Sunday May 5, 2019 3rd Sun of Easter Year C “Doubting Thomas” alt text
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our risen victorious savior Jesus the Christ, Amen. The six Sundays following Easter are the season of Easter for Lutheran churches and the scripture readings focus on the immediate impact the risen Christ has on his followers and the world.
Today our first reading came from the book of the Acts of the Apostle’s, and although we shortened the account of Stephen’s martyrdom by leaving out his sermon expounding on how Jesus was the fulfillment of all the promises God made to the Jews starting with Abraham, going through Moses, David, and Elijah to the unbelieving Jewish leaders, we definitely didn’t skip the climactic ending of his being beaten to death by stones for his unwavering belief that Jesus was alive and the promised Messiah.
The Gospel lesson has the famous account of “Doubting Thomas” who becomes believing, confessing Thomas when Jesus enters the room. While there is a wealth of inspirational things to preach on in both of those texts, I’m going to break from my usual habit of preaching primarily from the Gospel reading and flavoring my message with sprinklings from the other readings to just concentrating on the second scripture reading. The one from Revelation.
We’re in a part of Revelation where the various established Christian communities are being judged at the final judgment. The first is Philadelphia, not our modern city in Pennsylvania, but the original city located in the Roman Empire. It gets a great review 3:10 “since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial”. Wouldn’t we all like that kind of review at the final judgement rather than what follows for the faithful at Laodicea. 3:15-16 “I know your deeds, that you are neighte cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm- neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth”
This is not the first account of tepid Christians in the bible, but it is the most dramatic. It’s a little scary to think that timid Christians are going to be spit out at the final judgement. I think that brings the question to all of us, “When it comes to Christ are we tepid, timid, or totally all in? are we on fire for Christ or rock solid ice cold locked in on Christ? Or lukewarm?
God spits us out when we’re lukewarm. I think society does as well. This past week I attended the National Day of Prayer ceremonies in Salem. I was struck by what one speaker said “Our theme is “love one another- by this they will know you are my disciples. How we doing folks? Does the world identify Christians by how loving a person is? If asked to describe a Christian in our society today the word “Loving” hardly makes the top ten. When loving is the way people see Christ in us why is that the least way people see us? Perhaps that is why Christianity is being rejected by our society because they don’t see Christ in Christians?
But what if society did see Christ in us? What if instead of being tepid, timid, lukewarm we were on fire, ice cold locked in totally in for Christ? What if Mother Teresa’s loving ways as a Christian weren’t so amazing as normative? If you were on trial for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you? Love is so hard in a deeply divided society. Love is so difficult in a massively critical knit picky blame centric culture. It’s exactly what we need right now.
Most think the way to be bold for Christ is to be able to point out the flaws of our society- what if the truth in being a Christian in a highly divided society is the exact opposite? Jesus didn’t tell people where to go, as much as met them where they were. Jesus didn’t blame hurting people, or leave hurting people in their problems but ministered to their wounds. We’re not asked to be the cure, only Jesus can do that, we’re asked to be the care- that’s what Jesus needs us for, we are now his hands, his feet. We are to be windows to God’s love, can people see God’s love in us
Are we on fire for Christ, too hot to handle? Or perfectly tepid, easily handled, dismissed. Are we on the other end of the spectrum when everyone is hot tempered were able to keep our cool, we’re able to ice down those raw bruises with our soothing love, does our glacier speed toward anger help cool down conflict around and within us? Or are we just a reflection of what surrounds us, rather than a revelation of who is inside of us?
Stephen seeing the resurrected Christ, knowing the risen Jesus was willing to be too hot to handle, and yet cool enough to forgive his murders. That witness of how he was willing to live his life to the end in love changed people, converted people, challenged others. It was a difference maker. The missionary family we’re talking about supporting is on fire for Christ. The call of Christ upon their hearts to bring the good news to those thousands perhaps millions in China who don’t know Christ, fills them with a need to make a difference.
How has God’s overwhelming love in Christ Jesus made you a difference maker? If you can’t answer that, it might be because you are a little too tepid. You’re still doubting Thomas (I’ll believe it when I see it) rather than brave believing Thomas- my Lord and my God! You are in danger of being spit out.
Everyday you and I are challenged to say and live out “I’d Rather be spent for Jesus than spit out by Jesus. I’d rather be of Jesus and judged by the world, than of the world and judged by Jesus.” Does this mean you have to move to China? Not unless that is what God’s call to love others means for you. But too many of us are ignoring that call to love one another. Maybe we don’t ignore as much as don’t understand what “love one another” actually is. We get so many confusing messages about love today.
Love one another, if you don’t know what that looks like- look to Jesus. If you don’t get how loving others works, look at Jesus’ works. If you don’t get what true love says, listen to what Jesus says. If you believe it you receive it, not boot straps theology but surrender. The last part of the judgement of the Christians at Laodicea is a very familiar verse “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person and they with me.”
Its not about racking up good deed points, its about opening your heart to Jesus and letting him in, learning from him, prioritizing him, loving him, and loving others. And the thing about true love is its seldom lukewarm, true love is all in baby. Thomas after seeing the resurrected Jesus, swings wide the doors of his heart with the proclamation my lord and my God! He would go on to preach Christ in China and India and be martyred there. Stephen flung wide the doors of his heart to Christ and suffered much trying to love others with the proclamation of the good news of Jesus, but he received the crown of the righteous in heaven even as he received the wrath of the world.
You and I were not uniquely crafted by God to be a duplicate of Stephen, Thomas, or Mother Teresa but we were uniquely crafted to love God and love others beyond just timid words and tepid gestures. With Christ invited into our hearts we can love, fully, deeply, uniquely, and lastingly- Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.