St. Matthew’s Sermon 04-23-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 04-23-2017

Oh –My – God

Acts 2:14a, 22-32, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

It has been some time now, perhaps a decade or more but certainly since my time in seminary, I’ve been contemplating the difference between the personal and the communal aspects of our faith. Perhaps some of you noticed that in the two times we at St. Matthews hosted ECUC Lenten services, I changed the wording of the confession and the “New Creed” using singular personal pronouns; putting “I” in place of “we”; as in “I” recognize and confess that “I” have failed, and “I” believe in God who has created and is creating…

If my memory serves me well I first thought about this when reading the book of Isaiah where I found the words “The Lord said: Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote…”(29:13)

I had to look up that seldom used word “rote” and found it defined as “the use of memory usually with little intelligence; mechanical or unthinking; routine or repetition” [Webster] and “the process of learning something by repetition, rather than really understanding it” [Cambridge] with a list of synonyms including “mechanically, automatically, unthinkingly, mindlessly”.

Then I thought about how I, through repetition every Sunday, could recite the Lord’s Prayer and the Nicene Creed before I could even read, much less fully understand; and how mechanical and mindless it had become for me; even to the point that when I prayed privately I would still use the plural; “Our Father, who art in Heaven…”; “We believe in one God the Father almighty…” Recognizing this helped me to be more mind-full when in prayer and in other aspects of worship.

It seems a simple thing, in many ways it may not seem all that important, yet there is much to be said about the importance of considering the difference between the personal / singular and the communal / plural.

On the plural side: we have the ever important sense of community. Christianity, after all, is a communal religion; emphasizing support for one another in all aspects of our earthly and spiritual lives; be it sharing sustenance of food, drink, and shelter or spiritual encouragement when our faith weakens or when we are tempted to go astray.

In terms of confession: in the plural we have the awareness that we are not alone in our failures and shortcomings. We know that everyone misses the mark and we share in God’s grace in forgiveness.

 In the plural we also have the awareness that God loves the whole world and sent Christ to save us all. And we have the vision provided by Paul that we make up the functional body of Christ that is “made up of many members”. And, with that, we find the need for the plural as the body of Christ cannot function fully without all its members and no one member can function independently of the others.

And in the plural we have the power of numbers that brings the spiritual into the earthly with more commitment and with stronger bonds than any one individual could do alone.

Then, in the singular: Besides the need to be mindful as I mentioned earlier, we have the effect of making it personal; of building and sensing a one-on-one relationship with God and Christ complete with the fulfilling awareness that God so loves me that he sent his Son to save me from sin and death and to give me eternal life!

In terms of confession: using the singular reminds us of our personal responsibility to the community of the Church and to the rest of the world. This becomes very important when we realize that much of what Christ identifies as sin isn’t what we do that hurts the self (other than that which separates us from God), but what we do (or leave undone) that harms others(especially  that which separates them from God).

And, in the singular, we find the personal responsibility to use our individual gifts toward the fulfilling of the functional body of Christ!


These are just a few examples, you can think of your own, and these are only the positives of both sides; there are negatives too.

One negative that is in my mind at this moment is how being overly immersed in the plural allows us to neglect our personal responsibility to the community; how we can sometimes just move with the crowd without regard to the right or wrong of that movement.

Likewise, being too immersed in the community can allow us to hide ourselves in the crowd; becoming too comfortable with our sin (after all, we’re all sinners) and to become complacent with the successes and failures of the community.

And, probably the worst of all is to be too singular; being concerned only with our personal salvation with no regard whatsoever to the needs of others. The attitude that says I’m saved, if you’re not, what’s that to me?


Contemplating this again in this last week I find that, like most concerns in earthly and spiritual life, the truth isn’t found in one side or the other; it’s not all about the individual nor is it all about the community; it’s about finding the balance where the community functions at its best, not in spite of the individuals, but because of the individuals that make it up.

This can be seen in today’s Gospel reading.

In the very first verse we find the disciples; the community; hiding in fear behind locked doors. This is not a good representation of the Church, the functioning body of Christ. Then, Christ appears to them, shows them his wounds and, as it is written, they “rejoiced when they saw the Lord”.

Now, we’re not told where Thomas was at the time but we do know he wasn’t hiding in the crowd of the community with the community. Later, when he was with them the others told him that they had seen the Lord but he would not believe them.

Then, a week later, Jesus appears to them again, still hiding behind locked doors. But this time Thomas is there also. Jesus shows him his wounds just like he had the others before, and Thomas responds with the words “My Lord and my God”!


The community of disciples were pleased and they “rejoiced when they saw the Lord”; but it is Thomas, the individual, who makes the most important pronouncement (besides Christ himself) in the story saying “My Lord and my God”! An individual, standing within the community, with just five words brings the whole Gospel together proclaiming Christ and God to be one! The singular and the plural are brought to fulfillment in the earthly and in the divine.



John 20:19-31
20:19 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.”
20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
20:25 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.”
20:26 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.”
20:27 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.”
20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
20:29 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.”
20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
20:31 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.


Acts 2:14a, 22-32
2:14a But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,
2:22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know-
2:23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.
2:24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.
2:25 For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
2:26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.
2:27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption.
2:28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
2:29 “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
2:30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne.
2:31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
2:32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

Psalm 16
16:1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
16:2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
16:3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.
16:4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.
16:5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
16:6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
16:7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
16:8 I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
16:9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.
16:10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
16:11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

1 Peter 1:3-9
1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1:4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
1:5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1:6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials,
1:7 so that the genuineness of your faith–being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1:8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
1:9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.