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Easter 2A Sermon
John 20: 19-31

April 23, 2017

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

I kind of picture Thomas – the disciple known as, “The Twin,” as an Eeyore-type character in the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. You remember Eeyore, the lovable but always droopy-eyed donkey from the Winnie the Pooh stories? He kept losing his tail, and it would have to be nailed back on. He always seemed to have a black cloud hanging over his head, and whenever anyone talked to him he usually responded, “thanks for noticing me …” He seems committed as a member of the gang from, “Hundred Acre Wood,” but he does so in a resigned, underwhelmed, less-than-hopeful tone.
If you remember back in John 11 – the story we heard a few weeks ago about Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave – you’ll remember that Jesus’ disciples told him that they could not go to Judea because the Jewish leaders there were seeking to take his life. When Jesus flat out told them that Lazarus had died and that he was going to awaken him, Thomas spoke up and said, “Let us go also so that we may die with him.” Or – (repeat in Eeyore voice). He didn’t hold out any hope of anything.
In John 14, Jesus shares some wonderful words of hope as he talks about going away to prepare a place for all of us. After assuring us that we know the way to the place he is going, Thomas says, (in Eeyore voice), “We don’t know where you’re going; how can we know the way?”

In the story that I shared as our Gospel reading this morning, Thomas is the only one not present on the evening of Jesus’ resurrection when he appears to them in a room behind locked doors. So, when they all tell him the exciting tale of Jesus showing up to them, he says, (in Eeyore’s voice) “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 …”

Thomas may come off as a pessimistic sort of guy, but you have to admit that he is a straight shooter. I am sure that I have stayed silent many times when I didn’t understand what another person was trying to say … even when it was a teacher in school … instead of speaking up and asking a question.
My point in all of this is to say that Thomas represents a portion of our community that we should not count out. It is a portion of our community who sincerely wants to know … who sincerely wants to believe in Jesus. He may seem like an Eeyore in what he says and asks, but he values the relationships that he has with Jesus and his companion disciples so much that he wants to truly know the way to where Jesus is preparing a place for them; he wants to put his own fingers and hand in the wounds of his risen Lord Jesus; if the Judeans are going to kill Jesus, he wants to go with him to the very end. Who know what Thomas really did on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, trial and death. Peter denied him. We assume that he fled with the rest of them. But instead of hiding out in this room on the night of Jesus’ appearing he was bold enough to be out in the night, where some may have been seeking to take their lives so that they would not spread this idle tale of Jesus’ resurrection.

John does not give us a lot of details about Thomas, but in these three brief interactions, we see a guy who we can probably identify with – scared yet committed; doubting yet wanting to believe; not wanting to look dumb, yet asking questions so that he will understand. What John does do in this very passage today is to tell us the whole reason why he wrote his Gospel. Usually there are reasons why people write things, most often it is to inform, dispel or convince. John is definitely trying to convince people of something by writing his account of Jesus’ life, not just to inform us of the events of his life. “Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.” This Gospel account was written for YOU … and for me … and for everyone who reads or hears it read, so that we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah. And so that we might have life in his name. John wrote this story so that by hearing it, we might have faith, like he (John) has … and James … and Peter, Andrew, and yes, even Thomas. This was written for all of us who travel with Jesus through thick and thin, in danger and in safety, in plenty and in want.
On Thursday, I was at a pastor’s gathering at Jacob’s Porch, our Lutheran ministry at OSU. Pastor Grant told us about a young man who started attending events at The Porch four years ago, about the time he was called to be their pastor. This young man is very intelligent, and was not there as part of the congregation. He was there as part of an atheist and agnostic group which has conversations with the pastor and members of the congregation every Tuesday night. This young man was forthright from the very beginning in saying that he was there in order to proselytize Christians away from the faith, to atheism. Grant was a little intimidated by this, but welcomed him nonetheless.

This young man would always make very good arguments, mostly centered around Thomas’ point, that unless he sees physical evidence, he will not believe in God. Sometimes Grant would have to end their conversations with an, “I just don’t know” when he brought up deep questions about faith and God. What Grant noticed was that more and more, this guy was participating in other activities at the Porch. He started coming to their Bible study, asking deep, challenging questions. Eventually, he started attending worship. This last Sunday, The Porch had their Easter Celebration like we did. But unlike us, they mostly shared resurrection stories that they had witnessed in their lives for a few hours. At the end of that time, Grant invited anyone who wished to be baptized to come forward. A couple of people did … and finally, this young man who once had a mission of evangelizing Christians away from Christianity came forward. Grant asked him if he was sure about this, knowing that he comes from an Iranian background which is not very friendly to atheism, and even more unfriendly to Christianity. He insisted and was baptized. Afterward, Grant asked him why he wanted to be part of the community. He said that he had not had any sudden, intense revelation or experience. But in his ongoing relationship with Jacob’s Porch, the spirit convinced him that (in his own words), “certainty is not the opposite of doubt … it is the opposite of faith.” And that it is possible for him to be a scientist/engineer and still have a faith life where not everything can be tangibly proven. Isn’t that true for all of us? We have this story which creates faith in us, but it does not dispel all doubt. We do not have a lot of plain, physical evidence like the disciples in that room had, but within this community of faith, we are encouraged to serve God through our earthly tasks as we trust in God who guides us with the spirit.

What are we to do now that the risen Christ is among us? We are to conspire! Literally, the word conspire means, “to breathe together.” Jesus breathed on the disciples, and God breathes on us the Holy Spirit today. We are called to breathe in that spirit together, sharing the peace which the world cannot give, being sent to breathe on others so that the creative and life-giving winds may blow through our church and our communities. Even though we may not always see what we need to see, we can breathe in God’s Holy Spirit together, and share his love with all.
Today our prayer can be best put in the words of the third verse of the song we will sing during the offering: “Breathe on me breath of God, unite my soul with thine, until this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine.” Amen.