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Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,
April 11, 2010 – Easter 2C
Acts 5:27-32 – Peter to the high priest: The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’
Psalm 118:14-29 – Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. What can mortals do to me? The Lord is on my side…
or Psalm 150 – Praise the Lord with every musical instrument you can find.
Revelation 1:4-8 – The opening of John’s apocalypse: Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
John 20:19-31 – Doubting Thomas. Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Hymn: It would seem, given the second lesson, that we must sing Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending.
Service of the Word for April 18, 2010
We’ll all be at Synod Assembly for Easter 3C. The link above will take you to a proposal for a lay-led Service of the Word. Starting on Tuesday, it will include a message from the bishop that may be read from the pulpit at the sermon time.
· 4/16-18: SYNOD ASSEMBLY 2010. New Orleans! Service of the Word for 4/18.
· 6/27-7/21: DISCIPLE PROJECT at TLU! This year there will be two tracks for adults: Preaching as God-Speech and Children’s and Family Ministry. Pastors and lay rostered leaders: Come with youth and young adults of their congregation. Private rooms. Preaching track by Paul Wilson, author of The Four Pages of the Sermon. $325 inclusive if by Monday, April 19. Questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Low Sunday? Quasi Modo Sunday? Octave Sunday? St. Thomas Sunday?
This coming Sunday is often called Low Sunday, presumably in contrast to the thronging masses of Easter. Many churches will double their worship attendance on Easter. The evangelically-minded pastor will use this as an opportunity to swell the flock by casting nets, inviting newcomers into ministry opportunities, and following up diligently with visitors, like a shepherd seeking a lost sheep. In larger congregations, this work will be shared by well-trained teams of people gifted in evangelism.
This coming Sunday is also called Octave Sunday, as it is the eighth day after Easter. In the Eastern Rite, the hymns sung on each of the eight days following Easter had the same tone. The eight days were to be considered as a single day or celebration.
This Sunday has also been known as Quasi Modo Sunday after the introit for the day: Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite ut in eo crescatis in salutem si gustastis quoniam dulcis Dominus, meaning, “As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grow unto salvation: If it be that you have tasted that the Lord is sweet.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)
Quasimodo in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame is so named because he is left at the cathedral on the Sunday after Easter 1467.
But we known it more fully as St. Thomas Sunday. Some call it Doubting Thomas Sunday, but the church chose to lift up Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God!” over his doubt.
Doubting people impress me. They’re real. They have critical thinking skills. Far from whitewashing their intellect, they probe. It’s what led Luther to the Reformation. He was told that these steps he was ascending on his knees in Rome were the same steps Jesus’ ascended, mysteriously transmigrated from Jerusalem. But the mortar looked, well, fairly recent…
I loved the Episcopal Ad Project piece that said, “Jesus died to take away your sins, not your brains.” There’s a Facebook group called The Doubting Thomas Society: Faith for the Skeptical. Their front page quote is Martin Luther: “Only God and certain madmen have no doubts.”
Ed Marquart (Grace Seattle) reminds us, “Doubts, questions and skepticism often lead to deeper faith and larger faith.” (http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_thomas_an_honest_doubter_GA.htm)
I get to wondering as I ponder the story, why wasn’t Thomas with the disciples on Easter evening? Where was he? Why not all locked up in fear like the rest of the posse? Maybe he’s not as afraid. Not so easily spooked. Remember, it was Thomas who urged the disciples to go on to Bethany in spite of the danger: “Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.'” (John 11:16) Maybe he was the disciple with moxie.
He certainly wasn’t quiet, or afraid to speak his mind. When the poetic Jesus of John’s gospel (and so many cinematic productions) says mystically (with dramatic sound track in the backgound), “And ye know the way, whither I go…” It’s Thomas who interrupts, “Wait. Time out. Stop the music. Okay, WHAT? We do NOT have a CLUE where you are going. We do NOT know the WAY, mostly because you’ve been speaking in riddles and Elizabethan English (sic). So why don’t you jus cut the mumbo jumbo and tell s plainly what the heck you’re talking about? (My paraphrase.) Thomas is a bottom-line kind of guy.
I think there are lots of them out there. So what’s the point? What does it all boil down to? We need to have a ready answer if we are going to do any kind of effective evangelism. Fortunately, Jesus spelled it out. It all boils down to this, all the law and prophets: Love God. Love neighbor. Paul agreed, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Gal. 5:14, NIV) And on Maundy Thursday, with a towel around his waist, wiping the you- know-what off his disciples’ feet: “A new commandment I give you: love one another as I hav loved you… By this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13)
I’ve always found it interesting that they were locked up in their room by “fear.” It’s a profound image. Fear traps us. It immobilizes us. One thing is as certain for our church today as it was for those Easter evening disciples: Fear is not the way forward. Fear of the world will keep us locked behind the doors of our churches in an illusion of safety.
Jesus’ antidote is offering peace. Three times he greets them with a word of peace. “Peace be with you.” This is important. Jesus uses a similar image to still the sea: “Peace, be still.” Jesus knows that fear immobilizes them like a rabbit frozen before the hunter. But they have work to do. Peace, and love will free them from their bonds of fear, so they can go out; go forward, for perfect love casts out all fear. (1John 4:18)
Jesus’ hopeful and encouraging words are followed immediately with a sending, as usual: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Ominous words. Humility, foot washing, entering Jerusalem on a colt, being obedient, even to death on a cross, that’s how Jesus was sent. And now us.
Leaders need to lead with hope, peace, joy, love. No one will follow a hopeless leader. (“Follow me . Nothing matters. We’ll never prevail. But follow me.”) Doesn’t work. Figure out what matters, and lead with joy.
One last thought. In the three congregations I served, when we were doing our best evangelism, bursting at the seams, there were LOTS of doubters. Seekers looking, and sensing something “spiritual” was going on here. Kids of stalwart members who confided in me, “I don’t believe in organized religion.” But then they’d go on the mission trip because they knew something important was happening here. Confirmand who would “shock” me with their professed atheism, anarchism or nihilism. Unbelieving spouses of members, who would help with a meal, mow a widow’s yard, serve a meal to the homeless folks living in our building. One spouse told me he was a Buddhist, yet he would come and meditate during worship, then comment on the sermon as he shook my hand. We’re all at different places in our journey toward Christ.
In Matthews 28, when Jesus gives the Great Commission, it says he went up the mountain to the disciples. Some worshipped him, but some doubted. Like in John’s gospel, he doesn’t chastize the doubters here. It doesn’t phase him. He commissions them all anyway. Go, make disciples.
שלומ سلام Peace,
Michael Rinehart, bishop
TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
12941 1-45 North Freeway, Suite #210
Houston, TX 77060-1243
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