Heroes and Villains: Thomas

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 20:24-29.

There is a powerful scene towards the end of Disney’s The Lion King where Simba, the reluctant and somewhat recalcitrant prince of the Savannah, is alone at night until he sees an effigy of his father in the clouds. Instead of coming towards him, Simba’s father seems to dissipate on the winds. Simba chases the cloud with all his might. He attempts to catch up with the wind and when he realizes he cannot, he hurls at the wind – at his father – “You said you’d always be there for me! But you’re not…And it’s my fault. It’s all my fault.”

I imagine the disciples felt the same way after Jesus’ crucifixion. Even though the disciples betrayed, denied, and deserted Jesus, I believe they continued to hope that all he had said would be true – that he would be with them, that he would die and rise again, and after ascending, that he would send his Holy Spirit to be with them always.

Ten of the eleven disciples have seen Jesus, but Thomas was absent. Thomas hears their testimony about Jesus, but he wants to see for himself. He wants – he asks – to see and touch.

Thomas wants to explore the realness of the resurrection. He wants personal confirmation that the resurrection was not an illusion or a trick or a figment of the disciples’ collective imagination. If the resurrection had been an illusion, trick, or figment of the imagination, the resurrection would not have the same efficacy, the same saving power.

“You said you’d always be there for me!” And Jesus was. Jesus is.

Jesus showed up. Jesus revealed himself to Thomas and the disciples again. Thomas asks and Jesus responds; Jesus provides and Thomas receives.

The story of The Lion King is a story of identity – of Simba discovering or returning to who he is, which ultimately guides him home. The death of Jesus caused an identity crisis for the disciples and followers of Jesus, too. Although Jesus foretold his death and resurrection numerous times, the weight of its reality finally set with the sun that Good Friday. Seeing the resurrected Jesus reminded the disciples of who they are and whose they are. Touching Jesus – physically interacting with his living truth – restored and reconnected the disciples to the living truth of Jesus’ miracles, healings, and teachings.

Wanting that confidence of who we are and whose we are, wanting to see and touch the living truth of our Jesus does not make us bad people. That desire locates us as individuals that trust our “asking, seeking, and knocking” will be answered by our Jesus that has already shown his desire that we would all believe. So if you have the desire to ask, seek, or knock – proceed! Jesus’ timeline in answering may be at odds with your timeframe of receiving an answer, but do not let that sway you from asking. Remember, Jesus is faithful and is making all things known. Jesus is here for us and answers us when we call.

Prayer: “When our confidence is shaken in beliefs we thought secure, when the spirit in its sickness seeks but cannot find a cure, God is active in the tensions of a faith not yet mature. God is love, and thus redeems us in the Christ we crucify; this is God’s eternal answer to the world’s eternal why. May we in this faith maturing be content to live and die!”* Amen.

*“When Our Confidence Is Shaken,” The United Methodist Hymnal 505.

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God In A Box

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 9:2-9

This week the Tuskawilla Community welcomes back Rev. Melissa Cooper to share with our congregation. Melissa serves as the Program Coordinator for our Conference’s Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. She is the genius behind our Conference’s LECFamily Camps and Retreats Ministries and a visionary for cultivating intergenerational ministry cultures within churches across our Annual Conference. Melissa has recently started working with a team at Tuskawilla. She is helping us learn about and from our organic intergenerational nature as well as learn new ways to expand the intergenerational impact of our ministries.

Melissa is also one of my favorite people. Ever.

The friendship that Melissa and I share started out as a mountain top experience, plummeted into a valley, and then came back up to a middle ground where we continue to flourish in relationship, moving as life does between the mountain tops and the valleys.

We met at a conference retreat where I could talk and she could not! Melissa was training as a facilitator for this conference program and her task for that retreat was to be a silent observer – to look, to listen, to journal, and then when the conference was over, she and other trainees like her would dialogue about their experience during the training. I was a participant at this retreat, and I confess, I was not too keen on being there. And when I add “not too keen to being here” to several days of several hours of group work that is then reported back to the larger group and we do not receive a break until all the groups have reported in – oh I was all the more willing to share to move the whole conference along! So I talked quite a lot and Melissa did not…and somewhere in the midst of what I said, what she heard, and what God did in the midst of all of that, when the retreat ended Melissa made a beeline for me!

I think her first words were “Let’s be friends!” and I was like…”ummmm…okay?” We made plans to connect later that Fall. We hugged and said good bye.

Mountain top.

By the time Melissa and I got back together, I had received disappointing news about a project I had been working towards for over two years…and I was angry. I really did not feel like seeing anyone, but I keep commitments once I make them and I headed to meet Melissa for dinner. She walked in as her joyful, sassy glasses wearing self and oh, I hurricane’d all over her parade. I griped. I complained. I aimed anger at her – someone that, HELLO!, this is my first real opportunity to spend time with her! – and ate my dinner like a sullen, soaked house cat.

Poor Melissa. She was probably thinking “where’s the other girl!? I want to be her friend…get this one out of here…”

Valley. Deep, deep valley.

I remember sitting in my office a few days later wondering if I would ever hear from Melissa again when my phone buzzed. It was a text message from her. I think it said something blatantly obvious and wholly comforting, something like, “So that was a rough night, huh!?” I laughed. And texted back, “Yeah…that about sums it up.”

Out of the valley to the gift of middle ground where all people can grow. And I give thanks that our friendship continues to grow.

In the Scripture passage for this week we read about Peter’s mountain top experience with Jesus. Jesus’ transfiguration occurs. His clothes “became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them” and Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus (Mk 9:3). The persons representative of the Law, the Prophets, and Eternal Salvation are all in one place!

This mountain top experience is the complete package!

And Peter wants to stay. He wants to build tents. He wants to set up camp. But after the cloud descends and he hears “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Jesus leads Peter and the other two disciples back down the mountain (Mk 9:7). Moses and Elijah are gone. The moment is gone.

Valley. Deep, deep valley.

Jesus and his disciples return to a place of middle ground. They return to their work of continued growth in relationship with one another and service of their neighbors. They return to their ministry of healing, of teaching, and of preparing the people – preparing themselves – for Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

This middle ground is a place of growth. In a way mountain top and valley experiences are static. Not much happens there. It is in the place between where we move towards a mountain top or away from a valley or the other that we learn about ourselves, that we learn about our God, that we strengthen relationships, and that we strengthen our faith.

I give thanks for the gift of the middle ground I continue to receive in my life…and I especially give thanks that Melissa did not wash her hands of me after that awful, awful first date. She showed me grace and understanding. Jesus showed Peter grace and understanding. May these be the gifts that you share with yourself and someone else as you explore the middle ground this week.

Prayer: “Holy God, upon the mountain you revealed our Messiah, who by his death and resurrection would fulfill both the law and the prophets. By his transfiguration enlighten our path that we may dare to suffer with him in the service of humanity and so share in the everlasting glory of him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God for ever. Amen.”*

*”Transfiguration,” The United Methodist Hymnal 259.