The Uprising of Fellowship

April 3, 2016
by Rev. Melanie Homan

View, print or save PDF: 4.3.16 “The Uprising of Fellowship” Sermon

(based on We Make the Road by Walking, Brian McLaren)

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“The Uprising of Fellowship”

John 20:19-31

Rev. Melanie Homan

John 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), 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.”

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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah,[c] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name

We are not Lake Wobegone, and this is not a Prairie Home Companion, but nevertheless, it has been an interesting week at Lake Harriet.  Where all are the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average!  Am I right?!?

It’s also been the kind of week in Minneapolis that requires a commercial from the ketchup advisory board on the restorative powers of ketchup.   I found this old commercial in the ketchup archives:

Once there was a town that was a lot like other towns. It was a place where guys stood around and talked about cars and you could yell at your kids that you were on the verge of a nervous breakdown and nobody called up child protection services. Where you went to church and checked out of the sermon after a couple minutes and tried to remember the words of that one song…  A town where people cried at movies. And then……things began to change. Men could no longer fix a flat tire or replace an air filter, but they knew what was wrong with Congress. Parents were required to give trigger warnings to their children before yelling at them. Ministers came down out of the pulpit and preached directly to people and you couldn’t daydream anymore. The old ways were replaced by new ways. Pretty soon, things started to go wrong. Strangers came to the door wanting to show you their photography. Kids got lost in the woods and dogs refused to go look for them. That was when people looked at each other and said, “You know, maybe we’re not getting enough ketchup.” So, they got out the ketchup and, before you knew it, things were back to the way they used to be. Folks started saying “Doggone it” again. The phone rang and it was the right number. Men rediscovered the basement workshop. Kids grabbed the vacuum away from their mom and said, “Let me do that.” All thanks to ketchup. Making the world better, step by step.[i]

Step by step, making the world better.  If only ketchup could do just that!  Get things back to the way they used to be.

Yeah, I don’t think we want to get back to the way things used to be.   Looking back and wishing for a previous time…I don’t think that gets us to a better world.  I do see how it can seem like “the answer” and why we’re drawn to that sort of thinking, though.

Back in the “good old days” – people didn’t question what the church told them to believe, churches were full and flourishing post-World War II, and family life was perfect.  Golly gee, Beaver, it was just great!  But… there were separate drinking fountains, women weren’t allowed to be pastors, we had those internment camps for the Japanese, and gender roles were narrowly defined.  Making the world better, step by step – it won’t happen by going back to the way things used to be.

Last Tuesday night we had our pre-consultation meeting for the Healthy Church Initiative process, and we watched a NOOMA video by Rob Bell in which he talks about the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.  When Mary Magdalene recognizes that Jesus is not dead but is alive, and how she goes to embrace him but Jesus says, “Mary, do not hold on to me!”.  Do not hold on to me….  There was no going back to the way things were before Jesus was killed, even if that’s what Mary and the disciples hoped would happen.  Going back to the way things were – that’s not what Jesus wants.

Instead, he appears among the disciples, who are huddled up behind locked doors, and he breathes on them.  He offers them peace but doesn’t leave it at that.  “As the father has sent me, now I send you.”  He breathes new life into them, the life of the Spirit, in a way similar to God breathing life into Adam in Genesis.  Something new is on the horizon and Jesus prepares them for it.  There will be no return to the way things were.  Because what’s coming is going to be even better.  And there will be new life!

When we look back on different times in our lives, I bet you can conjure up memories of some really good things that happened in the past.  We went down to Mankato to visit my parents this weekend, and it was probably the last time we’ll be together in that home.  They are selling their home and moving to the cities.  And we’ve had so many good memories in that home.  So it was sad to leave last night.  I will always love our time and memories in Mankato, but I’m also really excited about the new memories we will make together here in the cities.  If we cling to the past and the ways of the past, it’s like we’ve accepted that our best days are behind us instead of ahead of us.  I believe that our best days are ahead of us!

I have to believe that.  When I see the mixture of reactions, the angst and pain of people following the county attorney’s decision in the case of Jamar Clark – I have to believe that we are moving, step by painful step, towards something better.  That however slowly – we are moving towards justice, that we will move away from gun violence, that we will not turn our backs on one another… even if the forces around us would draw us away from justice, towards more violence, and destroy our commitment to the teachings of Jesus.  We can’t give up!

Last Wednesday, I volunteered at a phone bank at WCCO TV for Minnesota Food Share.  We were answering calls from people who were donating to Minnesota Food Share, which then shares those funds with food shelves across the state, including the Joyce food shelf.  I care about feeding people – it’s one of these “Jesus teachings” that I think we’re supposed to follow through on – so, I drove down to their studio in time for the 5pm news hour.  Let me tell you, it was weird.

It was weird for me because I’ve never been under the bright lights of a studio, where there is a person wearing headphones and saying, “OK, in 15 seconds, get ready to wave.  Make sure you have a big smile on your face, and now 10 seconds, 5 seconds…  (WAVE!!!)”  I am not good at the beauty pageant wave.  Try doing that for 20 seconds without laughing or making funny faces.  It was so unnatural!

What made it more than weird and just plain painful was that it was on Wednesday.  Wednesday was the day that it was announced that no charges would be filed in Jamar Clark’s death, and the entire news cast was about reactions from people all over the city.  There were eight of us volunteers sitting under the lights waiting to take calls, and it was tense and sad while the news played out in front of us because we were strangers and we were not of one mind about what had happened.  And then “You’re on in 20 seconds – don’t forget to smile!  Wave!  Keep waving!!!” How do you do the princess wave and smile after news footage is played of a grieving family?

Yet, there I was taking phone calls.  Taking calls from people who wanted to give money to help feed people who don’t have enough food.  I talked to one guy who said, “I can only give 13 dollars.  I want to help but that’s all I can afford.”

I watched as the people around me filled out their call donation forms… 500 dollars, 100 dollars, 250 dollars.  People were very generous.  I randomly ended up with the calls that were from people who didn’t have a lot to give but still wanted to help.  Some of them were lonely and craving human contact, and God showed up in every long, meandering conversation.  The staff all sort of looked at me like, “What are you doing?!?”  I was like, “I can’t help it.  People share their stories and I listen.  I try to extend to them a blessing from God.”

I tolerated the awkwardness of the wave amidst the painful day of news because I believe we’re supposed to feed people.  The systemic issues that we need to address mean a food shelf fundraiser is not so far removed from the systems that feed off of poverty, the ones that make food shelves necessary in the first place.  Poverty, unemployment, and a mistrust of those in power – all play a part in what we face today.

Thursdays are my sermon writing day.  As I sat writing this message, I was also praying for the group of moms in St. Paul who were leading a march against gun violence from the place where their adult children were killed.  I was praying for them in their unimaginable grief that comes with losing a child, no matter their age, and their desire to lead the way towards a summer of nonviolence.  They were marching past our neighborhood elementary school – just two blocks away from where their adult children were killed.  It’s a school full of kids who deserve a safe space to play and learn.  I was also praying for the police, who were ensuring the safety of the marchers, the children at school, the drivers on Snelling Avenue, and themselves.  I prayed for all of them and for their safety, even as I know that we are all culpable to some extent for the way things are right now.  It was raining during their march, and afterwards, the paper published a photo online of the mom’s marching in the rain, with a full rainbow overhead.  A reminder of God’s promises to never destroy us again, even if we try to destroy ourselves.  A reminder that we are moving towards something better, step by step.

Jesus appeared to the disciples, in the house they locked themselves into, and he sent them out.  He sends us out, too.  That’s why our children will keep playing on the playground at school.  We don’t want them locked inside all day.  That’s why people take to the streets in peaceful protest…because Jesus sends us out!  We’re sent out with a message of peace.  It’s a message that Jesus breathed into those first disciples, and which he also breathes into us.

Now, although it is my favorite “spice”, and I love the ketchup advisory board, ketchup is not going to fix our problems.  The way I believe we make the world a better place, step by step, is to live out the tenets of our faith.  We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into the world around us, as we practice the love of God, neighbor, and self that Jesus taught us – over, and over, and over.

We can make the world better, step by step.  The best of who we can be has not peaked in the past – we’re still moving towards it.  The reign of God is in our midst.  It is here and not yet – at the same time.

I do want to say a brief word about Thomas.  I think he’s one of the most important characters in our faith story.  We need him.  We need the one who doubts, who questions, who is skeptical of the viewpoints of others, because he’s the disciple many of us today most identify with.  We question and struggle with what we see and what we don’t see around us.  He’s a good reminder that doubt can be a blessing, that as we come to God with our own unique experiences and questions, Christ has a place for us at his table.