Sunday, April 27, 2014

“Reach Out” (John 20:19-31)

It is one thing to believe . . . it is another to live as if you believe.  I am not sure of the year, but it is the summer of my 11th or 12th year of life.  We are living at the base of the mountains in Colorado in the small community of Palmer Lake.  There is a public lake down the road where families gather to splash, play, and swim in the lake.  There is a roped off area for the kids where the water is shallow, but further out there is a tall platform . . . a diving platform that goes into the much deeper water.  If you were tall enough you could easily wade out to the platform and hang out with your friends.

I was tall and skinny.  I also couldn’t swim . . . I never ventured out into the deep part of the lake on the other side of the platform.  But I never told anyone that I couldn’t swim . . . that is embarrassing to a 11 or 12 year old boy . . . so, I faked it.  I’d wade out to the platform, climb up the ladder, and hang out with all the other people out there.  Of course the difference was that they were running and cannon balling into the lake, swimming back around, climbing back up the platform, and doing it again and again . . . laughing the whole time over the pure thrill of it all. 

But, not me.  I just stood up there and acted like it was a thrill.  When chided to jump in, I said that I could do it anytime I wanted . . . I just didn’t want to.  The problem was . . . I was scared.  I couldn’t swim despite the bravado and confidence I displayed . . . I was scared to death that I would drown.  So I hung out and waited until no one was looking, climbed back down the ladder, and waded safely to the beach.

Then one day it happened.  It wasn’t by choice.  One moment I was just standing on the platform . . . hear the edge . . . when I suddenly got pushed.  Remember that scene in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid . . . where they are trying to shake a posse and they come up to the edge of a canyon with a river way down at the bottom . . . and, they were cornered . . . trapped.  Their only escape was to jump and hope that they survived the jump into the river.  Do you remember what the Sundance Kid yelled as he jumped . . . shortly after confessing he couldn’t swim?  Yeah . . . it was that four-letter word that begins with an “S”.  I think they stole that from my life . . .

. . . that is pretty much all I remember as I hit the water with a great big splash . . . that and me thinking that I am going to die while sinking in the murky water.  But a few seconds later I came floating up with my arms and legs flailing . . . and, they kept flailing until I got the part of the lake where I could stand up.  Apparently I survived since I am here this morning.  Trying to catch my breath I was filled with both fear and adrenalin . . . it was actually fun . . . I hadn’t drowned . . . and, whatever I did somewhat resembled swimming.  Pretty ugly swimming, but swimming none the less.  So, what did I do next?  I went back out to the platform and jumped in again.  Amazingly the swimming part got easier each time.  What I said I believed eventually became a reality.

After defeating death, the resurrected Jesus started making appearances to those he loved.  In our reading this morning he appears to the disciples who were still in hiding . . . just shows up in the middle of all of them . . . probably scaring the living daylights out of them before calming them down with a few words of peace and letting them examine him.  But like any group of people it is difficult to get everyone together at the same time . . . one disciple, Thomas, is not there.

Now, if you had been sitting around mourning the death of your leader and the anchor of your life . . . what would you do if you suddenly met him and he was still alive?  Well, I think you would be talking it up.  That is what the disciples do . . . they yak it up about the living Jesus . . . and, they do it right in front of Thomas who missed it all.  He doesn’t believe it.  He wants proof before he is going to validate the words of the others and jump on the bandwagon.

Now I do not think that Thomas did not want to believe.  He respected his fellow disciples . . . they were good guys who wouldn’t pull his leg on something this serious . . . but, he just couldn’t allow himself to let go and fully believe.  He couldn’t set himself up for the pain once again . . . the pain of losing the one he loved so much.  He was scared . . . scared that maybe they were wrong.  As much as he wanted to believe . . . as much as he thought he believed . . . it was all in his mind.  He wouldn’t jump off the platform.

A week later, the disciples are gathered once again in a house—this time Thomas is with them.  Then suddenly Jesus appears among them like magic.  He again greets them with words of peace . . . and then he turns his attention to Thomas.  He tells Thomas to “reach out”.  Reach out and touch the wounds . . . reach out and touch him . . . reach out and know.  In that moment of “reaching out” Thomas moves from thinking “belief” to actually living “belief”—he jumps off the platform and it is either sink or swim.  Thomas swims.

Thus we are confronted in this reading this morning . . . confronted with having to choose . . . to choose between a faith that is lived in our minds or a faith that is lived in our daily lives.  Unfortunately we were not lucky enough to be around when all of these resurrection appearances were taking place . . . we were not privileged to encounter the resurrected and physical Jesus who had defeated death.  We do not have the physical evidence that these early followers got.  Yet, we are called to believe and live as if we had.  Easier said than done.

That is what Jesus wants.  Jesus wants us to live our lives as if we believe . . . and to do so we have to reach out and embrace life in Christ.  Note that I said, we have to reach out and embrace life in Christ.  Faith or belief cannot only be nice words that rattle around in our heads . . . no, they need to migrate further south to our hearts and then into the way that we live our lives.  That only happens if we reach out.  The reward?  Blessing.  Jesus said, “. . . blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Despite most of us thinking that belief is a set of words that describe something, belief is more than words.  Belief is what drives our lives . . . makes us want to get up in the morning . . . makes us want to reach out and touch the lives of others . . . makes us to do whatever it takes to get closer and deeper in love with God.  Belief is not a set of words that reside in our minds . . . belief is how we live our lives.  It is reaching out . . . to others . . . to the world . . . to God.

I am not sure what it is that keeps us from truly living lives of belief . . . probably fear.  Kind of like standing on that platform telling everyone we know how to swim when the truth is we can’t swim a lick.  Scared to jump and scared to admit that our words don’t fit our actions.  And, so, we stand and inwardly shake with fear . . . wanting to jump, but too scared to jump.  But we have to jump if we really believe . . . we have to jump.  Sometimes  it doesn’t hurt to be shoved a little . . . but, it is something we all have to do to really believe. 

Wherever you are in your journey of faith all I can offer to you are the words of Jesus who said to “reach out”.  Reach out and keep on reaching out . . . live as if you believe . . . and, be blessed.  Amen. 

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