While in Their Joy: Dancing Sure as a Family; Luke 24:36b-48
Plymouth First United Methodist; April 18, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
Hearing that announcement can fill you with a sense of peace and comfort knowing that you have a group of people who love you and are ready to stand by you through thick and thin, or it can cause you to shutter as you wonder: Oh, my! Will I be like that someday?!
I’ve discovered over the years that there are no perfect families. I thought our family was a little “off” and then other people began telling me about their families, and I came to realize that all families are a little “off” in one way or another! Still, even knowing that—I love and give thanks for my family, even though I quietly understood my children’s plea, when each of them at different times has said to us, “Oh, please—tell me I’m adopted!” But they’re not. And I am reminded of that as I sometimes hear Scott’s voice come out of our oldest son’s mouth, and when Scott tells me that I sound just like my mother. What can I say?
Will Willimon says that our deepest blessings and our most painful wounds are often given to us by our families. Our families teach us, socialize us, mentor us, show us how to love and be loved, and remain a part of us as we go in to the world where we create and participate in other families.
The scripture we read this morning is similar to last week’s, as Luke talks about Jesus catching his disciples by surprise, coming to them after his resurrection, and giving them the opportunity to touch and see his wounds. In Luke, Thomas isn’t singled out as the doubting one; they’re all startled and terrified. They don’t realize this is Jesus, they think they’re seeing a ghost! But their fear gradually gives way to joy as Jesus asks for food, eats the fish they give him, and then begins to teach them. Now, they understand what he tells them. They understand his teaching and their mission: that He suffered, died and rose on the third day…that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells them.
As I’ve been thinking about difficult times and about family, and as we’ve talked about how the disciples scattered after Jesus’ death on the cross—even with that, their desire was to be together. They came together again as a group…as a community…a family. They had created a family as they followed Jesus and learned from him. In this difficult time, they came together to encourage and to console one another as they grieve his death. And it is while they are gathered that Jesus comes to them, teaches them, empowers them, and then sends them forth to continue the mission they have together.
They come together and then are sent out as a family. As a community. They aren’t alone, they aren’t asked to do it alone. They have Jesus, and they have one another. They’re family.
Whenever 2 or 3 come together in my name, I’m with you, the Gospel of Matthew tells us (18:20). That’s family. That’s community. I’ll be there, too, Jesus says. And even though you doubt, even though you don’t understand, and even though you may mistake me for something else (a ghost!), that doesn’t disqualify you from being a part of my family. My love for you remains. My presence, my power, by possibility…are all still here…they are all still yours.
Several things come to mind that we’ll talk about as we consider this text in terms of challenging times and family. And though we could speak of each point and relate it to our individual families, the family that I’m speaking of this morning is our community of faith. Our church family.
The first point is this: family—in the best sense—is a safe place where you can reveal your wounds (and those wounds are accepted as an important part of who you are—a part of your story—your identity).
Jesus shows the disciples his wounds because of the relationship they share. He loves them and he knows they love him, and his wounds are now significant to his identity and their relationship together. He has received the wounds because of his love for them and for all of us, and seeing his wounds are vital to their recognizing and finally (and fully) seeing him. The disciples had been present as witnesses when he received those wounds and when he died, and so keeping them hidden or covered just doesn’t make sense. It would leave out an important piece of who he is and what he’s done.
As Jesus revealed his wounds, so, too, can we reveal ours. That doesn’t mean that I would want or would expect or that it would be a good thing for us to come here on Sunday morning, or in every Bible study or small group, ready to pour out our heart and souls about the places where we’ve been hurt or broken. But within a trusted, covenantal relationship, that may be very appropriate, and may be very healing, as you invite others into those broken places, inviting others to walk alongside you as you heal. Sometimes, too, revealing those hurt and broken places that have healed can help someone else as they walk through similar territory. We don’t do that because misery loves company, but we do it because we can find hope for ourselves in hearing other people’s stories.
Being a part of the family means that you don’t have to pretend you’re perfect, that life is good, and that you’ve got a tiger by its tail when he’s really gnawing on your toes. Family—at its best—is a safe place where you can reveal your wounds.
As I think about this, Safe Sanctuaries comes to mind, which is the name we United Methodists have given to the plan whose purpose is to ensure that the church is a safe place for all people, particularly for children and vulnerable adults. We have heard too many stories of children being wounded in the church by persons in positions of trust, and we want to do all we can do to prevent that from happening here.
Because we haven’t been doing in-person Sunday school from March of last year to the present time, we haven’t talked about Safe Sanctuaries for some time, but I’m hoping that by Fall we’ll have a need for updates for all our volunteers who have direct contact with children and vulnerable adults. You’ve started hearing about the need for women to help with Adams Street Kids; we need to be sure there is both a male and a female present for all youth activities, to protect both our adults and our kids. So, be ready when we start asking you to update your training, or if you’re new to working with kids or vulnerable adults, we’re ready to answer your questions.
We all want to do everything in our power to prevent causing hurt or damage or wounds to one another so that our church can be a safe place in every sense of the word.
A second thing this text tells us, which is similar to what we talked about last week is that doubt and troubled hearts don’t disqualify us from the Jesus family.
After the resurrection, the disciples are beside themselves with doubt and they certainly don’t understand what’s going on—and yet Jesus appears to them, is patient with them, continues to love and teach them, and then trusts them enough to send them out to do his work.
That’s pretty incredible, I think, because we know how naïve they were in so many ways. How clueless they were in so many ways. Yet they had this faith—this commitment to and belief in Jesus.
Faith ebbs and flows. It may seem as though our faith is strong and all is well—and then something happens and it isn’t anymore. Maybe something has happened that you can identify—or not—but it’s like we forget: we forget we’re loved, we forget about grace…we forget. It’s during these times when our faith community is of particular importance: we can stand in for one another when we’re too tired or too low or too lost to stand up for ourselves. We can pray for one another, we can lift each other up, when our faith fails. When we wonder where God is. When we’re disappointed with God. When we’re disappointed with the church.
We need each other during these times. To share what we’re carrying inside. To help us see more clearly. Sharing opens up the possibility for apologies if they’re needed. For stories to be understood. For information to be clarified. To share the load. When we’re going through a low time, it’s good to be in conversation, to ask for help, in order to move forward, to bring our heart and head to a better place. We can end up in a better place…a deeper place. Perhaps in a more mature and loving place in our relationship with God and with one another.
A third thing I think about as I read this text is the fact that our Savior comes with scars.
Our God is not the Greek notion of some flawless, perfect creature, but Jesus is fully human. Even before his death, we came to know his humanness: born of a human mother, in a barn, to a poor family. He was never surrounded by wealth or privilege. As an adult, remember his anger in the temple, his shouting match with Peter, his human agony in the garden. Jesus lived our lives, experienced our pain and heartache, and then died our death. You and I don’t have a God who is above and beyond the real lives that we experience in the world. He knows us…he understands us…and recognizes our hurts, wants and desires.
And he loves us still.
He loves us so much that he gave up heaven to come live among us.
And then, he gave up his life. Again, for us.
The scars on his body are evidence of the depth of his love.
That’s an amazing kind of love…so much so, that it bewilders us.
But together, perhaps we’ll come to understand it a little better, a little more, each day.
Because together we’re better. We’re family.
The disciples gathered together as family and that’s what we do. We’re not perfect by a long shot, but this is a good place, a blessed place, a place where Jesus shows up. It doesn’t matter if we’re in our own sanctuary, in the fellowship hall, or in another church’s sanctuary as we find ourselves in this season. But this is a place where we can come together, welcoming others. It’s a place where our wounds are revealed and where healing is offered. It’s a place where questions are valued and you don’t have to pretend. It’s a place called home. A place where you can dance confidently together, even when you don’t know all the steps. Where you are beloved and your story is honored.
Thanks be to God.