatments to save their lives. The church can’t care only about the salvation of souls while death and despair reign supreme in the bodily lives of our neighbors.

Jesus the Christ came back to his disciples, eating fish, and showing off his scars to remind all who follow him that God became as human as you and me.

Bless you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


Sermon transcript for April 12, 2015

“Seeing and Believing”
John 20:19-31
April 12, 2015—Belmont UMC
Ken Edwards

I read a story about a young man named Charlie who was in love with a charming young lady named Ava. She was in love with Charlie, but so far he had been unable to persuade her to marry him. Then one day he invited her to lunch. They drove to the Los Angeles Coliseum, which was one of the largest sports arenas on the West Coast.

In the center of the vast playing field were placed a small table and two chairs. A maitre d’ showed them to the table, they were seated, a waiter stood behind each chair. Apart from this small setting, the Coliseum was empty. They were surrounded by 100,000 empty seats.

The table was elegantly set. Caviar and champagne were served--then a soufflé and salad and more champagne. And as they were waiting for dessert, Charlie directed Ava’s attention to the huge electronic scoreboard at the far end of the field. In a prearranged signal, he raised his glass, and the board flashed the words, “Darling Ava, will you marry me?”  She said, “Yes!”

Why doesn’t God do something like that for us? It would be so much easier to have faith. Imagine a giant comet streaking through the spring sky with the tail writing, “I love you, signed God.” Why doesn’t God do something spectacular like that? It would be so much easier to convince people to believe.

In today’s Gospel text Thomas is struggling to believe what the disciples are telling him. Thomas seems to suffer from a lack of imagination. In John 14 Jesus says, “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be, too. You know the way to the place I’m going”

We know these words because we read them at funerals and find comfort in them, but if you were hearing them for the first time, they might seem a little vague. All the disciples are silent upon hearing these words. Maybe they were perplexed or stunned, but Thomas speaks up and says simply, “Lord, we don’t where you are going. How can we know the way? (v. 5)

There is a part of us that wants to say with Thomas, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

We long for our own certainty and yet we are hard to convince. Even the disciples who had seen the resurrected Christ are still in the locked room when he appears again. How convinced are they? How much more do we want?

In the Gospel of John the themes of seeing and believing are consistent throughout. Phrases like, “they saw and believed,” “come and see,” are found in many chapters.
*Jesus said to the disciples, “Come and see.” (Chapter 1)
*In chapter 2, “Many believed because they saw Jesus’ signs.”
*Chapter 3, “Nicodemus comes to see more signs.    
*Chapter 4, “A woman in Samaria tells her community, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did.”     
*This theme continues all the way to Chapter 20 and the resurrection story. Peter and the beloved disciple raced to the tomb. They looked in and saw nothing. The beloved disciple “saw and believed.” We aren’t sure what he believed—maybe he believed that the body was stolen—but it is more consistent with the Gospel that he believed in the resurrection.
*Mary Magdalene saw Jesus and ran to tell the others. (Chapter 20)

Then Jesus appeared to the disciples who were huddled fearfully behind locked doors, but Thomas was not with them. Upon hearing of this post resurrection manifestation, he declared, “I will not believe unless I see.”

Jesus appeared before them again, and in stinging words responds, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” We feel the sting of those words because we identify with Thomas.

Bob Benson wrote about seeing ourselves in the stories of scripture and we see ourselves in this story. He remembered the popularity of personalized children’s books. We could order a book for our child and the name of the main character was changed to our child’s name. Benson asked, “Why do children like these books, these “me-books?” We all like stories about ourselves.” And he called the Bible a “me-book” and a “you-book” because we are in there.

“We all have taken our turn at saying, ‘There is no room in the inn,’ and we all know what it is like to sadly reverse our paths like the rich young ruler. We all know what it is like to say, ‘I did not know him.’ Or to leave unsaid, ‘Yes, I am a follower of his.’ We all have bravely said in stirring faith, ‘Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God,’ and we will all have felt or said, ‘Unless I touch the prints on his hands.’ . . .
These things were said to us and for us and about us in this living book of God.”
(See You At the House—The Very Best of the Stories He Used to Tell, 38-39.)

In this story we see ourselves, our fears, our doubts, and our need for certainty. “Show me and I will believe!” And we are to those whom Jesus spoke when he said, “Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

But our goal on this spiritual journey is not certainty, being certain about every belief, being certain that every faith distinctive is correct, and having certain proof of the resurrection. Our journey’s goal is not certainty but knowing God, being in relationship with God. This is a relationship that takes us a journey of belief and disbelief, of amazement and bewilderment, of hope and despair, and of covenant making and broken promises.

In the scripture a man says to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” This is one of the most honest prayers in the Bible. It sums up how we feel sometimes—torn between faith and doubt. When I served as an associate pastor the senior pastor used a funeral liturgy out of an old Book of Worship. The response to the opening prayer and greeting was to say to the congregants, “Lord, we believe, help our unbelief.” The first few times I heard him use this I thought it was an odd thing to say at a funeral. But then I realized that it was an authentic and honest prayer to say that at a funeral. It cut to heart of how we often feel. It’s a prayer I often whisper when times are uncertain.

This journey is about honesty—it’s about a time to exclaim, “My Lord and my God,” on one day and our fears, doubts, anxieties on the other. Jesus’ repeated visits to the fearful disciples are visits of grace in the midst of their fear and doubts. Jesus’ words about believing him were not addressed to Thomas alone (who always gets a bad reputation), but to each disciple and to us. In the midst of this journey, with its diverse experiences of faith and fear, God comes to us, because that is the nature of God.

And sometimes I think we do not see what God is doing in our lives. We miss the simple moments of grace that arrive unexpectedly. A few weeks ago, I was having a couple of difficult days. I won’t bore you with the details. But over those two days I received many, many calls, text messages and emails from friends expressing love and support. Three very intuitive friends called me to say something like this, “You’ve been on my mind today and I felt God’s nudging to call you and tell you how much you mean to me.” I tend to be more pragmatic than mystical, so I was well into day two of this before I realized that God was trying to get my attention and offer love and grace.

So why doesn’t God do something spectacular to help us to believe? God has done something spectacular. God became flesh and lived among us in Jesus Christ. Is that spectacular enough? And God comes to us in our fears and doubts and speaks words of grace to us.

In 1 Peter we read that our hope is in finding and knowing relationship with the Risen Christ. He writes, “Though we do not now see him, yet we love him.” (1 Peter 1:8 NRSV)


Seeing the Risen Christ
John 20:19-31
Golden Triangle Fellowship Sermon
April 12, 2015
Adam Kelchner

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘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.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

I give thanks to God for each of you who have gathered in this place to worship this morning. Thank you to each person who has assisted us with readings, prayers, and songs to bring glory to God.

Let us pray: Almighty God, we give thanks for the joy and hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Pour out your blessings on these words so that they will teach us how to recognize you. Amen.

Last week we celebrated Easter and the empty tomb because Jesus Christ was no longer there. Pastor Ken said in his sermon that Jesus took death and despair and he left them in the tomb.

This is the good news of God. Jesus Christ was not defeated by death. Even though he died on the cross, the power of God brought him life again showing God’s love for all of us.

In this morning’s gospel reading, it tells of one of the many times that Jesus comes to meet his disciples after he left the tomb. You may have heard of some of the stories of Jesus going to his disciples after Easter.

He meets them when they are scared and hiding from the police that arrested Jesus and took him to the Roman government. He meets them on the lakeshore where they used to fish and eats with them. He meets them on a road heading to a village called Emmaus. On the road to Emmaus, the other people walking with him do not recognize him at first but they realize it is Jesus when they share communion together.

One of the most important gatherings after the resurrection is when Jesus meets with his disciples, takes them up to the top of a mountain and commands them to go throughout the entire world, follow his teachings, baptize disciples, and lead people in faith.

The writers of Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke want those who read the Bible to know that Jesus is not a ghost, but a fully human person who God has brought back from the dead and is going to continue teaching his disciples.

Remember that on Easter morning, Mary Magdalene and two of Jesus’ disciples went to the tomb where Jesus was buried and it was empty. Then with angels Jesus spoke to Mary so that she knew he was risen from the dead.

That night is where today’s story begins. The disciples are gathered together in a home, terrified that the Roman military who crucified Jesus would come after them as well. I think of all the communities around the world who live in the despair caused by civil war and military occupation. We can remember or imagine the fear the disciples would have had when they lost Jesus several days earlier.

But Jesus comes to his disciples and speaks a word of peace to them. In the midst of anxiety, grief, despair, and fear, Jesus speaks a word of peace and brings the Holy Spirit upon his followers. Jesus breathes and the spirit of God comes to the disciples.

This movement and power of the Holy Spirit is like the story in Genesis when God’s spirit or breath hovered above the waters when there was nothing but chaos in creation.

When Jesus first met with the disciples, one of them was not there. Thomas was absent. When his friends tell him they have seen Jesus he responds that he wants to touch Jesus’ flesh to know God raised him from the dead. So one week after Easter the disciples are together again and Jesus comes back.

He gives Thomas the very offer he needs to believe. Jesus invites Thomas to touch his body and realize that he is not a ghost. I don’t know whether Thomas touched Jesus’ scars and wounds but he certainly shouted that he knew who Jesus was. He says, ‘My Lord and My God.’

Often the church and preachers call Thomas a doubter because he says that he wants to see Jesus for himself. But I think that Thomas should be praised because when he sees the very presence of God in Jesus Christ, he makes the declaration: My Lord, My God.

My Lord, My God: those are words of trust, faith, and love in Jesus. I want each of you to want above all else to see, hear, and experience the grace of God so powerfully that it leads you to faith in Jesus Christ.

We have stories and experiences that are so powerful, compelling, and life changing that we know even without seeing the flesh wounds of Jesus Christ that God is at work in our midst. Those are stories that need to be told and shared as we remember the power of Easter.

This is good news: We live after the resurrection with the hope and joy that God is continuing to triumph over despair, fear, and death in our lives, in the neighborhood, and around the world.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.




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