Sunday April 19, 2020 Second Sunday of Easter

JOHN 20:19-31:  Game Changers, CRANIUM (Based on Rev. Dr Claude Kayler Main Street UMC Kernersville, NC 2015 Sermon Series)

Last week we gathered for the glorious proclamation that Christ is Risen!  Easter Sunday reminds us that Jesus has changed the game of life forever!  Since his glorious resurrection the game of life has changed from one life per customer to one eternal life for every single believer!  Jesus is our game changer. 

Because this is such a central… core part of the proclamation of Christianity, Easter is not just a one and done occasion.  In the Lutheran church we have a whole season of Easter where for six weeks we look at the various ways scripture attests to the resurrection.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at how the risen Jesus interacted with the “Doubting Thomas,” the disoriented disappointed disciples Walking to Emmaus, and by the sea of Galilee with Peter feeding him breakfast and asking him to feed his sheep.  Each week is an opportunity to further encounter this game changing, life giving, eternity enhancing Jesus. 

As a way of trying to lift up and yet make it easy to remember how Jesus changes the game of life, I thought it would be fun to attach each week’s focus to an actual popular boardgame people play. With so many families at home during this COVID 19 shelter at home, I imagine they’ve maybe rediscovered and dusted off those family board games as a way to kill time in a positive fun way.  So, I invite you to join me each week as we look at a popular boardgame that represents one of the struggles of life and how the resurrection of Jesus changes the game. 

Today’s game is CRANIUM. Cranium is a mental game. Like most board games, you have a little piece and you're trying to get it around the board.  But while you're going around, Cranium presents a series of mental challenges. You might have to answer a question. You might have to spell a word -- or unscramble a word -- or spell a word backwards. You might have to guess the definition of a word. You might have to draw something. You might have to sculpt something out of clay. You might have to hum a tune. You might have to act something out.

In order to go forward, you have to face these mental challenges. And you know, it's the same way with our life and our faith. In order to go forward, we have to face the challenges presented by our cranium. We have to face the doubts and questions that arise in our mind.  Cranium, the game, throws all kinds of challenges at your game playing skills. This cranium, where the mind resides, throws all kinds of challenges at our faith.

As a minister, I'm not supposed to bet. But if I did, I would bet there's not a person among us who has never struggled with DOUBT about the things we believe:  Did Jesus really rise from the dead?  What if my faith is just wishful thinking?  Is there really life after death, or have I seen my loved one for the last time?  If God is real, why is there so much suffering? If Christ is real, why are Christians so mean?  If God is love, and Christianity is true, then why do I have so many problems?  If I asked, "How many have ever struggled with questions like these?" I’m pretty sure it’s a safe bet that every hand in this parking lot would go up.

We all struggle with doubt. Doubts are a lonely feeling. Doubts are often a dark, despairing place.  If you're struggling with doubt, or someone you know is struggling with doubt, today's Gospel reading has some incredible good news for you! Open your bulletin to page 7, I want to show you three good news things about the man we call Doubting Thomas. 

The first one is in verse 24, “But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So 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." Now, Thomas has been put down and maligned for centuries because he doubted. But I think we ought to applaud Thomas, because (1) Thomas was honest about his doubts.  Thomas had the courage to say, "Guys, I know you're excited about this, but I'm not so sure. I need more evidence. I need to see it for myself."  Thomas was honest about his doubt. And if you 're struggling with doubt, that's the first thing you need to do:  Be honest.

But what do a lot of us do instead? We HIDE our doubts — we don't want people to know we're struggling. Or we IGNORE our doubts—"maybe if I just don 't think about it, it'll go away.”  Thomas shows us a better way, which is to face our doubts head on. Because when you 're playing the game of Cranium, the only way to go forward is to face the challenges.  Hiding, ignoring, stalling only does one thing- it gets you stuck in the same place or maybe worse it sends you backwards.  Don’t do that, don’t get stuck, don’t go backwards:  Be honest. That's the first thing.

The second thing can be found in verse 26: “A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.” Apparently, Thomas has hung around the other disciples for an entire week!  (2) Thomas stayed on board.  He stayed with the community of faith.  As a little kid I can remember tossing the gameboard and chucking the playing pieces everywhere when I got upset because I didn’t have the answer or the agreeable roll. All that did was spoil everything and solve nothing.  As I matured I learned to let the game play out.  I learned I didn’t have to stay in it to win it, like every one told me.  I could stay on board just to enjoy it.

Thomas stayed on board, he didn’t toss it all aside in a rage.  Thomas stayed with the community of faith, he didn’t toss it all aside in a pouting doubting tantrum.  And apparently, those faithful friends accepted him, DOUBTS AND ALL! Because an entire week went by — an entire week in the same house — and there's no record of Thomas saying, "I don't wanna be around you freaks." Nor is there any record of the other disciples saying, "Thomas, you heathen—if you don't believe, you don't belong."

So, if you're struggling with doubt, the second thing to do is

Stay on Board, don’t jump ship.  But, what do a lot of us do instead? We cut and run.  We isolate ourselves.  We know there are people who care for us, but we refuse to be with them because it would be uncomfortable.  Here's what I've seen: People start to doubt, so they cut and run. They drop out of church! "It just wouldn't be right for me to go to church when I'm struggling with what I believe. I have too many questions.  I’ve gotta figure this out on my own." 

You know there is a disciple who models that behavior: go it alone, do it myself, figure it out myself.  Its Judas.  I once had a seminary professor point out that every other disciple that stayed around for Jesus’ resurrection was confronted and forgiven for the roll they played in his death.  Except Judas, not because Jesus did not have the capability to forgive Judas, but Judas had committed suicide. He’d gone it alone, tried to figure out things by himself and ended himself.  Judas had chosen a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  Judas got stuck in his cranium and couldn’t find that missing piece.  He couldn’t realize the missing piece was his heart, opening his hurting heart to Jesus.

Thomas shows us a better way, which is to stay on board and risk exposing not only his struggling mind but also his hurting heart to a caring community. Stay with the community of faith! Because when you're playing the game of Cranium, you should never play alone.  Not only is it no fun playing a board game by yourself, it’s also pointless, to play the game alone.

Remember Thomas when your doubts overwhelm, and your hurts confuse.  Don’t go it alone, Stay onboard. Shelter in a safe place with loved ones even if its uncomfortable.  That's huge, that’s important, that’s the second thing.

And then here's the third thing you find in verse 26: “A 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." 27 Then 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.'

Thomas was honest. Thomas stayed on board. And after a period of time went by, (3) Jesus showed up and Thomas got the answers he needed. Notice in verse 27 that Jesus repeats Thomas' request almost word-for word: "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”  Jesus gives Thomas exactly what he needs to overcome his doubts! 

And I don't think Jesus was rebuking Thomas: "Thomas, what's wrong with you! Why did I have to show up like this! Why can 't you believe my apostles?" I don't think it's like that at all. I think Jesus has sympathy for Thomas. I think when he stood there before Thomas, his voice was compassionate, and His eyes were full of love and joy. I think it was like, "Thomas, Thomas, I love you so much, and I want you to believe, so you can be at peace. "

So, here's the third thing to do if you're struggling with doubt:  Trust Jesus to show up.  Jesus is willing to go to death and back for you.  That is literally the Easter message!  So, trust Jesus’ grace and compassion.  His words from the cross were “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!”  If he’s willing to offer forgiveness to the folks that just berated, whipped, and nailed him, he’s willing to offer that forgiveness to you too!  So, Trust Jesus to show up!  Trust that he's not mad at your questions -Trust his desire to give you what you need to believe. Trust that in due time, Jesus will answer your questions.  It may feel like Good Friday…but Sunday’s Coming!

One of my preacher friends said it like this: “If you're honest about where you are, Jesus is faithful to show you who he is.” So be honest. Stay on board. and trust Jesus to show up. Because when you’re playing life’s game of Cranium, surprising things happen — and those surprises change the game.

Thomas was playing life’s Cranium and the challenges were getting the best of him, but then Jesus showed up and totally changed the game’s outcome.  Because Jesus is a game changer!  Look what Thomas says in v. 28: “Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" And my friends, that is the strongest statement of faith recorded in any of the Gospels! Doubting Thomas has become Thomas the Confident Believer. The one who was last to believe, is now the first to bow down and worship.

So, how about you? Are you playing life’s game of Cranium right now? Is COVID 19 presenting Cranium challenges to your faith? Questions you can't answer? Doubts about where you are headed in the midst of life’s Cranium challenges?  Doubts about what you believe? Then follow the example of Thomas: Be Honest, Stay on Board, and Trust Jesus to show up.

Be honest. Stay on Board. Trust Jesus to show up. Like my friend said, “If you're honest about where you are, Jesus is faithful to show you who he is.”  Judas had doubts and questions.  He was honest about his flaws, but he didn’t stay on board and he didn’t trust Jesus to show up.  Don’t be Judas, don’t let your doubts, don’t let your past failures make you bail on life’s cranium challenges.  Don’t choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem and for God all our problems are temporary.  Be honest, stay on board… even if its uncomfortable, because I got something to tell ya…it may feel like Friday but Sunday’s comin!  Trust Jesus to show up.  Because when he does it’s a game changer, it’s a life changer.  Because Christ is Risen!  (He is Risen indeed!) That’s a game changer.  Amen.