Sermon given in Matanzas, Cuba
Text: John 20: 19-31
Grace and peace to you from your many friends at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church. Our pastor Nancy Petty sends her love to each of you and our congregation is praying for you and our time together as they worship in this same hour in Raleigh. The song we will sing before communion this morning was written by Nancy and our Minister of Music Larry Schultz. We added the Spanish words just before we came to visit you so we can sing this invitation to the table in both of our churches.
This is the second Sunday of Easter. So we get to be resurrection people together this morning as we consider John’s description of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples after the resurrection. So let me begin by sharing a bit of personal history.
I grew up in a small town in South Carolina where my family attended First Baptist Church. My father was a deacon and my mother was a Sunday school teacher. We were at church nearly every time the doors were open and that church was the center of our life. Like many Baptist churches, the congregation gave a lot of attention to missions. So I often heard a song whose title is taken from words in today’s scripture text: So Send I You.
As I was preparing for this service, I went on the internet to find that song. I hadn’t heard it in many years and didn’t remember the words. As I listened to it, I was reminded that much of the theology of the song doesn’t fit me anymore. Since I heard it sung in church as a child, I’ve grown and changed in how I think about God and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. But there was one line of the song that caught my attention. It says, “So send I you to lose your life in mine.”
Now you all know well that we U.S. citizens are pretty impressed with ourselves. The common opinion in our country is that the United States is the best nation in the world and humility is in pretty short supply. We Pullen people are very aware of our faults as a nation – especially in how we have treated your country and your people. But our national ego filters down to individuals. We U.S. Americans are independent people, many are highly educated and many have financial resources. All of that makes it hard for us to talk about losing our lives…not just physically as in dying, but in losing our personal authority. We think we’re strong. We think we are in control. In spite of the many reminders from Jesus that we are to lose our lives in order to save them, we don’t like the idea very much if it means giving up control. But the song says, “So send I you to lose your life in mine.”
Thomas certainly wasn’t ready to do this. He missed Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples and without proof he wasn’t going to believe that Jesus was still present. Did he think that Jesus came, taught the multitudes, healed the sick, cast out demons, fed the crowds and then it was all over when he was crucified? I wonder whether he was disappointed, or perhaps secretly relieved. I’m sure he was very sad to lose his friend. But I wonder if Thomas or any of the other disciples felt a bit of relief. Because if Jesus was really gone, it could mean that they might not have to lose their lives. There was definitely fear that the authorities would come for anyone who was close to Jesus and they could be killed, too. That’s why they were huddled together in a locked room when Jesus appeared to them the first time. But I’m talking about relief that they might not have to follow his life-long call to seek first God’s kingdom, to love one’s enemies, to not be anxious about tomorrow, to love as God loves.
So send I you to lose your life in mine. The song doesn’t just say that we’re called to lose our lives. And it doesn’t ask us to give up our identities and let the world run over us. Instead we’re invited to become part of God’s life – to lose our lives in God’s. What does that mean? Well, it’s different for each of us because each of us is unique. Our circumstances are different. The demands that life places on us are different. So our responses to this call won’t be the same as the response of the person sitting next to us. I don’t know what this call to live in God’s life will mean for me in the future, much less for you. It’s a challenge to figure out what it means for me today. But I do know a couple of things.
I do know that nurturing this partnership between all of you and our church in Raleigh is part of living in God’s life. We are an unlikely pair given the relationship – or lack thereof – between our governments for so many decades. Our president’s recent visit and your president’s welcome are signs that this is changing. But for more than a quarter-century this love between your church and ours has been an extraordinary thing. It could only happen as part of God’s life. Most especially, in the context of all the things our nation and some of its people have done and some would continue to do and say about you and your country, your generosity is a God-thing. We know this and we are deeply grateful to you.
Consider the outreach ministry you offer your community through your church and the Kairos Center and the ministry we offer through our church and our Hope Center. Offering these ministries is part of what it means to live in God’s life. Being together this week has been an example of sharing in God’s life. It’s been lots of fun being together, but that’s not what I’m referring to. It’s the sincerity each person has brought to deepening this relationship and learning from one another how to be faithful witnesses to God’s love and justice in our world. That’s sharing a life in God.
Thomas wanted proof that Jesus was really alive. Today the world desperately needs proof that he is present among us. You are the living proof. Our partnership is living proof. The abundant life Jesus offered is a life lived together in God. It’s real, and it’s hopeful. And should you ever have doubts, if life ever feels so hard that your faith is shaken, remember that when Jesus appeared to his disciples after the crucifixion, he offered them peace. “Peace be with you,” he said to them. This shared life in God where the tangible presence of Jesus brings joy and hope is real. It calls us to seek peace in our hearts, in our communities and in our world. So may our shared life with God make us bearers of peace together whether we are in the same place as we are today or separated by distance. For even when we are physically separated, we labor for peace and justice together because we are bound together in our hearts.
Here is a framed photo of the cross that FBC-Matanzas gave us during the visit of their pilgrims in September of 2014. This photo was given to them in worship on Sunday, April 3. The inscription says:
Cross of First Baptist Church of Matanzas
Pullen Memorial Baptist Church Raleigh, North Carolina.
We are laborers together with God.