Sermon for March 30th 2008
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels by the Sea, Longboat Key, FL
Acts 2:14-41; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
I thank Fr. Danner for the opportunity to preach here this morning. I asked him if I might do so, so that I could “strut my stuff” in the presence of my dear friends Pat and Jack McLaughlin who are vacationing on the Key.
Jack and Pat hail from Wolfeborough, New Hampshire. They are members All Saints’ Church there, in the Diocese of New Hampshire. Great Diocese! Great Bishop!
A preliminary note. None of the Gospels should be read primarily as biography. They are teachings about Jesus, based on memories of his life. Each has a point “to get across” about Jesus.
John is the last of the four. I think of John as a series of meditations about the meaning of Jesus, and they come at a time when the Jesus movement and the Synagogue are in conflict. John sometimes writes as if Jesus were not a Jew, and he uses (in English) “The Jews” as a kind of shorthand for the Jewish leadership which had resisted Jesus’ teachings. So when we read and hear such words as “the doors were locked for fear of the Jews”, we must remember that this is a comment on second century disputation, not a comment on Jews or Judaism.
Four years ago a parishioner at St. James’s, Cambridge, MA where I was Rector, offered to commission a new stained glass window in our clerestory. It was to be in memory of her daughter, and she wanted it to depict the resurrection.
How in the world do you do that? We agreed that a simple representation of Jesus in the garden of resurrection with Mary Magdalene would be perfect. A local artist made water colours with various depictions of the biblical scene. In each of them, Mary was kneeling as she greeted the risen Lord. I did not like that.
“Why not” I said, “depict Mary Magdalene standing on the same level as Jesus, looking into his eyes”. The artist and the woman who was giving the window “got it”. They no more wanted a subservient Mary than did I.
So the window has been made, and installed, with Mary standing. And it includes a Latin inscription: Noli me tangere “Do not touch me” from John 20 verse 17.
“Do not touch me” says Jesus to Mary. “Reach out and touch me” says Jesus to Thomas.
“Do not hold on to me” is perhaps a better translation of what Jesus says to Mary. “Don’t hold on to what you see now, for I must ascend to the Father”. The implication is that Jesus must become universal figure, known in and to Mary and to us by the Holy Spirit.
And that’s just as well. Had Jesus never ascended, then would he have died again of old age, and natural causes? If that had happened the resurrection would be nullified, and his tomb would be a place of pilgrimage.
And had the risen Jesus lived for ever here on earth, he would be now have become a freak show akin to Johnny Carson’s 2,000 year old man, and not the eternal Lover of all people.
What I like about John is that he is very clear about why his Gospel is taking shape.
It is so that we might “come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, that through believing we may have life in his name”.
John is all about life. Eternal life. That’s life here and now, not just life when we die. Our relationship with Jesus is for now! Eternal life is a quality of living, without fear and without dread. It is a quality of living rooted in hope, in forgiveness and in unconditional love. It is a quality of living into which we grow - we “come to believe”, it does not all happen at once.
Imagine that. Living without fear. Living with hope and in unconditional love. That’s what Jesus offers!
But there are things we hold on to which get in the way of our fullest enjoyment of God’s life. “Do not hold on to” is part of Christian experience.
I’ll give you some examples from my own life. Later you can do your own self examination. I sometimes feel slighted or under valued by the words, actions or lack of word a friend. ‘Twas certainly not intended. But I take offence, wallow in my hurt, plot a minor revenge, or add up all the other ways in which she has slighted me.
And soon I can be harbouring a massive resentment.
And that ruins my prayers. I cannot be honest with God whilst I am resentful towards my friend. A resentment blocks eternal life. I have to “let go”.
Anger can do the same Like many men, I had a troubled relationship with my father. I was for years and years so angry with him. I could not think of him or talk about him without rehearsing all my grievances. I continued to do this, even though Dad died in 1974. My anger at Dad was dangerous. For it became an alibi for my many other angers. Some few years ago, I knew that I had to let go of that anger. And in letting go, I discovered a love for my Dad which I had never before recognised - and that’s eternal life!
There are some things which I simply cannot hold on to if I am to love God, and to enjoy God’s love. It is dangerous when the security blanket begins to choke its owner.
I love Thomas, and refuse to call him “doubting Thomas”. He was “curious Thomas” and intellectual curiosity is at the heart of genuine spiritual experience. Keep asking the questions!
“Touch me” says Jesus to Thomas. Especially, touch my wounded places. And I believe those words to Thomas are emblematic of why we are given eternal life. It is one thing to bask in unconditional love, it is another do something about it.
Are we called to touch each other’s wounded places. Not in the way in which we pick on scabs and cause wounds to fester. But in the way that we apply a healing salve. Some of our dearest have wounds of loneliness, ill health, betrayal, frustration or disappointment, addictions to medications or to alcohol which cry out for a salving touch. And we are called by the risen Jesus to be agents of salvation, and what is salvation in many cases of it is not salving.
Three days each week I touch wounded people. Sometimes it is with a hand shake, sometimes with a safe hug, sometimes a touch on the shoulder, and often with prayers.
This are amongst the most wounded of our County, the homeless. Some are mentally ill, some have had runs of bad luck the likes of which you could not imagine, some are addicts to drugs or alcohol, and some are women who were raped at a young age by a father, uncle or brother. They are just like us. They have the same hopes and dreams, and many have the same ambitions. Some arrive at Resurrection House in downtown Sarasota owning only the clothes they are wearing. Some could be your son, your daughter, truly they could be. And many of then could be us, only we know better how to cover up.
And we try to apply a bit of salve here and there. We try to be agents of healing, agents of salvation. We touch some wounded places, with healing touches.
I think of Kate. That’s not her real name. She was raped and sexually abused many times as a young girl. Kate could not trust. She had covered deep pain in a lifetime fog of alcohol.
I liked her from the get go. She was possessed of a feisty defiance which I admired. I also liked her boy friend Jim. He is a stable and generous hearted man. One day Kate came to me and hugged me. A few minutes later she came back. She told me her story, and rejoiced that she had been sober for four months. Then she added “you the first man apart from Jim whom I ever been able to hug”.
That was a moment of the sheer enjoyment of eternal life. That was a moment of salvation, of salving. But not only was Kate being salved. So was I.
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ 22“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. 27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 28You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ 29“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
1 Peter 1:3-9
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
19When 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.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.”
26A 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.” 27Then 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.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.