They Worshiped, but they Doubted

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, a day known as The Holy Trinity. The gospel reading was Matthew 28:16-20. The elephant in the room this morning was a very contentious vote the congregation took last week. Had the motion before the congregation passed, we would have become a Reconciling in Christ congregation; the motion failed. The congregation is fractured; many are hurt, some are angry.

Matthew tells us that when the disciples saw Jesus, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

In fact, in the original Greek, the word that is translated here as “some” can also just mean “they.” When they saw him, they worshiped him; but they doubted.

I wonder what they doubted. These are the last words in Matthew’s gospel. Right after the resurrection. We have recently heard Luke’s words, and John’s words, about what happened then. This is Matthew’s version. When they saw him, they worshiped him. But they doubted. Did they doubt that this was really Jesus? Did they doubt that he was really alive? Did they doubt that he was he would really be with them? Did they doubt his promises? Perhaps they were just so hurt, traumatized, by his death just a few days earlier. Perhaps they doubted that things could ever be the way they once were. And they were right. They worshiped, but they doubted.

Let me tell you the story of Lucy. It started when I was in seminary, almost twenty years ago. Lucy was a classmate of mine there. So one day, my friend Justin and I were sitting on the porch of one of the seminary buildings, talking about some nonsense or other, and we saw Lucy walk by, walking and talking with another seminarian. And Justin and I made a joke about Lucy and the other guy. I don’t recall what it was. I’m sure it was dumb, and quite possibly crude. I don’t recall because it just wasn’t important to me. But apparently she overheard us. The next day, I got a phone call from her demanding an apology. Justin got one too. Apparently she accepted Justin’s apology, but not mine, because mine didn’t sound sincere. Fair enough; it wasn’t sincere. I really thought she overreacted, and I wasn’t going to apologize for something so stupid.

A few weeks later, I was called into the Dean’s office. Lucy had contacted him to bring sexual harassment charges against me. I was floored. It was just a dumb joke. And I guess the dean agreed, because I just had my wrist slapped, and had to attend a sensitivity seminar. But what a pain. Something so minor, and now my life was affected by it. I was glad when graduation came around, and I wouldn’t have to think about Lucy ever again.

Several years later, I was in the process of being commissioned as an Associate in Ministry in the Southeastern PA Synod. Associates in Ministry, now called Deacons, are people who are called and trained for a ministry of word and service. The last thing I had to do was have a meeting with the bishop. So I went to his office. He and I had some small talk, and then he said, “I received a phone call from a pastor who knew you in seminary. She said that you had sexually harassed her, and she thought I should know about that before agreeing to commission you.” That pastor, of course, was Lucy. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t thought about her in years. Now she was trying to ruin my career. I got my wrist slapped again, and the bishop made it clear that he’d be watching me. I just wanted things back the way they were.

A year or two after that, I attended a retreat for Associates in Ministry and pastors. We were assigned into small groups for part of the retreat. Guess who was there, and assigned to the same small group as I. When Lucy walked into the room and saw me there, she turned around and walked out. I was stunned. It had been six years now. And I made a decision. I decided that I was going to apologize to her, sincerely this time. Whatever I had done or not done, she was hurt, and I wanted to try to end this. I was going to let go of my pride, and apologize. I just wanted things back the way they were. So after the session, I sought her out. I called her name. She turned to me, and said, “What do you want?” I said, “I owe you a long-overdue apology. I’m sorry.” The frown fell off her face, and she said, “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to hear,” and she hugged me. We talked, and we sat together at worship that evening. We never became friends, in fact I never saw her again. But I have never forgotten that moment, or the lessons I learned. I learned that I don’t get to decide how other people take my actions. I don’t get to decide whether she should or shouldn’t be hurt. She was hurt. It was never my intention to cause her six years of pain, but it happened, and I finally realized that reconciliation was more important than pride. I have found apologies easier to give since that day. And I also learned that forgiveness and grace are possible in any circumstance. A six-year grudge fell away in an instant. Things didn’t go back to the way they were. They were better, better in a way I never imagined. In that moment, just in that moment, Lucy and I worshiped, and I did not doubt. I believed in grace and hope.

I told you that story today because there are a lot of people hurting in our midst. Some who are here, some who are not here. And while I believe it was nobody’s intention to cause that hurt, it happened. At this moment, we are a fractured congregation. Fractures can heal, and I truly believe that this one will. But it takes time. Healing and reconciliation will come. But not yet. Forgiveness will come. But not yet. I believe that God has some real plans for us, and that through this, we will grow stronger than we’ve ever been. But not yet. I believe there will be a moment when we will worship together, and not doubt at all. But not yet.

Today we are like the eleven apostles. We worship, but we doubt. We doubt if these words of hope are true. We doubt if we will heal from this. We doubt if it was worth it. Those doubts are normal. But I have great hope that this hope is true. Because you are here. Because even though you doubt, you also worship. You have gathered here. And while today’s attendance may be smaller than usual, you are here. I see people here who disagree with one another. I see people who have hurt one another. I see people here who voted differently last week. But you are here. You are here. Together, worshiping the God who will get us through this.

As time goes on, I may have some suggestions, some guidance for you. But for now, my only suggestion is this: share and listen. Share how you are feeling, honestly. If you are feeling hurt, share that, but as much as you can, try not to lash out at others while you do so. And if someone shares their feelings, honor them. Try not to tell them they shouldn’t feel that way. Let them have their feelings. And if someone does lash out at you, as much as you can, try not to respond in kind.

And one more thing: continue to worship together. Even though you doubt, worship together. Worship the God who promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age. I promise you, the age is not over yet. Christ is still here. The Holy Spirit is still flowing. There is healing ahead.

Amen.

 

3 comments

  • So I guess the part about not letting the sun go down on a grievance didn’t really apply? Why did it take six years? It seems your story could be understood this way:
    “I’m a guy. I made a joke. The girl thought it wasn’t funny. I thought it wasn’t a big deal. She wanted an apology. I felt she didn’t deserve one because, you know, I’m a guy and I’m right and I don’t have those annoying emotions. I left her hanging for six years because I felt I was right and my stubborn pride puffed me up. Eventually, I got tired of the inconvenience, so I said I was sorry. She forgave me.” You know, you could have saved yourself six years of frustration if you had just crucified that pride to the cross of Christ in the first place and apologized with an ounce of compassion and sympathy.
    I’m in a denomination where churches don’t even think about letting women be pastors / ministers / preachers in the first place – women are more often than not the butt of any number of jokes involving emotion and you might not realize how your male privilege and a joke at a woman’s expense is just par for the course here – read these comments: http://juniaproject.com/5-reasons-not-use-gender-based-jokes-pulpit/
    And then put yourself in Lucy’s shoes – how would you feel (yes, guys can feel emotions, too) were someone to get a laugh out of something they said that hurt you and how belittled would you feel if that jerk wouldn’t say he was sorry for six years?

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    • You are absolutely right. I was arrogant and inconsiderate. I did not recognize my male privilege at the time. I was a jerk. I still am, but I am trying to grow and get better.

      In the congregation where I preached this, I had a very specific reason for framing the story in this way, and in that setting I regularly check and refer to my privilege. But there’s no way someone reading this sermon here on WordPress would know that. Perhaps I should have made some significant changes before posting it here.

      I am sorry that I upset you. It was not my intention. Thank you for pointing out ways I can be more thoughtful going forward.

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      • So, you’re a Lutheran? I know a kid from the Lutheran church … though he’s from Germany so he just called it church. I also know that there’s not a single Lutheran church in this county. So I don’t have a lot of experience with the denomination or know a lot about the differences between the kinds of Lutheran churches.

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