A man named Bob Ebeling thought he was a loser.
Mr. Ebeling was an engineer on the Challenger Space Shuttle and discovered that the O-ring seals in the rocket might not hold up in the cold temperatures of the 1986 launch.
He and fellow engineers pleaded with NASA to stop the launch, but they decided to go ahead anyways.
He went home, knowing the shuttle would explode. “And it did, 73 seconds after liftoff. Seven astronauts died.” (NPR 2/25/2016)
In an interview with National Public Radio, Mr. Ebeling shared that for thirty years has been carrying the guilt and the burden of the loss of life on that day.
Lots of people told him that it wasn’t his fault…
That he had done everything he could…
But he couldn’t forgive himself.
He believed one of the mistakes God made was picking him for the job.
And because NASA and the contractor in charge of the launch had never given him confirmation that he had done the right thing, he didn’t believe it.
What fascinates me about this story is that Mr. Ebeling did the right thing. He told the truth. He did everything he could to prevent the launch. And after his story first aired in January of this year, calls and letters poured in to his home. People who had been close to him. People who had worked with him. Complete strangers who had been moved to write and let him know that he wasn’t a loser, but a hero.
And yet, he wouldn’t believe… he couldn’t forgive himself…
Unless there was a specific act of proof – a call or a letter from NASA themselves.
I hear in his story the same kind of need to know and to find proof that I hear in our gospel lesson this morning.
Women trek to the tomb are the break of dawn. And they have no idea what to make of the stone rolled away. The body of their Lord is no longer there. What they are experiencing doesn’t make any sense until the angels appear and remind them what Jesus had told them: that on the third day, he would rise. And they remember.
Can you imagine their amazement?
They rush back to the disciples and tell everyone about what they have discovered. They tell them about the tomb. They tell the crowd: He Is Risen!!!!
And no one believes them.
They need proof.
They need something more concrete.
They need to see it to believe it.
And so Peter runs to the tomb himself, looks inside, and sees nothing but a cloth.
And the scripture says… he returned home, wondering at what had happened
But what I find amazing is that this account leaves out a key detail: It never says he believes.
And I think if I had showed up there, I would have been surprised and amazed, but I’m not sure I would totally understand what had happened.
I think he was unsure.
Filled with doubt and questions.
He didn’t have enough proof to believe that what the ladies had told him was true.
Unless there was a specific act of proof…
Friends, it isn’t easy to believe the story that we share with you this morning.
Resurrection? Yeah, right.
We haven’t seen it or experienced it.
We can’t go back in time and run to the tomb ourselves.
Angels aren’t popping in to worship this morning to tell us how it is.
If even the disciples had a hard time believing, how are we supposed to understand this good news?
Where is the proof? Where is the concrete evidence?
Mr. Ebling wanted a word from specific people in order to forgive himself.
And he got it. He got a call on the phone from one of the vice presidents for the contractor, Thiokol who told Mr. Ebling – you did all that you could do. (NPR)
And George Hardy, a NASA official involved in the Challenger loss wrote to Mr. Ebeling – “You and your colleagues did everything that was expected of you.”
And it started to make a difference.
And then came a statement from NASA itself: “We honor [the Challenger astronauts] not through bearing the burden of their loss, but by constantly reminding each other to remain vigilant… and to listen to those like Mr. Ebeling who have the courage to speak up so that our astronauts can safely carry out their missions.”
That was it. That was the thing he wanted to see and hear. The proof he needed to let go of his burden of guilt.
The disciples wanted to see it with their own eyes… to touch their Rabbi with their own fingers.
And Jesus appeared to them.
He showed them his hands and feet. He ate a piece of fish with them. He personally reminded them of everything he had said – that he was supposed to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.
They got the proof they wanted.
But there is something that those disciples didn’t quite understand…
something that Mr. Ebeling didn’t quite understand…
something that we don’t quite understand whenever we are looking for a specific piece of proof or evidence… something concrete to demonstrate truth.
Yes, Jesus gives them the proof they wanted – he shows them his physical resurrected self – but the proof they needed was still to come.
Jesus isn’t there to show them his body. He is there to send them forth to live out his message.
“A change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Look, I’m sending you to what my Father promised.”
What if we have it all wrong?
We always say, “seeing is believing.”
But what if DOING is believing?
What if in the very act of living out the resurrection and the good news of Jesus Christ we find the proof we are looking for?
What if we are looking for proof instead of living out the proof with our very selves?
You see, Jesus, didn’t ask us to intellectually understand the resurrection.
He didn’t ask us to be able to explain it scientifically.
He doesn’t want us to have a philosophical debate with people about it.
Jesus wants us to live it.
To change our hearts and our lives.
To go out in the world and turn it upside down.
He started a resurrection insurrection and Jesus rebelled against the powers of evil, sin and death… and now he calls us to follow him in turning the forces of destruction on their heads.
It is in the process of living it, that we discover just how true and real the power of the resurrection is.
Over the last few weeks here at church we have been reading this book, Renegade Gospel. And it hasn’t been an easy book. The author has challenged us time and time again to get out there and live our faith!!!
That has been a hard message to swallow, because so many of us feel like we aren’t doing as much as Mike Slaughter asks of us. We feel guilty because we don’t go as far as he asks us to go. We aren’t sure we are ready to give it our all.
But what Slaughter reminds us in the very last chapter is “that an abundance of faith is not necessary.” Jesus told the disciples that faith as small as a mustard seed could change the world. “It’s not about how much faith you have, but how much of what you have that you commit to action.”
You don’t have to believe every single word of the gospel to live out the power of resurrection.
You can have all kinds of doubts and questions and you can still live out the power of the resurrection.
I’m begging you… don’t sit back, waiting for definitive concrete proof before you decide to become a Christian.
I’m not sure it’s there.
But what I do know is that when I live out my teeny tiny little mustard seed faith and trust in the power of resurrection, I find intangible, mysterious, holy truth everywhere.
I find it in this room when I hear the stories of healing in this life and in the celebration of a life that will continue in the next.
I find in in a letter I received from one of you this very morning that describes how you have awakened to a new understanding of faith and discipleship.
I find it at the food pantry in the hope that comes to life on the face of a mom who was desperate.
I find it in the pile of goods and sleeping bags and food that are outside the sanctuary, waiting to be delivered to homeless people through Joppa.
I find it in the discovery on a child’s face when they learn a new word.
Mike Slaughter writes that “the resurrected Jesus revealed himself to his followers in a very personal and real way. But he made clear its impossible to know him apart from the commitment to become intimately involved in his life and mission. Intentional participation in his life and mission is part and parcel of faith. Faith is a verb!!!”
So friends, don’t wait for proof.
Don’t spend thirty years of your life waiting for some kind of external validation.
Just follow Jesus.
Go where he sends us.
Join the incredible movement to transform this world!
Live it out by showing forgiveness and grace to every person you meet.
Live it out by praying for the sick.
Live it out by loving the unloveable.
Live it out by holding the hand of someone who is dying.
And you will find the proof you are looking for…
Because Christ is risen!