Doubt, anger, hunger.

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

The Grand Ole Opry hosted a Bluegrass night last night. Dailey & Vincent sang By The Mark.

When I cross over
I will shout and sing
I will know my Savior
By the mark where the nails have been

By the mark where the nails have been
By the sign upon his precious skin
I will know my savior when I come to him
By the mark where the nails have been

A man of riches
May claim a crown of jewels
But the king of heaven
Can be told from the prince of fools

By the mark where the nails have been…

Indeed, we are, in these days very closely in touch with St. Thomas. Consider what he had been through. Everything he had heard and seen at the hands of Jesus followed by betrayal, suffering and death. He was filled, as we are in these days, with doubt, anger, and hunger.

Maybe Thomas hungered for how it was. I believe we do. We haven’t been separated from the way things were long enough to really evaluate the implications of our choices. In fact, recent protests focused on reopening and going back is a sinful desire for old ways. No lessons have been learned there. Thomas rather learned a very important lesson. He would not believe unless he could go back. Jesus charged him instead with going forward, to act on faith and to have confidence. Thomas, move forward.

Maybe Thomas was angry. His apple cart was upset, his cheese had been moved. He had to re-evaluate and adjust, but that can make us upset, uncomfortable, and sometimes even angry. If you read some social media messages the anger is palpable and deeply immature. Is that where Thomas stayed? No, of course, but he could have. He could have stayed angry, lived in the past. Instead, encountering Jesus in a new way he came to new life. He moved from angry and hungering disciple to Apostle, bearer of the Good News. Thomas, move forward.

Thomas doubted. How could it change, how could it get better? He learned it was not by going back or by being angry. Thomas learned, as we must, it is by the mark and living in the promise of Jesus, by living Jesus’ way, and by knowing our life is not here, but in Jesus’ holy name.

Checked in and
joyful.

And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Last week, we discussed our call to stand up, to hold our heads high for the Day of the Lord. Our hearts focused on plugging in and being ready, rather than on giving up and checking out.

If indeed we plugged in and walked in the path of readiness, something wonderful happened. I know I felt it.

It was a long week for me. I left on Tuesday morning for San Diego. Everyone encouraged me, Oh, you’ll have fun, its sunny and warm. Well after about six hours of traveling, I arrived to a setting sun. Not as warm as I expected, but I packed wisely, just in case. Two days of rain and flooding later, it got sunny and warm, just as I entered the airport for the trip home on Friday.

I knew I’d be home late – actually early Saturday morning. I’d be exhausted. As you might imagine, traveling is no joy in this day and age. My trip had its share of what normally would be annoyances. There were a few additional things that go thrown on my plate mid-week as well. But something was different. Expecting Jesus really changed my days and turned annoyances into moments of prayer. Jesus turned times of dread into opportunities. I am so thankful.

Dreading being alone, eating alone, away from friends and family – a brother priest happened to be in the same city at the same time. Neither of us had to be alone. The person snoring on the plane, directly across the aisle from me, for three hours? I had the chance to pray for that person, for healing and better health. There were other moments like that too.

Like the Israelites returning to the Promised Land, we who are checked in and preparing are able to hold our heads high, to march forward with joy knowing the Lord has us in the palm of His hand; is protecting and guiding us.

Like John the Baptist, we are taking charge and doing God’s work with joy. In many ways we announce the kingdom, call sinners to a renewed and joyful life, and heal hurt. Even when the work is hard, and we are down to our last few locusts for dinner, the light of true joy doesn’t leave us.

Getting back to
Eden.

What does Scripture say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart —that is, the word of faith that we preach—, for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

This reflection is focused on the scriptures for the First Sunday of Lent and our Lenten preaching theme – Getting back to Eden.

St. Paul is writing to the Church at Rome reminding them that they have word.

The word had been given to them and they committed it, not just to rote memory. Rather, the word became a real and meaningful part of their lives. Their reception of God’s word was life changing.

God’s word was in their hearts and their actions were changed by it. Wherever they went, the word was on their lips and they proclaimed it.

The Church at Rome received the wonderful gift of the word and that word was transformative in their lives. They were changed by it. Their confession of faith – a confession that was through and throughout their lives – saved them. That word, that salvation made such a huge difference that over the next three centuries those at Rome were willing to suffer and die for the word.

Now we’ve used a rather big word here. God’s word was “transformative” to these people. What does that mean? It means they were changed at three essential levels.

The transformative effect of God’s word changed them (1) Psychologically – they had a new understanding of who they were. (2) Convictionally – they were part of a new and powerful belief system. (3) Behaviorally – every part of their lifestyle was changed.

Getting back to Eden starts with the realization that our exile is over. The people of Rome heard that. It changed them. They were cast out and are now being let in. The gates that were closed to them have been opened. That powerful image made real in the Good News – the word – transformed the people of Rome. That powerful word transforms to this day. It has transformed the life of every person who has come to belief in Jesus by faith.

Like the Church at Rome we have received God’s word. We have found faith in Jesus and have pledged our lives to Him. We confess His name and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. We recognize we are saved and on the road back to Eden. So let us re-double our efforts in making His word active in our daily lives. Let us, like Rome, be mindful of the wonderful gift – the beautiful word – that is ours. Let us strengthen our faith, proclaim it, and allow it to work its transformative effect in our lives.