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Sermon for 15 April

FIRST READING Acts 4:32–35

32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

PSALM Psalm 133

1How good and how pleasant it is, when kindred live together in unity! 2It is like fine oil upon the head, flowing down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, flowing down upon the collar of his robe. 3It is like the dew of Hermon flowing down upon the hills of Zion. For there the LORD has commanded the blessing: life forevermore.

SECOND READING 1 John 1:1—2:2

Chapter 1 1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Chapter 2 1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

GOSPEL John 20:19–31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


Today is of course April 15th and for those who’ve put off filing their taxes, well today piper has come to be paid. For some, tax day is a day of doing battle with the IRS; a fight that can leave scars for those who mix it up with the tax man. Someone once said that the difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get more complicated each year. I can relate to that since I have to complete some 8 attachments each year as part of my filing. Actually most tax people are honorable public servants, as are most employees of our federal and state governments.
Most of us receive many benefits from our system of government, though sometimes we can all feel a little sympathy for the businessman who, while on his deathbed, called a friend. He said, “Joe, I want you to promise me that when I die you will have my remains cremated.” “And what,” his friend asked, “do you want me to do with your ashes?” The businessman said, “Just put them in an envelope and mail them to the Internal Revenue Service and write on the envelope, ‘Now you have everything.’”
Tax day for many isn’t a day we look forward too.
For a few, it’s a day of dread and what’s interesting is that this is also the day the Titanic sunk and the day president Lincoln was shot. No wonder we have a tendency to dread this day each year. While the stress of taxes can leave emotional scars for a few, it’s the physical scars that we experience in our lives that tell a more visible tale. I like many people have scars from the bumps and bruises of life.
Like lots of folks, I’ve spent a considerable number of years working with my hands. And as such, I have scars that tell of the various experiences. I have scars from a crosscut saw, knives, sharp metal shelving and even the scars of a girl that dug her fingernails into the back of my hand in grade school. I have scars on my ankle and my right knee from injuries while working at the lumberyard and at Kmart. Each of these scars comes with a story and are a constant reminder of a significant moment or event in my life. In many ways these visible marks and stories remind us of our mortality and of the pain associated with being human.
A couple of years ago, the Reuters News Service carried a story about a Russian teenager who survived a lightning strike which was so powerful it vaporized a gold cross on her neck. The bolt hit this young woman on the top of her head and seared through her body into the ground. The necklace she had been wearing was “atomized,” leaving burns in the shape of a cross on her neck. So intense was the strike that only a couple of links of the chain could be found.
A doctor at the local hospital who treated her over a period of two weeks said: “It’s a miracle she survived.” She did survive and is fine now but, says the report, “she will have deep scars on her neck where the cross was for the rest of her life.” In a like way, after Jesus’ resurrection from the grave, He still bore the scars from the cross. We read in John’s Gospel, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side . . .”
Then a few verses later we read, “Now Thomas . . . was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ “But [Thomas] said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”
Thomas said that unless he could see the nail marks in Christ’s hands and put his finger where the nails were, and put his hand into Christ’s side, he would not believe that Christ was alive. And that’s exactly what he experienced. For me, it’s significant that though Christ had been resurrected from the dead, His body still bore the scars from his crucifixion. It’s a reminder that no one, not even our Lord, ever achieves anything of lasting significance without getting a few scars along the way. No one makes a lasting contribution to the world who doesn’t pay a price.
And because today is tax day we’re reminded of a well-known tax evader named Henry David Thoreau. Unlike modern tax evaders who are interested only in their own welfare, Thoreau willingly went to jail rather than pay taxes to support a war, the Mexican-American War, fought in the interests of slavery. If you’re a student of history you might remember the famous exchange between Thoreau and his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Henry, what are you doing in there?” asked Emerson when he strolled by the jail one day. “Ralph, what are you doing out there?” replied Thoreau.
The point was that there are some causes worthy of sacrifice, worthy of suffering, worthy of obtaining scars for. No one ever achieves anything of lasting significance without getting a few scars along the way. We need to understand that not all Christians have chosen the safe, secure life that we enjoy. People like Dr. Eleanor Chestnut.
After arriving in China in 1893 under the American Presbyterian Missions Board, Dr. Chestnut built a hospital, using her own money to buy bricks and mortar. Unable to wait until the hospital was built, because of the great need, she performed surgery in her bathroom until the building was completed. One of these water closet operations involved the amputation of a common laborer’s leg. Complications arose, and skin grafts were needed. A few days later, another doctor asked Chestnut why she was limping. “Oh, it’s nothing,” was her terse reply. Finally, a nurse revealed that the skin graft for the patient, a coolie at the bottom of Chinese society, came from Dr. Chestnut’s own leg, taken with only local anesthetic. Sadly, during the Boxer Rebellion of 1905, Dr. Chestnut and four other missionaries were killed by a mob that stormed the hospital.
Eleanor Chestnut knew the dangers of serving in China, but her faith was strong and her commitment to Christ and the Chinese people was complete. Today the Chinese Christian community is one of the fastest growing Christian bodies in the world. But it wouldn’t even be there, in that historically closed society, if people like Eleanor Chestnut weren’t willing to bear, on their own bodies, the scars of commitment. The scars that Christ bore remind us, that no one ever achieves anything of lasting significance without getting a few scars along the way. In this case, His scars are also a reminder of just how much He loves us.
Some of you are familiar with American Sign Language having family members who are deaf. For those who aren’t, I understand it’s the tip of the middle finger of one hand touching the palm of the other. If you’ve ever been in a church service when deaf persons are worshipping, they’ll make this sign many times during their service: Jesus, the one with scarred hands. And when they touch the place where the scars were, they remember. The details of Christ’s death, have always had an impact on those who believe in Him, and one can’t help but be moved by the knowledge that the pure Son of God, who knew no sin, allowed Himself to be brutalized and slain by sinful human beings. Why did He do it? The answer is simple, He did it out of unadulterated love for you and me.
It’s like a story that William Barclay once told about a young soldier in the First World War who was seriously wounded. His arm was so badly injured that it had to be amputated. He was a strong and capable young man, and the surgeon was grieved that he must go through life maimed. So the surgeon waited by his bedside to tell him the bad news when he recovered consciousness. When the lad’s eyes opened, the surgeon said to him: “I’m sorry to tell you that you have lost your arm.” “Sir,” said the lad, “I didn’t lose it; I gave it for my country.” In the same way, Christ didn’t lose His life; He gave it for you and me. “What wondrous love is this,” wrote the poet, “That caused the Lord of bliss/ To bear the dreadful curse/ for my soul, for my soul . . .” And that’s what those scars say to us. They tell us just how much God loves us.
The Rev. Christi Brown tells about a tennis friend who understands about scars. This friend is a highly fit 30-something-year-old mother, who also wears a brace on each knee. Brown once pointed to her friend’s knee and asked if her scar was from knee surgery. She said, “No, it’s from my son, and I actually have an identical scar on the other knee.”
Here’s her story: several years ago this young mother “scooped up her toddler son from the swimming pool and began to walk toward a lounge chair. As she stepped onto the tiled patio, her foot slipped on the wet slick surface. At the time she was also seven months pregnant, and it was one of those moments where you feel like you’re moving in slow motion but there’s nothing you can do to stop the fall. Within a split second, she knew her momentum was toppling her forward, and she could either fall and land on top of both her son and her unborn child, or she could fall on her knees.
“Of course, as any loving parent would do, she chose to fall to her knees directly onto the unforgiving concrete. Both her knees were cut injured and she ended up needing stitches, which resulted in scars, but her son and unborn child were both unscathed. “It’s hard for me to tell this story,” writes Christi Brown, “without tearing up, because to me, it serves as a miniscule example of the immense sacrifice and love of Jesus Christ for us.
You see, we are the beloved children of God for whom Jesus took the fall. Christ suffered on the cross and endured unimaginable pain for us. His is the greatest scar story ever told.” The marks that Christ bore remind us, that no one ever achieves anything of lasting significance without getting a few scars along the way. And those scars are also a reminder of just how much Christ loves us. But His scars also tell us one more thing: Christ’s scars are a summons to us to commit ourselves more fully to His work.
I think the saddest commentary on our lives is probably the fact that we bear so few scars for Christ and for His kingdom. When we think about it, our faith really requires very little of us. Many of us tithe and considerable it a sacrifice; but if you follow the example Abraham set by giving 10%, that’s only half of what some of us tip servers who bring us our food in restaurants. We’re here in worship most Sundays, but usually only when something more pressing, like a family outing or a fishing trip or whatever, doesn’t get in the way. It begs the question; would anyone ever accuse us of being fanatics about our religion? What stories do the scars of our work for the kingdom tell?
Jim Congdon in Leadership Magazine tells about a jarring TV commercial that ran sometime back. The commercial featured no dialogue. It simply showed a series of people who have one thing in common, a nasty injury or scar. There’s a cowboy with a huge scar around his eye, and something wrong with the eye itself; a fellow with a bulbous cauliflower ear; another with horribly callused feet. There’s no explanation at all . . . except a Nike swoosh and the words, “Just Do It.”
The ad has been analyzed and criticized widely as being incomprehensible and extreme. But the key to the controversial commercial lies in the background music, says Congdon. Joe Cocker sings, “You are so beautiful . . . to me.” To these athletes the wrestler with the cauliflower ear, the surfer with a shark bite, the bull rider blind in one eye; their injuries are beauty marks from their commitment to their sport. And to their fans, these athletes are beautiful because of their scars. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” says Mike Folino, the ad’s creator.
It reminds me of one last story about the Confederate general John B. Gordon. Gordon directed the last official action against the Union Army on a Sunday morning in April, 1865, at Appomattox when Lee surrendered to Grant. Later Gordon became a candidate for the United States Senate. However, a man who had once served under Gordon became enraged over some political incident. As a member of the legislature, he vowed to do all that he could to defeat Gordon.
At the convention, this man stormed down the aisle to present his vote against Gordon in order to stop his bid for election. As he neared the platform upon which Gordon sat, he happened to look up at his former commander. The once handsome face was now disfigured by battle scars. He recalled the actions in which Gordon had led the troops, actions which had left him permanently disfigured. Overcome with emotion, Gordon’s opponent had tears falling down his cheeks. He declared to the assembly that he could not vote against John Gordon. Then turning to Gordon, he asked the general’s forgiveness. “Forgive me, General. I had forgotten the scars.”
Christ was victorious; in His death He defeated sin and in His resurrection He defeated death, and we share in His triumph; but the victory left Him scarred. That’s how we too will one day see our Lord and Master and it will remind us of His great love for us. I wonder if on that day when we see Him face to face, if He’ll ask to examine us for the scars left in our service to the kingdom. If He does, what will we have to show Him?

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