John 20.24-29

Ephesians 1.15-23

In His Own Words

Second Sunday of Easter

A lot of my colleagues like to take today, the Sunday after Easter off, and for good reasons.   Holy Week is a busy week; here at the United Church there were six services to prepare for: we had our Palm Sunday service, Maundy Thursday communion and Tenebrae, Good Friday vigil here from noon to three and then the Good Friday cantata at Trinity Lutheran, then there was the sunrise service which at least two of us accidentally slept through, and then our own 10:00 worship, complete with Alleluia sticks and disappearing bodies.  So I understand why so many clergy feel the need to take the Sunday after Easter off.  Then again, for many congregations the Sunday after Easter is what we call a “low Sunday,” with attendance diminished not only in comparison to the week before, but also in comparison to most other Sundays.  But I know you all too well, and this morning you bear me out as we have at least as many people in worship this morning as we do most mornings.  Low Sunday is not a Low Sunday at 29 West Main.  So rather than take this morning off, I chose a different approach.

From time to time, people who don’t know me very well ask if I write my own sermons.  Do I write my own sermons?  When I ask them what they mean by that, they’ll say something like, “Well, doesn’t your diocese send you sermons, or at least topics of things they want you to say?”  And when I tell them it doesn’t work that way in the UCC, sometimes they’ll keep pushing, “Then do you have a sermon-writing service or a subscription, or maybe a web site you can go to and get your sermon for Sunday?”  It makes me wonder just what my questioner is getting at:  are my sermons so bad that they don’t believe I could have written them?  Or – and this is even worse, I think - are my sermons so good that they don’t believe I could have written them?  So when I tell them I write my own sermons, they still don’t quite believe me:  “Every single week?”  Yes, every single week.  It’s one of the many reasons I love doing what I do.

But today is the Sunday after Easter, and together a lot of us worked extra hard to make last week work, and I’m not taking today off, and you aren’t taking it off either, so I thought, “Well, why not try one of those sermon-writing services?”  After all, every week I get at least a half-dozen emails from a variety of sources that claim to have the perfect product for the played-out preacher:  there are sample bulletins, timely children’s messages, pertinent illustrations and yes, canned sermons.  Friends, to put it generously, it’s a challenge to find the wheat among the chaff.  But this week I thought I’d give it a try, and so I dove into some of the offerings that clog up my email boxes to see what we could find.

On the plus side, nearly all of them stick to the lectionary, which is what brings us to the story of Doubting Thomas this morning.  The passage Diane read is the prescribed reading for this second Sunday of Eastertide.  Of course, on the minus side, if all we ever did was hew to the lectionary then we never would have encountered that delightfully beguiling story about the plot to steal Jesus’ body that we heard last week.  So let’s see what the sermon services have to say about Thomas.

One of the web sites that emails me weekly is called “Proclaim:  A Resource to Help You in Your Preaching Ministry.”  Who couldn’t use help in their preaching ministry?  This week’s pre-written sermon is called “Seeing the Wounds,” and the summary tells me, “This scripture invites us to think about the times and places we have seen the risen Christ.”  Sounds good to me, and the opening lines shows promise: “What was it that gave him away?  Was it seeing, touching, feeling the wounds that made you believe?  Is that how you recognized the fullness of his humanity – by seeing the wounds?”  And it goes on to describe ways that we can connect the needs of the world to the resources of the church.  A few paragraphs in though the sermon somehow veers into the subject of homeless families sending their children to private schools, and now I’m wondering two things:  how does this apply to the story of Thomas, and how do homeless families manage to send their children to private schools.  This sounds suspiciously like the welfare queen demagoguery of the Reagan years.  As if it anticipates my question, the sermon brings me to this sentence:  “Inevitably, someone will ask how it is that families who are homeless can afford to send their kids to private schools… some urban…”  and then it stops, and in bright red letters it says, “Approximately 1,324 words remaining.  You are not logged in.  Please see options at the top of this page to view complete sermon.”  Well, of course.  Did I really expect a resource to help my preaching ministry to be free?  I have to buy the rest of the sermon.  Frugal Yankee preacher that I am, I guess I will never learn how homeless families can afford to send their children to private schools, never mind how the writer teased this particular nugget from the story of Doubting Thomas, so I get rid of that email and move on…       

A second source sends out weekly sermon illustrations, also supposedly tied to the lectionary.  This week’s illustration is about the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, launched in 1972 and ’73, which carried images of a man and a woman, an image of the spacecraft themselves, and a map of the galaxy to show where earth is located, so that if there is any alien life in deep space, they’ll know how to reach us.  It concludes this way:  “If the message is ever read by alien creatures, it’s not likely to be for a very, very long time.  By the time either of those slow-moving spacecraft reaches even the nearest star to our solar system, no fewer than 40,000 years will have passed.”  I read the entire piece, then I read it again, and then I read it one more time just to make sure, but the only correlation I can make between the Pioneer spacecraft and Thomas is that I doubt there is any correlation at all.

Maybe I should stay away from random emails sent to me just because somebody somewhere figured out I work at a church, and see instead what our United Church of Christ has for the post-Easter preacher.

As the back of this morning’s bulletin indicates, Drew Page is the Digital Media Editor for the Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island Conferences of the UCC.  At the beginning of every week, Drew sends out a reflection he calls “Starting with Scripture,” kind of a jumping off point for the next Sunday’s sermon.  And yes, Drew sticks with the lectionary, and I appreciate the way he actually starts with scripture:

“I can’t really blame Thomas for doubting Jesus’ return.  Even after everything that happened, after everything that Jesus had done, someone rising from a tomb is a hard story to believe.  Humanity struggles with information that contradicts our established perceptions of the world.  Even when faced with scientific fact, people search hard for reasons to negate any concept that conflicts with their comfort zones.”

And then Drew shifts from the Upper Room to Earth Day, which was celebrated this past Monday, and ruminates on the refusal to take climate change seriously despite the incredible abundance of credible evidence around the globe.  Even though the polar ice is melting and sea levels are rising and the world’s storms are intensifying and average temperatures are climbing, even though we can place our fingers in Jesus’ wounded hands and side, there are some who will still doubt and deny.  “Why?” Drew asks.  “Do we not believe in the accelerating destruction of this planet?  Is the evidence of drastic environmental change too abstract, too far in the future or too easily explained by those who wish to preserve the status quo rather than sacrifice something for the good of all?”  And then, taking us back to where we started with scripture, he concludes, “Are the holes in the earth not enough to make us believe?  What, then, do we need to see?”  What then do we need to see?

Now this is a sermon that will preach.  Because the reply to Drew’s final question can be located in Jesus’ own final words to Thomas:  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.  These words of Jesus to Thomas remind me of Paul’s words to the Ephesians.  “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ… may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know God, that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which you are called…”  With the eyes of your heart enlightened.  Thomas wanted to see with the eyes in his head.  I think what Paul reminds us is that there is a deeper way of seeing, with the eyes of the heart, the eyes of wisdom and revelation, the eyes of hope.  It is with the eyes of the heart that we recognize the ways to care for creation, with the eyes of the heart that we recognize the ways to care for each other.  There are the eyes of seeing and then there are the eyes of understanding.  I think both Paul and the risen Christ together are reminding us that we need to see with both.

Hmmm.  Maybe I did just write a sermon after all…

Amen.

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