April 19, 2020
Imperishable 2nd Sunday of Easter
1 Peter 1:3-9 April 19, 2020 John 20:19-31
I’ve always been a “people watcher.” In the days when we were able to be out in crowds, I would observe how people behave and talk and relate to others. One phenomenon I have observed countless times is that of a child carrying something precious but doesn’t want to be in charge of it at the moment. They bring it to Mom or Dad or Grandma or Grandpa and they say, “Hold this for me?” They do this to keep the precious thing safe from being destroyed while they play or do some other important thing. “Hold this for me.” It’s an act of trust in that it signals an understanding between the child and the adult: “I know you will take care of this until I am ready to hold it again.”
In similar fashion, parents who wish to bless their children later in life will often set up a trust that holds something precious for their offspring until they reach the age of accountability. It would be harmful, for example, for young children to inherit a small fortune before they have become mature enough to use it well. So, money and property can be held in trust for those we love. We say to them, “I’m holding this for you.”
Our Scripture readings for today are about the great inheritance that God is holding for us. When you think about an inheritance, you understand instantly that 1. It’s not something you earned for yourself, but 2. It’s a gift from someone who loves you. In the Gospel reading, Thomas is featured as the one who is skeptical about the reality of the resurrection. And until he meets the Risen Lord, there is no reason to believe that God is holding “an inheritance” for him, “an imperishable inheritance of eternal life” as Peter describes it. As we consider these texts in the midst of the Covid-19 quarantine, we will see that God tells us to TRUST that our current lives are a mere shadow of what God is holding for us—“an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us!”
Now, friends, we know that God has given each of us a brain, and God expects us to USE them! Of course, there are things that we just cannot understand, and we simply go on faith. As Hebrews puts it, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The Disciple Thomas was not quite there with his faith when the others told him that Jesus was alive. Because of his intellectual honesty, he articulated his skepticism, and I’m glad he did. You see, because Thomas was there, expressing his doubts, having his questions answered, this helps to answer my doubts, my questions about the validity of the resurrection. When I read this, I am Thomas, and I am overwhelmed when Jesus uses this opportunity to demonstrate the “unbelievable.”
It seems that Paul had wrestled with the mystery of eternal life, and he beautifully expresses this in 1 Corinthians 15: “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: (Isaiah 25:8) ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ (Hosea 13:14) ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’”
In other words, our inheritance is imperishable (just as Peter wrote), and it can only be received when you and I are no longer perishable—but instead clothed with immortality. This takes the sting out of death. It puts ZEST into life by removing our fear of death! If we trust God.
The Trustworthiness of God
Of course, we would much prefer to trust in ourselves, but God is constantly calling us to trust in God. In two weeks, we are going to be looking at the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and hearing Jesus tell his disciples, “I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD.” It rings with advice from Proverbs 3, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” Someone once said, “Faith is stepping to the edge of all the light we have, and taking one small step into the darkness.”
It takes me back to my childhood, to the days when we would sing, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.” Obeying and trust go hand in hand. First, we sense God’s leading, the Spirit’s guidance. We acknowledge our fear and hesitation (it’s okay to feel whatever we are feeling). And then we take ONE step “off the map of certainty.” And God’s light expands, our way becomes clearer, and we get ready to take another step into the darkness.
Our trust of God is built on our experience of God’s faithfulness.
I think there are very few people who experience complete trust, complete faith all at once. Most of us develop it gradually, seeing a growth in our TRUST—growth that comes because God is always faithful when we trust in God!
Fear of Death
We all know the name of Woody Allen, a tragic comedian who has made an entire career of being afraid of death! I think part of his success is that he articulates what many people feel deep down inside. My favorite quote of his regarding death is this: “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
Our faith tells us that we can trust God with our lives, and we can also trust God with our deaths.
I’ll finish today by telling you about a man who is not worried about death. (Maybe Woody Allen needs to talk to him!) He is an astute and respected sheriff, so his testimony has a ring of authority to it. He was interviewed by Dr. Janis Amatuzio who wrote a book called Beyond Knowing: Mysteries and Messages of Death and Life from a Forensic Pathologist. He told her, “Dying’s not the big deal people make it out to be. I drowned once.” (He didn’t say “almost drowned”—he said “drowned.”) This man had grown up on a lake. “My brothers and I spent just about every day of the summer swimming there and carrying on. We used to dive off the lifeguard tower and race to touch the bottom.” But that got too easy. He and his brothers added a new twist to the game. The tower’s legs (under water) were ladders. He and his brothers would weave back and forth between the rungs as they made their way to the surface. One day, just a few feet from the surface, he got stuck. He looked up and saw that his brother had made it. First he panicked. Then he blacked out. He later came to in a rescue boat after receiving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Dr. Amatuzio asked him, “Do you remember anything from when you were unconscious?” And the conversation shifted gears.
The sheriff looked down. Something in his face changed. “Why, yes, I do. I don’t usually talk about it, but it’s as clear as if it were yesterday. I remember thinking, I’m going to die. I took in a large gulp of water, and all of a sudden, I was up above my body, looking down on it. There were beautiful colors everywhere. I felt sorry for my body, but I wasn’t worried about it. There was all sorts of activity. My brothers and the lifeguard were there. But I felt perfectly calm, and found myself speeding along above the surface of the water, toward someplace so near yet so perfect I never could have imagined it. Then, all of a sudden, I was jolted back into my body.”
The sheriff told her that what he remembered most was that when he came back from the stunningly vivid world he’d entered for a moment, everything in the regular world looked dull—as if he’d gone from a color movie to one in black and white. “You know, Doc, I know that you’re the coroner and see this stuff every day. You know that it bothers a lot of folks. But I’m not afraid of death. Not after what happened to me.”
It reminds me of The Wizard of Oz which starts out in black and white then moves to color as Dorothy opens the door on a new world. Friends, when we get to “open our doors” and come into the post-Covid-19 world, my prayer is that God will help us retain the good we’ve gained during this difficult time. And may God help us to trust that we are held in God’s hands for these days and for the future.