The Whole Iceberg

Passage: Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31
Date: April 23, 2006
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
Guest Preacher:

Having trouble playing the audio? download the mp3


Six sevenths of most icebergs lie below the surface of the water. That's what my research showed. And there are whole teams of experts dedicated to iceberg detection. And STILL whole ships have been destroyed by what they have never seen.

Icebergs are a powerful image we can use to talk about the events of our lives. As we struggle to make sense of things that have happened to us as we try to communicate our faith as we explore our longings there is the powerful real and the unseen below the surface.

At an Exploring Membership Class a year or so ago we had an experience with an iceberg photograph that I will not forget. You see as the class begins there are pictures spread out on a table. I have chosen these photos with the idea that they represent evocative images which can be starting points for talking about one's faith and life journey. There are maybe 30-40 pictures. Each participant is asked to choose one. And then to describe how this image represents something about where they are with God at this current place in their life journey.

The class had begun and one participant chose a picture of an iceberg. We started around the circle, and she described why she chose it, and told a very moving story about some recent and difficult events in her life around the death of someone she loved.

She had finished and we had moved on to another person and in walked another class participant who had said she might have to arrive late. I explained the exercise with the pictures to her briefly. She chose the iceberg which had already been returned to the table. The same iceberg photo as the previous person. And she told an amazingly similar life story again around the events of the death of a loved one.

We were all stunned. And she could tell by the looks on our faces. But of course she did not know what had happened prior to her arrival. As we explained it to her we were indeed in the presence of holy spirit. It filled the room. Like God playing a joke on us. A wonderful joke.

For the disciples, Jesus' death in a tomb was just the tip of the iceberg. Death was the only part the rest of the world saw. The death was public, the rest was experienced behind the scenes of those public events. And yet, the rest was so much larger and is so much more central to how we understand the meaning of that death for our lives. God had played this unbelievable practical joke on reality.

The resurrection is this amazing unseen truth, which was evident to them only after they had gathered in a small room, behind closed doors, scared. And then the rest of the whole amazing unseen truth was revealed to them. But a resurrection without the cross, is like an iceberg without a tip. It's not really possible. The resurrection is FROM the tomb. And the unbelievablility of it is the power of it.
Thomas' desire to touch the nail prints is not doubt. Thomas' desire is a longing. A longing that I believe many of us share. A longing to make sense of things that have happened. Thomas longs for a reality different from the one we know.

The reality in which we live has a lot of death in it. Then and now. The reality in which we live includes soldiers and citizens dead in Iraq and countless other places around the world. The reality in which we live includes the death of loved ones. And the reality in which we live includes disappointment and loss. It is a reality in which we more or less understand how power and money work even if we don't like it. And it is a reality in which medical science does its very best to stave off the inevitable ravages of illness. It is NOT a reality in which all the soldiers return home alive and all the nail prints are healed whether the nail prints are in our hands or our hearts. And Thomas longing bears witness to that.

Thomas LONGS for the resurrection to be true. REALLY true. He longs to touch the nail prints in the hands of a living Jesus. And that longing is at the heart of resurrection hope. It leads us to act differently.

That longing is what leads us at memorial services not just to hug and cry at the loss of a loved one but to sing powerful songs like "And the Father Will Dance" and to proclaim hope and life while standing right next to the photo of someone we knew and loved. So much more than huddling in a room together these disciples did more than comfort each other. They proclaimed resurrection hope. And Thomas' longing led them there.

Our doubts and our longings are the tip of the iceberg which is our life calling from God. Our doubts and our longings lead us to our calling. And our calling leads to action and service and vocation and discipleship. I believe that's how it works. And I believe that's what happened in Thomas.
Ask yourself this, would EVERYONE have made the same sense of nail prints as Thomas? Would everyone have found in the empty tomb evidence of resurrection? Some people tried to explain it by reference to grave robbers. Matthews Gospel tells a story about religious authorities trying to buy off the guards in a plot to come up with a believable explanation for what had happened.

Some people, it seems, strived for a believable reality. But Thomas longed for an UN believable reality. One in which things held much more than meets the eye. Thomas took the same evidence and instead of striving for believability he longed for unbelievable truth. He longed for it.

There is a story about two hat salesmen. A hat manufacturer sent two salesmen into a foreign country to sell hats. One salesman wrote back and said, "This is terrible. I have to come home. I can't do anything here. These people just DON'T wear hats no one wears a hat I'll never be able to sell any!"

The other salesman wrote back, "Send me 5000 hats! This is FANTASTIC what an opportunity NOBODY here has a hat! I can try to sell one to everybody!" The same evidence. Different way of seeing. The second salesman had a vision. He had a vision of an opportunity. He had a calling.

In Christopher Columbus' day everyone believed the world was flat because after all the ground is more or less flat. Just look outside. But Columbus DOUBTED that the world was flat. He watched ships go over the horizon and noticed that their mast flags disappeared last. As if they were going DOWN into the water. A little piece of evidence that most people didn't notice. BUT combined with his LONGING for new worlds to find he discovered his calling to sail off into the sunset.

What longing in you is leading to some sense of calling? Where do you see even the slightest bit of evidence for opportunity instead of the same ol' same ol'?

Beethoven doubted that pianos of his day had reached their maximum development and he wrote music that could only be fully and properly played on instruments not yet then in existence! His LONGING led to these compositions which were his calling in life.

Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, gave up his millionaire life and committed himself to poor people and housing. Part of that conversion for him also included becoming Christian. Because of his longing and his calling to house the poor. He doubted that it was impossible. This kind of changed life is what resurrection is about.

This morning's reading in Acts brings resurrection into everyday life as well. First the passage talks about a bunch of disciples living in community. And then we read about their witnessing to the resurrection. And then again about how they distributed their goods and helped out the poor.

Resurrection is pulled down right into the middle of talk about common every day things. Resurrection is meaningless if it remains an incomprehensible mystery from a long time ago. But its incomprehensibility IS its power! It is saying, HA! to the way things are. And working and living for how they WILL BE!

When I look around this sanctuary at each person and think about what is beneath the surface, I am stunned by the amazing possibilities. Nominating Committee has just begun its process of discernment to find leaders for next year. Look I invite you. And consider the soul beneath the surface. Consider that this is just the tip of the iceberg of who God may be calling us to become together.

No matter what we look like, a tiny child, someone with wounds, someone who seems to have it all together, there is so much more below the surface. What is below the surface in you? In us? How can we see ourselves with eyes of faith? How can we see ourselves with Thomas eyes? How can we discover our calling to touch the nails and believe the impossible?

Our scripture reading calls to us. Do the unexpected. Live now as if the world were already becoming as it will one day be.