The God Who Beckons – April 3, 2016
Let us pray.
Take our lives and let them be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take our moments and our days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise. Amen.
It’s been just one week since we celebrated Jesus’ miraculous rising from the dead with trumpet and flowers and a congregation over 300 strong, and already the followers of Jesus are splitting into factions. Only one week ago we were confidently hymning Jesus’ undeniable invincibility and suddenly, now that the music has grown softer and the crowds have gone home, everyone is not quite so sure. Thomas wants proof. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,” he says, “and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” And then there are those who weren’t even on Jesus’ side in the first place, like the high priest, who scolds Peter and the apostles for teaching in Jesus’ name.
This Second Sunday of Easter we are reminded that the reaction to the resurrection was not unanimous, that people were not fully united behind this Jesus fellow who supposedly conquered death. If the resurrection was a panacea—a cure for all our ills, a powerful entity that ended our divisions and brought us all together—it didn’t last for long.
And as our presidential election cycle races on, we are aware as ever of factions. For how many years, for instance, have we heard about how the rich get richer while the poor get poorer? Attacks between politicians even of the same party have gotten more and more vicious as the weeks roll by, and all sorts of groups of people have found themselves the victims of truly vile sentiments. When we turn our attention outside of our country to everything happening around the globe, especially in wake of the events last week in Brussels, it’s just as grim. With so much violence and so much hate spewing around, how can anyone feel safe at all? It may be possible that Jesus indeed is risen and we may proclaim that message with fervor—but often it doesn’t seem that he has; the same forces of darkness that felled Jesus appear to still hold sway over the majority of the world, and all of us too easily find ourselves embroiled in our same old tricks. The resurrection, if it happened, doesn’t seem to matter in the slightest.
This early part of the Easter season I have been particularly drawn to a hymn written by a former professor of mine named Thomas Troeger. It’s called “These Things Did Thomas Count as Real.”
These things did Thomas count as real:
The warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
The grain of wood, the heft of stone,
The last frail twitch of flesh and bone.
The vision of his skeptic mind
Was keen enough to make him blind
To any unexpected act
Too large for his small world of fact.
His reasoned certainties denied
That one could live when one had died,
Until his fingers read like Braille
The marking of the spear and nail.
The hymn ends with a prayer:
May we, O God, by grace believe
And thus the risen Christ receive,
Whose raw, imprinted palms reached out
And beckoned Thomas from his doubt.
Troeger’s hymn masterfully highlights an aspect of the Thomas story that we don’t often acknowledge—that Jesus’ appearance to Thomas is a profound act of love. What typically sticks out most in Thomas’ story, at least for me, is Jesus’ seeming condemnation of Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me?” Jesus asks, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” These words might sound jarring to our flawed, imperfect selves, packed full of hesitation, doubt, and uncertainty. But to make these words the whole of the Thomas story is to miss the fact that Jesus blesses Thomas too—blesses him with the opportunity to touch the very hands and side that we ridicule Thomas for wanting to come in contact with. In all of our reflections on the Thomas story, we might overlook how, whatever Jesus says, Jesus does not hesitate to make himself present to all of his disciples—not just Thomas—and allow them to touch and know him for themselves. The God in Jesus is not a strict, removed God passively waiting for us to register our belief in him from a distance. The God in Jesus is a God who doesn’t wait for us to believe; the God in Jesus is a God who engages with us tirelessly, without rest; the God in Jesus is a God who reaches out and beckons.
Today we baptize two beautiful children, wondrous works of God, recognizing them as beloved members of God’s holy family. Yet what we welcome them into this morning is not a perfect paradise in which the road is paved with gold and doubt and sorrow never exist. Instead, we take for granted that doubt and sin, grief and despair, challenge and trouble will always have roles in their realities. Baptism offers them not ultimate protection from all the problems they might face or fabulous success in this marvelous and terrible world, but the promise that whenever they do stumble into difficulties or distress, God will visit them and point them to what they need. May they—and all of us, broken and confused and divided as we are—be blessed as Thomas was by the reassuring presence of a God who yearns to let us touch him and who never fails, whatever the circumstances, to reach out and beckon.
 An article by Herman G. Stuempfle was helpful in interpreting this hymn.