Toorak Uniting Church

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Quit dragging the dead

John 20: 24 – 29
Rev. Dr Alan Reid
30 April 2000

As I was thinking about this sermon - what Easter can and should mean for us - and particularly about Thomas, my thoughts were still on the newspaper I'd just finished: the horrors of heroin and the pussyfooting about trying something, anything, to halt the death toll; the survey of indigenous housing - foul water, leaks in sewerage, substandard dwellings; a young man with attention deficit disorder hangs himself while on remand: against this morning's gospel: why oh why did Jesus bother with us humans? Why do we continue to live in a world marked by injustice, hurt, broken relationships, and our own personal hangups?

Last week we were told the tomb was empty!
We are told that Christians believe that Christ is alive!
Do you really, honestly believe that?
Wouldn't it be incredible if it were true?
Wouldn't it make a fantastic difference to the way in which we lived?

But when I look at my own living, when I look at those around who claim this new life - I find myself well and truly aligned with Thomas - words are cheap - I want to see and until I do, well I seem a lot like the story of the two golfers:

George arrived home from his round: "George" his wife scolded, "you promised you'd be home by four o'clock. Look, here it is eight o'clock!" George protests: "But honey (it's an American story), please listen to me. Poor old Fred is dead. He just dropped over right there on the eighth green."
"Oh, that's terrible!" his wife exclaimed.
"It surely was" said George, "for the rest of the game it was hit the ball, drag Fred, hit the ball, drag Fred!"

So much of our Christian living seems to be dragging a dead body because we are unwilling or unable to live in the company of the resurrected Lord!
Think about the church - that group we call "the Body of Christ" dare I admit that there are times when I feel that this is the greatest dead body of all dead bodies!
Much has been written in the last decade or so about the decline of the church - much is made of the individualism and relativism which marks our culture and turns people away from the church. In regard to the church I hear people come up with all sorts of excuses why this has happened - there is always someone else to blame - the minister, the entertainment value of worship, the things the church says which I disagree with.
Sadly, many who are outside look at us Christians struggling along dragging a dead body and exclaim: "But you are just like us! What difference has all your so-called belief made in your life? No thanks, I don't want to drag with you, I'm OK as I am! And anyway I have my own dead bodies to drag - grief, hurt, fear, insecurity, illness."
What we have failed to come to terms with is that the body we claim has got loose in the resurrection changes lives NOW.

We've fallen into two mistakes:

One is the butterfly fallacy - you know we want to have Jesus likened to a lowly caterpillar who was wrapped in a cocoon of death on Friday and on Easter Day emerged as a divine butterfly fluttering off to sit at the right hand of God in heaven - thankfully out of our domain, but, if we are very good, we might one day also be a butterfly!

The other mistake is the resuscitated body fallacy.

We are not talking about a recycled life, prolonged life, more and more of the same. This seems to be the idea that the world has got hold of - they point out how ridiculous and far fetched all this is, and anyway with modern drugs and technology we are fast prolonging life on our own initiative. And what a life! Try walking through a nursing home and see how well we humans manage to prolong life!
This is dragging a dead body par excellence!

So I come back - this is a body which got loose and creates a whole new ball game. Look at what happens to Thomas: like us he wanted proof before he committed himself; he wanted to touch this dead body that was supposedly now alive -

Confronted by the resurrected Jesus: there is no more reference to nail holes - there is only one answer ‘My Lord and my God’ There is no "great to have you back Jesus stuff" - this is a complete change in understanding: an overwhelming by the new!

This new life, new understanding is what the world looks for: the world is searching but they are not finding. And when it looks to us for meaning sadly it only sees a group of people dragging the past and blaming others for the empty pews.

I leave you to consider whether you personally are doing a share of dragging in your own life - a satisfying past, a secure past, my past! And hanging on like grim death!

The problem is that Jesus is a loose cannon in our lives - asking us about our new living, encouraging us in its reality NOW; wondering how we are getting on with living this new way; you know the one about feeding the hungry; standing up against hypocrisy; having little patience with humbug and selfcentredness; about making relationships work; about sharing something which has made our lives different.

The new life is a radical life - not inside this building but out in the world day by day.
The presence which convinced Thomas was a presence which invited radical living from those who know the miracle of a new life - a life which is lived with gratitude, hope, love and humour; a life which has quit dragging a dead body no matter how safe that might be ~ quit because there is only new life! and before which our only exclamation:

"My Lord and my God"

But just to remind us all of how concrete all this is the other day I read of John Plummer and Kim Phoc.
You've never heard of them have you?

Kim Phoc was 9 years old in 1972 when the US Airforce unloaded napalm on her village in Vietnam - horribly burned Kim Phoc was photographed running naked and burning down the road from her village - a photo which went around the world symbolising the horror of this war.

Plummer was the officer who set up that air strike and for years he says "My heart was wracked with guilt in the realization that it was I who was responsible for her injuries: it was I who sent the bombs into her village."

Plummer returned to the US - abused alcohol, withdrew into himself, divorced his wife, left his four children - in 1980 Plummer became a Christian and is now a Methodist minister. Kim Phoc now lives in Canada having survived her ordeal. Plummer tells the story when mutual friends brought them together in a Washington hotel a couple of years ago:

"She saw my grief, my pain, my sorrow. She held out her arms to me and embraced me. All I could say was 'I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry: I'm sorry,’ over and over again.

At the same time Kim was saying 'It's all right, it's all right; I forgive, I forgive’"

Kim had become a Christian in 1982 and Plummer tells how they knelt in that Washington hotel and prayed. Kim Phoc now calls Plummer her brother! And she is his sister!

That's what the new life is all about.
That's what living in the NOW resurrection is like.
That's what makes us different - to love and serve the Lord and the world! In newness - no more dragging!

© Rev. Dr Alan Reid, 2000

(During the service Dr Reid expressed his continuing gratitude to Dr Alan Watson and the Toorak congregation:

"It is 43 years since I was ordained in this church - 43 years since I was privileged to learn all that I know of the ministry from the Rev Dr Alan Watson while working as his assistant. Dr Watson was the best preacher I have ever heard, he was my guide, my mentor and my encourager - and he knocked off a lot of rough edges! In that time I learnt the meaning of a Christian congregation as the people supported and enthused me. I remember today with a deep sense of gratitude.")

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