I decided to watch "Nothing Sacred" last night because of Kevin McDonough's review in which he wrote: "TV sermons don't come better than Father Leo's (Brad Sullivan) homily about faith, doubt and human frailty on an impressive episode..." I am always on the lookout for good sermons and just had to watch. I am glad I did.
Father Leo is an older priest who was replaced as the head pastor of the St. Thomas Church by the show's lead character, Father Ray. In this episode, members of Ray's dysfunctional family descend upon the parish. Ray's dad has just shot and wounded his ex-convict son who was breaking and entering into his father's house. Ray's mother decides to leave his father. Ray seems to be the only one in the family that "has it together." Father Leo recognizes that Ray is not as "together" as he appears. He tries to encourage Ray to let down his front and show his inner pain. Ray will hear nothing of it.
Father Leo's sermon comes when he steps in for a younger priest who is unable to conduct the morning mass. The sermon is short and to the point. Father Leo confesses that he gave up preaching years before when he began to doubt the resurrection of Christ. He indicated that what gave him difficulty was that God raised Christ with the wounds of crucifixion still present. If God loved His Son, why not raise him with the wounds healed? Leo reflected that the apostle for whom his church was named also had trouble believing in the resurrection, but the risen Christ appeared to Thomas. Jesus invited Thomas to feel his wounds, to put his hands into them. Thomas did, and he believed. Father Leo concluded that that is what wounds are for. Wounds are the points where we can enter the lives of other people.
Leo referred to the other figures depicted in artistic portrayals of the resurrection---the soldiers. They have no visible wounds. They are protected by armor. "But," Leo pointed out, "they slept through the resurrection." Father Leo's last admonition: "Don't sleep through the resurrection!"
Ray's number is legion. Most of us put up a front, pretending that we have it all together, that we have no wounds or inner pain. We are fearful that if we reveal our wounds we will open ourselves to further injury (the danger should not be totally discounted). But the front is a lie. In his book, Happiness Is a Serious Problem, Dennis Prager quotes Helen Telushkin, the mother of a friend: "The only happy people I know are people I don't know well." This is no doubt an exaggeration, but it is true that beneath most people's happy exterior are wounds.
In Christ, God let us see His wounds (and yes, we are the ones who wounded Him). By doing so, God let us into His life. The truth is that God could not minister to us from a position of strength but only from weakness, as a "suffering servant." It is the paradox to which Paul pointed---the cross is "the power of God." If God could not minister without revealing His wounds, how can we? The members of Alcoholics Anonymous know the truth of this. They minister to one another not out of strength but out of a common weakness. The truth is that most ministry occurs out of weakness, not from a stance of strength. Let down your armor. Let God and others in. Let the power of God be revealed in and through you. "Don't sleep through the resurrection!"
©1998 C. David Hess