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Easter 2A Sermon
John 20:19-31
April
19, 2020

 

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John 20:19-31

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 Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.’
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.’ 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.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 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.’
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.

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

A little Greek lesson for you to begin my message today. Wherever you read the word, “church” in the New Testament, it is a translation of the Greek word, “ekklessia.” Ekklessia is a word made up of the prefix ek, meaning out of, and the root klessia, from the word kaleo, which means called. Literally, the church – the ekklessia – is not a building, a committee, a constitution or an organization. At it’s very root, the church is the people who are called by God through the Holy Spirit to be disciples of Jesus, gathered around the story of God working through Jesus to love and reconcile all of creation. Being called by God and gathered around that story, we then live by faith so that our lives reflect the love which Jesus first showed to us in his life, ministry, preaching, healing, and his death on the cross and resurrection to new life. In all of this, Jesus shows the unmerited and unconditional love that God has for all of the world calling us to share it with all.

Now, when we are encouraged to shelter in place for an extended period of time for our own safety and for the safety of those most vulnerable among us, it can be particularly challenging to be the called and gathered people of God. We are gathered, but not together. We are called, but not to be with each other. We are a community, but we are being a community in the reality of social distancing. All of these things are true and they are challenging … but these do not change the fact that we, the baptized people of God, are the church and called to be the church in every place and time.

In my household of four people, two of us are considered, “essential” to the business of the community and two are not. My daughter is a student and has probably been “stuck” inside more than anyone in our family. Finishing her freshman year of college online, she video chats with friends when she can. She has always put a priority on worshiping, but I have a sense that she is particularly enjoys helping with these streaming services, since it gets her out of the house once a week. My wife’s job is in a school, so she’s home most of the time, outside of working at a reception desk at a care facility every other weekend. She is spending time chatting with family and friends, doing some needed projects around the house and enjoying one of her favorite hobbies, genealogy. She’s also put together a puzzle or two. My son works in a market and has been going to work full-time without interruption. He streams his artwork or games with friends a few evenings a week. Churches are considered, “essential” in Ohio, so I have been making phone calls, sending messages, visiting folks in hospice, going to online meetings and writing sermons. My hope is that even though this is a very different time, we are all “being church” in whatever we do, around the house, online, interacting with friends and family, or going to work.

In our Gospel reading this morning we heard about those who were first called as disciples by Jesus and the challenging times that they lived in. It begins on Easter evening – the very night after Jesus is risen. That morning, Simon Peter and two other disciples were startled when Mary Magdalene ran to them and told them that someone had taken Jesus out of the tomb and she did not know where they took him. These three men ran to the tomb and witnessed it empty, except for Jesus’ burial clothes … then they returned to their homes.
Mary Magdalene, though, stuck around long enough to actually have a personal encounter with the risen Lord, who she first confuses for the gardener. She then went and announced to the disciples that she had seen the Lord. This is where our story begins, with Jesus’ called and gathered disciples behind locked doors for fear that when the religious leaders found out that Jesus’ body was gone, they might come after them. All of them are there in fear, wondering what on earth could come next. This is where the church is at the very beginning of its existence.

All of them, that is, except Thomas – the one who has been accused of doubting when he should have believed. All of these disciples experience the presence of the risen Jesus when he mysteriously enters the room and shares his peace and the Holy Spirit with them. Why wasn’t Thomas there that night? Well, the last time we heard Thomas speak, he boldly questioned Jesus in John 14 about not knowing the way where he was going … that is, when he goes to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house. Before that, we heard him tell the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” when Jesus declared his intention to go to Judea and raise Lazarus from the dead, even though the religious leaders were trying to kill him.

While wondering where Thomas is on this resurrection night, I hear his words in both of those interactions and imagine a very bold person, one who is “all in” on this discipleship calling. Even though he is not one of the central figures from the disciples, he is willing to give his all, even his life, to literally follow Jesus. He wants to know the way, the truth and the life and what it means that Jesus is these very things to us. I imagine he may have been out buying bread so that he and his friends could eat something, knowing that there were challenging days ahead. Thomas, if he was alive today, might be one who is essentially doing what he is called to do so that the community can get through fearful, challenging times.
It is because Thomas is essential that I believe he only asks for that which his friends had already received – to be blessed by the true presence of the one he called Lord. I don’t believe it was one of those, “It’s not fair,” moments. I do believe it is one of those moments that Thomas knew was important for the work that was to come. And he had work to do. Legend says that Thomas went perhaps the greatest distance in sharing the Gospel of Jesu, through Asia minor, all the way to India. Local stories say that he had erected a large cross in the modern day city of Melypour on the east coast of India, and one day he was kneeling at that cross in prayer when a pagan priest pierced his side with a lance, leading to his death. Ironic that he gave his life in this way, since part of today’s reading included Thomas putting his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side which was also inflicted by a spear.

What is the church? It is not this room that we call a “sanctuary” – a place set aside for worship. It is not this building, just as it was not that locked room in which those first disciples sat, cowering in fear. It is not a grand cathedral like The Notre Dame, which was nearly destroyed by fire exactly one year ago this past Wednesday. It is not even the room in which you are watching this worship service being streamed or on video. You are the church – we all are the church, the body of our Lord. We are all called by God through the Holy Spirit around the story of Jesus’ sacrificial love for all of creation, because it is our story. That is the only label we need – not conservative or liberal, fundamentalist or progressive, male, female, American, Mexican, Italian, black, white, or whatever – just ekklessia, called to be church. We are the church gathered wherever we are and can be, doing our best to share this same sacrificial love with our hurting world right now. And as we read stories about that first church, we know that they will do the same – they will leave that locked room and they will do their best to share Jesus’ love with all as well. The inspiration of those like Thomas and Peter, James and John and the rest remind us that there is nothing that will keep the peace of Jesus from entering into our lives and dwelling among us.

Two labels I hear a lot lately are “essential” and “vulnerable”. Only those who are essential to the livelihood of our communities should leave their homes to do their work because we want to protect those who are most vulnerable among us. We began our worship as we will begin worship during this entire season of Easter, by remembering our baptisms. In that moment, God promised to walk with us at all times, knowing that each one of us is at the same time essential and vulnerable, afraid and bold, saint and sinner. That we each have gifts to share that are important to God’s creation, and that we are vulnerable to physical, emotional and spiritual disease. This is why we say that it is for times like these that we are called to be people of God – called to be the church. And as we hear of things possibly opening up a little more around us, we pray that God will direct all people who are at the same time essential and vulnerable – so that the peace of the risen and living Lord Jesus may always be with us, wherever we are called to be. Amen.