Sunday, April 3rd, 2016 – Sermon on Doubting Thomas and John 20:19-31

You can listen to this sermon here.

John 20:19-31
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the religious authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.

This past Sunday, Easter Sunday, I had the joy of speaking with one of our long time members, Bobbie Maakestad, and meeting some of her family at the same time. And then as part of our conversation, she asked what the gospel was for the next Sunday, for today. I told her it was the story of good ol’ doubting Thomas and, without hesitation, she grimaced and said, “Ugh. Already?!”

And I laughed because it was just such an honest and unfiltered reaction. Because there is this emotional whiplash that happens in going from Easter Sunday to Doubting Thomas. We start out proclaiming that Christ is risen, but it isn’t long before Thomas whispers in our ears…”Are you sure?” But here’s the thing: this story is always the gospel the week after Easter. It doesn’t matter what lectionary year you are in, year after year, Doubting Thomas is always the gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter. And notice on the cover of your bulletin the title for this Sunday. The Second Sunday of Easter. This isn’t the second Sunday after Easter or Second Sunday in Easter. This is the second Sunday of Easter. Easter is not just a day. It is a season of 50 days in the church calendar. And the fact that Doubting Thomas is always a part of this season tells me that doubt is always part of resurrection. It is not excluded from the Easter season, it is actually built right in. Which is good news for us doubters who claim Thomas as our patron saint.

And in fact, as Pastor Pam said last week, maybe that’s a more honest reading of the Easter story. That it wasn’t immediately loud and joyful and celebratory. But maybe things were a little softer, a little more uncertain. Christ is Risen!….Are you sure? Thomas whispers.

But before we dive into Thomas, let’s step back and get a sense of the context. So, the first verse said it was evening on that first Easter day. And that little detail that it was evening is not just to tell us the time of day. It sets the spiritual scene – yes, it was dark outside, but it was also dark inside. The disciples are living in darkness. Not yet believing or understanding what has happened. Jesus has just died and been locked in a tomb. And now they have retreated to a room, closed the doors and locked themselves in – essentially rolling a stone in front of their own tomb. So yes, it was evening – it was dark outside and in. Their hearts may have been beating but their spirits were dead in fear. Because their faith and their hope died on that cross with Jesus.

And then, Jesus, who has just broken out of his tomb, enters into theirs. Jesus, the light of the world, enters into their darkness. Jesus, who had every right to chase them down and punish them for abandoning and betraying him, instead enters and offers grace – “Peace be with you.”

Huddle together in the darkness, the disciples were dead in their fear and then a light shines into their darkness and their darkness did not overcome it.

And then he says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He resurrects their purpose for this life. He reminds them that they are the Easter Hope. That Jesus is sending them out into the world to love one another as he has loved them.

And then. And then did you catch the strange but beautiful thing he does next. He breathes on them. Actually the Greek says he breathes into them. And it is the same word used in Genesis 2 when God sinks God’s hands into the dirt to create the human and God breathes into it the breath of life.

Do you see what’s happening here? This is divine CPR right before our eyes. He is breathing life back into them. Jesus is raising the disciples from the dead and breaking them out of their tombs of fear, making them into a new creation with a purpose for this life. To love one another as he has loved us. And sometimes just getting a little purpose back in your life can feel like being raised from the dead.

But then we get that one line: But Thomas was not with them.

That is one of the saddest lines of scripture, I think. There is nothing quite like being left out, is there? And your friends can try and tell you what it was like, to give you a taste of the experience – Thomas, we have seen the Lord! – but it just isn’t the same.

And then it happens. Thomas dares greatly, offering up his fear and his doubt…

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

So now, not only did Thomas miss the Jesus-sighting, but he’s confessed that he doesn’t believe what his friends believe. Physically, he was outside of the room. Away from the group. And now spiritually, he’s outside the group.

But now listen to the very next verse – A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.

And Thomas was with them.

I think that is one of the most grace-filled verses in all of Scripture. Here Thomas has said to them, “I do not believe what you’ve told me.” Even though he will not subscribe to the same belief as his friends, no one slammed the door in his face. Thomas was still with them. Take note: the first group of followers continued to be together despite their difference in belief. And that should speak to us all. That we can live together while not agreeing on everything.

What Thomas didn’t get, and perhaps what John is trying to teach us, is that belief has nothing to do with what you think your head. Confessing the right things, believing in the right doctrines, or saying the right words is not what it means to believe in this gospel.

Believing in this gospel is about relationship. It is not knowing all the answers or never questioning or doubting. It is simply about being in relationship with Jesus. It is about trusting that God has not abandoned you.

And the disciples showed this to Thomas when they did not leave him, even though he could not believe in the resurrection.

Thomas’ confession of his doubt did not drive them apart, it is actually what brought them together.

And then it is in that context, of the group welcoming and keeping Thomas in the fold, that Jesus shows up again. It is only when we are welcomed with our doubts, and when we welcome those with doubts, that any of us might have a chance at encountering Jesus.

Then notice that upo seeing the risen Christ, notice Thomas’ new confession. He doesn’t say, “Now I believe!” He says, “My Lord and my God.” My Lord and my God.

He confesses the relationship. He believes in the relationship.

I can remember in 2008, while I was at seminary, I experienced my worst Easter to date. I was playing trumpet at a church service, and everyone came into the church shouting, “Alleulia, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” There were the banners with bells on them, the brass instruments, the Easter lilies. And for me, that voice of Thomas started to creep in. Are you sure? Do I believe this stuff? But then to make matters worse, the sermon that Easter Sunday was all about if you don’t believe in the resurrection, if you don’t believe Jesus’ literal body was raised from the dead, then you’re not a Christian. Then you have no faith at all. And as a person who was already doubting, it was the final blow. I left that Easter service with a crushed faith, not a resurrected one.

This preacher used the resurrection to create death instead of life. He used it to drive people away from each other, to say who was in and who was out.

The very next day, I found myself confessing my Easter Sunday story to Jackie Jacobsen, 82-year-old woman, to whom I was making a Pastoral Care visit. May she rest in peace. And it was in that moment, when I was to be the one offering pastoral care, that I became the recipient of it. Hearing me, she says, “So you just weren’t feeling it, were you? Isn’t that how it goes sometimes though? We all experience that doubt – those moments of great questioning. I am 82-years-old. Trust me, they don’t go away and all one can do is hope.” Finally, in that moment, for me – resurrection. Through that relationship, she became the presence of the risen Christ, breaking into the locked room of my heart and spoke peace to me.

Friends, believing is not about convincing our brains of things that are quite unbelievable. It is about trusting in the relationship that God has with you. A relationship that God will never give up on.

Therefore, believing, having faith, is not something we do on our own, but it is something we do together. Something that we carry for each other, when the other cannot carry it themselves. Just as the disciples did for Thomas. And as Jackie did for me. For those of you who feel like your faith is strong. It is a vibrant and active faith – know that you carry the faith for the rest of us. And for those of you who struggle to believe, those of you who struggle to put your trusting in this gracious God – know that we will carry the faith for you.

I know that some of you have heard me say similar things before, but I say it again because just this week, I had three instances where people thought that their questions and their doubts meant they had a weak faith, when in fact, I think it means they have an active faith. So this morning, I want to give permission for us to welcome and honor the doubting Thomas within us all. Because remember it is only when we are welcomed with our doubts, and when welcome those with doubts, that we all might have a chance at encountering Jesus. In your pews, you’ll find index cards. Each of you are invited to anonymously write down your doubts, your questions, your fears when it comes to faith. What are the hurdles you have to climb over sometimes when it comes to your faith life? Maybe you go quiet during certain lines of the creed. Maybe prayer feels cold and alien to you. Or maybe you just aren’t even certain that God exists. Whatever it is, write it down. And then when you come up for communion, I invite you to drop it in this basket as an offering to God. What I hope you’ll see is that whatever you drop into this basket, what ever question or doubt you have with God, the very next thing to happen will be a piece of bread placed into your hand, welcoming you to the feast. An offering of the body of Christ that was broken for you. Showing you that you belong here.

That your doubts, your questions, your fears – they don’t exclude you from this community. And they certainly can’t keep out Christ from being present in your life.

So let’s be quiet for a couple of minutes, to be honest with ourselves and with God. Amen.

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