April 18, 2004

Sermon: Ascension, Gaithersburg

April 18, 2004, Second Sunday in Easter

In the name of the God who created us, redeems us, and sustains us. Amen.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was a senior in college, I was the adult in charge of a major youth event in the Diocese of East Tennessee. There was a youth who was also in charge. Her role was to be the leader of the other 20 young people on staff, to guide them in the shaping of this very important retreat. My job was to sign the paperwork, provide guidance and logistics, and make sure we had enough food for the weekend. Rachel, the highly talented, highly capable, incredibly trustworthy 17-year old young lady in charge of the weekend, was supposed to be bringing plastic cups and markers to decorate them with (this all part of the program of the weekend). She had said that she would be doing that. She told me in several phone conversations the months prior to the event that she would be bringing the cups and the markers.
But the week of the event, I couldn’t get a hold of her to go over the final check list. She was in the upper eastern part of Tennessee and I was in the middle part of the state. She didn’t have e-mail and this was way before every teenager got a cell phone for their 11th birthday. So, it was Thursday before the event started on Friday, I still hadn’t talked to Rachel that week, and the cups and markers were a major MUST for the weekend. So, as I was driving from Murfreesboro to Chattanooga (where the retreat was going to be) I passed 7 Wal-Marts. Now when you consider that it’s about a 2-hour drive, that is one Wal-Mart every 25 minutes. The first four Wal-Marts were easy enough to pass. But at the fifth Wal-Mart, I started thinking about those cups, wondering if Rachel had gotten them yet, wondering if we would have time to go get them if she forgot them, wondering where the nearest Wal-Mart was to where our retreat would be.
Just before I got to the 6th Wal-Mart, I convinced myself that, “no, Rachel is smart, she said she was going to get the cups and markers. She’ll do it. And if she doesn’t, this will be a good lesson on what it means to follow through and how to make do with what you’ve got.” So, I passed the 6th Wal-Mart, near South Pittsburg, TN, without even slowing down.
But there was something about seeing the lights of that 7th Wal-Mart on the outskirts of Chattanooga that made me slow down, get off of I-24, and purchase 150 plastic tumblers and about $120-worth of paint pens. I felt much better.
So Rachel and I, along with most of the other staff, arrived at the church where the retreat would be at about the same time. We were all getting out of our cars, lots of hugs and hey’s, and excitement about the weekend. And I said, I brought all the cups. Rachel looked at me, and in one word, I knew I was in trouble. “Why?” she asked. Somone in the crowd whispered, “Paul’s in trouble…”
I stammered, “Well, I tried to call you this week and…”
“I told you I was going to get them didn’t I? We’ve been planning this retreat for 6 months, and the whole time, I said I was going to get the cups and the markers, didn’t I?”
“Um, yeah, but I didn’t hear back from you so…”
“So, you thought that I would forget? You doubted me.”
“Um, yeah, I’m real sorry.”

Rachel gave me a hug and said, “It’s OK.” Then she squeezed the life out of me and said, “Don’t do it again.”

When I popped my eye-balls back in, I reassured her that I really did have complete faith in ability and leadership and I hoped that she would have faith in mine.
It was a scene very reminiscent of Thomas’s and Jesus’ encounter in today’s Gospel lesson. I like to sometimes imagine stories from the Bible, especially with Jesus and the often-clueless disciples, as a sit-com. This story I could see on Seinfeld or Friends.

Jesus suddenly shows up in the house when the doors were locked. He has to say “Peace be with you” or he would have scared the cloaks and tunics off of everyone. Then he says to Thomas, “Hey, Tommy-boy, come here. See this nail mark? See this nail mark? Look at my feet. See this big gash in my side where the Roman soldier stabbed me? See them? Go ahead, touch ‘em. They’re real.” Thomas touches them and says, “Wow. It’s really you!”

If Jesus were anyone else, he probably would’ve bopped Thomas upside the head and said, “Of course it’s me, you dip-stick. I kept TELLING you this would happen. Were you out fishing on those days?” But Jesus is Jesus, and in his way says, “It took this moment for you to believe that I rose from the dead? There are going to be a lot of people, and I mean A LOT of people who won’t get to do what you just did, and yet they are going to believe in me.”

This Gospel passage is one that should make all of us squirm on our seats. It is the story of each of us, and not our best story either. How many times in our own lives have we doubted God’s awesome power, or worse, just taken it for granted? We all have those days, or those months, or those years, where we don’t think that God is real, that God doesn’t care, or that God just-plain can’t. Jesus’ lesson to Thomas is we don’t have to see to believe that God IS acting. Even when we can’t see God’s power, even we choose not to know how God is acting in our life or the lives of those around us, we are called to believe that God is active and working. We are a community of faith, not a community of doubt.

It’s easy to lose sight of God’s works and wonder in our world. I don’t need to re-count to you the trials and tribulations that our country and our world face. It’s easy to not see God at work in the world about is. But in each community of our country and every country, God is at work. Through ordinary sinners like you and me, God is making a difference in the lives of God’s people.

Unlike Thomas who had to see to believe, I wonder how it is possible to NOT see God’s hand at work in the world about us.