Rev. Martha Jacobs
Coming to Us, Wherever We Might Be
Psalm 133, John 20:19-29
Sunday, April 8, 2018
So, here we are, one week after Easter, the Sunday that most clergy dread having to preach. The wonder of the resurrected Jesus being seen by Mary in the garden, and his telling her to go and tell the other disciples that he would see them soon which she does go and do, is short-lived. Because, what do the disciples do even after Mary tells them what Jesus told her to tell them? They hide out – fearful for their lives – not willing to step out and be seen in public for fear that they might be recognized as one of Jesus’ followers.
They are a far cry from what they had promised Jesus when they stood on the mountain with him, when they walked with him, when they promised their allegiance and when they challenged each other to be able to sit on his right and left hand side. No wonder clergy don’t want to preach the week after Easter. It is quite a downer to talk about the disciples hiding out – not fulfilling their promises. I wonder if they felt guilt, shame, and maybe even disillusionment.
They were grieving the loss of Jesus. Their hopes and dreams of Jesus being their Messiah and saving them from Roman oppression was dashed. Actually, it was more than dashed. It too was dead. None of them was ready to take on the mantle that Jesus left for them. The only one who seemed willing in any way take it on, was Mary, who had seen the risen Christ in the garden. I wonder if even she might have had some doubts. I can imagine the other disciples not believing what she had told them, and, in their anger and guilt and disappointment, ostracizing her for giving them false hope. So, they stayed behind locked doors.
It’s hard to talk about how people deserted Jesus in his time of greatest need. Peter who denied Jesus 3 times, just as Jesus had predicted, and the other disciples who had deserted him and run off, might be a little too close to how we might have acted had we witnessed what they did. The saving grace in this part of Jesus’ story is the women. They had nothing to be ashamed of – they didn’t desert Jesus as he hung on the cross. And yet, my guess is that even they had doubts and wondered if they could or should have done something different – found some way to keep Jesus from entering Jerusalem during the Passover. And, so, maybe they too were disappointed and disillusioned with themselves and perhaps with Jesus as well, since he had raised their hopes so high.
They were also overwhelmed. The 3 years they spent with Jesus was amazing, miraculous even, as they watched him heal people, stand up to power and love those that others considered outcasts. They had left everything to follow Jesus. Now what were they to do? All of these thoughts and feelings and probably much more, were swirling around them.
Then, suddenly, Jesus appears to them.
Now, think about this – here were the men who had all abandoned Jesus at his darkest moment. And, there is Jesus, standing right in front of them. I think I might have had a sinking feeling inside because I had not done what I had promised Jesus I would do. So, perhaps they too were fearful, were cautious – maybe Jesus was going to reprimand them or worse, dismiss them as his disciples, since they had failed him.
But, astonishingly, that doesn’t happen. There was no judgement, no recriminations, no anger. Amazingly, the first words that Jesus offers them is the gift of the peace of God. He didn’t come with trumpets and angels announcing his arrival. Rather, he enters quietly. He brings the gift of peace and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He commissions them to go out into the world and be peace and offer forgiveness and love to our world.
But Thomas, who had ventured out, who had been willing to chance being seen and maybe even recognized and captured, Thomas returns and doesn’t believe the other disciples any more than they had believed Mary. Remember, they too had been doubters; but now they believed. Now, here is Thomas, all alone in his unbelief as well as his courage to go out into the streets and not hide behind a locked door.
In the past, I have concentrated on the doubting part of Thomas who wants to see in order to believe. But, reading this in light of the other disciples being too scared to venture out, versus Thomas, who did go out and who now dares to question what they tell him, I want to cheer for him. I want to hold him up as one who was willing to step outside the proverbial box – willing to take chances, and in this situation, willing to voice his doubts. I wonder if Thomas had felt Jesus’ presence with him in some odd way when he had dared to venture out. He overcame his fear. He didn’t let it rule his heart. He was braver than the other disciples. He was willing to go beyond the locked doors and the safety of that upper room, to do whatever it was they needed doing – perhaps they needed food and he had gone to get them something to eat – maybe he had gotten them unleavened bread and fish since it was still the Passover…
Thomas seems to me to be an independent thinker, one who wants proof for himself because what they were telling him was unbelievable. He challenges not just the disciples, but Jesus, by saying that he needs to see proof. He needs to touch Jesus’ wounds in order to also believe. And, how does Jesus react to his challenging him and wanting proof? Similar to his reaction to the other disciples when he greets them, Jesus offers kindness and compassion to Thomas. He holds out his hands and shows him his pierced side. This scene in some ways reminds me of Jesus leaving the 99 sheep in order to find the one lost one. The good shepherd seeks out the one in his flock that needs to be assured, that needs to be certain that the one that he promised to follow, had indeed returned.
So, I am wondering this morning if you are doubtful. If you are unsure of Jesus’ resurrection, or even unsure that Jesus existed or is by your side now? As we know from Thomas, it is okay to doubt. The Gospel of John was written a generation or two after Jesus walked the earth. John is reminding his community that may also have doubted, that their faith was not based on what they had seen with their own eyes but on what they had heard in the stories that had been passed down from their parents and their community. Additionally, their faith was based on what they were experiencing in this new community of mutuality, love and respect for everyone – man, woman and child. Our faith is also based on these stories handed down to us more than 2000 years later.
But, my faith has gotten stronger based on what I have seen and experienced in this community in the past 4½ years. My faith has grown as I have watched you reach out to each other when there is a need, when there is an illness or a death. Or, when there is a baptism or a stranger in our midst who is welcomed as they are and for who they are.
Wherever we might be, Jesus comes to us and says “peace be with you” – my peace I give to you; I invite you to share that peace with all with whom you come into contact. I feel that peace coming from each of you when we pass the peace, when we share communion, when we talk about our faith and raise questions about our faith. I have had some amazing conversations in just the last two weeks with members of our church, who have shown me and taught me how they live out their faith and it has deeply, deeply touched me.
These days, it is easy to act out of fear. When we act out of fear, as the disciples did, we too are behind locked doors – the doors of our hearts.
And, we can’t operate out of fear. The Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin in his book, A Passion for the Possible, writes, “As I see it, the primary religious task these days is to try to think straight….You can’t think straight with a heart full of fear, for fear seeks safety, not truth. (He writes,) If your heart’s a stone, you can’t have decent thoughts–either about personal relations or about international ones. A heart full of love, on the other hand, has a limbering effect on the mind.” He wrote these words in 1993. Here we are more than 25 years later, needing more than ever to not operate from a heart full of fear.
When our hearts fill with a fear that makes us feel weak and small and inadequate, Jesus doesn’t hold that against us. Like the disciples in that locked room, we too receive that same gift of grace, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit. It is a gift that limbers up our minds and our hearts, turning them from hearts of stone to hearts full of love. Love indeed is the response to grace.
Like the disciples, Jesus sends us out into the world, using our hands and feet to help heal the brokenhearted and broken spirited. We bring hope and love and God’s good news to all of God’s children.
We are a resurrection community. We are called to hold onto each other while God works within each one of us. God breaks down the locked doors of our hearts and minds and patiently helps us to see God especially when we question and when we doubt. And we do see God through each other and offer the love of God freely to each other, knowing that we too are loved freely and fully for all that we are.
My prayer for each one of you today is that as you doubt, as you wonder, as you hope, that your faith will continue to blossom and grow and deepen and mature. God come to us wherever we might be, both physically and spiritually. I pray that you will be blessed even more as you have come to believe and offer the proof of God to others.