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Surprise, Surprise

John 20:19-31

The Rev. Jon Roberts

22 April


Grace Episcopal Church

Monroe, LA

19 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!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he 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.” 26 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!” 27 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.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


Albert Eistein exits the train in London, 1933

Surprise, surprise;
in order to know where you are going,
you need to see Jesus with your own eyes.[1]

In January 2000 Time Magazine honored the great physicist Albert Einstein as the Man of the Century. This didn't come too much of a surprise to the public. He came up with the famous E=mc2. His findings in the photoelectric effect led to the quantum theory. Albert was a quantifiable soul, who pondered the many mysteries of life and spent his life calculating them. But there was a telling story about him that many may not know. Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his pocket. He couldn't find his ticket, so he reached in his trouser pockets. It wasn't there. He looked in his briefcase but couldn't find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn't find it. The conductor said, "Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I'm sure you bought a ticket. Don't worry about it." Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned and saw the great physicist, now on his hands and knees, looking under the seat for his ticket. The conductor rushed back and said, “Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein don't worry, I know who you are; no problem. You don't need a ticket. I'm sure you bought one." Einstein looked at him and said, "Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don't know is where I'm going."[2]

Someone once said, "Life without God is like an un-sharpened pencil - it has no point."[2] You may know who you are, but if you do not know where you are going, there is no point to life.

For the Christian there should be no surprises who we are. For the Christian there should be no surprises where we are going. When we get apprehensive; when we are worried; perhaps it is best to return to our hands and knees, not in a frantic sense of being lost, but rather in prayer, fixing our eyes once more on the Savior. It is most disturbing to the other passengers in life when they see a renowned person who is a Christian, no less, yet seen on the floor, worried about where they are going. But life for us is not about punching a ticket. Life is about being redeemed in the saving grace of God. From God do we sing a new song and find complete peace. It is about Him giving us daily assurances we are on track. If only we could touch and hold His hand, we would promise never to let go. Life is a series of episodes of both relaxation and worry. We move back and forth between these two postures, so it seems. It is only when we keep our eyes set on Jesus, that we are saved from all our troubles. "If we only have Jesus...surprise, surprise." How often said, but not done. Like an un-sharpened pencil - it has no point.

The great conductor came up the aisle and stood among them. They knew who they were, but they forgot where they were going. Eleven disciples were frightened. Then, surprise came about them. Jesus stood among them. Scripture testifies that the disciples thought they were seeing a spirit. Perhaps they were too focused on their troubles, that their sight was blurred. They were troubled and confused. Jesus noticed the anxiety in their hearts. To assure them they were not seeing a ghost, he reached over and took a piece of broiled fish. He put it to his mouth and ate it. Surely this lends proof to a supernatural occurrence. It was hard to formulate. It’s not empirical. This is way beyond E=mc2.
This is our problem.

We try too hard to analyze our situation and rush into all the possible, worst case scenarios. We need to verify things in life over and over again. We take the ticket and look at it, then stick it in our shirt pocket. Minutes later, we take it out, look at it, then stick it in our purse. Still later, we take it out and put it in our pant's pocket. Later still, we forget, Oh where did we put it? It was like this for the disciples. They continued to go back and forth. "Now didn't he say he would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead?" No, he said the Christ would do this. Peter chimes in saying, Jesus is the “Christ.” Moses and Isaiah, the great prophets, stretched out their hands and parted seas and overcame invaders. Jesus was not like that. Wasn't there something greater for him to show us? So quickly, his life was taken. We were robbed. What bitter remorse. How can he come back? Who says three days is really more like three years? Surprise, surprise, when he returned and stood in their midst, for them to marvel with their own eyes. He retold the account of Old and became living proof.

Years later, we see how important this return was. It made a definite impact on those disciples and they vowed to always keep their sight on Jesus. We find Peter in Jerusalem, being charged by Annas the High Priest of blasphemy, as Peter preaches that Jesus was indeed the Christ. Everyone forgot the cripple who was healed by Jesus. Perhaps Peter was referring to his own helplessness, reflecting on that fateful evening when asked three times, if he was one of Jesus' disciples. How crippled he must have felt not to testify on his behalf then. From their witness, and countless other renowned Christians seen on hands and knees, we now have the relation to where we are going. We are going to God who came down to us, to conduct our passage and lead us home. He, who lived among us in the flesh continues to do so by His Holy Spirit, by the Blessed Sacrament, by our common fellowship.

Be sharpened in your faith in God. Know that he is always moving in your midst, reminding you of who you are and where you are going. Surprise, surprise; in order to know where you are going, you simply need to see Jesus with your own eyes.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Story by Billy Graham, Charlotte Conference of Christian leaders, Jan. 2000.
[3] Unknown

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