Sermons

Known by Our Wounds: April 23, 2017

My son has a boo-boo on his finger.  It is fairly small as boo-boos go…just a fairly minor scrape across his knuckles and is already nearly healed.  About six months ago, my other son wasn’t so lucky—he somehow scraped his face and wore that scar over Halloween, making him look as if the cut were intentional makeup or part of a Frankenstein costume.  Although many assumed the scar might remain, it defied our expectations and is barely visible now.

Sisters and brothers, what scars do you bear?  You can probably name your own scars in some kind of chronological fashion.  The one that shows that had wild acne as a teenager, or the scar from when your finger was seriously nicked, the scar that shows your family that you survived cancer and treatment, or the scar that gives witness to how the power saw jumped clear out of your hands and somehow landed on your shinbone.  Perhaps there are scars from knee or back or breast surgery, scars from psoriasis or oven burns, scars from shingles or slipping on treacherous ice.  And then there are those deeper scars…and they remind us about our survival, history, and even belonging.  Some of our scars are visible, but many are invisible.  If you have read any of the Harry Potter books, you know that Harry has a visible scar on his forehead that bears testimony to the loss of his parents at a tender age.  It is part of his identity.  It also gives him occasional insight, an insight into the mind and suffering of others, including the mind of The-One-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Our scars can tell stories that our Facebook page and photos cannot tell adequately.  If a picture is worth a thousand words; a scar is an entire library stretching from before to after. Some scars tell stories of how life has hurt us.  A marriage doesn’t work out; a betrayal bleeds the heart; an injustice cuts too deeply.   But some scars bear witness to those ways that we have given life to others.  A mother may bear the scars of giving birth.  A couple may bear the scar of some family difficulty overcome. When we’ve suffered for others, we often bear the mark of a costly love. The scars that Jesus bore in his hands and feet were a scandal to some, and life-giving to others.  There were those, like Thomas, who needed to touch Jesus’ scars in order to believe and understand his relationship to God.  Others saw such scars as a visible sign that their Savior and King indeed suffered and died to bring humankind closer to God and to bear witness to a different kind of living and purpose.

What are your scars and how do they carry your story?  The scars of Jesus were not simply private but communal.  Through God’s intervention and transformation, his scars had a positive, communal effect, just as our own personal scars can have a positive effect both on our family and our community, though we don’t often realize it.

The writer, Anne Lamott, believes that scars can be signs of welcome, as well as solidarity.  She shares this, “Until recently I barely even knew the signs of welcome, like the way a person plopped down across from me and sighed deeply while looking at me with relief: a shy look on someone’s face that gave me time to breathe and settle in. I didn’t know that wounds and scars were what we find welcoming, because they are like ours. Trappings and charm wear off, I’ve learned. The book of welcome says, Let people see you. They see that your upper arms are beautiful, soft and clean and warm, and then they will see this about their own, some of the time. It’s called having friends, choosing each other, getting found, being fished out of the rubble. It blows you away, how this wonderful event happened— me in your life, you in mine.[1] 

Many times Thomas is given a poor reputation as the disciple that needed proof about Jesus’ rising, a tangible reminder, as if he were too questioning to believe.  But Thomas is also the one who wasn’t in the room when Jesus first appeared calling out his reassuring, “Peace be with you.”  Thomas didn’t have the benefit of seeing with his eyes or hearing with ears.  He didn’t have full-sense engagement; he wasn’t even in the room!  How many of us, even with full-sense engagement, are still hijacked by our doubts?  How many of us yearn to engage God with all of our senses—not just orally, or visually, but a full-body experience in worship and in prayer?

As I get older, I am more empathetic towards Thomas and his yearning need to know.  As we learn more about grief and the vicissitudes of life and tragedy, we often discover more about our human need to confirm both death and life.  And scars do a bit of both.  Scars tell us about the pain that was endured or suffered, the death that happened (little or big, emotional, spiritual, or physical) as well as the life that knitted the raged wound together again.  No surprise that Thomas confesses his need to put his hand where the spear pierced Jesus’ side and where the holes where the nails were placed.  Jesus’ death was not somehow erased by the resurrection…and Thomas needs to know that.  He needs to know that this wasn’t some kind of pretend, make-believe production by a non-bleeding God.  Scars tell us that something happened, that it wasn’t our mind playing tricks, or some kind of fake news.  Scars are a way we know ourselves: our wounds and our survival, what pained us and what has refused to fade completely over time.  They are also how many of us come to know God through the transformation of the pain they represent.

Thomas’ presence in our scripture may convey a lot of things about taking some things on faith, but certainly Thomas’ need to touch Jesus’ scars tells us something about how Jesus’ healing was a work in progress even after the resurrection, just as our healing is often a work in progress.  Likewise, the desire for Thomas to touch the marks of suffering is sometimes what we human beings need to do just to understand the severity of suffering.  Like Thomas, we may have never considered that God might have scars too. As Ken Sehested has written, “The purpose of God is framed, and the passion of God is fired, in the wounds of the world. That is to say, God bleeds.”

Yesterday was Earth Day.  And in our examination of Jesus’ scars, we would do well to consider and place our hands and hearts purposefully in the scars of this, our good earth.  Each day, I read about some new wound on Mother Earth.  Our planet is suffering but it seems that those who want to do away with the EPA by severely underfunding it, or completely dismantling it, are not seeking to touch the Earth’s wounds with healing kindness, but rather wish to pretend that the crucifixion of our planet has not occurred.  Our toxic spills, our continued overconsumption, environmental deregulation, our unwillingness to accept basic evidence of the radically reduced biodiversity of our planet, and the scientific consensus that human beings have betrayed both our own species and the vast ecosystem of which we are a part are not simply some Thomas the Doubter kind of questioning or stubbornness.  It is evil.  At least in our story, Thomas is willing to touch the body of Christ and reach out his hand to touch what would change his perspective and behavior.  At least Thomas is willing to declare, “My Lord and my God,” after seeing the damage that humans can wreak on themselves and others.

But perhaps we need to share testimony of those who have seen the earth’s scars from both afar, as well as those up close.  In 2015, as part of the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, astronauts around the world gave eyewitness accounts to the profound changes to our planet they’ve seen first-hand while in orbit.

In part, the following message was shared:

“Greetings from the International Space Station. I’m station commander Scott Kelly of NASA, with my NASA crew mate Kjell Lindgren. It’s an honor for us to be with you today…[Fewer] than 550 humans have orbited the Earth. Those of us lucky enough to have done so more than once have not only heard about the negative impact that the industrial age has had on our planet, we’ve seen it with our own eyes. The view from space is just breathtaking and at the same time we recognize deforestations and wildfires and so on, which are related to climate changes. We astronauts have been witnessing the continued shrinking of the Aral Sea, the burning rainforests along the Amazon River and in Indonesia, the polluted air over industrial zones, and the dirty water at the river deltas. From our vantage point 250 miles above the Earth, we can see how precious the Earth really is. When you look at our planet from space, it’s beautiful, fragile and there’s this little thin layer all the way around, our atmosphere, and that’s the only thing that protects us from the really bad vacuum in outer space. This little fragile layer, the atmosphere, is part of our life support system. We need to be really careful with it. Our atmosphere connects us all. What happens in Africa affects North America. What happens in North America affects Asia.

“There is no argument about global climate models. The basic balance of energy says that if we put greenhouse gases in the atmosphere of planet, it’s going to heat up. This is the biggest problem the world has to face right now. And we’re at a point now where we really have to take action and to make the changes to try to ward off the worst effects which might come down the pike. I think one thing that we all wish though, is that groups like yours could be holding your meeting today in space, with the beautiful horizon to horizon view of our planet as your backdrop. It would be an awe inspiring distraction for sure…

“Suppose I can transfer the experience which I have to you? Then you would go out and see the Earth. And when you have, I’d say the spirit, and the inside and the attitude of it, you start to love the Earth. And if you really love something, you don’t want to lose it. Our Earth has cancer. I have cancer too. We are not on a sustainable path with our life support systems. In order for us to ensure the survival of our species and all the other species on this planet, we need a positive course correction and we need it now. In order to make this course correction we need to start thinking planetary and not just global. The first but decisive step is to be made known.”(my stress)[2]

Sisters and brothers, Jesus concludes our scripture this morning by asking Thomas a question.  He asks all of us as well: “Have you believed because you have seen me?”  Jesus may as well have asked, “Have you believed because you have seen my scars?”  Indeed, blessed are those who have not seen, yet have come to believe.

In a poem called “Deadly days are numbered,” Ken Sehested writes:

No, I do not feign from
speaking of Jesus as Lord.
For who else can mobilize
hearts and hands in opposition
to the lords of enmity,
their names being legion?

The conflict is ensued. No
turning back, nor sidelines
for spectators whose loyalties,
despite denials, are already
secured and cheaply so.

Speaking thusly implies no
resistance to others’ honor of
another Name. I trust Heaven’s Intent
more than the words of my lips
or the beat of my heart. G-d is
at work in Ways I do not
(and may never) comprehend.

The Day of Deliverance is not up
to me, my or mine. The copyright
securing authorship of the
new heaven, new earth, is
not for we, us or our adjudication.
We testify only to what we have
seen and heard:

  • That life’s abundance was meant to be shared.
  • That a revolt of menacing, miserly forces now
    dominates Creation’s realms.
  • But also that those deadly days are numbered.

As for me, I see Heaven’s Intent
sketched in the Galilean’s scars.
Those scars announce the coming collapse
of any and every kind of lording. They
invite my avowal of the Way of the Cross.
Those scars signal the coming closure
of every wound, the drying of every tear,
the Advent of a Promise outlasting every lie.

Whisper to me another Name
similarly configured and
I shall bow, giving thanks. And
we shall eat and ache
and sing and march together.[3]

 

 

May we be known by our wounds and may our wounding point the way to healing, and may we listen when our scars tell a story we need to hear.

Amen.

 

[1] Anne Lamott, “The Book of Welcome,” Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace (Penguin Group US. 2014)

 

[2] You can watch the rest of this message here… http://spaceref.com/earth/call-to-earth-astronauts-send-a-message-from-space-to-global-leaders-at-cop21-urging-action-on-clima.html

 

[3] Ken Sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org. Written while volunteering as an overnight host for a homeless women’s shelter.