It has always seemed to me that we all attend church there are two main impulses: to come to find and be told a way of living in this world, to receive answers from someone else how to tackle and live the big questions Or secondly to escape from the difficult questions of life for an hour or two and do something different which helps us forgot how problematic life is.
The problem is how well intentioned and however well versed in scripture the preacher maybe it is doubtful or improbable that he/she will be able to provide a categorical answer that God believes this on many of life’s issues. A general election is coming where we are asked to make a decision and it is our decision and cannot be taken by our faith, denomination or God blamed for the outcome. Our faith allows us to make our own decisions from a position of doubt and unease.
The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once told a story about a circus that caught fire. The flames from the circus fire spread to the fields surrounding the circus grounds and began to burn toward the village below. The circus master, convinced that the village would be destroyed and the people killed unless they were warned, asked if there was anybody who could go to the village and warn the people. The clown, dressed in full costume, jumped on a bicycle and sped down the hill to the village below. “Run for your lives! Run for your lives! A fire is coming and the village is going to burn!” he shouted as he rode up and down the streets of the village. “The village is going to burn! Run for your lives!” Curious villagers came out from their houses and shops and stood along the sidewalks. They shouted back to the clown, laughing and applauding his performance. The more desperately the clown shouted, the more the villagers cheered. The village burned and the loss of life was great because no one took the clown seriously. After all, he was just a clown. Doubt, disbelief, skepticism, uncertainty, reservation—these are all words that we can use to describe how the villagers viewed the clown.
These are also words that can be used to describe the disciples as they saw Jesus stand before them. They were convinced that this must be his spirit or ghost appearing before them. How could it be Christ? The women and the disciple whom Jesus loved saw him die on the cross. Resurrection from the dead seemed too surreal for them; even though these very disciples had been with Jesus when he brought Lazarus forward from the tomb and when he had brought Jarius’ daughter back to life.
The disciples were speaking with the men who had just traveled the Emmaus Road. These were the same two men that walked the road with a stranger, not knowing it was Jesus until he broke bread with them. They were excited, while the disciples were dazed and confused. And then before them Jesus appears. The man who had died was alive. Our reactions might have been very similar to those of the disciples. skepticism and doubt.
In our scripture reading it tells us the story: 38He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence. We cannot feel a ghost and a ghost does not eat. Jesus was proving to them that he was real. That he was flesh and blood before them. Was he hungry? No, but he was showing them that he was Jesus. He was making them witnesses of what was to come. I can see Jesus’ face smiling and patient as the reality of him standing before them goes from fear to incredulity to joy and belief. Are any of you ever filled with doubt, disbelief, skepticism, uncertainty, or reservation in your personal, professional or business life? If any of you said no then I am amazed at your level of self confidence and maybe even a bit envious. I struggle myself with one of those before mentioned qualities at one time or another and on extremely bad days maybe all of them. I would like to strive to be perfect and never make mistakes but I am human and at times that is the hardest thing in the world to be. I battle with my emotions, my tongue, and my self-esteem and then I begin to beat myself up. I am at times my own worst enemy…and sometimes my mouth overrides my brain and things come out that horrify me. And then the cycle starts. I mess up, I beat myself up, I begin to doubt myself, and then I begin to plummet to a place that no one wants to go. But, but…you’re the Vicar you may think, you can’t be like that. Yes, I can…and I fight those feelings and emotions. See I have to realize something…I am human. I struggle with my humanity and . The only big difference is when I am making mistakes people are watching and that I represent the church and Christianity through my actions. When Christ appeared before the disciples, do you realize that other people were watching them to see what their reactions would be? They wanted to see how this group of believers would react to the death of their Messiah and if they would buy into the story that the women were telling the people. Remember it was women who found the tomb empty and it was women who the angel appeared before. And we know in retrospect what opinion men held women in that age and time. And of course we know that the opinion of men toward women have changed over the years, right? See the people weren’t too sure and the disciples weren’t too sure until Christ appeared before them. They had to have the proof that Christ was really alive. That he had truly been crucified. They had to see to believe. They had to touch him and see him eat. And the people watched to see their reactions and what their actions would be. We don’t have that honour do we? We do not get to see the living Christ before us, we cannot touch his wounds, and we cannot bring him food to eat. We have to rely on our faith; we have to eliminate from our thoughts the doubts that overtake us at times. We have to believe. Not just about Christ but about one another and even about ourselves. Author and speaker Brennan Manning tells the story of a woman who visited her priest and told him that when she prays, she sees Jesus in a vision. “He appears to me as real as you are standing here right now, Father,” said the woman. “And he speaks to me. He tells me that he loves me and wants to be with me. Do you think I’m crazy?” “Not at all,” replied the priest. “But to make sure it is really Jesus who is visiting you, I want you to ask him a question when he appears to you again. Ask him to tell you the sins that I confessed to him in confession. Then come back and tell me what he said.” A few days later the women returned. “Did you have another vision of Jesus?” the priest inquired of her. “Yes I did Father,” she replied. “And did you ask him to tell you the sins that I confessed to him while I was in confession?” “Yes I did,” the woman answered. “And what did he tell you?” asked the priest expectantly. “He said…‘I forgot.’”
Jesus graciously forgives and forgets our sins when we confess them to him. Scripture assures us of this: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us” (1 John 1:9 9 ); and “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions…and remembers your sins no more,” says the Lord (
The problem is that yes he forgets but we often do not. We dwell on it, mull over it and let our doubts and fears grow. When God has already said, it’s over with, forget it, and get on in doing my work. Get on with sharing the good news. 45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.
We all have doubts and fears, we all sin. Not one of us is better than the others, some may hide it better but we all are human. And we can stumble and we can fall and we can ask for repentance. Repentance is admitting our shortcomings and turning away from them. And Christ offers us that chance.
One final story: A young man was learning to be a paratrooper. Before his first jump, he was given these instructions: 1. Jump when you are told. 2. Count to ten and pull the ripcord. 3. In the unlikely event your parachute doesn’t open, pull the emergency ripcord. 4. When you get down, a truck will be there to take you back to the airport. The young man memorized these instructions and climbed aboard the plane. The plane climbed to ten thousand feet and the paratroopers began to jump. When the young man was told to jump, he jumped. He then counted to ten and pulled the ripcord. Nothing happened. His chute failed to open. So he pulled the emergency ripcord. Still, nothing happened. No parachute. “Oh great,” said the young man. “And I suppose the truck won’t be there when I get down either!”
Have you ever felt like that young man? Have you had so many failures and disappointments in life that you just don’t expect anything to go right for you? Well, unlike the young man in our story, there is hope. Our hope which balances and engages with doubt resides objectively in Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven for the failures of the past and we can start all over. Christianity is sometimes called the “gospel of the second chance” because our failures never have to be fatal. That’s what the grace of God is all about. Even though our parachutes fail to open,.
Christ came before those disciples, he came to show that we don’t have to doubt alone. He wanted them to touch him, watch him eat just to show that he was flesh and blood and yet divine. He came to them to show that the prophecy had been fulfilled and that if they believed and repented or turned around from their sins, all their sins that he would forgive them. That he would take care of them. Did he expect these disciples to be perfect, far from it? He knew that they would stumble and fall and all those watching them would be ready for that. But it wasn’t their falling that concerned him, it was their getting back onto to their feet again and going forward and sharing the Good News of his death, burial and resurrection.
This morning we are here, not in a supermarket of choice, or a golf course, or in a park walking the dog, we may do those things later but for now we are allowing an act of worship to engage, challenge, our doubt and concerns about living in an increasingly complicated world. Maybe we have gained a couple of clues, insights to try out this coming week. Hopefully, this simple act of worship, repeated weekly informs us to bravely make our own decisions and live openly.