Sermons at St. John's Episcopal Church
Nicknames, or The Grind| The Rev. Jesse W. Lebus
Nicknames, or The Grind
Growing up in Kentucky, in my circle of friends, no one had immunity from nicknames; they were pervasive. Both males and females were subject to the tribal impulse to latch on to one particular trait, or one finite event and never let you forget.
There was Heavy Hands, Bowhead, Off-Road, Smart Monkey, Scary Monster, Mean Cousin Ike and Creeper.
Usually they were short and snappy, but sometimes not. Like our friend Matt “Can I Have a Bite” Thompson. Or my friend Kristin, who arrived at an all-ages concert donning a new short hair-do. With in a matter of minutes she became “Who’s the New Guy?”
The nicknames we pinned on each other were usually teasing and humbling, to say the least. Even Grateful Dave. He wasn’t particularly thankful, but he did hate the Grateful Dead.
They were often drawn from singular one-off events, like the time when my rather wavy hair grew out and I brushed it one day after a shower.
Poof. It was practically standing on end. Whoever was sleeping on the couch that morning, opened their eyes, looked at me and said, “What’s up Big Weave?” He rolled over and went back to sleep… the nickname did not. Currently, among this group of lifelong friends, I’m known as Rev. Big Weave.
So that’s the thing about nicknames, They’re usually unflattering; they often reflect singular instances and, finally, they’re hard to shake.
If the apostles were anything like my friends it wouldn’t have taken long before they were really laying into Thomas. “Oh look doubting Thomas decided to join us…” “Hey, doubting Thomas, pass the bread…” “I doubt you’ll believe me Thomas, but I caught a fish this big…”
Maybe it wasn’t the apostles, but whoever coined this rather scandalous moniker, whether Biblical translators and scholars, or preachers and teachers, it’s come down through the ages…
One reasonable statement, “Unless I see and feel… I will not believe." And for two millennia he’s doubting Thomas. No one calls him the twin, you know, just Doubting Thomas.
But, despite their sticking power, rarely do nicknames reflect a person’s whole character. Yes, Matt “Can I have a bite” Thompson might’ve had a penchant for asking for a taste of your food, but there’s more to him than that.
Scary monster… not scary at all. Creeper… not really a creep. Mean Cousin Ike. Not mean, not even a cousin.
Likewise, there was more to Thomas then the nickname implies. In the first three Gospels, Thomas is nothing more than a name, but in John’s Gospel, we find a disciple, a person, dynamic and whole.
When Lazarus became ill, Jesus wanted to return to Judea, where he knew his life would be threatened. "Let us also go,” Thomas told the other disciples, “that we may die with Him.” He did go and his devotion might have even convinced the others to follow.
At the Passover before his death, Jesus told the disciples that he would be leaving them. Not afraid to show his ignorance, Thomas asked, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?" This statement and question reveal him to be a seeker of truth and understanding.
In this morning’s gospel, Thomas, a devoted apostle and seeker, only requested to experience what his fellow disciples had the privilege to experience. To see and feel, that he too could believe. Seems a bit unfair to remember him only as a doubter.
Baseball season started this week. Our New York teams have performed favorably but any fan will tell you it’s too early to be excited, too early to do anything but watch. With a 162 to game season stretched over 7 months, not including post season, the entirety of April is considered too early.
162 games provide a ball player with plenty of opportunities to make a mistake. Even the best players can’t escape the occasional fielding error, strikeout, balk or walk.
These 162 games and their endless number of plays and at bats are what coaches, players and fans call the grind. Through every at bat and defensive play, through every game and every week… traveling back and forth across the country… all they can hope for is to shake off the mistakes and play with relative consistency.
A crucial trait of every MLB player, regardless of their position on the team, is the fortitude to avoid being defined by their last mistake. It’s a characteristic that requires inner strength and poise… it’s a characteristic required of those of us who would believe in Christ.
When Jesus said “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe," it wasn’t a criticism of those who had seen but a message for those of us who won’t see. “You won’t see me as the disciples have seen me, you won’t feel me as the disciples have felt me,” says Jesus, “but believing in me, that I am risen...and that will free you.”
We are, as disciples, living the grind… we encounter, day in and day out, opportunities to lose faith, moments where our capacity to believe seems to fade. Even the most faithful among us make bad calls, strike out and drop the ball. But Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection have freed us from our last mistake.
Christ has conquered death, closed the yawning gates of hell. We are no longer prisoners to old stories, we are free to tell new stories about ourselves… so seek the Lord where he can be found and shake-off that old nickname, in Christ we have a new name, Child of God, inheritor of the kingdom, beloved! May we show forth in our lives what we profess in faith!
Alleluia, the lord is risen.