Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter - 4/15/07

Alice Thompson was a little girl who lived with her parents on a small farm in rural southern Illinois.  It was a small farm as besides their house all they had was a tool shed and a chicken coop for the egg laying hens.  One day Alice found some matches and like many little kids she was curious and wanted to try them out.  She knew she wasn’t supposed to, like all parents hers had told her not to play with matches so in order not to get caught, she went out to the chicken coop to try them out. 

She successfully got one lit and held the wooden matchstick, watching it burn until it got too hot and started to burn her fingers and she dropped it.  There was just enough flame left to catch a piece of straw on fire.  Alice knew she had to act quickly to snuff out the flames or she was going to get into big trouble.  So she used what was readily available, a handful of straw, to smother the little fire that was starting.  At first it seemed to work, but then the pile began to smolder, smoke was coming from it.  So Alice got an even bigger pile, a whole armful of straw in an effort to bury everything once and for all.  She threw it on the smoldering pile and stomped on it with her feet.  She waited for a couple of minutes and couldn’t detect any smoke or flame so decided that it had worked.  The fire was out and no one would ever be the wiser, she’d wouldn’t get caught.  She happily left the chicken coop and went out into the yard to play.

Well, you know what happened.  The fire wasn’t completely out and before too long the chicken coop was totally engulfed in flames and burned to the ground.  I don’t know what happened to little Alice, but I would guess that she was not a happy little girl again for awhile.

The religious and political leaders in Jerusalem tried to put out the fire that Jesus had started.  They assumed that by killing him and burying him that would take care of it; things would settle down, the crowds would go home, and anyone else who had any ideas that challenged the authority of the temple or the authority of Rome would see the bloody crosses and get the message.  Things would get back to normal; the people who were supposed to be in control would be in control.  Usually death by execution along with burial does take care of such things and just to make sure no one tried any funny business, (there had after all, been talk of Jesus being raised after three days) special guards were placed at the tomb.

For those in power though, despite their precautions, back to normal only lasted those three days.  Despite the precautions, word began to spread that Jesus had indeed been raised to new life and had been seen by certain of his followers.  The fire wasn’t out after all; it was smoldering. 

Today’s story from Acts picks things up many days and weeks later when the fire was no longer just smoldering but was fully involved.  The authorities had taken care of Jesus, or so they thought, and he wasn’t physically around anymore preaching and healing and teaching.  His disciples were the problem now as this unlikely group, inspired by the Risen Christ, was generating heat of their own.

Peter and John had been arrested and brought before the temple council to be questioned concerning their preaching and other activities.  But there was no criminal charge that could be brought against them so they were released without punishment but ordered not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus; the authorities still trying to smother the fire in other words.  But Peter and the others kept doing it; they kept talking about Jesus and everything that had happened.  So the high priest took action and put them in prison (using a bigger pile of straw as it were).  In the night though, the prison doors were miraculously opened and Peter and John were back in the temple preaching and teaching.  That’s the context of Peter’s response to the high priest in today’s lesson from Acts.  The fire that Jesus had started hadn’t been smothered after all; it couldn’t be put out and it hasn’t been put out, although the efforts to do so never end.

What the high priest and others found was that when people were grasped by the truth of Jesus as the revelation of God, grasped by the truth of the resurrection as the conclusive yes to the ministry and kingdom and life of Jesus and the conclusive no to the powers of this world, the powers that deny life and hope and possibility; when people were grasped by this truth, they couldn’t be stopped.  Hence Peter’s response, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”  Efforts to smother this fire of truth will never be successful.  There will always be those grasped by the truth, so the flames will burn on.

However, there will also always be those who are not grasped by the truth, whose individual faith is effectively smothered.  Why is that?  Why are some grasped by the fire of the truth such that they even feel inclined to be in worship on low Sunday, the Sunday after Easter, and others reject it all?  Theologically it gets pretty complicated, but the question itself may be a bit misguided as it comes out of defining faith as accepting a bunch of religious propositions that can’t be proved, a definition that I think is and always has been wrong.  But what if we define faith as a relationship with God, which I think is the correct definition?  Starting with Peter and the rest, actually starting with the Old Testament ancestors and prophets, what the “faithful” throughout history have been grasped by is a relationship with God, a relationship that they refuse to give up on and refuse to stop talking about.  In other words, they won’t stop talking to others about God, but even more importantly, they won’t stop talking to God.

Faith is relationship with God and we are partners in this relationship because we have a stake in it.  Some choose to end the relationship but the relationship is never ended from God’s side.  To be sure, there may be times when God appears to be absent or asleep and maybe really is absent.  Those grasped by this relationship though, refuse to leave it at that.  They continue to call on God, to summon God to be who God is supposed to be, because they trust the truth of God’s promises, the truth of the resurrection, the truth of the life that it promises.  They trust in God’s truth and hold him to it.

On the second Sunday of Easter every year we get the story of the disciple Thomas who fairly or unfairly will forever be known as doubting Thomas.  The way that it’s usually unpacked is that doubt is bad and we should believe without demands for further proof.  We shouldn’t be like Thomas.  The text in fact leads us in that direction, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Understanding faith as relationship though, I would come to the defense of the doubt of Thomas.

I would defend it as part of his relationship with Jesus, part of his conversation.  I would suggest that he is the model for any of us who ever have doubts and questions which I would assume would be all of us, even those who come to church on low Sunday.  Thomas had his doubts, but he wanted to believe.  He didn’t shut it down and his doubt became the opening to one of the most profound statements of belief in any of the gospels; “My Lord and my God!”  He was ultimately grasped by the truth of the resurrection but doubt, honest, relationship seeking doubt was part of his conversation. 

I think there are people who do shut it down because they have doubts about one point of doctrine or another.  They think that because they can’t accept certain theological statements that can’t be proved that they shouldn’t go to church.  I would say that using Thomas as a model, they are most welcome because they need to keep the conversation going.  Of course they’re not present to hear me say that.  But you know them; some are undoubtedly related to you.  You can tell them. 

          There’s no guarantee that anything as dramatic as what happened to Thomas will happen to them.  But I’m pretty sure that anyone who brings their doubts and questions to the table, anyone who keeps the relationship open will find that their dimly burning wick of faith hasn’t completely been smothered.  The relationship with the Risen Christ and all it promises is still there for them.   

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
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not me
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one who
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