Happy Easter! Christ has risen, he has risen indeed! It is a week later and here we are in the same room. There are a bit fewer of us this week, but that’s ok. It’s hard to believe there are only six Sunday’s before Pentecost. It takes at least six weeks or so for us to get our feet back on the ground, our heads to clear and get ready for the Holy Spirit to come!
It is a week later in our Scripture lesson today, and the disciples are still in the house. And this time the disciple Thomas is with them when Jesus shows up. It is a telling story!
Thomas won’t believe Jesus is alive until he sticks his own fingers into the wounds. (That’s kind of sick, you know?) You would think he wouldn’t need to do such a thing. But, Thomas is Thomas, just as Peter is Peter and Judas is Judas – and you are you. We all do what we do; each of us needing to wrap our hearts and heads around events; each of you with a telling story to share.
One thing that is wonderful about Jesus is that he apparently accepts all this – the inappropriate poking and probing, the denying and betraying, the questioning and the doubting – because he is willing to meet us where we are, willing to show his wounds, his own brokenness.
Think about that for a minute. Our savior is scarred. And that is really, very important.
For we too have to be willing to show each other our scars. You know you are not really friends until you trust the other person with your shadow stories, the tales of failure, the narratives of disappointments, the places where you are vulnerable.
Too many people believe that Christian faith is the pronouncement of what you are sure of. But Christian faith begins in the crucible of the cross, the open tomb and open sores – in the places where you hurt, in the things you long for, the things you are not sure of: where you reach out and cry, “Help!”
Christian faith begins with telling stories. And Thomas has this story of meeting the Risen Christ. It is his story. It may resonate with you or not. Not everyone is going to have the experience of Thomas, or Peter, or of St. Paul – who was blinded by the light, knocked off his horse. Not everyone is going to have a “born-again experience” like my Uncle Dave who remembers the exact moment he gave his life to Christ and how his life changed from that moment.
So here’s the thing. During these weeks between Easter and Pentecost, we have to start telling our stories. And don’t think your life is not interesting. As Leonard Cohen wrote: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Don’t deny your story; ring your bell.
I wish I had my Uncle Dave’s story. I wish I had Clover’s story of growing up as a Pentecostal. In my story, I’m just a plain old Presbyterian. But I know Christ meets us in all our stories if we have the hearts to perceive it.
There is a story of a young man who wanted to do something important. His life had no real meaning so he sold all he had and bought a plane ticket to go to India and find Mother Teresa and work with her in Calcutta. He finally found her working among the poorest of the poor – in a place of abject poverty – worse than anything you can imagine. As the story goes ,he finally had an audience with Mother Teresa and said to her: ” Mother, I wanted to find you and work with you. What can I do?” And do you know what Mother Teresa told him? “Go find your own Calcutta!”
Can you believe that? He traveled all that way and was essentially told to go home! Because we each need to create our own story, not borrow someone else’s!
Christian community – and this particular Christian community – is formed only when we share stories. When we lift up stories of transformation.
Have you ever had an inkling that you had a spiritual experience? Do any of you have a story about meeting Jesus? Certainly you have had a transformative experience…. You bumped into something big and were changed.
That is an uncomfortable question for many of us… Even me a little bit – we are not used to probing like that – sticking our nose into other people’s business, or our fingers into scars.
But if we are going to grow this church it will be through our telling stories. People want to know why they should come to this place and join us. Part of our mission, you see, is to be a community where every life and every story matters and we give permission to one another to “ring our bells!” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want everyone to have the same story! How boring that would be.
If you have joined this church in the last dozen years or so, or if you have gone through leadership training, the first exercise that everyone goes through is the “footsteps of faith.” It’s a time for reviewing your life – remembering the events that changed everything: births and deaths, divorces, dreams denied and dreams fulfilled, times when you were lost, times when you were found, times when you were blind to the obvious and times when you had those brief, bright moments of clarity–and then sharing some of those events with those around you.
This sharing your story with others…it changes things. You become a little softer in your judgments. A little more tender with yourself and others. Not to mention, it’s just so damned interesting.
The other evening at dinner at my parent’s retirement home, I was sitting next to this man. He was a Viennese Jew who escaped the Nazi Anschluss and walked across Germany by night and found his way to Luxembourg from where he immigrated to the United States and then landed on D-Day at Omaha beach. He never told this story to anyone until he told it to his family 20 years after. And the telling of it changed everything for him.
The day before Easter, the Men’s Group met in the library – just a group of ten middle-aged men sharing our thoughts and stories. We’ve been taking turns sharing “What made you who you are?” It was my turn last week. Someone asked me: “John, when did you become a Christian? When did you know you wanted to be a Pastor?”
I stumbled, not knowing how to begin. I felt self-conscious. I felt I should have had an elevator speech prepared, that I should have some inspiring tale of epiphany – clouds breaking and doves descending. (Oops, that’s Jesus’ story – not mine!)
And then I remembered lying on the top of the stairs as a child, listening to my parent’s study group on the theology of Paul Tillich. And I remembered being dragged down to church for Civil Rights marches; for picking Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the subject for my honors thesis; for reading St. Paul and having my mind blown because it made “so much sense!”; and my mouth watering wanting to eat the sacrament. I guess I was kind of a weird kid!
But I also remembered an embarrassing break-up. I remembered watching my older brother die of cancer and realizing the God I believed in doesn’t protect, or do favors – but is always present.
I realized I was a nerd who have always thought Jesus was cool. And that’s the telling story of how I became a Pastor.
What’s in your wallet of stories? Where have you seen God at work in your life?
How has your life been transformed by Jesus Christ? It is really important. In fact, it’s one of the most important thing we can do while we are waiting for the spirit to come.
Just start. Share a memory.
As the poet Mary Oliver writes in her poem “Praying”–and poems are stories, too:
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
As we wait for Pentecost – let your life speak, tell your story. It is as good as Thomas’.