Monday, May 22, 2017

Playing To A Tough Crowd

"Playing To A Tough Crowd"
Acts 17:16-34

During my first year of college, there were a lot of experiences that blew me away.  I suppose it happens to most first year college students.  I went to a community college in the Seattle area and played basketball my first year.  Most of the players were using some kind of drug recreationally, which made practices unbelievable.  Some of the players were playing other games with the cheerleaders on road trips, and that was sickening, since a couple of the girls ended up pregnant.  Two of the players robbed a taxi cab driver right in front of their apartment, which was undeniably stupid.  And on and on.

But one of the things I didn't expect, that first year of college, was to have my Christian faith attacked in the classroom.  One of the classes was Introduction to Philosophy.  The class was taught by a guy who was a Hindu, and he hated Christianity in general, and Christians in particular.  He wasn't Middle Eastern.  He didn't wear a turban.  He was just this short, dark-haired, scruffily bearded guy, who was intense almost to the point of hyper-activity.

His Christianity bashing started early in the quarter.  I remember sitting there thinking, "How can this guy get away with all this crap, attacking my faith—the faith that I one day hoped to be a minister of?"  So I'd go home, and instead of studying like I should, I'd study the Bible, getting ready to do battle.  I would come to class the next time ready to make my counter-points.

What I found out was, he didn't care much about the Bible either.  "Don't come at me with all that Bible stuff," he'd say mockingly.  "It's full of inconsistencies and contradictions.  You have this vengeful God in the Old Testament who wants everybody dead.  But in the New Testament there's a guy who says he's God who is all about peace and love.  Are there two Gods?  Which is it?"  Then I'd go back home, read my Bible and commentaries, and figure out what I had to say to that guy.

Every point I tried to make, he would challenge.  When we began talking about evil in the class, and I brought up the devil, he said something like, "If you Christians believe in a devil, then you don't believe in one God.  You've set up two Gods—one evil and one good.  So is Christianity monotheistic (that is, having only one God) or dualistic (having two Gods)?"  Back home I'd go, studying more in my Bible, trying to come up with an answer that would make some inroad with that instructor.

I never did read very much of my philosophy text book, which is what I should have been reading to get a better grade than I got out of the class.  I understood all the content of what we were learning, but man that guy irritated me.  I was totally outmatched.  He seemed to have an answer for everything, and I would be sent home packing.

I went on to a Presbyterian Christian college after that—much like where David is going up at Hastings.  I wanted to learn how to think and how to reason like that guy did.  I didn't like being on the defensive all the time.  I learned a lot about philosophy at the Christian college, because I was a philosophy major.  But you know what?  I grew more in my faith, sitting in that one philosophy class at a community college, taught by a Hindu instructor.

It was probably the closest I have come to Paul's experience in Athens.  Although I'm sure Paul didn't feel outmatched like I did.  Paul knew what to say, and wasn't timid about saying it.  They didn't try to rebut Paul; they just laughed at him.

Philosophers are a tough crowd to play to.  Paul's crowd was made up of Epicureans and Stoics.  In the Epicurean's way of thinking, everything happens by chance.  No one is in control, especially any gods.  There are gods, according to this philosophy, but they are off in the heavens and don't care what happens in our world.  So the best thing a person can do is get the most pleasure you can out of life, since when you die, that's it.  Eat, drink, and fool around, for tomorrow you may be dead.

The Stoics, on the other hand, believed that everything was God and that God was in everything.  Humans were the playthings of fate; and fate was the same as the will of God.  Everything was the will of God, both good and evil.  Therefore, the main task of being human was to accept fate without emotions or feelings.  Then you will be at peace.  Don't let what happens to you control your emotions.  Don't feel.  Don't react.  Just accept.  Go with the flow.

There's a lot from these two ancient philosophies that is still alive in our American culture.  Old philosophies don't die; they just keep getting reincarnated in a new time with slightly different twists.

Some people may not have or hold to a religion.  They may not have any spiritual beliefs.  But I think everyone has some kind of philosophy about life.  They have an approach to life.  They have a way of dealing with the questions that every thinking person asks themselves:  Who am I?  Why am I here?  What is life?  What's the best way to live my life?  A lot of us find the answers to these questions within the context of our religious and spiritual beliefs.  Without religion, a person is left to find answers in philosophy.

When Paul walked in to Athens he saw monuments that had been built to every God or philosophy by which people thought they had found answers to their life questions.  From Apollo to Zeus, they were all there.  There was even an empty monument, just in case they had ignorantly left one out.  If someone came into Athens and said, "Hey, you forgot a monument," the Athenians would say, "No we didn't; it's over there in the 'etc.' area."

Once Paul had been in Athens for a while, gawking at everything like the tourist he was, the more upset he became.  You might say that Paul felt a lot of bad juju in Athens.  There were two main reasons Paul was upset.

The first reason was because of all the monuments and altars that had been built to every known god and philosophy.  By outward appearances, the people of Athens were very religious.  What else would explain all the monuments?  But there is a point where you have so much religion, you actually have no religion at all.  It all blends into nothingness.

The other problem, which is one of our problems in modern culture is political correctness.  What Paul ran into in Athens was an early version of political correctness.  We don't want to offend anybody about what they choose to believe or not believe, so we make room for everyone's beliefs, right or wrong.  Whatever you want to believe is fine.  Just let us know and we'll make sure to build a shrine to it—even if it's a religion you just made up.  It's hard to talk to a crowd where the religion is not the main thing, but political correctness about religion is actually the main religion.

But in Paul's mind, as he began discussing with the people, believing in everything, or making allowances for every kind of belief actually means believing in nothing.  When Paul started his speech to the philosophers, he said, "I see that in every way you Athenians are very religious."  The old King James Version of the Bible uses, instead of the word religious, the word, superstitious.  That catches the tone of Paul's opening statement, because he's not complimenting the Athenians—he's being sarcastic.  A lot of the time, being religious and being superstitious are the same thing.

Being superstitious means attempting to cover all the bases just in case.  But the more you try to adopt, the more diluted any of those beliefs become.  What Paul tried to get across to the philosophers of Athens was that true religion, true belief, concentrates itself on that which it believes in.  For Christians, we focus on our faith in Christ as Lord and Savior to the exclusion of all else.  It is that focus and concentration that empowers us with the knowledge of who we truly are, and what our purpose is.

You can try to have a cafeteria religiosity, like the Athenians were trying to do. (Or what American culture is trying to do.) You can go down the line with your tray in hand, take a scoop of pleasure from the Epicureans, have a slab of intellectual stimulation with a side of truth, and then get a wedge of chocolate covered fate for dessert.  But all you end up with is a stomach ache.  You reach for the pepto to deal with the consequences of your cafeteria approach to religion.

Or, as Paul preached, you can go to the Jesus Christ Cafe and get a balanced, very particular meal, excluding all the stuff you don't need, and walk out satisfied.

The other thing that made Paul mad, as he walked around Athens, was that no one seemed to be challenging the believe-in-everything spirituality.  There was a small synagogue of Jewish believers there, and there were some Gentile converts there.  After Paul had seen enough, he went right to the synagogue and "held discussions."

I'm sure part of the discussion had to do with Jesus Christ and believing in him as God's Lord and Messiah.  But I get the idea that Paul was discussing with them about why they weren't out there trying to set the Athenian people right.  Why weren't they out there trying to confront the hokey philosophies of the day, and the cafeteria approach to religion?  If they believed in the one, true God, why weren't they out there proclaiming the message?

Paul's first tough crowd was not the Athenians.  It was the believers.  I can imagine their answers—can't you?  "That's just the way things are—you have to accept it."  Or, "How can we be expected to change a society's whole way of being?  That's too big of a thing to ask."  Or, "We're just a few.  How can you expect this handful of people to have any impact."  Or, "We're doing the best we can just trying to protect ourselves from all that stuff out there.  We just don't have any energy left to confront and take the offensive."  Sounds like what Christians say today.  That was a tough crowd of believers Paul had to talk to.

The great preacher and evangelist, Charles Spurgeon, was once asked, "Do you believe that those who have never heard the gospel are really saved?"  In response, Spurgeon said, "Do you believe those who have heard the gospel and never shared it are really saved?"  What Spurgeon did was to focus the responsibility where it really lies: not on the person who hasn't heard, but on the believer who refuses to share what he or she has come to believe about Jesus Christ.

So Paul went out of the synagogue and modeled for the believers what they should have been doing all along—without excuses or fear, he took the Message to the marketplace.  In the end he mostly got laughed at.  It was his second toughest crowd of the day, after having talked to the believers.

Some have said, because Paul was only able to gain a couple of converts, that this was his least "successful" preaching stop.  But that all depends on how you define success.  Paul mostly defined success by whether he was faithful to his calling, faithful in sharing what he believed—not in the numbers he may have brought to Christ.

That is the only way to measure success when you are playing to tough crowds:  was I faithful to what Jesus has asked me to do?

Monday, May 15, 2017


1 Peter 2:9-10

Most of us have sad stories about not being chosen.  Remember those days in elementary school?  During recess a group of us would line up against the wall so that teams could be chosen for dodge ball.  The same two boys always ended up being the captains.  They were the ones who did the choosing.  I don’t know how it was that they were always the captains.  I don’t remember anyone choosing them to be captains.  I think they chose themselves.  The rest of us evidently allowed them to do that, because no one ever complained or put themselves forward as a captain.

I was always chosen near the end or at the end.  You know, with the rest of the kids that were hurriedly divided up as the extras that were either not cool enough, or good enough to even be chosen.  We were just separated like cattle.  Bodies to be cast to one side or the other.

There certainly are times when we are chosen, and we know in our heart of hearts that there was nothing we did that affected that choosing.  Some call it destiny, or fate, or chance.  I prefer to think of it as something that God is up to behind the scenes.  For God’s own reasons, God chooses, and lives are forever changed.  God selects someone out of a group of others, like David chosen out of all the rest of his older brothers, and that choosing creates ripple effects usually not just in their life, but in a lot of lives surrounding the chosen one.

In the Old Testament, the Jews defined themselves as God’s chosen people.  Chosen for a special destiny.  Chosen for a special mission.  Chosen to be a witness to the nations.  In the musical, “Fiddler On The Roof,” the old town Rabbi says, “We know, O God, we are your chosen people; but isn’t it time you chose someone else.”

God eventually did choose some others, or at least expanded His circle of who was chosen.  Through Jesus Christ, from New Testament times on, God includes the church as part of those who are the chosen.  Let’s find out what that means, according to Peter.

You’ll notice Peter addresses his letter to Christians who are “...exiles, scattered to the four winds.”  They weren’t scattered because they decided to move to a new town.  They were scattered because people who followed Jesus, who were chosen to be the church, were being searched out and killed in gruesome ways by Jewish religious officials and partly by the Roman government.

The Christians reading Peter’s letter might be thinking along the lines of the "Fiddler on the Roof" Rabbi’s prayer to God, “... it’s maybe time you chose some other people.”  If life is getting really awful and scary, you might be reassessing what it means to be chosen, to be and remain faithful.  You might be wondering what kind of “night-and-day” difference God has really affected in your life.

Have you been chosen to go from nothing to something, only to be torched in Nero’s gardens?  Have you been chosen to go from rejected to accepted, only to become lion fodder in the arena?  Have you been chosen to be priestly, only to become a human sacrifice, not on an altar, but on the torture table of some Roman sadist with a saw?

So, being chosen by God doesn’t spare you from the chaos and craziness in the world.  Fortunately we don’t live with those same kinds of circumstances that Peter’s letter-readers had to live with.  We get to come here to worship, and not worry that the police are going to bust down the door and haul us all away to do unspeakably awful things to our bodies.  Even if we did, it wouldn’t change the fact that we’ve been given an identity by God as people He has chosen.  What’s important is that we’ve been given an identity and we must be a people who are constantly living into that identity, as God’s chosen people.

As we examine that identity, let’s ask some simple questions that Peter answers in this single sentence of his letter.  The first question is, Who’s chosen?  “You” are, Peter writes.  But not you, individually.  This isn’t about you, personally.  It’s about you, plural.  All of you.

I met a guy in seminary from Georgia, who became one of my close friends while we were there.  He came up to me one day and said, “What y’all doin’?”  I was by myself so I looked around me to see who “all” he was talking to.  I thought a bunch of people must have snuck up behind me.  Or, maybe he thought I had developed multiple personalities.  But it was just me, so I discovered, in the south, “y’all” is singular.  If you wanted to address a group of people it was, “All, y’all.”  That’s what Peter was saying in his letter (if he lived in the south):  “You, all y’all, are the ones chosen by God.”

We all got chosen by God in one fell swoop.  We’re all in this together.  This isn’t about individuals.  It’s about us.  It’s about making a stronger, more profound impact on God’s team as “all y’all” rather than just a bunch of individual “y’alls.”

Which leads us to another question Peter tries to answer, “What have we been chosen by God for?”  It’s clear that for Peter being chosen doesn’t have anything to do with getting status or notoriety.   When I was a kid, and we were all up against the wall at recess, like I explained earlier, there was usually one of the captains who was cooler than the other.  Like Ken Montgomery.  Just being chosen by him was the best.  It elevated everyone’s status just because we were on his team, and he chose us.

But that’s not what’s going on when we get chosen by God.  It doesn’t mean we are cooler or better than anyone else.  It doesn’t mean that our status is suddenly elevated, that our stock as a human being just went through the roof.  To be chosen by God, as Peter describes it means being chosen for responsibility.  Being chosen doesn’t mean we get to sit back and do nothing; thinking that being chosen was all it was about.  And just because the world may be chaotic and scary, and we may be in survival mode, doesn’t mean we get to run and hide.  We have to, as the chosen ones, live out of our new identities as the chosen, right in the middle of life.

For Peter, that new identity is best described as the “high calling of priestly work.”  All y’all have been chosen to be priests.  Isn’t that a kick?  Now does that mean that you have to wear those black shirts with the uncomfortable tight white collars, and say words in Latin that no one understands?  Does that mean that you have to all of a sudden become celibate and give up your marriages?  Thankfully, a big NO to all of that.

But Peter describes what it means to be chosen for priestly work in the rest of the sentence.  First it means to be chosen to be a holy people.  The word “holy” literally means something or someone who has been set apart for a special purpose.  So to be chosen for priestly work means that each of you is to help everyone else to see how each of you is special.  As a congregation you are to do the work of understanding how God has set all of you apart, in a together kind of way, for a special purpose.  God has chosen this congregation, and set them in this community, for a special purpose.  Do we have an understanding of what that is?  Do we know what that purpose might be?  That’s why we worship and study and pray and fellowship together, not just for our own fun, but to discern how God has set all y’all aside for a special purpose in this place.  And I think, because we have done so much worship, study and prayer together, is the reason we have been able to create such a clear "vivid vision" for the next three years.

Next Peter says that the high calling of priestly work is to tell others about the night-and-day difference God has made in your life.  Individually, and as a congregation, the expectation is that you don’t get to ever stay the same.  We are, all of us, moving from something to something else.  You aren’t the same person you were 5 years ago.  Nor, hopefully, are we the same congregation we were 5 years ago.  We have made some changes ourselves, or changes have been thrust upon us.

The great thing with God is that these changes are of an upward nature; they are positive rather than negative, in God’s way of doing things.  The movement of change as Peter describes it is from “nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.”  These kinds of changes are going on continually in our lives, which means that God is continually active in those changes in our lives.  So, it is our priestly work to tell each other, to tell others the nature of those movements in our lives.  They encourage all of us as we are willing to share what’s different in our life, and how God has helped shape those differences.

In my mind, this kind of story-telling has to be done with a lot of grace-full listening.  The changes and identity shaping circumstances may have been a result of stupid things we did, or bad choices, or hurtful actions by others.  Like I said, just because we are chosen doesn’t mean that we stop being human beings and start acting like angels.  Or that life magically gets easier.  
Life together means giving each other a lot of grace, helping each other find the forgiveness, acceptance and embrace that we need to go on.  And then tell each other those stories of how that happened, for our mutual encouragement.  If God really makes a difference in our individual lives and in our life together, that’s where the story has to begin and be told.

Peter calls being chosen by God a “high calling.”  I’ve talked to so many people who feel like their lives aren’t counting for much of anything; that they aren’t participating in anything that they would describe as a high calling.  They feel they don’t have purpose.  They don’t feel like they are doing anything that has the conviction of God behind it.  They don’t feel like they are in the grip of doing anything that resembles some profound motivation.  I hear the same from congregations as well, as I moderate different Sessions around our presbytery, lately.

How much of what all y’all does flows out of this kind of motivation?  Isn’t that something that we all desire, either as individual believers or as a congregation?  We want to do something that gives us the sense of being God-connected.  We want to know that we are doing something worthwhile in a meaningful sense.  That what we are doing is somehow making a difference and having a worthy impact.

This kind of identity can only come through doing the priestly work Peter has described that God has chosen all y’all for.  Only in our identity as chosen by God will we find that sense of calling and satisfaction that we may have lost along the way.  It means being a part of a community that knows it is chosen to courageously share the subtle and profound movements in their life together, and help God and help each other make it come out right, make it a positive shift rather than negative.  That’s meaningful and priestly work.

It also means keeping a sense of holiness about what all y’all are doing.  That we, together, have been set aside by God, chosen by God, for a special purpose.  We can only find that out together.  We can only celebrate that together.  We can only keep at that kind of holiness together.  That’s who we are.  That’s who God chose us to be and to do.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Voice Lessons

"Voice Lessons"
John 10:1-6

I think it's fascinating how different each of our voices are.  I don't have much self awareness about how my own voice sounds.  I don't like listening to my self.  From time-to-time I listen to one of my sermons, but I start shuddering listening to my self talk, and eventually turn it off before I'm done.  A lot of people feel the same way about listening to their own voice.

But if one of you called me on the phone, even though my iPhone tells me who's calling, if I didn't have that feature on my phone, I almost always know who it is after you'd say hello.  Just by hearing your voice.  That's what I find fascinating.  That the human voice is not robotic, making us all sound the same.  There must be millions and millions of variations in each human voice box that makes us all sound distinct.

As we have been finding out in Men's Bible Study, as we have been working our way through the book of Proverbs, it's not just our voice that matters.  It's how we use our voice, and what we say with it.  We've been paying attention to that continual theme in Proverbs that the thing that gets us most into trouble is what we do with our mouths—what we say.

Jesus develops this theme about our voices and how we use them in the parable of the sheep and the shepherd.

Our story is bracketed by two bookends—two sentences:  verse 1 and verse 6.  Verse 1 is a statement that Jesus makes:  “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can."  And then verse 6 is the result of Jesus' plain speaking:  "Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about."  Even in those times that Jesus tried to make things as simple as he could, still no one got it.  That is, for Jesus it wasn't just a matter of people understanding his parable.  It was the next step of believing in him that he was most concerned about.

Part of what may be at issue here is the people's expectations and assumptions about what Jesus talks about and how he should say it.  Those expectations were probably along the lines that Jesus should talk about religious stuff, and he should use religious sounding language.

Let's look quickly at the parable of the sheep hearing and recognizing the shepherd's voice.  Does Jesus mention God?  (Nope.)  Does Jesus use words like saved, salvation, repentance, justification, heaven, holy, etc. etc.?  (Nope.)  Did Jesus use religious-speak, verbiage that only seminary professors would understand?  In-language?  (Nope?)  Our problem is that we use that kind of in-speak, religious verbiage, with people outside the faith or on the borderlands of Christian beliefs, and we expect them to know and understand exactly what we're saying.  People expected Jesus to talk like that, because a Rabbi, a religious teacher, is supposed to talk like that.  But Jesus didn't.  So, if you don't hear the kinds of words you expect (religious verbiage), then you have to listen differently.

In Men's Bible Study, some times the version of the Bible that's read from uses a lot of words that you'd expect to find in the Bible.  But we don't talk like that, so some proverbs are hard to understand.  Joel uses the Bible Version called Today's English Version, put out by the American Bible Society.  When we hit a hard proverb and are having trouble understanding it, we turn to Joel and ask, "What does yours say, Joel?"  He reads it and we all go, "Of course; that makes more sense."

My guess is, that Jesus assumed if he talked to people in parables, they'd understand it better—easier.  Not using a lot of big words, Jesus was making the people listen differently.  Jesus was giving people a lot more responsibility, in that listening, to put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4.  He was giving the people the chance to make their own connections in what he was saying.

I'm going to do the same thing this morning.  Jesus, in his simple story, is talking about sheep and shepherds.  I don't know much about that.  But mainly what Jesus is talking about with the sheep and shepherds is voice.  So, I'm going to say a few things about voice.  I'm not going to use any religious language.  I'm going to be true to what Jesus was saying, and how he said it.  And I'm going to give you the responsibility to make the connections.  I will stop, after each time, and ask you one question:  "What connections are you making as you are listening?"

Ready?  Here we go.

Voice Lesson #1
Babies as young as 4 1/2 months old are already learning to recognize their name, especially from a familiar voice.  It's a recognition of a particular pattern and tone of sound.  When you think about it, babies in the womb can't see others, but they are certainly picking up on voices—especially on those who are becoming more and more familiar.

Also, it's been discovered that singing lullabies to infants and children helps strengthen emotional ties with the parents who sing those lullabies.  Parents use different tone of voice when singing to their children versus just singing.

An experiment was done, where parents sang a lullaby to their child.  Then, they sang the same lullaby to a random group of people.  What was discovered was that when singing to their children, there's an expressiveness of tone that can't be faked.  Parents use a different voice when singing to their children.  Babies, it's been found, associate tone of voice and familiarity of voice with their own level of security and caring.

Now, I've just been talking to you about some very religious stuff.  Did you get it?  So here's my question:  What "religious" connections did you make as you listened to what I said?

Voice Lesson #2
After graduating from law school, a friend was having trouble finding a job.  Potential employers she interviewed with commented that her voice lacked "credibility."  She had excellent qualifications and professional experience.  She had passed all the bar exams.  But she was told her voice would irritate others, instead of inspire confidence in what she was saying.

According to research, about 40% of what we communicate comes across from your voice.  Your tone of voice.  The pitch of your voice.  The volume you use when you speak.  The way you inflect or modulate your voice when you talk.

A recent Gallup poll of what annoys people about others voices included:
talking too softly
yelling (like the old Oxyclean commercials with Billy Mays)
"mmm"; "like"; "ya' know", etc.
talking too fast
high pitch
accent or regional dialect (like calling customer service and getting some guy in Sri Lanka)

All of these things don't have anything to do with the content of what you are saying, but how you say it—your voice.  When you are talking on the phone with someone you've never met, within 30 seconds into the conversation, you have formed a mental image of that person:
—what you think they look like
—how smart, or stupid, they are
—what their personality is like
—if they are attractive or not

Memorability of a person often has more to do with "voice image" rather than "physical image."  How you use your voice is a major key in your effectiveness and identity.

Now, again, I've just been talking about some very religious stuff.  Did you get it?  Thus, our question:  What connections are you making with what Jesus said and what I just said?

Voice Lesson #3
The areas of your brain that govern listening, and how we interpret what we hear is closely tied to our brain's emotional systems.  Of the five senses, only smell has more attachments to those emotive parts of our brain that govern emotion.  When you are using your voice, you are speaking out of, what's called, your "emotional core."  Also, whenever you listen to someone else's voice, their voice is generating emotions and feelings and gut level reactions in your emotional core.  Why do you think so much marriage and family counseling has to do with communication?

Your voice is one of the prime determiners, not only about what kind of relationship you have, but if you have any relationship at all with another person.

So voice and the voice-brain-emotions connection determines our relationships with each other.  If we're trying to determine if we have real connection with someone, we are probably paying attention to voice most of all.

Now, you guessed it.  This third and final voice lesson is actually very religious.  Did you understand it?  What connections are you making with what Jesus said and this final voice lesson?

For Jesus, the voice is all about making connections with others.  Not everyone.  There were sheep in the pen, when the shepherd spoke, that didn't recognize the voice and stayed in the pen.  But your voice, and how you use it, is primary in starting, keeping, and maintaining a flock of relationships.  It's the voice that gives the sheep their identity, and holds them together in those relationships.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Face Reality

"Face Reality"
Luke 24:13-35

Life can become such serious business.

In one Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown is feeling the seriousness of life.  He walks along, shoulders drooping, mouth turned down, eyes blank, and an audible "sigh" is exhaled from deep within himself.  He sits himself down at Lucy's Psychiatric Help booth, and the gloomy look on his face has infected Lucy with the same blank stare.

"I've never felt more low in all my life," Charlie Brown starts out.  "I don't seem to fit in anywhere!  I don't seem to belong!  Everything I try is a disaster!"
"Well," replies Lucy, "try looking at life this way…People are like decks of cards…we're all part of the deck…some are aces, others are tens, or nines, or twos…We all can't be face cards, can we?  We can't all be kings and queens."
"No, I guess not," Charlie Brown mutters.
Lucy continues, with her head resting on her arms on the desktop of the booth, "Maybe you're the two of clubs, Charlie Brown."
"I doubt it," he retorts.  "Even the two of clubs takes a trick now and then!"

Poor Charlie Brown.  All through that conversation with Lucy, his face reflected the deep sadness that he was expressing.  All the depression, all the loneliness that he tries to hold in gushes up and flows out through his face.

One day, Calvin, in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, is blowing bubbles with his bubble gum.  He blew a huge bubble and it popped covering his whole head with gum.  He can't see anything, and in his wildly imaginative way, says, "Omigosh, I just blew my face inside out."  There's an odd sort of truth to Calvin's statement, in that our faces are our feelings popped out.  Our faces are covered with our feelings, our emotions, our heart and souls, blown inside out, so-to-speak.

Our faces are the permanent records of the inner meanings we give to our life experiences.  Our faces are the outward, visible forms of our temperament and disposition, health or sickness, trouble or joy, disappointments or successes.  No matter how well we think we are at masking our faces, trying to coverup our interior condition, it still leaks out, and usually is as clear as if we had just popped a bubble gum bubble all over ourselves.

By sheer numbers, the face has more muscles in it than all the muscles in our arms and legs combined.  Because of the number and the shape and the placement of those muscles, the combination of facial expressions is nearly limitless.  The constant pull on these muscles by our inner emotional condition will determine our permanent facial characteristics.  (Unless you have a face lift or plastic surgery, of course.)  Infants have typically smooth faces.  They have a virtual clean slate on which to work.  As we live out our lives, year after year, our experiences are written upon that clean slate.

One of Abraham Lincoln's aides asked why a certain man, who had many qualifications, was not appointed to a cabinet position.  Lincoln replied, "I didn't like his face."
Lincoln's adviser protested, "You can't turn a man down for a reason like that.  He can't help the way he looks."
But Abraham Lincoln sternly replied, "Show me a man who is forty years old who is not responsible for his face!"

One of the only parts of my body that I can't see, without some assistance, is my face.  Except by a mirror, the only other way I can see my face is how others reflect it back to me.  Someone else may be brave enough to tell me what my facial expression looks like, especially if I have gotten too serious, or it has gotten too stoically unreadable.

But there's another level to all of this.  My face, your faces, do not only picture what's going on inside, they also determine how and what we see.  They determine how we choose to be, and the attitude with which we approach life.  It is as if we are not only seeing with our faces, we are seeing life through our faces.  If our faces are serious and gloomy, then generally we will view life through that seriousness and gloom.

In another Peanuts comic strip, Lucy is talking to Snoopy.  One of the Peanuts gang is having a party, and Lucy wasn't invited.  She can't figure it out.  "Why shouldn't I be invited to a party?" she asks Snoopy, who is standing and listening dutifully.  "Go ahead and tell me!" she demands of Snoopy.  "Come on, tell me!"

Snoopy thinks to himself for a minute, and by the expression on his face you can tell he is trying to decide if he should tell the truth.  Finally, Snoopy gives Lucy an answer.  Snoopy screws his face up into a mean and sullen scowl and confronted Lucy with it.  In the last frame, Lucy is angrily chasing Snoopy and shouting, "WHO SAYS I'M CRABBY!!?"

What is sculpted on our faces, being etched and formed by what's going on inside of us, is also, then, how we look at life.  It not only forms our looks.  It also determines how we see.

That is why I think the disciples, walking the road together, heading for home—a village called Emmaus—did not recognize the resurrected Jesus.  There was that one line from Luke's story of this conversation that caught my attention.  Jesus had just asked them what they were talking about as they walked along, and here's that line:

The two of them stood there looking sad and gloomy.  Then the one named Cleopas asked Jesus, “Are you the only person from Jerusalem who didn’t know what was happening there these last few days?”

The two disciples had faces "looking sad and gloomy."  Their expressions told the truth of what they were feeling inside.  The experience of having to stand by and watch Jesus be arrested, run through a kangaroo court, spiked to a cross, die, and then laid away in a rock solid tomb was just too much.  It would have been for anyone.  It would have been hard, if not impossible, to mask away the raw seriousness of life that they had encountered.  The way they moped along the road and the cloudy overcast appearance of their faces gave Jesus a clear reading of what lay within their spirits.

By their explanation to Jesus about what they had been talking about, Jesus was able to pick up on how much the two men were also viewing the events they described through their faces.  The men's faces were not only "sad and gloomy," but also the way they were looking at the events of the past two days was sad and gloomy.  That gloom shaded everything they saw, and would see from that day forward.

Have you heard the story about the minister who went to visit a woman from his congregation?  The woman's face was a picture of bitterness.  Everything that came out of her mouth matched her face.

At one point, the woman who lived next door came out of her house with a basket of laundry and began hanging it on the clothes line to dry.  "Do you see that woman's laundry?" the woman the pastor was visiting asked brusquely.  "She never gets it clean.  It's alway dingy and gray.  Probably doesn't use any detergent."

After a while, the minister concluded his visit, and as they were standing outside, he glanced over at the wash that was hanging on the line next door.  It was as clean and bright as the sun.  He realized then that it wasn't the washed clothes that were dingy and gray.  It was the windows of the bitter woman's house.  It was what they were looking through, not what they were looking at, that determined what they saw.

Jesus was aware, then, what the problem was, was the gloomy faces the disciples were looking through, not what they were looking at.  It was what the disciples were looking through that kept them from really seeing clearly.  What they had to see clearly was not only who this stranger was, but what the events of the past two days really meant.  But their gloomy "windows" prevented them.

Jesus' tactic was to firmly reprimand them, not for their faces, but for what lay beneath their faces:  "…how slow of heart you are to believe…" (vs. 25).  Most of the time we go for the face, thinking if we change the outward appearance, the inward will magically change as well.  "Smile, it'll make you feel better."  Or, a bit more brusque, "Smile, it ain't gonna break your face."  But Jesus bypassed the gloomy faces and reached down directly into the gloomy hearts of the two disciples.  He changed the faces by affecting a change in what lay behind and beneath the faces—the human heart.

How did Jesus do that?

First, Jesus approached the two disciples.  Our basic inclination, when we see someone with a face like the disciples had is to avoid them.  Such crabby people are the ones we wouldn't want at our parties.  Who wants to be around such serious looking, depressed people?  There certainly must have been other people on the road, making their way home after the festival in Jerusalem was over.  Certainly some of them would have been smiling, even laughing.  Much more pleasant faces than the two disciples wore.  But still, Jesus took the risk and approached them.  Started up a conversation.  And even when the two snapped back at Jesus with a caustic reply, he hung in there with them.  He kept walking with them.  He let them ventilate their feelings.  He let them talk.  He listened.

Secondly, when they were done, Jesus got their attention with a quick reprimand.  Then slowly, carefully, Jesus began to deal with their inside problem.  How Jesus did that was to redefine the meanings of the past two days events for the disciples.  Usually it isn't an event itself that creates gloom in our lives; it is more the meaning we give to those events that make us so embittered.  A crisis flares in our life, and what we immediately do is begin to layer on what we think that crisis means for our lives and how we think it's going to affect us.  We try to figure out how the crisis got to the point it did, or why it did, and layer meanings upon all that.  If you let all those meanings pile up, but you never check them out to see if they are really true or accurate, you become overwhelmed.  Another word for overwhelmed is gloomy.

What Jesus does for those two disciples is to slowly and carefully examine and change the meanings behind the events of the past two days:  "Jesus then explained everything written about himself in the Scriptures…"  The disciples gradually began to see more clearly, from the inside out.  When they finally realized who Jesus was and the truth of what he had been telling them, Jesus left them to let the whole impact settle upon them, and upon their faces.  Lo and behold!  It worked!  The two men suddenly look at each other, both probably saying at the same time, "Did we not feel our hearts on fire as he talked with us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?"

Did you catch that?  Their hearts were set on fire.  From the inside out, they were transformed.  As they stood and looked at each other, what would you guess their faces portrayed?  "Without a moments delay," Luke wrote, "they set out and returned to Jerusalem."  And through what kind of face do you think they were seeing on this return trip?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Finally, Easter Is Over

"Finally, Easter Is Over"
Luke 24:1-12

I'm not sure how your Holy Week and Easter went, but mine was somewhat tense wondering how I was going to get everything done.  It wasn't that I had a lot of busy work tasks that needed accomplishing.  It was all the writing I was going to be doing.  Between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday I had five messages to write, one of which was a funeral service and message.

After the Easter worship service was over, I ambled across the parking lot to the office, sat on my little couch, and stared straight ahead for close to 20 minutes.  Finally, Easter and Holy Week were over.  The thought that struck me, as I sat there, was, Man, I wrote a lot of words this week.  That's all my mind could think of—how many words my sausage sized fingers typed out on my little MacBook Air.

This past Thursday, after breakfast, Alan asked me if I had my sermon all done.  I said I had barely started.  He was surprised because he knows I like to have it mostly done by Wednesday.  I replied I was kind of coasting this week, not sure if I had any words left to write another sermon.  But here I am, so you know I completed the task.

I admit, with a bit of disgrace, after a week like Holy Week, I was glad it was all over.  I had that, Finally-Easter-Is-Over kind of feeling.  I felt guilty, then, for feeling that kind of feeling.  I wondered if the disciples had that feeling also.  They didn't have to write sermons about it; they had to live through it.  I know how emotionally exhausted I was just writing message after message.  It's hard to imagine what it would be like living through all those Holy Week experiences like the disciples did.

I think I got a glimpse of it, though, in the Easter story that Nick read from Luke.  It's that part where Peter runs to the tomb, sticks his head in, looks around, and leaves to go home.

I mean, how long was Peter there?  A few minutes at best?  Took a look, said, "Hmmm," shrugged his shoulders, and left?  It says he was "amazed."  Yeah, for 15 seconds.  Not amazed enough to stick around and see if there was something more to check out.  Just what was he amazed about?

To his credit, he did go to the tomb, despite the other disciples pooh-poohing the women's story that the tomb was empty.  But for Peter's trip to the tomb, at least, the Resurrection didn't last long.  Did Peter stay only a few seconds because he was worn out from all that happened that week, and he only had enough emotional energy to be "amazed" a short while?

A much shorter time than the Resurrection lasts for most people—a day, that is, the day of; the time they spend in worship Easter morning; the amount of time when they get up on Easter morning, and have the passing thought, Oh, yeah, it's Easter.  Or as long as it takes to walk through Walmart and peruse the aisle that has all the Reese's peanut butter eggs and marshmallow Peeps.

Finally, all that's over!  Now we can get on to real holidays like Mother's Day and Graduation Day.  We can go back to Walmart and buy Easter candy, cheap (and give it to your mother as a gift)!  We don't have to hear about all that blood, singing songs with words like the river of blood that flows from Immanuel's veins.  We can put the plastic eggs away for another year.  We don't have to tell the improbable stories anymore about either an Easter bunny who hides candy-filled eggs around our homes, or, of a man who was horribly killed but came back to life.

The people whom Nick Squires calls the ChEasters (people who come to church Christmas and Easter) have fulfilled one half of their yearly worship obligation.  And then add to that the Sunday after Easter and the Sunday after Christmas are traditionally the lowest attended Sunday's for church.

That dreaded season of Lent has ended, so whatever it was we gave up can now again be over-indulged.  No more serious self-reflection or introspection of where we are in our Christian faith—which only a handful of people did—and can now wait until Advent in December to do it again.

YIPEE!!  We're done with all that!  All that is over, come and gone!  Finally, Easter is over!  We can be like the disciple Peter who was amazed for a moment, then "went back home."  Carry on.  Life unaffected.

But it's not.  Easter, I mean.  Easter is not over.  Well, let me qualify that.  The Easter that involves bunnies (hollow chocolate or real); plastic, hard-boiled, or Cadbury eggs; baskets filled with that annoying green stuff that you will be vacuuming up strands of for weeks; all that is over.

The Easter that has to do with Jesus, the empty tomb, the Resurrection—that is not over.  It will never be over.  If you think you get to stick your head in the tomb and see it's empty, then go home, that's not going to cut it.

The reason it isn't over, and will never be over, is because Jesus won't let it.  The Resurrection is about Jesus, not the disciples and their unwillingness to believe.  It is about Jesus risen from the dead whether the disciples choose to believe or not—whether you choose to believe or not.  It isn't about belief, like if I believe in the Tooth Fairy or not (which I do).  It's not about belief; it's about acknowledging the truth.

It is the risen Christ's resolve to not just let Peter stick his head in the tomb and go home.  The risen Christ is not going to let Peter or us do as little as possible in coming to the truth of the Resurrection.  You have to first believe the truth of the Resurrection's happening before you can believe in what it means.

That's the strategy Jesus takes.  A few days later all the disciples are together.  There's definitely some confusion in the air.  Two or three of the disciples have claimed they've seen Jesus alive.  The disciples have all gathered to hear their stories.  Have these others really seen Jesus or not?  Are the stories believable or not?  Do the others believe simply based on what two or three witnesses say they saw—especially the women witnesses?

Some of the disciples are clearly jealous of the two or three who say they have seen Jesus:  "Why did they get to see, and not we?"  Especially since one of those who hadn't seen Jesus yet was Peter—the stick-my-head-in-the-tomb-and-go-home guy.

In the middle of the disciples confabulation (yes, that's a word; look it up in, Jesus appears.  Because, like I said, the Resurrection is about the truth of Jesus, not the disciples.  Behind locked doors, Jesus appeared to them all.  In the midst of their doubt and discussion, their jealousy and pettiness, Jesus appeared.  How did they react?

They were terrified, thinking that they were seeing a ghost" (Luke 24:37)

But then, what did Jesus say in response to their terror?

But Jesus said, “Why are you so frightened? Why do you doubt? Look at my hands and my feet and see who I am! Touch me and find out for yourselves.  (Luke 24:38-39)

Let me read that last line again:  "Touch me and find out for yourselves."  That is so important.  Jesus knows that the disciples aren't going to care about what all the Resurrection means for them and the people of the world concerning the fear of death and the battle against evil.  All that won't matter unless they first believe the Resurrection happened.  That it was real.  That it is the truth.  You have to first believe it happened before you can believe in what it means.

It's that way with a number of historical facts.  Some don't believe Hitler had so many people killed.  It doesn't matter if you believe that, as if your belief, or lack of it, will change history—it's a historical fact.  Some people don't believe Shakespeare wrote all those plays.  It doesn't matter whether they believe it or not—it's a historical fact.  Some people don't believe United States astronauts landed and walked on the moon.  It doesn't matter if they believe that or not—it's a historical fact that it happened.  What you believe may or may not have happened doesn't change a historical occurrence, just because you believe it's so.  Belief isn't going to alter the facts.  Beliefs can alter what the facts mean, but not the facts themselves.

That's what Jesus is about and trying to accomplish in the early days after the Resurrection—just getting the disciples to believe the truth of it.  1 Corinthians 15:4-7 says:

Christ died for our sins,
    as the Scriptures say.
He was buried,
    and three days later
he was raised to life,
    as the Scriptures say. 
Christ appeared to Peter,
    then to the twelve. 
After this, he appeared
to more than five hundred
    other followers.
Most of them are still alive,
    but some have died. 
He also appeared to James,
and then to all
    of the apostles.

John started out his first letter with these words:

The Word that gives life
    was from the beginning,
and this is the one
    our message is about.
Our ears have heard,
    our own eyes have seen,
and our hands touched
    this Word.
The one who gives life appeared! We saw it happen, and we are witnesses to what we have seen.

So many people actually saw the risen Jesus.  Over 500.  That was Jesus' intention—to get a large number of people to actually see him, hear him, and touch him.  And then turn those people loose to go out into the world and tell the truth—Jesus was dead and is now alive.  That's where we all have to start.  Not, do you believe it.  But do you accept Jesus' Resurrection as a historical truth?

That's why Easter isn't over, and will never be over.  Each new generation (including the millennials—who may or may not exist) has to accept the fact and truth of the Resurrection.  That is our task, as those who have accepted the truth.

And then we move on to tell what the Resurrection means.  Which is another whole sermon (or 10) with a whole lot more words.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"A Curious Detail" (Easter Sunrise)

"A Curious Detail"
Easter Sunrise
John 20:1-18

Scripture Reading:  John 20:1-18
Message:  "One Curious Detail of the Easter Story"

What was going on inside the tomb, right before the stone was rolled back out of the way?  What happened right before Jesus stumbled out of the tomb?  Although, something tells me Jesus didn't stumble out of the tomb, shielding his eyes from the morning light after being closed off in the darkness.  But we'll get to that in a minute.  Right now I'm wondering what was going on just prior to moving the stone.

Jesus probably would have been naked when crucified.  It was part of the humiliation the Romans heaped upon those who received this kind of capital punishment.  Were the angels shopping for cloaks for Jesus to wear for his grand reentrance back into the world?  "Should we get the white one or the one with pinstripes?  Cotton, or cotton blend?"  Jesus pacing back and forth inside the tomb, wondering if he could trust the angel's shopping skills.  "I hope they didn't go to the Gap and get something too trendy," Jesus may have been thinking.

But I don't think that's what was going on either.  Somehow they solved the no clothes issue.  Something else was going on, and John gives us a glimpse of it in his version of that Resurrection morning.

Right in the middle of John's story of Easter morning John gives a small detail that is extremely intriguing.  Let's go back and put his story time line together.

First, we see Mary coming to the tomb—watching the dust rise up from the way she is dragging her feet.  She is more than a little despondent, her heart broken from the dying of Jesus.  We hear the twilight sounds of the morning starting to rise with the sun.  We sense the stillness—even the emptiness—of the air. We see her tears and feel the crushing weight of her even greater grief as she discovers in the dimness of the morning the stone rolled away. We hear her shrill cries as she sobs out her testimony to Simon Peter and John, after running back to them, telling them that robbers must have come and stolen Jesus' body.

Then comes the running of two men. We hear the panting. We feel the hot breath. We see the younger of the two outrun the older. Then, by the first rays of light, first, by John, and then by Peter, that the tomb is indeed empty. That's when we get the detail.  It's through their eyes that we get to see inside the tomb.  We get to hear about this one, obscure detail:
"…and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself" (John 20:7).

It's a curious little detail to include, don't you think? John was there—the first inside the tomb.  He saw the whole burial cave scene. The memory of that place was so ingrained into him that he wanted to record every last detail.  The face cloth was one of those details.  The way the other burial cloths are described, in the Greek, it's like Jesus' body just went up through them, as if he were a ghost.  The cloths lay just as they would have if they fell through his body.

But not the face-cloth.  It was rolled up and set in an entirely different place in the tomb.  Why?  I don't know.  Neither does anyone else.  So we get to imagine.  Imagine Jesus, having just arisen.  He stands up.  The face-cloth is still stuck to his face.  He gently takes if off.  Holding it loosely between his fingers, he takes his time to view the place where he had lain dead.  Because he had never seen it before.  He was, of course, dead when they brought him there.  The binding strips laying there in a helter skelter fashion.

While he stares, he consciously takes the face cloth, folds it in half, and rolls it up.  What is he thinking?  What is going through his mind?  Was he thinking, There is where I lay.  There is where I was dead.  He gingerly touches the nail scars in his wrists.  No pain.  Totally healed.  This is where I was wounded.  But I feel nothing.  I was dead.  But now I am alive—in a different and new way.

In an unhurried way, Jesus takes it all in.  As he stands there, the stone begins to move, effortlessly.  It rolls up its little ramp and settles on it's positioning plateau.

Jesus looks out into the world from inside his tomb.  He begins to walk out, but stops.  He remembers he has the rolled up face-cloth in his hand.  He smiles.  He looks back at the heap of grave cloths.  He places the rolled up face-cloth on a tiny shelf of rock, where a candle would have been placed, above the place where Jesus would have lain.

Again, he stands for a moment looking at that scene, that in a moment, he will turn his back on and never look at again.  Why did he place the face-cloth there?  Maybe it was a visual parable.  Like when the Father God, at creation, changed all the chaos into order, Jesus put a little symbol of order over the chaos of his death bed.  The world was at one time a spiral of disorder where up was down and left was right and life was death. Everything was flipped on its head, but when He stepped out of the tomb, with the placement of the rolled up face-cloth, He announced to our broken creation that He was setting everything back the way it was always supposed to be.  Order above the chaos.

Out of disorder and into order. Out of death and into life. Out of brokenness and into wholeness. And maybe that reordering started with that simple act of taking what might have otherwise been a wrinkled, tattered mess, folding and rolling it up neatly, placing it in an intentional and specific spot.

Then, with a wry smile, He walked out into the light …

Resurrection Sunday Dialogues

"Resurrection Sunday Dialogues"

Scripture:  John 14:6-9  (RSV)

Philip:  You ask him.
Thomas:  No, you ask him.
Philip: No, you!
Thomas:  You!
Jesus:  Ask who?  And ask who, what?
Philip:  (elbows Thomas)
Thomas:  (elbows Philip back)
Jesus:  (sighs)  What do you want to ask me?
Thomas:  We were just wondering if, you know, when, or in what way…
Philip:  (breaking in)  When are we going to get to see God?
Thomas:  Right.  That's what I was going to say before Philip, here, interrupted.
Jesus:  (with a look of sadness and dumbfoundedness)  You want to see God?
Philip:  Yes.  I mean, we've seen you and all.  And you're phenomenal!  Don't get me wrong.
Thomas:  Yes!  Amazing!  All the stuff you do, healing people, changing water into wine…
Philip:  (interrupting)  That one was great!  And the wine—superb!  Not too dry, not too sweet.  I didn't even get a headache after a couple of cups.
Thomas:  You had six cups…
Philip:  Not important… (pause)  Anyway, Jesus, we were thinking it would be amazing…
Thomas:  AMAZING!
Philip:…if you would, somehow, let us see God.  That's all we need.  Then we will be convinced enough.
Jesus:  Convinced enough for what?
Philip:  To go tell others we have seen God!
Thomas:  Yeah, we just want to see God!
Philip:  (nodding affirmatively)  Just see God; that's all.
Jesus:  That's all—you just want to see God?
Thomas and Philip:  (shake their heads affirmatively)
Jesus:  Done!
Thomas:  (with a fist pump)  Yes!  We get to see God!
Jesus:  You already have.
Thomas:  (looking around)  What?  Where?  Here?
Jesus:  Right here.
Philip:  Where, right here?
Jesus:  (pointing to himself)  Here.
Philip:  You…?
Jesus:  Me.
Thomas:  You're God!?
Jesus:  Yes.
Thomas and Philip:  (look at each other)
Thomas:  Whoa, I did not see that one coming.
Philip:  Neither did I.

Song:  "Behold the King" (with "Open the Eyes of My Heart")

Second Dialogue:  Philip and Thomas

Scripture:  1 Corinthians 11:23-26

(Use wooden stool and little wooden chair.)
Philip: (sitting in little chair)  Why do I have to be the one who sits in the little chair at the Passover meals?
Thomas:  Because you're the youngest.  (pats Philip on the head)
Philip:  It's humiliating!  (folds his arms across his chest)
Thomas:  You do get to ask the questions during the Passover meal.
Philip:  (mockingly)  Oh, boy; what fun.  (pause)  And why are we all sitting on the same side of the table?
Thomas:  Wait a minute—what's he saying?
Philip:  I don't know; I can hardly see above the edge of the stupid tabletop.
Thomas:  (whispering)  Did you just hear what he said?
Philip:  (whispering)  Something about the bread being his body.
(whispering the rest of the way through)
Thomas:  I wonder what that means.
Philip:  He just said his body will be broken.  Why would he say such a thing?
Thomas:  And who is going to do that to him?
Philip:  I dunno.
Thomas:  He's had some close scrapes—but he always got through them.
Philip:  Yeah, remember that time they wanted to throw him off a cliff?
Thomas:  (a little too loudly)  That was scary!
Philip:  So what does he mean his body is going to be broken?  Is he going to die?
Thomas:  For some reason, I never thought that could happen.  I mean, he told us that time he is God.  Can God die?  What will happen if he's dead?  If he's killed?
Philip:  (shrugging his shoulders)  I don't know.  (pause)  Let's not think about that.  What's he doing now?
Thomas:  Saying something about the wine is like his blood.
Philip:  What!?  Now what does THAT mean!?  (pointing)  And where is Judas going?

Song:  "You Are The Bread"


Third Dialogue:  Philip and Thomas

Scripture:  John 20:24-29

(sitting with backs to Communion Table or on top step)
Thomas:  I have no idea why I'm here.
Philip:  Uh, because you're a disciple.
Thomas:  I'm not sure I want to do that anymore.  I mean, Jesus is dead.  Who are we even following?  (points at the congregation)  Look at those saps over there.  It's time for them to put on their big girl panties and face the facts.  He's gone, Philip.  Dead. And. Gone.
Philip:  But he's alive!
Thomas:  Yeah, yeah.  (with an eye roll) The women said so.  Right.
Philip:  They said they saw him.  That he talked to them.
Thomas:  (patting Philip on the back)  Philip, Philip, Philip.  Ever read any psychology?  Mass hysteria?  That kind of stuff?
Philip:  (shakes his head no)
Thomas:  It's all in their heads.  You know how women are.  See what they want to see.  Hear what they want to hear.  Always overly emotional (fake crying).  Always making something so much more than it really is.  (pause)  He even duped us, Philip, telling us he was God.  How does God die, for God's sake?

(Jesus walks in and stands in front of them.  Thomas sees him and jumps straight up to his feet.  Philip gets up more slowly, looking back and forth between Jesus and Thomas)

Thomas:  What the…
Jesus:  Hello, Thomas.
Thomas:  Jesus?  (turning to Philip)  Pinch me; I might be hallucinating.
Philip:  (pinches Thomas)
Thomas:  Yeowwww!  Dang, I'm not hallucinating.  So you see Jesus standing there, too?
Philip:  Yup.
Thomas:  So he's really alive?
Philip:  Yup.
Jesus:  If you're still not sure, come here; touch my wounds.  Be absolutely sure.  It's the truth!  I'm the truth!  I'm alive, and you of all people need to be sure of that truth.
Thomas:  (falls at Jesus' feet, crying emotionally)  Oh my God, I've been such a fool!  I am so so sorry, Lord.  I do believe, and I promise I will do whatever you say!
Jesus:  (extends a hand; brings crying Thomas to his feet)

Song:  "See What A Morning"