Monday, April 16, 2012

An unbreakable faith...

Sermon for Easter 2B, preached on Sunday, April 15, 2012.

    Have you ever bought something that was supposed to be unbreakable but did not live up to its promise?  We live in a world of unkept promises and the broken remains of unbreakable things.  A hundred years ago a ship of dreams set out only to end up as a wreck on the sea floor.  Our lives are filled with the wrecks of bad things that weren't supposed to happen and the disappointment of good things that did not come true.
    So we learn to insulate ourselves against the let down, to hope for the best but to expect the worst.  Sort of like Thomas.  In fact, Thomas may represent us rather well.  When Lazarus died and Jesus insisted upon going to be with Mary and Martha despite the threats against Him, Thomas said, "Well, I guess we should just as well go with Jesus to die with Him."  Not exactly hopeful words.  Like Thomas, we have learned that if you expect the worst you will probably not be disappointed.  But neither will you be very happy.  When we insulate ourselves from disappointment by expecting the worst, we also insulate ourselves from joy and from peace.
    Where can you find an unbreakable faith in a broken world?  That is the question that haunts us Christians.  We don't want some pie in the sky when you die.  We want peace, joy, and hope right now.  Oh, we can understand Thomas and his insistence upon seeing before believing but we wish it were easier to trust.  If you expect the worst, the let down when you get the worst won't be as bad.  Like Thomas we are often consoled by the fact that things could be worse.  We are thankful when it does not get as bad as it could get – but is that enough?  Is that all faith means? 
    Are we willing to settle for not so bad?  Wouldn’t it be great to have again the hopeful dreams and expectations of childhood?  Wouldn’t it be great to focus away from the many disappointments to believe again without fear, without doubt, without cynicism?  Experience is a great teacher but what it often teaches is how fragile hopes and dreams are, how easy for them to be dashed upon the rocks of our disappointment and to broken by the harsh reality of life.  Wouldn't it be great to capture again the youthful optimism that believed, dreamed, and hoped for good things?  Sometimes we would trade all our earthly wisdom for a little naivete.  But is that all faith is?
    One of life's lessons is that everyone wants something from you.  So when we look at God we wait for Him to tell us what He wants from us, too.  And what they want from us is usually the last thing we want to give up.  So when we go to Church we guard our wallets and calendars figuring that God is out to steal our precious money or our time and give us little in return.  No, we are very much like Thomas in our doubts, fears, and cynicism.
    The surprise of grace is that God does not give us the worst we fear but the good, the best, the hope that seems too good to be true.  Jesus keeps His Word.  Thomas waited for proof to insulate himself against disappointment and what he found was the Risen Lord who took his breath away.  Jesus takes from us not what is most precious to us but the dread of our failures, our disappointments, our sins, and our death.  He gives to us what could never achieve for ourselves – forgiveness, life stronger than death, and eternal salvation.  We seek an unbreakable faith but the only way faith is unbreakable is the Christ who is unbreakable.  Faith is unbreakable not because we have no doubts or fears but because Christ, the object of our faith, is risen, just as He said.
    Hoping for the best and yet expecting the worst, Jesus slips through the locked door to visit the second assembly of the disciples, this time including Thomas.  In the surprise of the unbreakable Lord who carries every weight of our sin for us, who dies the terror of death in our place, and who rises to give us this new life, what can you say?  For Thomas, the words were, "My Lord and My God!"  He thought an unbreakable faith began with proof – touching the wounds of Jesus.  He feared that to believe was too good to be true.  He found out the touch that counted was not him touching Jesus but Jesus touching him.  So when Jesus showed Thomas those wounds, we find no record of Thomas actually reaching out to touch them.
    He saw a man and confessed Him to be God.  Only the Spirit can intervene and transform the cynical heart to believe and make such confession.  An unbreakable faith is planted in us by the Spirit and not the fruit of our own seeking or certainty.  It is the gift of God.  It is not the fruit of some program of spiritual progress but the result of our life within the touch of God in Word and Sacrament.  Like Thomas we come week after week and here Jesus touches us with His flesh and blood, given and shed for the life of the world and for you and me.
    Faith is not seeing and believing but believing and then seeing – seeing through the eyes  of Jesus.  The Spirit's work and God's gift of grace. Faith is fragile and weak when it is built upon us and depends on us.  A hundred years ago last night, a couple of thousand folks thinking they were on an unsinkable ship hit an iceberg.  Less than a third survived but the hopes and dreams of a generation were epitomized by the unsinkable ship that went to the bottom in three hours.  Titanic is the word the well describes us – hoping for the best, expecting the worst.
    Don't trust in a ship of dreams that promises what it cannot deliver.  Neither all yourself to be a skeptic refusing hope, expecting the worst to keep from being disappointed.  An unbreakable faith is one the rests in an unbreakable Savior. That is what Thomas found out so long ago.  Everything else may disappoint you but Christ will not.  We proclaim an unbreakable Lord whom death cannot hold.  He has broken through every barrier, borne every weight of sin, and walked through death in triumph so that can stop being held captive to our dreams or our fears.
    Like Thomas we too often hide.  We hide from hope by expecting only the worst.  We hide from God by living in the dream world of our desires, feelings, and abilities.  But our Lord calls us both from the defeat of trusting in ourselves and from the defeat of expecting the worst.  He calls us to the solid hope built upon His victory over sin, death, and the grave.  Here is the unbreakable hope that death could not overcome nor could the grave hold.  We are not unbreakable but Christ is.  As long as we are in Him, we made unbreakable.  Not because of anything in us but because of everything in Him.  You may have come today yearning to touch Jesus, but what you find here is Jesus who touches you.  He touches you in your doubts, fears, and cynicism.  He touches you that you may believe, that believing you may rejoice, and that rejoicing you may know the peace that passes understanding now and forevermore.  Amen.

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