1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
Sermon Showing the Wounds
Good morning! I want to begin by thanking my good friend Julie Thompson-Barrier for covering the pulpit last Sunday. I really enjoyed her sermon, especially the part about the icebreaker. In case you missed it, Pastor Julie said that when she was a youth minister, she had to do a lot of icebreakers, you know, silly games to get kids to open up and start conversations with one another.
Julie said that the best icebreaker she ever came up with was to ask the kids to show their scars—as long as it was socially appropriate. And the kids always ran with it; it always worked as a conversation starter. Everyone had a story to tell about some childhood incident or accident.
That story really resonated with me! I’ve had a lot of fun showing people the scars from my surgeries last summer. Maybe a little too much fun.
When I had my stents placed, the vascular surgeon was able to go in through my wrist; the scars are just barely visible. Of course, for a lot of people who have had stents, the procedure was done through the femoral artery; the incision is in the groin. But my scar is on my wrist, which I can show in any gathering.
I enjoy showing this scar because it tells a story. Part of that story is that the experience wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. I was frightened by the mere thought of surgery, but the reality of the operation and the recovery was much different and much easier than I had anticipated. The scars, and the incisions, the wounds that left the scars, are an important part of my story.
Clearly, for the writers of the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John, it was important to show Jesus’ wounds. The disciples were afraid. They were cowering in a locked room, overcome with fear and anxiety. A part of their identity died when Jesus died. They were lost.
And then they were found.
Jesus finds them in the midst of their pain and fear; in the midst of their emotional brokenness. The human Jesus enters into their locked room and shows the disciples his wounds—the stories of his physical brokenness. In fact, the wounds reveal that Jesus’ body is still broken. Next, as if to drive the point home, Jesus asks for something to eat. He’s not a ghost, he’s hungry!
The disciples need to know this.
The disciples need to see Jesus exactly as he is, wounded and broken. This is very important—the wounded Jesus can’t go back to a time when his wounds aren’t visible! Jesus isn’t made whole; he’s raised from the dead. He is with the disciples, though only for a little while longer. He is with the disciples in the midst of their fear and anxiety.
He. Is. Real.
The disciples need to see that and so do we.
A few years ago, I officiated the funeral for a young man who died from a heroin overdose. He wasn’t a member of the congregation I was serving. His sister is a friend of mine, but I didn’t know her very well at the time. I told her I could help, if she wanted a pastor to officiate. Oh, I should add that the young man’s name was Alan. Ministry puts you in strange places, and officiating a funeral for a man named Alan is definitely a strange place.
The next day, I sat down with Alan’s mother. She was a retired teacher. She was also a widow. Alan had grown up in a stable, middle class family. His parents loved him. His brothers and sisters loved him. The only trauma in Alan’s life was that his father died when Alan was a teenager. Perhaps he was unable to grieve his father’s death, and drugs became a coping mechanism. Perhaps.
With addiction, there are never any satisfying answers. Some explanations are better than others, but an explanation is never a substitute for a relationship. And I do believe that addiction is a disease of relationship. Or maybe a better way to put it is that addiction interrupts and interferes with relationship; it inhibits healthy relationships. I say this not as a medical expert or mental health professional, but simply as a person who knows that it’s difficult to maintain relationships among healthy people. My heart goes out to all of the people whose lives and relationships have been interrupted by addiction.
As I spoke with Alan’s mom, she told me that she had been raised in the Presbyterian Church. She left the church when she was in college, in the late 60s or early 70s. She told me that she saw hypocrisy in everyone in that church. She saw people who didn’t practice what they preached. She saw people who were mean to one another, who had affairs, who lied, and then condemned others for doing the same things. She saw phoniness in everyone. She was done with church.
We were there to plan Alan’s funeral, so I didn’t ask her a lot of follow-up questions about her church experiences. Perhaps she was being unfair to some of the people in her church, but I remember how I was in my late teens and early twenties; I saw a lot of hypocrisy around me, too. Yet her story sticks with me; especially as we consider our reading from the Gospel of Luke. I wonder if we need to be reminded of the value of seeing Jesus’ wounds, as well as our own.
If I had a chance to talk with Alan’s mom again—and if she actually wanted to talk about scripture—I’d bring up this morning’s reading. I’d ask her if anyone showed their own scars in the church where she grew up. My guess is that people in her church hid their scars, pretended that they were never, ever wounded.
I’ve met many people who felt that church was a place where everyone acts as if their lives are perfect, even if we all know that nobody is perfect. Even if we know that perfection is a lie. That lie and the pressure to pretend that everything is great, even when it’s not, all that turns into a locked room. The need to pretend at perfection then separates us from the people we are called to care for.
In all of the gospels, Jesus calls the disciples to follow him. He calls them to participate in his work feeding and healing people; he calls them to ministries of restoration and reconciliation. Yet in our story this morning, the disciples are in a locked room. They’re isolated; they’re afraid. They’re not ministering to anyone. They can’t overcome their fear and anxiety. They can’t leave their room, much less do the work to which Jesus calls them.
So, Jesus walks into their locked room and shows them he’s real. Jesus shows them his wounds. Jesus can never go back to the time when his body was whole. Jesus can never go back to the time when he wasn’t broken. Neither can the disciples. They can’t go back, but they also can’t go forward until they see that Jesus is resurrected, yet also broken. Both are true at the same time.
Jesus. Is. Real.
Are we willing to show the wounds and the scars that prove we’re real? Are we willing to admit that we’re broken—and show it, too? Are we willing to be vulnerable and share the truth of our own brokenness? Or are we too invested in the facades that we have erected? Have we shut ourselves off so tightly that we can’t do the work to which Jesus calls us?
When I sat down with Alan’s mom to plan the funeral, I asked her if I could speak openly and honestly about Alan’s heroin addiction. She said yes. She was so brave. Her openness was amazing. She was willing to acknowledge the truth of Alan’s death—a truth that everyone knew. By doing that, she could admit her own brokenness, that came through her son’s addiction and death. And so could everyone else who loved Alan.
Healing and reconciliation cannot begin until we admit our brokenness, our need for restoration. Secrets and shame inhibit the healing process; secrets and shame get in the way of restoration. But secrets and shame only have the power that we give them. In her decision to acknowledge the truth, Alan’s mom refused to give power to secrets and shame. Her decision helped to start the healing process for all of Alan’s loved ones. She acknowledged her own wounds.
So, let me repeat the questions I asked a few seconds ago: Are we willing to show the wounds and the scars that prove we’re real? Are we willing to admit that we’re broken—and show it, too? Are we willing to be vulnerable and share the truth of our own brokenness? Or are we too invested in the facades that we have erected? Have we shut ourselves off so tightly that we can’t do the work to which Jesus calls us?
We live and operate in a world that doesn’t really know us. We are called to minister to the world outside of our walls, even though they don’t understand us—even though some reject us. We are called to Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. Can we show our wounds and scars to the world outside of our walls? Can we show them that we are real? These are scary thoughts, but sometimes things aren’t as scary as they first seem. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Before I bless you, I want to share something. We had to cut a verse from the last hymn, but I think it’s worth mentioning here, because it reminds us of our call to love and serve the whole world:
Go to the world! Go struggle, bless, and pray;
the nights of tears give way to joyous day.
As servant church, you follow Christ’s own way.
Beloved, as you depart from this place, go to the world! Go forth and share the good news by serving as instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!