"Jesus Among Us"

John 20:19-31

Easter 2C, 7 April 2013

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

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.

“Let It Breathe on Me”

Prayer.

The world is so much easier to understand

when issues are either black or white,

off or on,

yes or no.

A world with two polls

is easier to navigate,

to draw conclusions,

to teach to your children.

A behavior is sinful, or, it’s not.

A person believes, or, they don’t.

A person is forgiven, or, they’re not.

A person dies and goes to heaven, or, they go to hell.

If only the world functioned upon such elegant simplicity.

But, it doesn’t.

The critic inside

even suggests

that such thinking is a temptation,

preying upon human laziness and sloth,

and leads to division within communities of family, friends, and faith.

It is tempting to believe that God’s creativity is limited to two polar opposites to ever issue.

Choose a side and stick with it,

whether the issue is gun control, abortion, equality, or your particular issue de jour.

We used to think flip-flopping was a sign of weakness.

We’ve modified this with the argument that one’s beliefs evolves.

But, I believe at a deeper level

that there is a much more dangerous issue at hand;

which is the temptation to divide every issue into two opposing choices.

We submit to such temptation

because it makes life so much easier;

we don’t need to think about issues any more deeply

that what the spoon feeding talking head is telling us.

Of course,

my choice is always right,

and any other possible position is absolutely wrong.

As my dad used to say,

“I’m right; you can choose to be wrong if you want to.”

The result of such bull-headed thinking

is the polarization of communities, friends, and family.

God’s world is one that is far more elegant than the polar world

traditionally defined by 

mathematical logic or computer science.

Species are diverse.

The visible spectrum is filled with every color of the rainbow,

and a few others!

Even day and night

are complemented with long, beautiful transitions;

sunrise and sunset.

The world, and our place in it,

assumes a new and rich beauty

when we can free ourselves to think more deeply,

to consider other possibilities,

to experience process

and to value it equally with destination.

We can benefit from such new and rich beauty

when we take another look at our Gospel lesson for today

and free ourselves from the dipolar ball and chain

of belief, or nonbelief;

either a person believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

or, they don’t.

Either a person believes that all sins are forgiven by the death of Jesus on the cross,

or, they aren’t.

Allow me to breath new spiritual oxygen into your journey of faith

by suggesting that belief in Jesus and his resurrection

is a journey,

is a process,

that is never fully complete in this mortal life.

I’d suggest that complete belief in Jesus and his resurrection

is the perfection that John Wesley spoke about

and is only fully actualized with our passing into the heavenly kingdom.

We have been filled with anticipation

that we will believe when we see;

that a time will come when all disciples would “know” (John 14:20)

“testify” (John 15:27)

and “do greater works” than Jesus had done. (John 14:12)

In Jesus’ farewell discourse one is led to believe that

there is a future time when all disciples overcome deficiencies of unbelief.

Many today believe that our resurrection narratives

paint a picture where the disciples’ belief

is seen as absolute

and in its maturity.

(Thanks to Susan Hylen, Associate Research Professor of New Testament, Emory University, and her writings at workingpreacher.org) 

But it isn’t.

Peter sees, believes, and returned to his home.

John says the other disciple, who accompanied Peter

also witnessed the empty tomb, believed, and returned home.

Our narrative begins today with the disciples meeting behind locked doors

“for fear of the Jews.” (John 20:19)

If the disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead

their actions do not fully match their understanding.

We like to make Thomas the convenient punching bag for not believing.

The fact that he is initially missing,

stubbornly refuses to believe until he can see with his own two eyes

and put his “finger in the mark of the nails”

and his “hand in his side” (John 20:25)

has given Thomas the unfortunate, but everlasting, moniker

“Doubting” Thomas.

The environment our Gospel of John has created

is one where no one has a perfect knowledge

or belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

The disciples behavior

tells us that they reach for,

but never fully achieve,

complete understanding of Jesus and his resurrection.

Let me be the first to say, “What a relief!”

What a relief

that we don’t have to fully know or believe

to walk the journey of Christian discipleship.

There are parts of me that doubts,

that doesn’t understand,

that too quickly has drawn a conclusion about Jesus

only to have that previously firm belief completely overturned in my later years,

contributing to even greater doubt.

If the disciples of Jesus,

who witnessed his death and resurrection with their own two eyes,

had trouble with immediate and complete belief,

than so can you and me.

“Blessed are those who have not see and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29)

The reality is we are all in the process of coming to believe.

None of us have made it.

Some will walk with Christ even on a road to Emmaus,

yet still fail to recognize him.

Some of us will return to our previous occupations - going fishing -

yet still not fully recognize his voice when he calls from shore.

In a similar way

our Gospel narrative for today

tells us that forgiveness isn’t once and done.

Forgiveness is a lifelong process

that is both individual and corporate.

Of course,

Christ died for our sins on the cross,

took our sins away by the sacrifice of his life.

At the same time,

Jesus comes among the disciples

breaths upon them and says,

“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.” (John 20: 22b-23)

God creates

the spectrum between the opposite poles of

forgiven and not forgiven;

between the cross and the grave.

Jesus gives to the disciples,

the people who are the foundation of what will become the Church,

the keys of organizing, behaving, and acting like a Church.

Forgiveness is individual,

but now it is also corporate;

a community affair.

God’s grace of forgiveness of sins,

once limited to the cross,

is given over to the full spectrum of forgiveness

available in an on going sanctifying nature

by the community of faith

and embodied by the Holy Mystery of the bread and cup.

To approach this communion table

you don’t have to fully believe.

You simply must be willing to draw near to Jesus.

Belief comes in God’s time.

To approach this communion table

you don’t have to be fully forgiven.

You simply must be ready to be forgiven.

Forgiveness comes simply by God’s grace.

What a relief!

And all this time

I thought I had to be the perfect disciple of Jesus.

This old hymn says is perfectly:

“Just as I am, without one plea,

but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”

(Text by Charlotte Elliott)

Amen.