May 8, 2011: Change from Within

Posted on : May 5th, 2011 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Wow, what a week!

Last week I was in the desert planning worship and sermon themes for the next six months and working on our UCC discernment process.  As often happens when I go to the desert, a small progressive Presbyterian Fellowship called “Spirit of the Desert” invited me to preach for their evening service.  The Scripture I chose for the evening was John 20: 19-31, the story of the risen Christ appearing to the disciples (and later Thomas).  It’s the story where our phrase “Doubting Thomas” comes from.  In John’s Gospel, the evening of Easter Day, the risen Christ “appears” to the Disciples who are locked away in hiding for fear of being “recognized” as Jesus’ Disciples.  All the disciples are together except Thomas, who is not with them.  Jesus commissions the disciples giving them the power of his spirit.

When Thomas returns, he isn’t convinced by the testimony of his own beloved disciples.  Thomas says, “Unless I see in Jesus’ hands the print of the nails and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in Jesus’ side, I will not believe.”

Eight days later Jesus appeared to the disciples again, and this time Thomas was there.  In this “post-resurrection story” Jesus says to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”  Thomas believes!  And Jesus concludes, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

My sermon was about “what does it take to allow us to believe?”  Fortunately, Donald Trump gave me plenty of material to work with the previous week with his crazy preoccupation with President Obama’s birth certificate.  What kind of experience do you need to believe that God has raised you up?

Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship always has a common dinner after worship, so I not only had a delicious dinner, I had a wonderful time to catch up with my good friends in the desert.  I got home about 7:45pm and flipped the TV on just as every network broke in with story about the US capturing and killing Osama bin Laden.

Here we are a week later still fighting over “proof” that Osama bin Laden is dead.  Can we believe he’s really dead without a picture of the gun shot to his head?  Can we believe the story even though the details keep changing?  Can we believe something happened just from the devastation left behind?

For me, Colin Powell said it best in an interview on CNN. He said, “Even if they show the picture, they won’t believe.  There are skeptics out there. That is just the nature of the times in which we live.”  [CNN: May 3, 2011]

The events of this past week are another example to us of just how real and relevant the Easter story is in our lives today.  What does it take to believe?  Do we need to see blood and gore?  Do we need to see wounds and corpses?  In the 21st century can we even trust a picture or is that no longer proof?  Photoshop and electronic editing certainly has weakened that “traditional” form of evidence.

This Sunday we’re going to look at another way to apply the Resurrection to our lives.  Instead of seeking “proof” from external sources, we’re going to look at the Resurrection as the power

Jesus offers us to change from within.

As I shared with you on Easter Day, Resurrection is not the end of our faith journey, but the beginning.  It is God’s gift of setting us free from whatever holds us down, whatever holds us back, whatever buries us in despair or inferiority or disbelief.  Its Christ’s way of saying to us, “You can do it.  Now go, and live life in a new way.”

Resurrection Blessings,


This Sunday’s Scriptures

John 12: 24

Jesus said:

The truth of the matter is,

unless a grain of wheat

falls on the ground and dies,

it remains only a single grain;

but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.

Romans 12: 1-2, 9-18

The Apostle Paul teaches about inner spiritual transformation redirecting our lives.

I appeal to you therefore, sisters and brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Your love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil and cling to what is good.

Love one another with the affection of sisters and brothers.

Try to outdo one another in showing respect.

Don’t grow slack, but be fervent in Spirit:  the One you serve is Christ.

Rejoice in hope; be patient under trial; persevere in prayer.

Look on the needs of God’s holy people as your own;

be generous in offering hospitality.

Bless your persecutors – bless and don’t curse them.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same attitude toward everyone.

Don’t be condescending to those who aren’t as well off as you;

don’t be conceited.

Don’t repay evil with evil.

Be concerned with the highest ideal in the eyes of all people.

Do all you can to be at peace with everyone.