If You Don’t Know Now

Jn 20:19-31
3/30/08

The story of Doubting Thomas reminds us that the Church early on valued reason and questioning and also asserted the close relationship between the spiritual and the physical (something I talked about a couple of weeks ago). We live in the real world and stumble along on our pilgrimage of faith. God does not dismiss us for having doubt or for questioning or for examining closely His creation (just as Jesus did not dismiss or ridicule Thomas.)

Now I want to tell you a couple of stories. My mother-in-law, Gladys, whose real name was Mary, had a strong faith, but in things in the everyday world she was “just not quite sure.” She resisted Faye and my marrying, since she was Roman Catholic. However, she came to my ordination and eventually I grew on her, sort of like a wart. In her last ten years she received communion from me. Unfortunately when she was 94 she was a little forgetful. One day I was visiting her and she said, “Now what is it you do?” “Well Mary,” I replied, “what do you think I do.” Mary cocked her finger and pointed at my clerical collar. “I know,” she said, “You do odd jobs!” “Mary, I think you are right,” I replied. To be a priest is to try to combine wisdom and revelation and the balance is often “odd.”

Years ago I was working in a church where there was a parishioner who liked to play “the skeptic.” We had many interesting conversations, but it got to be a little tedious. One day I got a call from his son who told me that my friend was in the hospital and was about to undergo a serious brain operation. “Would I go see him?” the son asked. “Certainly,” I replied.

When I got there my friend’s head was bandaged turban-like. His family was anxiously gathered. “Bart,” he said, “they are going to open me up and they might either kill me or seriously impair me. What does the Church have to say to me in this situation?”

I thought for a while, and not liking “foxhole conversions,” I replied, “John, if you don’t know now, I can’t tell you.” There was a long silence. I continued, “You have gone to church every Sunday for thirty years. You have heard the scriptures read and the Gospel preached. I cannot give you a Cliff Notes edition of what you already know. You are simply going to have to winnow through what is meaningful for you and what is not. If you don’t know now, I can’t tell you.”

John smiled and said, “Bart, if you had said anything else I would not have believed you.” I left feeling that I probably should have handled things differently (better) but I had to tell it like it is. Fortunately he recovered and went on to live a normal life.

This is my last Sunday after eighteen years here at St. John’s. This is my last sermon. I have been thinking about what I should say at this valedictorian moment. You have heard my stories and my thoughts on scripture and life. I should preach a stem-winder that you will never forget, but that would not fit the kind of relationship we have had. It would seem artificial. Instead, I want to say, “If you don’t know now, I can’t tell you.”

If you don’t know that St. John’s is “a place to find and be found by God,” I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that we “seek to serve Christ in all persons,” I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that I have preached the Gospel that Christ Jesus is the Son of God, died for our sins, rose from the dead and witnesses to eternal life, I can’t tell you anew.

If you don’t know now that in the sacraments you receive the body and blood of Christ and He lives in you and you in Him, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that you are to love one another, as Christ loves us, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that I believe that it is more important how you treat people than whether you or what you do is successful, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that God has a sense of humor and you had better have one too, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that I think that the stories in the Bible and particularly in the New Testament are our contemporary stories, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that I think the stories in the New Testament are like diamonds and you have to look at all the facets or sides of the stories to see the deep beauty and value in them, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that Jesus combines wisdom (as in Wisdom literature) with revelation (as in the prophets) in His parables, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that Jesus consistently condemns hypocrisy on any level, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that evil and sin are prevalent in our world and in our lives, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that Jesus forgives us when we sin and fail and fall, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that through hearing the Gospel every week, allowing the liturgy to move you through the cycles and phases of life, praying and spending one hour a week thinking about what religion and God have to say about you and life makes a real difference in your ability to handle things, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that you are never alone, that God is steadfast, I can’t tell you.

If you do not know that even in the midst of loss, failure, despair and pain there also is fulfillment, joy and beauty in the world, I cannot tell you.

If you do not know that it is hope, fulfillment, joy, beauty and love that God wants for you, I can’t tell you.

If you do not know that I am awed by how valiantly you bear your pain and grief and sorrow and other burdens when you come to the communion rail and to the healing services, I can’t tell you.

If you do not know now that small miracles happen at St. John’s every day, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that I do “odd jobs” and feel incredibly blessed to have been your priest for eighteen years, I can’t tell you.

If you don’t know that I love you, I can’t tell you.

God bless you. Amen.