Dear Friends in Christ,
* The Summer of 1973 and Jennie-O Turkey – The summer of ’73 was the longest summer of my life. No other summers come close. My two college friends Mike and Rodney and I spent our days processing turkeys at Jennie-O in Willmar. We made $1.90 an hour, watched the clock continuously, and concluded that conjugating Greek verbs was preferable to Mike used a fork lift to deliver big tanks of turkeys to the line. I spent my days lifting turkeys out of the tank and shoving them over to Frieda who cut their tails off and shoved them over to Liz who weighed them three at a time who passed them along to a man who hung them on a schackle to be sent down the line. Rodney worked at the end of the line with about 10 little old ladies who would package the odds and ends into loaf. More about that later.
1. The process isn't pretty, but the end result is (worthy). That’s true with turkeys, and it is true of us in terms of sanctification, which is the process by which the Holy Spirit makes us holy. Four lessons I learned that summer about turkeys.
1) The dirty work gets done (first). By the time we touched the turkeys, they had been slaughtered and cleaned up. In another place and at an earlier time, blood had been shed, and the processing could now begin. So also for Thomas and those early disciples. As they huddled behind locked doors on that first Easter Sunday evening, their Master had already been crucified, dead, and buried. On a little hill not far away, divine blood had been shed. The once and for all sacrifice had been made completed, debt had been paid, salvation had been accomplished. The processing of the Best News ever could now begin.
A second memory I have of turkey processing is that it happens over and over (and over again). Each employee does the same thing minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Freida keeps on cutting off tails, one after the other. Liz keeps weighing and recording three turkeys at a time, in endless fashion. The same creepy young man with beady eyes stands in back of us sharpening the same knives, at the same pace, with the same back and forth rhythm. So also does Jesus appear again and again to His disciples – first to the women at the empty tomb, then to Mary Magdalene, then to Peter, then to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and still on the first day of the week to the disciples without Thomas and a week later to the disciples including Thomas. 40 days Jesus takes to appear to individuals, to small groups, and at least once to a group of 500 plus.
To this very day, the Holy Spirit keeps on calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying sinners like you and me, even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps her in the one true faith. The words of absolution keep on getting delivered in congregation after congregation, Sunday after Sunday. Baptismal waters, full of grace and mercy, keep on flowing. The written Word of God keeps on getting read and sermons keep on getting preached and doubting sinners keep on hearing and Christian faith keeps on growing. Over and over and over again, our Lord Jesus comes to us with true body and real blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine to forgive our sins. For this one purpose, that we might believe and not doubt that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The best parts part come off (early). As the turkeys began the slow but sure carousel, the legs would first be sliced and soon after that the breast would be cut. Without reservation, I can tell you that you shouldn’t be afraid to eat turkey legs and breasts. So also with the good news of the Gospel. Good News came early to most of us in life, in the Sacrament of Baptism. Good News comes to us the first day of the week, in Divine Service. Good News comes to many growing Christians first thing in the morning as they spend time delighting in the Word of God.
The people at the end of the line won't eat the (loaf). The end of the line at Jennie-O didn’t look good. It didn’t smell good. I can’t imagine that it tasted good. I don’t know if my friend Rodney ever got the smell of that turkey loaf out of his hands! So also does the process of growing up into Jesus Christ include all kinds of trouble.
Secular historians tell us that everyone of those first 11disciples, including Thomas, died a martyr’s death. Even though it took Thomas an extra week to process the Good News, even though he had to see and touch and feel Jesus for Himself, the Holy Spirit did move Thomas from doubt to sure confidence. By God’s grace, he moved from confusion to clarity, from immaturity to maturity, and from believing only what he could see with his own eyes to seeing with the eyes of faith. Tradition tells us that Thomas went down preaching the Gospel. That a Brahmin priest who was upset at Thomas’ success in preaching the Gospel, ran a spear through Thomas while he was kneeling in prayer.
Our second and final point today is simply to remember that we're so much more valuable than (turkeys!) The vision of a turkey processing plant is to get turkeys ready to eat and to turn a profit while doing so. The vision of this Church is so much more than that – it is to mature as disciples for Jesus Christ. It is not only that we would believe that Christ is risen, but that our joy in the Lord would be absolutely contagious in every circumstance of life.
James wrote about this joy producing process when he wrote, “Count it pure joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.”
Paul echoed James when he wrote to the persecuted saints in Rome, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” In our text for today, Jesus displays great patience in nurturing his doubting and frightened disciples towards a point in life where they would believe what they could not see or feel or touch. Even though he had told them plainly that he would die and rise up again on the third day, even though they had seen Him raise up Lazarus, and even though they had watched him raise up the son of the widow of Nain and even though they had seen Jesus raise up the daughter of Jairus from the dead and even though Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which were not written down for us, they hesitated.
And instead of crying out “he who hesitates is lost” Jesus appears in their midst. He speaks peace to their troubled hearts. He invites them to look into His eyes and to touch Him in the flesh and put their hands into His wounds. He is not put off by their questions and their doubts, just the opposite. He meets them exactly where they are. He gives them every reason to believe. And He sends them out, as His Father sent Him.
As Jesus looked Thomas in the eyes, invited him to listen, to touch, to see, and to believe, so does He invite us to let the Good News of resurrection settle into our souls, and to let His peace rule in our hearts. In John 17, Jesus prays to His Father,” Sanctify them in the truth; your Word is truth. As you sent me in the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Thomas engaged in God’s work of sanctification by wanting to see for himself, by wanting to touch and to feel and to spend time with the Son of God. To the extent that we engage with the written and spoken Word of God, and as often as we eat and drink at His Supper, that often we will be sanctified. Luther suggested three rules set forth in Psalm119 as a way of studying theology.
Oratio is prayer that is grounded in the Word of the Lord. It is the voice of faith. Bonhoeffer wrote that “the richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” A theologian named Koeberele said it this way, Prayer escapes the danger of disorder and confusion only when it is enkindled by the Words of Scripture. A prayer that does not stick to Scripture will soon become poor in ideas, poor in faith, poor in love, and will finally die.
Meditatio is the continual study of the Scriptures. It is to delight in the Word of the Lord day and night. Luther compared meditation to a cow chewing its cud. He wrote, “To chew the cud is to take up the Word with delight and meditate with supreme diligence, so that one does not permit it to go into one ear and out the other, but holds it firmly in the heart, swallows it, and absorbs it into the intestines.”
Tentatio is be tested and tried. It happens within the context of a person’s vocation. One author (Pfieffer) wrote that Tentatio is testing, temptation, and trial which occurs when God and His Word intersect with us and our world.” Another pastor (Hein) commented that “Peace with God brings conflict and adversity with the world, the flesh, and the devil.” God uses adversity to draw us away from our own abilities to the gifts He gives in the Gospel and the Sacraments.
The kingdom of God is like a man who believes with all of his heart that Jesus rose up from the dead, and at the same time he cries out, “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief.” He finds the evidence for resurrection to be compelling and at the same time he has serious questions he wishes to ask. He has learned from experience that whereas the world offers promises full of emptiness, Easter offers emptiness full of promise. On his off days, he will believe only that which he can touch and feel, but on his better days He is able to believe even that which he cannot see. Some days he just sort of survives the day and you can hear him muttering, “It’s hard to soar like an eagle around here when you have to work with a bunch of turkeys.” And other days, especially on the days when he has found time to be quiet with the Lord, you just might be able to watch him take off and fly. In Jesus Name. Amen.