“The Burning Bush”
A sermon by parishioner, Patrick Foster
The Easter season is upon us and among the traditions we follow at this time of year is reading the words of the Apostle John, specifically Chapter 20, regarding the resurrection of Jesus.
We all know the story. Jesus has died and is risen from the dead. Some of his disciples have seen him, but one, Thomas, has not. And he tells the other disciples that he doesn’t believe what they say and will only believe if he sees Jesus with his own eyes, puts his fingers in the holes in Jesus’s hands and puts his own hand inside the gaping wound in Jesus’s side. For all this he is known to us as Doubting Thomas.
When I first read this story, I wondered why Thomas had any doubts. After all he had walked with Christ, he talked with him, heard him say amazing things, saw with his own eyes miracles that cannot be explained any way other than as miracles, and yet when push came to shove, he still had doubts. Why was that? Was he fickle? Faithless? Why couldn’t he believe?
Well, let me tell you my own story.
More than thirty years ago I had what’s known as a ‘Burning Bush’ moment. I’ve never told anyone about it until today.
At the time I was at the lowest point of my life emotionally. I had been severely depressed for months. I lived in constant fear of dying; the thought of dying haunted my every waking moment. Perversely, I also lived in fear of living – because I was afraid of the future and what it held for me. I had somehow convinced myself that by the time I was sixty years old I’d be living in a cardboard box over a steam grate – homeless and unloved. I had no real belief in God; I felt that if there was a God, he had it in for me because I was a terrible sinner. I saw Him only as a punishing God.
And so, I had reached this lowest point of my existence. It was what some people call the stepping off point; literally, to be or not to be. With a desperation known only to a drowning man, and with nowhere else to turn to, I finally reached out to God and asked him to either kill me or heal me – I couldn’t go on living as I was. I promised that if he would accept me, I would accept him.
Suddenly a peculiar feeling came over me, something that I’ve never felt before or since. I felt as if I was an empty vessel. And then I felt my empty self being filled up with the Holy Spirit. Although the temperature in the storage building where I was standing was about 40 degrees I felt a sudden warmth, like being nestled with a warm blanket. I had a distinct feeling of well-being that I’d never known before.
And then suddenly I heard a voice inside my head. Although I already knew the answer, I asked it if it was God. It answered yes and told me he did not want me to worry anymore. But I still had my morbid fear of death and without really thinking about it I asked God when I was going to die. And He told me.
Still sick with worry about the future, I then cried out “What’s going to happen to me?” And at that moment God told me what my future held. “You’re going to be alright” he said. That’s it – that was all he told me about my future life. But it was enough. “You’re going to be alright.”
He didn’t tell me I was going to change careers, become a successful writer or be married to the woman I love for 42 years. No. He didn’t tell me any of that. “You’re going to be alright” was it. And it was enough. I’ve seldom had cause to worry since that day.
Now, I get the sense that one or two of you may be wondering exactly what God’s answer was when I asked him to tell me when I was going to die. I will tell you because it’s at the heart of my story. When I asked God when I was going to die, he told me in a gentle voice “You will live the entire number of years that have been allotted to you, and when the time comes, I will bring you home.”
And that’s how I know it was God talking. I could never produce an answer like that if I took a year trying to compose it. Never. I’m not that smart. It’s just not the sort of thing I could conceive of. It was a statement so full of wisdom and compassion that I realized only God could have said it. And so, I don’t have any idea of the exact year or month of my death, only that I will get my fair share of life. And that is enough.
Now, you would think any person who was given so great a gift would never have cause to doubt God again. But sometimes I do. Sometimes I wonder – was that real? Or was it a dream that I took to be real? I wasn’t ill, so I know it wasn’t a hallucination. I don’t drink or do drugs, so I know it wasn’t that.
It was a real event.
Yet I am human and human beings are sometimes fickle. Humans are sometime faithless, and all of us have feet of clay.
My faith is like a tide. Sometimes it’s strong and coming into shore with a mighty purpose. And sometimes it’s weak and retreating out to sea. And so, I believe, was Thomas’s faith. He had his doubts because he was human and human beings are fickle, faithless and have feet of clay. It is our lot.
So, we should not think badly of Thomas. He was as human as you or I. He was as full of contradictions and faults, and as full of mixed-up emotions, as full of doubts and fears as any one of us. He was a man of God, yes – but he was a man, too.
So, let’s accept Thomas’s humanity. And let’s forgive him his doubts, as we forgive others who have doubts, and as we forgive ourselves for our own doubts. We are all children of the same community, children of the same father, and we share a common weakness, just as we share a common greatness.
So go forth today rejoicing in the Lord. You’re going to be alright.