"Marked for Life," Pastor Kinsey sermon
“What happened? Did somebody sock you in the eye?” I wish I had a nickel for every time somebody said that to me, especially when I was growing up. I never took offense at it, though. I thought it was a fair question. My stock answer was, “No, nobody socked me in the eye. That's my birthmark. God gave it to me when I was born.” Most adults weren’t sure what to say, or else they’d go into some story about themselves, when they got a black eye. It was the kids that usually understood, and took it in stride – “oh, okay” they’d say, and go on playing with their friends. Everybody has a gift, something that makes you special – it can become a burden, or set you free.
Jesus appears to the disciples who are in the upper room, behind doors that are locked, because they're terrified, that what happened to Jesus (on the cross), will happen next, to them. And, when he appears, Jesus doesn't knock! Which is frightening on a number of levels – how did he do that? Can that really be him? And mostly it produces a whole lot of guilt: oh shoot, he’s going to reject us for abandoning him on the cross, or he’s going to ask us why we didn’t believe Mary’s statement, “I have seen the Lord,” when she saw him alive in the garden. They know they deserve a good talking to, punishment even, though, what would that look like from Jesus!
So, there they were, frozen in place – scared stiff! Of course, Jesus has no weapon with him to punish them – no whip, for instance, like he had unjustly received, no sword, like Peter thought might help at his arrest – only his word. But even what he tells them, is unexpected, “Peace be with you.” That stunned them all over again! Apparently they weren't even sure it was him. So Jesus showed them his hands and his side, that is, the marks of the nails, and the spear. And overcome with emotion, they rejoiced when they realized it was the Lord, the Messiah!
These marks, the fresh scars of his crucifixion, were the confirmation they needed to connect the dots.
I don't mean, they were the marks they needed to understand it was Jesus so they could believe he had really been raised from the dead. But that it was really Jesus, the crucified one, that God raised!
An important difference! Though I suppose, it may not sound like it at first. What I mean is, for us, we have a hard time believing in anyone's resurrection, but that was less of an issue for the disciples. They hadn't registered any dis-belief when just a couple of weeks before, Jesus raised Lazarus from his tomb. The belief in the resurrection of the body was becoming quite common at that time.
What was impossible to believe was that Jesus, their Messiah, the one they had followed so fervently, could end up failing so fantastically, in the worst possible way, actually! Instead of conquering or putting up a fight against their enemies, their Roman overlords, Jesus appeared to simply give in, and let himself be executed in the most public, and humiliating way, on the cross.
So what Thomas couldn't believe, was that the God he knew, would lift up – redeem and save – such a humiliated and failed leader as the crucified one, Jesus. So when the disciples reported to Thomas, the first Easter evening, they had seen the Lord, just as Mary had said it first, his response was, show me his wounds from the cross, then I'll believe its him. In his conception of God, he didn’t think that was gunna happen!
What are the marks we bear in our lives that never heal over? Scars that have wounded us in life, that call everything into question? And how do we deal with them? Do we want to forget them? Deny and put make-up over them? Betray and lash out at others and blame the victim? Or do we wear them proudly, even open our hands and say, put your finger here... reach out your hand and put it in my side? Are our scars burdens of humiliation? Or marks of transformation and freedom!?
When I lived in Michigan, I had the nicest doctor. He took very good care of me, and I know he only had the best of intentions. But still, I was a little taken aback, the day he told me that it was now possible – that they had the technology and understood the biology, it was just a mutated cell, he said, and it was really quite a simple procedure. If I wanted, they could take away my birthmark. It was tempting, in a way, to think about erasing it from my face, becoming more presentable to others, less of a curiosity, less of a burden, or blemished character. After all, I don’t have to look at it all the time! So I thanked him and told him I’d consider it down the road. It was nice to know that was a possibility, I said J
But for me, it’s just been a part of who I am for so long, I’m afraid I’d miss it, or feel like I was cheating. For someone else it might be a fine thing to do. But for me, I’ve come to take pride in it being my gift from God at birth – my mark that’s like the artists who are known for intentionally putting one small imperfection in their art work, just as a sign that humans are not perfect, only God is.
We all have marks, and a gift, something that makes us special – it can either be a burden, or set you free, it seems to me!
Jesus was willing to take on a burden, a very heavy and costly cross, to reveal the way to life, for us, abundant life. All of the disciples failed at following Jesus in his most vulnerable hour, when he was showing this gift, to the world, his glorification. But seeing the wounds, the marks, on the One raised to new life, made a believer out of them, even Thomas. But the believing – “my lord and my God” as Thomas said in worshipful astonishment – was just the beginning. The cross and resurrection would begin now to transform him, as it does all of us who believe, even though we, all these years later, don’t get to see Jesus.
If this risen Lord, is the crucified one, it means he reigns as a whole new kind of king, not with some superior fire-power, some sanctioned sacred violence, but he comes overcoming the power of death and humiliation, in forgiveness and life. He is not a powerless victim, but a wounded-healer, arisen as a mark of justice and peace for all, even if it means it was created by having to undergo the suffering, treachery, and injustice we dished out! God and Jesus do not use violence to win, we are the ones who have done that.
And so we can believe, even though we don’t see Jesus’ bodily resurrection, like Thomas did, because we see Jesus in our neighbors, those who are our wounded healers for us, marked with signs of crucified victory.
This past week, in the wake of the CPS announcement it wants to close a record breaking 54 schools, as a mark of protest and freedom, overcoming humiliation, the CTU organized a bus tour through neighborhoods where kids would have to walk to their new schools, including one in Englewood. It was hard to miss the gapping wounds, where houses that were boarded up, far outnumbered those that were lived in. Passing by one of those abandoned houses, the front door was literally swung wide open. Congresssman Danny Davis, along for the walk in his district, remarked that he wouldn’t be surprised if homeless folks slept there. Another concerned mother said, somebody could grab my child and take her in there and no one would know.
Danny Davis was cautious not to be too negative about the School Board’s decision, but was skeptical, given that, "Education is based on the teachers being well trained, children being motivated, parents being stimulated, communities being activated…having all the materials that you need to work with,” he said, “that’s what will cause the children to learn better. I’m not sure that just being in another building is going to determine their ability to learn." Then it came to light, in addition to the mark of closing schools to save money, that there was another scar uncovered, a black mark of 100’s of millions of dollars being secretly syphoned off to specific favorite suburban schools, already financially much better off than any being closed in Chicago.
Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, said Thomas, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe. When someone wants to erase those marks, wash them away, or ignore them, it makes me suspicious. Thomas knew that those marks would tell him something important, something prophetic, and they were more life changing than he could imagine! That God raised the innocent crucified one, changes the world, because it changes us. We rejoice, and we become wounded-healers, a marked people, who live now by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus breathes on us. The burden of the cross is transformed in the resurrection, not by erasing its marks, but in changing everything, and revealing in the Body of Christ, the justice and peace we so desperately need.