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Sermons from Mark Molter

A Sermon on Reaching out to Thomas

A Sermon on Reaching out to Thomas

Florence Verrocchio's Doubting Thomas
Ed Petrick
Florence Verrocchio’s Doubting Thomas

Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed! Amen!

We’ve all heard or seen things that we didn’t quite believe. The call of a loved one’s unexpected death, hearing that your mother has breast cancer, seeing the aftermath of the plane hitting a building where people you know work. The day I heard my grandfather died, the day my mother told me she had cancer and the day in 2011 seeing the aftermath of the plane hitting the Pentagon, the events were very vivid for me. My initial response to all these events was shock and disbelief. I wanted to hide and escape from their reality. There were moments when nothing could break through the fear and doubt.

The disciples in the upper room where no different. They had witnessed Jesus die. The had seen Christ crucified and buried. And now they were overcome with grief. They had heard the story of the empty tomb, of Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciple seeing the risen Christ. But for the disciples in that room fear and grief prevented them from believing. Which is understandable, when you see somebody die you don’t expect them to just be resurrected as if nothing happened, Do you? They had locked themselves in that upper room not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually. At that point, the disciples were more concerned about themselves than whatever else might be happening. They were grieving for their beloved teacher. They were fearful of what others might think, what might happen to them. They could be mocked, beaten or killed.

In the midst of this fear and grief, Jesus enters among them. Despite locked doors, He enters and shows them his hands and his side. They see Jesus their beloved teacher, who had died, Alive with them! What Joyous news! Jesus enters that room and says “Peace be with you.”

Peace in Hebrew is Shalom. However, it means more than the stereotypical end of violence, hippy peace. The kind we often casually say I hope for Peace on Earth. It means more, It means reconciliation, restoration, and completeness. Christ’s peace for me came in the witness of my mother. The shock of hearing the word Cancer from my mother was frightening. You expect the worst when you hear that word, Cancer. Despite my shock, my mother was calm. How could she be so calm? It was Cancer, that thing other people got not my own mother. It was puzzling to me. I asked if she was afraid and she responded, “Of course I’m afraid, but Christ is with me.” There in the midst of her pain and fear she was able to see Christ’s presence. To experience Shalom. Hearing her witness I began to see Christ’s presence as well. I began to believe.

Fear and Doubt are real. You may feel like you can’t have faith if they are present but Jesus enters despite our fears and doubts. Jesus comes past the barriers, the locked doors, and the tough questions. Out of fear and doubt, Jesus gives us a faith that becomes even more real.

Jesus offers his peace and he also gives us a task to share that peace with others. Breathing on the disciples, Jesus offers his presence through the Holy Spirit. Jesus then gives his disciples a command. “As the father sent me, I send you” He sends the disciples and us with his peace and his presence to others, for the forgiveness of sins. He says, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Jesus desires that his peace be made complete. He offers forgiveness that makes us complete with God but also with others. He offers himself.

The disciples were so excited. Jesus was alive after all, The one who was crucified and buried had conquered death and was with them. The first person they tell is Thomas. Thomas, the disciple who was missing. The friend that was missing. In this excitement Thomas responds to the news that Jesus is alive with “unless I touch and see the holes in his hand and his side I will not believe.” Why couldn’t he just believe? We all know someone like Thomas. The person who questions what people say and is a skeptic. The person who doesn’t quite know what to do with all this religious stuff. They are all around us. It is the homeless person who walks by the church but doesn’t enter, It is the friend that doesn’t understand the whole church thing, it maybe, even yourself. Despite Thomas’ doubts, his unbelief and his conditions for belief, the disciples welcome him among them. That next week, they are in the upper room and Jesus enters again. Jesus again says “Peace be with you” Before Thomas can ask anything. Jesus offers for Thomas to touch and see. Jesus is the only one who can offer Thomas what he needs. The other disciples can’t. Thomas sees Jesus and believes saying “My Lord, My God.” The one who doubted believes when he encounters the risen Christ. In the midst of doubt and unbelief, Jesus comes and offers Thomas the Gift of Faith. In midst of questions, Jesus offers answers. In Thomas’ unbelief, Jesus offers him what he needs so that he can be a witness with those other disciples. When I first talked to my mother about her cancer, I couldn’t help but have some doubts. I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen. Faith could only get you so far I thought. But her perseverance proved otherwise. My mother’s faith was a gift in the midst of my own doubts and fears. It got me through doubt as my mother went through treatment. It drew me closer to God and to my mother. Through her witness, I became a witness to the risen Christ.

The gift of faith Jesus offers is meant to be shared. It was through my Mother’s witness I saw Christ. Christ sends us to welcome the Thomases in our lives, to the bring them to witness the risen Jesus. Christ asks us to include those around us. Those Thomases in our lives. Christ encourages us to live beyond our fears and doubts to include others, those right outside our comfort zones, so they might witness and believe in Christ. We can include them in a hope that Jesus will show up. We can give them a place to ask questions and to share our experience of Christ with one another so that all may believe and have new Life in Christ. We can’t make Christ appear like a magic trick, but we can believe Christ will show up. We can come to together in this place to share Christ’s promises, to remember his Life, Death and Resurrection in our own lives through Baptism, to share his presence at the table in bread and wine and through worship. Christ is here among us. Let us open our doors and our hearts like the stone is rolled away from the tomb so that those who want to see the risen lord may see him.

Sermon the Temptation of Jesus

Sermon the Temptation of Jesus

Temptation-of-Christ

Here is my first sermon for my preaching class. It was well received. Feedback would be nice.

Gospel Text: Matthew 3:16-4:11

Sermon:
It is the first day of class. We have heard various rumors or information about what the class is like and especially what the professor is like. Is the professor mean, scary or nice? How do they teach? What are their expectations? However, you do not really know until you actually meet the professor. As you begin to dialogue with the professor you get a better idea of who they are and their expectations for you.

The beginning of the Gospel of Matthew is like that first day of class, full of expectation. We hear the story of Jesus’ birth and his genealogy. There are a lot of expectations about who Jesus is. Has he come as a king or a conqueror? No one really knows for sure. But there are expectations.

Jesus is named and claimed as “The Son of God” at his Baptism. He is then lead into the wilderness to be tempted. As Satan begins to tempt and ask questions of Jesus, this is the first time Jesus speaks for himself. The first time Jesus finds his voice and tells us, who he is. This is where we find out if this Jesus, meets our expectations about who God is.

Jesus is no doubt very hungry from fasting. Satan asks him “Turn these stones into bread if you are the Son of God?” He is the Son of God so sure we expect him to be able to do it. But NO! Jesus replies using God’s word “Man is not fed by bread alone but by every word of God” Jesus’ response takes this offer to satisfied physical need and defies our expectation with the promise of something greater. He offers to satisfy our spiritual need. The kind only God can give. Soldiers in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan deal with a variety of needs, physical, emotional and spiritual.

In a recent, article about Army Chaplain Brian Kane. He notes that there were often long lines outside the chapel with those needing prayer, confession, and spiritual guidance. Although overwhelming, he said, “The source of strength comes from knowing that God called me to be a priest and that Jesus promised that he helps us to carry our crosses and do very difficult things.”

We often settle for less. For the here and now. For the physical and not the spiritual. However, Jesus offers us more.

Satan then asks, “If you are the Son of God, thrown yourself down for the psalmist says God will save you.” Jesus responds with God’s word again, “Do not test the Lord your God” The Jews were expecting a miracle worker and magician. They wanted signs to prove who he was. Even during his Crucifixion, it is echoed. “If you are the Son of God, save yourself.”

Have you ever tried to bargain with God? , “God answers this prayer and I’ll go to church more?” or “If I don’t sin for a week, God will you bless me?” We put conditions on God. God does not want that kind of shallow faith. He wants our obedience. He wants our trust. Trust and faith are given, not bargained for. Trust and faith come with relationship. Joe Kapolyo a Zambian pastor writes “We can trust God for safety as we serve him obediently but, sometimes his will is best fulfilled by having to undergo suffering.” When we put conditions on God we forget about his unconditional grace. A grace so great he went to the cross to show us an example. Not because we asked or deserved it but because he loves us.

Satan then asks his boldest question yet “Look at all the kingdoms of the earth. You can have power over all of these if you just worship me.” The Jews were expecting God to save them and show his mighty hand here on earth. We often expect our politicians to use their power as well, to strong arm and make the world the way they want it.

Jesus rather forcefully tells him to get lost and with God’s word states, “you shall only worship the Lord your God.” If you know any history at all, you know that great leaders and empires come to power and fall again and again. Jesus rejects the devil’s offer of earthly power. A power that will fade and wither away. Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus offers us something better than we expected, his kingdom, his reign over heaven and earth. One that is eternal. After all Jesus is the Son of God.

I think the hardest part of temptation is choosing whose expectations we will follow. Will it be our peers, our own, the media or our God? When I was younger and did something wrong, I often thought, “My Mom and Dad are going to kill me?” I knew they were not going To,. But I knew what they expected of me. I knew I had missed the mark. I had let others expectations affect what I did. Jesus being God’s Son knew his father intimately. My parents know me better than anyone else. I want to make them happy and I want to meet their expectations because I love them. I sometimes forget that unlike my human parents, God’s expectations come with a grace that is abundant even when I do not measure up.

However, is not the end of the Jesus story. It is not the last we have seen of Satan. This is still just the first day of class. The beginning. As we get to know Jesus more, I wonder how he is going to change our expectations yet again?