In this season of Eastertide we are exploring what it means for us to stretch our “branches” WIDE. No longer will we be content just encouraging our roots to grow deeper and deeper; because of the Risen Christ, we want to begin to stretch ourselves and Share the Story.
This week our scripture reading was the Walk to Emmaus from Luke 24, and then the appearance of Jesus to the rest of the disciples that same evening. In this story we notice some of the very same things that happened in John’s gospel: Jesus appears suddenly, defying the natural order of things (walking through locked doors or just appearing in their midst out of nowhere); He says “Peace be with you;” He shows them his hands and feet; He opens their hearts to the scriptures; He commissions them. In John, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them. In Luke, the disciples are reminded that they will be receiving power from on high (and that happens just as promised in the exciting sequel to Luke: Acts).
I am captivated by the detail that each time the risen Christ makes an appearance, he shows his hands and feet. We don’t know if they bear open wounds or rather healed up scars as the disciples look upon this: in John his wounds are fresh because Thomas places his hand in Christ’s side; but in Luke we only hear that he “Shows them his hands and his feet.”
That bears great meaning for us. If it is through the wounds or scars on Jesus’ hands and feet that the disciples come to believe, why is it that we are ashamed of our own? How hard do we try to cover up our wounds and scars so that we appear to be perfect? It’s a problem among Christians. Our failure to share the stories that led to our scars present a dishonest picture of what it means to be Christians, for it is in the healing of these wounds that we become stronger; it is also through these wounds and scars that we can help others come to believe and understand.
I am so grateful to our dear Patti Applebee for agreeing to share her story of faith with the congregation on Sunday. I have heard from many people who were present that her story strengthened them and gave them courage to speak of their own wounds. I pray you find her story of witnessing the risen Christ to be as compelling and moving as I did, and I pray it will bless you as you seek the courage to go “Deep and Wide” in your own beliefs:
Reaching wide even in our doubts
I was born in a very small village a few miles south of Lincoln NE. in 1928. This is relevant only because it’s been at long life, and when I look back I feel as if I’ve lived 3 full lifetimes. This was just a year before the big stock market crash. I don’t remember the unbelievable changes that came to this country at that time. All I remember about this is that few people that I knew had very much as far as money or worldly goods. But being such a small town we had family and friends, and a community that worked together. But then came the great depression. The thirties were very hard for everyone especially our farmers. I didn’t live on a farm but several of my cousins and many of my schoolmates did. Each year we watched the crops burn up, and suffered so many huge dust storms. In the late thirties many people left for CA.
I was raised in a devout Christian family. We had one little church in our town, and it was a Presbyterian church. Most families were of Dutch and German decent. Our school and our church were the hubs of activity for us during my young life.
My Mother was a wonderful lady who taught me that God was my Creator and his Son Jesus was my Comforter and Savior, and that I could go to Him and talk to Him about anything that troubled me, and for an answer, as well as to thank Him for all the good things also. I heard all the Bible stories and she made it all so real, that I sincerely believed her.
As an example, she and I used to play the Old Maid card game when I was quite young, and I vaguely remember this but know more from being told about it. We were sitting at the card table playing Old Maid, and at one point I got off my chair and ducked under the table, Mother thought I had dropped a card, but when I didn’t come right back up, she waited a moment, looked under the table and said, “Patti what are you doing.” She said I looked up with a sheepish smile, and said, “Oh Mommy I was just praying to Jesus that He wouldn’t let me be the Old Maid.” She said it almost took her breath away, but in telling it later she said, “Right or Wrong,” you can bet that I did not let you draw the Old Maid that I was holding.”
I had a good life growing up but of course I went through many of the unpleasant things that all children and teenagers go through, but I can honestly say that my faith was strong and never wavered through those years because of the strong teachings I received at home, at church and at school. It was later that I really began to be tested.
The war years were very different and trying, having to watch so many of my friends go off to war. My mother along with many other women drove to Lincoln every day to work for the war effort in various factories. At the age of 14 I was given many responsibilities that I might not have taken over but for that. I learned to cook to have dinner ready every night when mother and dad came home from a long day. To clean, the way my mother wanted it cleaned, and in the summertime to weed and water the Victory garden my Dad planted. So many things were rationed and we had to adjust the way we lived, but the sacrifices were nothing compared to what the families made with members who were in the military. We prayed fervently for those boys and their families.
I graduated high school, in May of 1945 and attended the Univ. of NE that fall. The war had ended in Aug. of that year.
I met a young man at the University who had seen serious action in the Navy and had been sent to the University with a V-12 Officers training unit and we married in 1947, after he graduated. He became a geologist and we began a rather long list of moving around the country.
I could say that this marriage was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made, except that this union produced two of the most wonderful children I could have ever asked for. Sadly, alcohol took over his life, and even tho’ there were some good times, there were so many bad times. In those years alcoholism wasn’t really acknowledged as a disease, and it was soooo difficult to understand why he did this.
I will spare you all the details, but I wondered if I wasn’t being a good enough wife, and I was being told by him how worthless I was and I almost believed it, but I was taught that God made me in His image, and He didn’t think I was worthless.
I knew in my heart that God loved us and wanted the best for us. One of the most difficult things was to raise the children in some semblance of normalcy. I thought I could protect them from the reality of the problem, but of course they knew.
We lived under the cloud of alcoholism for nearly 20 years.
I taught them the things my Mother taught me, and we attended Sunday school and church, and that their prayers were very important. That God would answer in His time.
My prayer many times a day was, “Lord please make him stop drinking,” but I was beginning to doubt that it was ever going to happen.
I was driving down a very quiet street one day on my way home from the store with tears streaming down my face talking to God, and I said, “God I know you don’t want me to get a divorce, but I don’t know what to do.” I wiped my tears, and in a moment I tell you as surely as I’m standing here, I literally heard a voice, saying “How do you know I don’t want you to get a divorce. I want you to be the best person you can be.”
Truly, I didn’t doubt that I had heard Gods voice, but suddenly realized what He was telling me. I was being consumed by my desire for my husband to quit drinking and allowing myself to become unhinged. It became so clear that I couldn’t change this man, but I could change myself. I had just been given permission!
After my divorce, which my grown children supported, I moved to Denver. I had known Jack Applebee all my life, and he looked me up after getting my number from my Mother, and we started seeing each other, and I knew him to be the kindest, most loving, generous, and well-grounded person I’d ever known, and we’ve been married for 42 years next month.
As children we were taught that Thomas wasn’t a very good disciple because he doubted that Jesus was really raised from the dead. Poor Thomas. How would we have reacted in that day and time? We have the Bible; we have students of the Bible who teach us the things that have already happened. But the disciples simply had to live by their early Jewish training, and then the teachings of Jesus. Talk about having to have faith!
Knowing that Jesus had been crucified, Thomas knew about those scars and wanted that proof. When Jesus showed them to him he was nearly overcome when he said, “My Lord, and my God.”
Yes we know the story, and still we have doubts and questions. But that’s O.K. Jesus knows that we are just as human as he was when he said, “Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
The important thing is that we overcome those doubts because we know God is there for us and he answers prayer. Not always the way we think he should, but in the way that is best for us. All we have to do is to – LISTEN – for his answer, and Trust and Obey.
One week after Easter Sunday, our scripture reading took us back to the very day of the resurrection. The disciples were hiding out, afraid for their lives in the reading from John 20:19-31:
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Poor Thomas. Everyone remembers him as “Doubting Thomas” when all he asked for was what every other disciple was privy to: to see with his own eyes. Peter denied knowing Jesus and oh yeah, he SUNK when he tried to walk on water, but we don’t remember him as “Denying Peter” or “Sinking Peter!”
And listen, if I happened upon my friends who told me they had seen the risen Lord, but were still hiding behind a locked door I would probably be skeptical as well. Because wouldn’t something like that: seeing Jesus, touching his wounds, talking with him, receiving the Holy Spirit from him in a breath of life — would that absolutely transform your life?
But there they were. Doing nothing different than they had directly after the crucifixion. I imagine they were sitting around in some kind of a stupor, trying to get a grasp on reality. Why wouldn’t Thomas ask to see for himself?
In Thomas’ asking, we receive a blessing. When he sees the wounds and falls on his knees to worship Jesus, he is told, “You believe because you have seen with your own eyes; BLESSED are they who believe but have not seen!”
That’s us! We’re the blessed ones. We believe even though we have not seen with our eyes or touched with our hands.
But. . .
Are we still keeping ourselves safe and sound behind closed doors like the disciples?
Or have we not only allowed ourselves to believe, but to be transformed and changed and emboldened to go out into the world and start the work of Jesus for ourselves?
As we move through the 50 days of Eastertide we are going to challenge ourselves to let go of our fears and doubts about sharing our own encounters with the risen Christ. We’ll start with casual discussion during our worship services and move to talking to our friends and family. The only way we can assure that The Story keeps on going is by actually sharing The Story and sharing how that Story makes a big difference in our lives.
The Story has shaped my entire life, and you know what? I’m learning more and more about it through all the good and especially the not-so-perfect saints I have met and loved along the way. I am looking forward to learning more about our Story from you!
The Lenten Cup: Sharing the Cup; Telling the Story
The Gospel of Mark’s account of the resurrection story ends pretty abruptly and surprisingly:
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid (Mark 16:1-8).
What is this?
On Sunday, April 1, it seemed like it could have been the most elaborate April Fool’s joke of all time. At the very least, the ending of Mark comes across today as the original fake news. Fake because of course the women said something to someone – otherwise we wouldn’t have our story to tell. Our Story with a capital S because it is what gives our life meaning and hope. Our Story: the good news of the empty tomb – is ours to share, like the women inevitably did. And no matter which gospel you read the Story from, in each resurrection account, it is the women who have dutifully headed to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for proper burial. It is the women who discover the empty tomb.
I felt like I crash landed into Holy Week last week, having just returned from two weeks at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York. Even today my head and heart are still spinning with the stories I heard and the information I gathered. I’m working through it, bit by bit, but one thing stands out to me. Again and again I heard of successful peace-making, reconciling work, and educational efforts accomplished by women in the rural areas around the globe. In a “He for She” presentation (where male leaders and personalities advocate for women to help empower them), a government leader from Denmark said they have learned to teach the women in the rural villages the skills the rest of the community needs because, “You can give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. You can teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. But if you teach a woman to fish, the whole community will eat.”
So, what now?
If you accepted the “Lenten Cup Challenge” it is my hope that you have deepened your faith through Lent by taking personal time for study and meditation and prayer. And even if you only came to worship and listened to the sermon and scriptures throughout Lent I hope that you did deepen your understanding of who you are and how you need to fill your “Cup.” First, get rid of the yucky stuff you carry with you to make room for the good stuff God wants to add. A full cup cannot receive anything. Second, work on filling your spirit (cup) with good and beautiful things; honorable things; the living word of God and fellowship with your brothers and sisters. That might mean cutting down on the social media or constant news stream on the radio or television, so you can make more time for meaningful, face to face relationships. Don’t you want that cup to be full of good stuff so that when your life gets jostled around, it is the “good stuff” that spills out and not the yucky stuff that spills?
Taking it Wide
Together, moving into the glorious, new life of Eastertide, we will look at what it means to take our DEEP faith WIDE. Taking it WIDE means we are no longer looking only within ourselves and nurturing and growing our own faith, but that we are looking up and outward, and learning to share our cup by telling our story and talking about our faith. It’s daunting – it really is. When I think about the women leaving the tomb and telling no one because they were terrified, I think of the way we clam up or get sweaty and nervous when talking to someone who may or may not believe in the same things we believe in. It’s even a sad truth that people have difficulty talking to their pastor about their own personal faith.
If the message of Easter tells us anything, it is that good news really can’t be suppressed, though. The movement of the body of Christ moved from the empty tomb throughout the world and is still moving and transforming lives. Jesus is still binding up the brokenhearted and freeing the oppressed. Let’s look up and outward, and find out how we can begin to remember the Story, share it, and go WIDE.
Ready to Stretch My Branches With You,
Easter Monday, 2018. Very early this morning I noticed that the sky was clear and we were in for a beautiful sunrise. Since I was already up and about, I headed into CEH because I wanted to watch what I had hoped for yesterday.
The east windows of the sanctuary did not disappoint. The rising sun pierced through the Valley and burst into our sanctuary. What was even more beautiful was the way it illuminated our chancel area (see picture on bottom right).
It’s quite unlike yesterday. Yesterday, on a grey April 1, Easter came in with more of a diffused glow. The Divide was thick in clouds and the snowfall limited visibility. The entire Valley had a thick covering of fog and really, the view out the East window looked more like a black and white Currier & Ives print than it did a sunrise. There was light, but we couldn’t see the source.
I remembered the words of C.S. Lewis, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” And so, even without seeing the sun, we saw the light — and we gathered tentatively, expectantly, and lifted our voices in song and praise.
Our scripture reading was the Resurrection account from the gospel of John. In this version of the story the women head to the tomb and it’s empty, only the burial cloth is left in the tomb. Jesus was in the garden, but Mary didn’t recognize him (she thought him to be the gardener). But then Jesus said, “Mary” and she knew her teacher.
Rob Bell pointed out that “It is such a letdown to rise from the dead and have your friends not recognize you.”
So at sunrise service I challenged the worshipers to be willing to look at those who have “risen from the dead” and to look at them with “Resurrection Eyes” that expect and believe in transformation; not eyes that expect the same old same old. Because I think all too often we doubt the amazing transforming power of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. I’ve seen it time and time again in my pastoral care: someone bounces back (rises from the dead) from debilitating depression or sobers up (leaves the tomb) from addiction and even their family and friends do not recognize them or the change in their life and will not accept them as a new person.
There are people I know who have been trapped in sin or doubt for years and have been set free by the forgiving and redeeming love of God through Jesus Christ, only to have their family and friends expect failure from them.
Sometimes, even after a holy transformation, we live into what others expect from us. That can be a good thing if people are expecting radical change and helping you to embrace your resurrection; but more often than not it is the expectation of failure and backsliding that people live into. As Bell says, “It’s such a letdown.”
This morning, in the silence of the sanctuary at sunrise, I noted that our lilies (that had been shut tight yesterday) had begun to open in the sunlight; a poignant reminder that it’s never too late to open our eyes to transformation and change. Let’s expect transformation rather than failure — in ourselves and in those we encounter who have “Risen” from the dead.
Eastertide lasts from yesterday, Resurrection Sunday, through Pentecost. 50 days. In direct contrast to giving up something for the 40 days of Lent, I encourage you to take on something new for the 50 days of Eastertide. What I want you to take on is the expectation of transformation. Watch all around you for marks of God’s transforming power over nature — the budding of the aspen, the early mountain flowers, perennials beginning to sprout after a long winter, snow melting into raging rivers that flow furiously and can transform the landscape by finding new paths down mountainsides.
Because what we see and witness in creation is reflective of our Resurrecting God. We expect creation to break forth in new life; can we begin to expect new life through the transforming power of the resurrection?
I pray we can, and we will, as we live into the promises witnessed so gloriously all around us.
May it be so!