On my first Sunday here, in August of 2010, I began my first sermon in this way:
Open my heart….
The following seven and a half years we shared here flowed from that. God has opened
our hearts to the possibility of resurrection in our world, in our parish, and in our own
lives. How did it happen? Today’s gospel tells the story.
Disciples meeting in a house – see Jesus. He shows them his hands and his side.
They rejoice and believe. But Thomas is not there. Where is he?
This seems like an important time. Shouldn’t he be here?
We sent him an email about it. Maybe he’s not serious about his faith.
Maybe he’s not really on our team.
Maybe we should kick him off the vestry or out of the choir
or give his ticket to someone else.
Maybe we should assume the worst about Thomas.
Maybe we should have doubts about Thomas.
But let’s see how Jesus reacts to Thomas’s absence.
When Thomas does finally return and has a hard time accepting the good news others are sharing, Jesus says none of these things. Jesus doesn’t doubt Thomas.
We don’t know the back story to Thomas’s absence, but Jesus does.
Maybe Thomas was taking care of a loved one who was grieving.
Maybe Thomas was working a second job in order to put his child through college.
Maybe Thomas had been laid off, and he had to move out of his apartment
Maybe Thomas had been disappointed time after time in the past,
and so his fear about what would happen after his rabbi Jesus died just
made it really hard to leave the house.
Maybe Thomas was spending the wee hours of each night allaying the fears of a
loved one who was sleepless with worry, and so he overslept when the
Maybe Thomas is a beautiful child of God, made in God’s image, who has been knocked
around by the changes and chances of life, and who is wary of the possibility that
(1) anything other than disaster is around the corner, and doesn’t want to get his heart
Jesus does not doubt Thomas. And he does not consider Thomas’s doubt as a failing.
He opens his heart to Thomas. And as he has done throughout his ministry, and as his
spirit will continue to do through the ages to come, he encourages his followers to open
their hearts to one another. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.
To assume the best, and to know that each person is a mosaic of unspoken fears and
hopes, shames and losses, joys and wonderings, only a few of which are discernable to
others, when we are reciting the creed, or setting an agenda, or chatting over coffee.
We see one another through the glass dimly, but we gather in the name of the one who
sees us face to face and loves us anyway.
And there it is: resurrection. Mortal, can these bones live?
They can if they are welcomed whole-heartedly, embraced, forgiven.
If a place is set at the table for them in the face of their enemies,
these bones can be knit back together and nourished back into dancing.
CGS is not a tidy parish. It is not a place where everyone has all their ducks in a row.
It is a place of resurrection made possible by preferencing christ-like compassion over
control. It has been a location of resurrection for so many people who have been
doubted, counted out, left behind, or whose hearts have been overburdened with the pain
of living in a world where people do that to one another so violently.
I am so thankful for the open hearts here, and for all the ways in which my heart has been
opened by all of you. I am so thankful that my children have grown up gazing up you as
an icon of resurrection life.
As your pastor it has been my calling to hold in confidence what I know of the
complexities and hidden heartbreaks shared with me in formal in informal confessions,
revealed in hospital rooms and midnight phone calls, and to help you find, honor and
share the holy beauty within yourselves. I have tried to the best of my ability to host a
space where you can heal and be healed from doubting others, doubting yourself, and
doubting God. Sometimes that has been hard work. Sometimes I have failed, and for that
I ask your forgiveness. But sometimes it has been gob-smackingly stunning. And
sometimes it has been a real hoot.
I have laughed hard with you.
I have broken a lot of bread and dipped it in a lot of hummus with you,
and I have dreamed up all kinds of wacky projects with you.
And resurrection has been in all of it. I leave this parish as a witness to resurrection.
(2) Because this is my last chance to offer you any advice, I am going to offer you some
advice. Consider this something like a charge for practicing resurrection in the year
ahead, when you will be in a season of inquiry as a parish. Three things:
(1) Do not doubt one another. In times of transition or uncertainty, our fight or flight
reflexes can kick in, causing us to withhold the peace of Christ from others. We can be
tempted to assume the worst in others or assume motives where there are no motives.
I know this congregation well and I can say without any hesitation there is no one here
with a hidden agenda, no one who likes to play games. Everyone in this room is going to
do the best they can to bring their best to the transition ahead. So if something comes up
that causes you to feel upset or slighted, talk with that person directly – talk to one
another rather than about one another – and extend forgiveness and Christ’s peace. As
Jesus did not doubt Thomas, do not doubt one another.
(2) Keep doing your thing. Sing loudly. Make coffee. Bring a can for food for the food
pantry every week. Go to Common Cathedral. Be a prayer partner. Ask for healing prayer.
Volunteer for VGS. Welcome newcomers without apologizing for being in transition. Invite them to help make coffee and sing loudly and go to Common Cathedral. You don’t need a settled pastor to do those things. This parish matters. Your work in the year ahead will be a gift to you and to the community, and it will be a testimony to the resurrection.
(3) Pay your pledge. You have worked so hard to get to the point where you can afford a
full-time rector without support from the diocese. Give yourselves a round of applause for doing that! Now, show all those who are thinking about applying to become your next
rector that you are ready to make a place for them, to receive them well, to support them
in their ministry with you, by paying your pledge in this transition year. You might even
consider topping it off. That’s the Easter spirit!
Church of the Good Shepherd – You have opened my heart.
I am taking that open heart to the heart of the diocese because I want to take everything
that is beautiful here and use it to bless and inform the wider church.
As dean of the cathedral, I will have authority and resources to do that.
At a time when doubt is thick in the air, cramping souls and weighing down young lives,
we are called to let others touch our wounds and see our faith and share in Christ’s