Surrender

Video that goes with the following Sermon:

“Potential or Kinetic?  Part Three – Have You Surrendered Completely?”
John 20: 19 – 30 (Thomas)
Rev. Rodger P. Sellers
May 26, 2019

To answer the question I’ve been asking for a few weeks now; I want to try something I’ve never quite done before.  Preach a sermon and show a video clip at the same time.  Maybe it’ll work; maybe it’ll be a big mess!  But either way, here goes.

The question is still the same today like it was three weeks ago.  Is the power of Easter changing us, and does that change show?  Is Easter, in becoming kinetic in our lives, causing us to be different then we would otherwise be?  The answer – of course – is obviously yes, and today it leads me to yet another question.  One we’ve sung about for at least a century and a half, which we’ll do again in a few minutes, but one that looks different in light of Scripture than it usually does in our culture.

This question is:  Have you surrendered completely?

It’s a big word, surrender.  One that looks different in differing contexts.  It must have looked – and seemed – almost surreal to those witnessing it firsthand on the decks of the U.S.S. Misouri on September 2, 1945 when Japanese minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signed the formal instrument of surrender while General Richard K. Sutherland watched.  As you watch this event happened, does it seem as odd to you as it does to me that all the Japanese delegation are wearing white gloves to mark the end of one of the bloodiest periods of warfare our world has ever known?  Surrender has always been a strange thing in the military.  One side wins, one side loses and thank God that means war is over.

But there’s another version of surrender in the military; one that most of us this morning only know a caricature of.  That’s the surrender of basic training, when raw recruits show up and are turned into soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen.  Most of us only know what we’ve seen in movies, and much of that bears about as much resemblance to the reality of basic training as a commercial about soap resembles a shower.

The gist is that this kind of surrender is needed to bring people to the point of total obedience in those critical times when following an order immediately and without thinking is absolutely necessary.

That may or may not be true and I’m certainly both not qualified to state any opinion nor am I in a position – on this Sunday when we remember the service and sacrifice of so many – to question the vehicle of that service.  But to fully understand what any member of our military offer through their service, the word surrender – the surrender of so much of their lives to the service of others – must be seen.

There’s another context in which we’ve seen the word surrender for many, many years.  It’s the surrender that happens when a horse is tamed and trained.  For years it was called “breaking” a horse – a term that while it made for good movies, wasn’t really true and didn’t really accomplish the goal sought.

John Wayne may have sold a lot of movies showing a horse’s surrender, but I’m willing to bet that he never really trained many.

The real, or true surrender of a horse to a trainer is closer to the Biblical meaning of the word than it is a part of our cowboy heritage.  Certainly the horse must surrender, but that is a surrender based on love and trust, not on power and fear.

Like a true trainer can manage to take a completely wild Mustang horse, and only 100 days later, ride that horse to a championship, the trust and love that such a surrender entails is where today’s question hits our lives.

We are the horse, and God is the trainer wanting only the best for us – only wanting for us all to reach our fullest potential.

And every year sometime in the Easter season we get a look at Thomas to show us just this.

When the risen Jesus first appears to the disciples  Thomas wasn’t there.  Later his response to their new found hope and excitement led to his nickname.  Doubting Thomas.  “Show me the holes in his hands guys… let me poke around the spear hole in his side… then I’ll believe it.  Until then?  No Way.

So for a week of uncomfortable coexistence, the status quo remains.  Until Jesus shows up again.

“OK Thomas, remember that old saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for?  You might just get it?’  That’s what’s going on.  Here are my hands.  Here’s the hole in my side.  Come on Thomas.  It’s time.  Poke around all you want – don’t doubt, believe.  We’ll wait – I’ve got all the time in the world.”

Here’s the thing to ponder in all this.

Did Jesus INVITE Thomas to touch his scars?  Or did he ORDER him to?  Was this just an open invitation for Thomas to prove to himself what everyone else already knew?  Or was there a compelling element in this exchange?  And believe me, it makes a huge difference.

In the original Greek, the verbs in verse 27 are unusual, and strange.  They are called “middle deponents” – that is, verbs that are passive in form, but active in meaning.  It’s not exactly a command – in Greek that would be the Vocative case.  And a simple invitation would be the simple active indicative.  But this strange Greek structure here – one that doesn’t happen often – is somewhat of a hybrid – where there’s passive form – the subject is being acted upon – Thomas is passive to the object Jesus to diagram the sentence – yet there’s active meaning.  So there is a compelling element without it being a shouted command.

The closest analogy I can give you is this perhaps.  A teacher says to her class, “OK boys and girls, how about quieting down and getting in your seats?”  That’s an invitation.  A Command of the same thing would be “SIT DOWN!  NOW!”

But a middle deponent of this same thing would be something like… “You are sitting down and getting quiet.”  Like “Right now… this is how is going to go… You’re sitting down and not speaking.”

That’s what Jesus is saying to Thomas here.  “Thomas… this is how it’s going to go… You are putting your finger right here in the nail holes in my wrists. You are reaching out your hand and touching this spear hole in my side.  Don’t doubt Thomas… believe… Believe by what you are now doing.”

It’s assumed that Thomas is doing it.  That’s the compelling nature of the verb structure in the sentence.  It’s not merely a simple invitation:  “Thomas, if you really want to, you can touch my scars… if that’s what it takes to dispel your doubts.”  That’s not there folks, so don’t read it into the text.

Ask yourself a question right here.  How much time elapsed between verse 27 and verse 28?  How much time elapsed between this strange form of Greek in verse 27 where Jesus tells Thomas what he’s doing – it’s a command in everything but the formal sense – and verse 28 when Thomas utters those words, “My Lord and My God?”

Have you ever thought of that before?  I’ll bet not.  It’s one of the built in problems with the written text here.  We tend to read it all at once and miss some of the subtle images we need to really connect with the story.

So… How long was it?

And no, we really don’t know, but the verb form I’ve been talking about in itself gives us a clue.  It took as long as it had to for Thomas to give in – to surrender completely to Jesus’ statement – and do something really repulsive.  It’s a horrifying image if you let it come to life.  His bravado of a week before notwithstanding, here Thomas faces his own words and it told by Jesus to do the unthinkable.  Maybe it took just as long as it took the wild Mustang “Sioux” to trust his trainer Kris and let him touch him for the first time?  Or maybe it took the amount of time it takes a raw recruit to realize that his drill sergeant isn’t the enemy, he’s the trainer who wants to teach that recruit how to stay alive in warfare?  How much time does surrender take anyway?

Maybe that’s why Thomas said “My Lord and My God.”  Not so much as a statement of faith as a complete and utter surrender, as he does something he really doesn’t want to do and learns what trust and love are in the bargain.

And THEN… Jesus says… “You believe because you see?”  “You believe because you feel these scars on my wrists?”  “Thomas, what a sad case you are.  Blessed are those who believe without needing such a remedy.”

Are you getting it yet?  To ask one more time if Easter is Potential or kinetic in our lives?  Today, like we’ve done twice before, we answer that question with another one.  Have we surrendered completely?  Like Thomas did a week after Easter?

Sometimes the way to faith is to surrender to the one who saves us – and confronts us with the honest truth of who we are as well as who he is.

That’s a side of Easter that not everyone sees.  The truth is Jesus rose from the grave.  And he’ll meet us anytime, anywhere.  But he won’t fool around.  He meet us honestly, truthfully, or not at all.  He’ll save our lives with the power of God having conquered death.  But he’ll only save them if we give them to him in complete surrender.  It won’t work any other way.

He’s the active force moving in us and through us.  We’re the passive subjects he’s coming in to.  We are the horses and God is the trainer that can bring out the best in all of us.  And don’t forget, like the last scene in the video, that while it’s anything but an equal partnership between us and the Risen Lord Jesus, we are indeed also active participants in what happens when we surrender and come to him in faith.

So, let’s be careful what we wish for… Like Thomas, we might just get it.

Amen.

John 20:24   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.

Psalm 10: 17 – 18:
O LORD, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.

Psalm 37: 23 – 24: Our steps are made firm by the LORD, when he delights in our way; though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the LORD holds us by the hand.