Thursday, May 5, 2011

I Need a Sign

Easter 2nd Week - 2004

Last Sunday was Easter.  Instead of setting the alarm for 6:00am we set it for 5:15.  There were eggs to peel, a meal to prepare and music to review.  And while Penny was doing all that I was meditating with my head under the pillow.

Early on at the church building last Sunday, I noticed an increased level of excitement.  When the kids arrived, they were filled with energy.  When their drama began, the smiles on their faces were wide and contagious.  Their joy at being a part of the day warmed everyone who watched.

The breakfast was good.  Did anyone pick egg shells out of your teeth?  Actually, I did help with the eggs, so you can sue me instead of Penny for any broken teeth.  The eggs were gone by the time I got there so next year we'll have to set the alarm for 4:15 and do some more.  But I enjoyed the little smokies and strawberries and the friendship around the tables.  It was fun to listen and watch people enjoy Easter fellowship. 

And then the worship team lifted my soul right out of my pew.  I have enjoyed hearing them learn many of those songs.  And last Sunday all their previous work felt like it was focused on this day, in a way that helped me celebrate the resurrection victory.  I sensed the presence of Jesus.

It was Easter last Sunday:  It was energized - it was holy - it was fun.  But then I got up on Monday.  The newspaper reminded me that people still know how to kill each other to impress their gang family; attorneys are still postponing justice in a big trial in San Jose; terrorists are still filled with jealousy and hatred; the Giants may have Barry Bonds, but the rest of the team is mediocre.  It is going to be a long baseball season.

Then, when I came into the office and got out the P.U.S.H. (Pray Until Something Happens prayer list) to pray - there was Penny's brother, still battling the effects of his bone marrow transplant.  How long has he been on there?  There was a friend needing prayer for power to overcome drug addiction.  There was still the cirrhosis, the brain tumor, the Hodgkin's - and they all have names.  There was the reminder that our attempts to introduce people to Jesus through Alpha are not working.  And there was a reminder of two friends in broken relationships, if anything, more broken now than ever.

If Easter is victory . . . then what is different?

READ:  John 20:19-31

There are those times when I come into the study at the beginning of a new week, even after one as exciting as Easter, and I need some reassurance -- some evidence that things really are different -- that Sunday meant something.  "God, show me a sign."  That is why I like Thomas.  He needed reassurance; he had doubts, but no more than the other disciples.  They just got their evidence sooner than he did.  Thomas was one of those folks who wanted to see things clearly before he jumped out of a plane.  He would be willing to die for the right cause, but he wanted to understand the cause.  He wanted to see why he was dying.

In John 11 Jesus was making plans to move back into the Jerusalem area.  A week earlier the authorities had tried to stone Jesus but He had escaped.  Now Jesus was insisting it was time to go back.  Thomas did not expect a resurrection when they got back to Bethany.  He expected to be killed beside Jesus.  Nevertheless he was willing to walk with Jesus the whole way.  When the twelve were near rebellion at Jesus' plan, Thomas intervened.  Amidst the panic and chaos he said, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him."

Instead of Doubting Thomas, I think he should be called "Thomas the Brave".  He could also be called "Honest Thomas".  In John 14 Jesus is teaching on how to get to the Father's house.  Then Jesus acted like he was ready to change topics with a concluding remark, ". . . you know the way to the place where I am going."

While other people were trying to hide the confusion on their faces, trying to look like they knew "what was what", Thomas risked embarrassment and jumped into the middle of it with the question, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

For that question we now have the benefit of Jesus' clear statement in 14:6, "I AM the way . . .".  Some folks don't like what Jesus said, but it is not hard to understand.  The meaning is not mysterious.

Thank you for your honesty, Thomas.  Thank you for not pretending to understand, because we got an understandable answer.  Thank you.  That was Thursday night. But a lot has happened in a few days.  Thomas implies that he was in the crowded distance watching from a safe place while Jesus was being crucified.  He knew Jesus did not die from a fever like Lazarus.  Now I know that "dead is dead", but Jesus' body was crushed and ripped and drained of all its blood like a butchered animal.  And Thomas had seen it happen.  No one could possibly be more dead that Jesus was dead.

Yet now the disciples are saying they have seen Jesus.  Thomas didn't have the stomach for group grief so he had stayed by himself on that first Sunday.  That was one of his weaknesses: Preferring to handle his problems alone.  If we want to find something in Thomas to avoid and criticize, this is it.  If we are looking for a reason that Jesus let Thomas go for a whole week before giving him what he needed, this may be the place to start looking.  We need each other, and Thomas needed to grieve with his family.  He should have been there.

When the disciples caught up with Thomas, he could not believe what they were saying to him.  They certainly looked different.  But to Thomas, life was still filled with darkness and pain.  They seemed to feel better, but not Thomas!  He would not accept a half cure by getting swept up in other peoples' emotions.

Have you ever been asked to believe the unbelievable?  Resurrection is not an everyday occurrence.  It is not a once in a lifetime occurrence:  It has only happened once so far and that was 2,000 years ago.  Today it cannot be proved in a scientific sort of way - not like we can prove the theory of gravity.  Doubts about this event are normal.  Of course, Satan has his own anti-resurrection propaganda machine cranked up to full speed.  We can expect to feel his influence!  Doubts are normal.  If you never doubt unbelievable claims you would be well served to stay away from salesmen and mute all TV ads.  You're just the person they're looking for.

Thomas needed a sign.  Some of God's finest have asked for a sign.  Abraham was know as a man of great faith, but he also had moments of doubt.  In Genesis 15 God made a great promise to him and Abraham's response on this occasion was "How can I know?  How can I be certain?"  In other words, "What sign will You show me?"  On that occasion God walked the covenant of blood while Abraham was in a trance-like sleep.  It was an amazing sign.

Gideon asked for a sign -- three times!  If anyone should be labeled a doubter it would be Gideon.  First, God showed him a sign whereby he consumed a sacrifice by fire.  Gideon said something to the effect of "That was good - but I think I need more."  Then God gave a sign with the wet fleece.  Gideon asked once again; this time for the fleece to be dry.

John the Baptist asked for a sign.  Early in his ministry he was full of faith.  He boldly pointed to Jesus as "The Lamb of God who takes away the world's sin."  Tremendous insight!  There are sacrificial overtones in that statement of the lamb removing sin.  John must've been close to the big picture.  But after Herod arrested him and put him in prison, his doubts began to pester him and he sent some of his men to ask Jesus, "Are You really the One?"  Can You give us a sign, Jesus?

Thomas was not a faith midget.  We would do well to thank him for the extra facets of Jesus' teaching he brings out, both earlier in the gospel and here.  There are times when we all could use reassurance.

And Jesus showed up to give Thomas a sign - His scarred hands.  John's entire gospel is bracketed between the introductory words, "In the beginning was The Word and The Word was with God and the Word was God." and here near the end with Thomas' words in 20:28, "My Lord and my God!"  This is the first time that another person addresses Jesus as God.  This is a watershed moment!  When Thomas was sure about something - he went every foot of the way the evidence lead.  If the sign said "go this way" he went.  He recognized Jesus as (his) God!

For a full-blooded Jew - strictly and fiercely monotheistic by instinct and training - to call another human person "God" was incredible.  To the pious Jew this would be the worst sort of blasphemy, deserving the hottest hell, unless the evidence was overwhelming.  Thomas was truly converted.

Last Sunday was great:  It was fun, it was Jesus' glorifying.  But Monday came and sometimes I need a sign that what happened on Sunday is real on Monday.  Mike, where are the signs? I asked myself.

As I quietly sat there Jesus overcame my poor memory and I started to hear something that sounded like reassurance.  I remembered the challenge of sending Callie off to PLNU.  The annual tuition started at $18,000 and went up every year she was there.  Penny was at the very beginning of her nurses training and our family had two girls in college.  But then little things happened here and there.  There were grants and scholarships and credits and opportunities to take advantage of.  Never did one source alone amount to more than 30-35% of the need - but at the end of four years, Callie graduated, and within the year had the entire $80,000 paid for.  Penny had graduated without any debt.  Four years earlier, for me to have expected that to happen on one income would have been asking me to believe the unbelievable.  I heard God asking me if I saw the sign of His nail scarred hands at work in my life.

At that point my eyes where attracted to a hand written date in my prayer journal.  June 4, 2003.  I remember it still - sitting in the study, I had just finished praying when Stephanie called telling me that everyone who had been opposing the adoption of Tori was either out of the picture or had changed their minds and were going to support it.

Our family had just sat through an expensive and intimidating court room procedure and listened to a slick attorney tear our dreams to shreds and attack us in personal ways.  We had heard more made-up stories than we could keep track of.  And we had felt the full weight of a black robed judge crush our hopes and plans.

But on June 4th - attorneys and judges, lies and grief notwithstanding - it all changed.  The unbelievable had happened.  The adoption is not complete but the difference is like this:  When we left the court our hopes and dreams were killed and sealed in a little box and buried six feet under ground.  On June fourth God removed the dirt, unsealed the container and reunited us with stronger dreams and a living hope.    Do you see my scarred hands, Mike?

Then He did something like that again in November when the door opened to a sign like that with Brandan.  It is still working itself out, as all stories are and will be until we get home.  But they are signs, signs that we really do have a home to go to.

I thought of those we have seen through the years go through the waters of baptism.  Every saved soul in this room is a sign.  You are all signs that Jesus is alive.  The fact that you are here this morning is evidence that you have seen a sign and you are here to witness to the reality of Jesus.  Perhaps some of you are looking; you are more like Thomas before he saw Jesus.  That is okay.  Hang around long enough and you will meet Him too. 

Last Sunday was Easter - and because it was bigger than Monday - we are back.

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