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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Am I crazy or Are They Crazy?

On occassion I try to do something in preaching which startles folks and gives them a different angle on things. Once, while preaching on a parable of Jesus (about those who find the door locked) I walked down the aisle. I beat on the church's doors crying out "Let me in!" It demonstrated, illustrated and allowed people to "feel" what I would have otherwise spoken in prose. The "feeling" part sticks with folks longer (and deeper) than the mere insight. It made an impact and what the Holy Spirit did with it is God's doing.

This weekend I left my normal straightforward model of preaching and did another demonstration. Preaching the text from John 20 about the Risen Lord's appearance to the apostles (and the subsequent issue of Thomas who would not believe it until he saw it) I began to preach by looking around with a bewildered look on my face. After a brief pause, I asked the congregation, "Do you hear those voices? People talking?" Everyone nodded no and a few even said "no."

I then quickly proceeded to analyze Jesus' three statements (peace to you, I send you, you have power to forgive) to the apostles. I ended with Thomas' doubt. My key focus was on doubt. Not doubt that the resurrection happened. As I wrote about recently, even when we say "I believe He rose" it is hard to know exactly what that means concretely sometimes. The doubt I focused on was the doubt that the risen Lord is present among us working now in our midst. The doubt that Jesus can and does unleash His saving (rescuing, healing, recreating, renewing, life giving, joy giving) work. Here and now He is present (in Spirit, not in body) impacting and influencing events in and through people whom He has sent in His name.

My punch line was this: Rather than follow the example of Thomas and say, "I will believe it when I see it" let us instead understand, "I will see it when I believe it." Our faith and trust are the vehicle which gives us insight and access to the reality of God among us. It is in believing (and thanking and praising) that the signs and wonders are manifest. And then, at that point, acting a little exasperated and confused I asked again, "Do you all hear those voices? And music? Do you not hear it?" At his point at each service I got several responses including a couple people who were trying to explain it was street noise. Then I asked, "Do you think I am losing it," and there was lots of nervous laughter and lots of agreement." Then I explained. The room is full of voices. Dozens of voices. And it is filled with music. Rap. Classical. Cowboy. Rock and Roll. The room is full of lots of noise that none of us can hear, because we do not have our radios.... Radios are the tool to make the noises in the room hearable. Radios do not create the sounds, they pick it up and make it available to us. The voices are there, we just cannot hear them without the right tool.

Suddenly, it turns out that the crazy guy who says there are voices is sane. And the reasonable people, people who trust in their senses and rationality ("I do not  hear it so there is nothing here") are shown to be in error. There was relieved laughter and, for some, the light bulb went off.

Jesus is here. He is at work, right now. If we do not listen in the right way (if we are not plugged in through faith) we may only pick up silence. But the silence is a sham. His voice is real. The silence is a mirage which fools us because we do not  have the "radio" to pick it up. We are called to witness the reality of Jesus. That is our task and identity.

[I also showed them a 3D stain glass window which most people do not look at right to create the effect. So only a couple had ever noticed it. Remember, I am in there daily so I have spent lots of time looking at the window... I reminded them of the 3D posters so popular twenty years ago which looked like squiggly lines until you crossed your eyes a bit and then exploded into 3D images that were hidden in the flat text. ]

Eyes to see and Ears to hear. I thought it was an effective way to demonstrate that the Doubting Thomas approach to Jesus keeps us blind and deaf to God. So imagine my surprise this morning as I prayed the Morning Prayer alone at 7:15 preparing for the day. Having read some prayers and the psalms I turned to the first reading in Isaiah 43:8. The first line said, "Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!" Then verse 10 "You are my witnesses, says the Lord and my servant whom I have chosen..." I am preaching about eyes and ears, something that the Sunday eucharist text does not allude to, and here the Morning Prayer text does. And I now have eyes to see those connections and ears to hear those connections. And I have a mind which understands that these "coincidences" which happen again and again are another indication of the Risen Lord at work. He is still preaching, teaching, healing and exorcising. And if He is , then I want to be open to my vocation as "one who is sent" and be what He wants me to be and do what He wants me to do. And anyone with functioning "eyes and ears" should want the same.

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