Commissioning, believing, and signs

A sermon for Easter 2

Acts 2:14a, 22-32, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31, Psalm 16

Good morning it’s good to see you this 2nd Sunday of Easter a week after our Lord’s resurrection. Except it’s not, no I’m not talking about  the millennia or so that’s past in John’s Gospel it’s later that night, just hours after Mary, Peter and the unnamed disciple saw the empty tomb; just hours after Jesus spoke to Mary just hours after  Mary’s shares the tale. John writes that they are gathered behind locked doors because they are afraid of Jewish leaders. Makes sense, it’s all very fresh. Elisabeth Johnson posits they are also afraid of Jesus; they’ve been nothing but miserable failures; in Jesus’ hour their actions are nothing but denials and desertions. [i] Having just learned Jesus is walking about I’d lock the doors too. But locked doors don’t matter.

All of sudden Jesus is in the room; we don’t know what the disciples expect; however, a greeting of shalom – divine peace Jesus breathing in their faces; and commissioning them probably isn’t what they expect.The familiar words in this part of the story are forgiving and retaining of sins, which we, largely thanks to institutional warping and the reformation’s interpretation of sin miss-hear. First of all the commission is that we are sent just as Jesus is sent and Jesus is sent to do the work of God which is all about restoring all God’s people to relationship with God. So it makes sense that retaining and forgiving is all about Godly relationship. Gail O’Day notes that for John, sin is a theological failing, not a moral or behavioral transgression [ii]  as Jesus says: I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he. [iii] To forgive sin is to make known the love of God that Jesus himself has made known [iv] which is what we are commissioned, sent into the world to do. In short when our witness leads to belief that’s forgiveness; and when it does not its retention. And belief brings us to Thomas.

For whatever reason, Thomas wasn’t there. When the others tell him, he says he wants proof, just like they had, well … may be a little more. It’s very important to know the word ‘doubt’ never appears in Greek, it’s always belief and unbelief. When Jesus appears he says to Thomas do not be faithless (unbelieving) but believing. [v] Thomas’ response to Jesus’ offer is My Lord and my God! a profound confession that for the first time puts trust and relationship with Jesus together. [vi] O’Day notes Jesus offers Thomas what he needs, himself, and that’s what brings Thomas to belief. NT Wright summarizes the whole scene: touching is possible, seeing is enough, believing is best of all. [vii]

Now all of us want the best, so all of us want belief; however, no one, since early first century, ever had the possibility to touch, or see or even hear, so what is our source of belief, and how valid can it be?

Validity is the easy part, Jesus asks Thomas, as he asks Nathanael way back in chapter 1 [viii] Have you believed because you have seen me? only now he continues Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. You and I are among those who have not seen and yet believe; you are among the blessed.That leaves us with source of belief, and John actually tells us the answer.

 In the last two verses [ix] John changes voice, he begin speaking directly to the audience, speaking directly to you. He tells you, the signs in his book 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. We can easily understand miracles as signs. There are some in John’s Gospel account, many fewer than in the synoptic gospels. More interesting is understanding Jesus’ resurrection as a sign. The difference between seeing a miracle and seeing a sign is to see beyond the glitz, the super natural to see the truth: that Jesus is God’s anointed the Christ, the Messiah; that Jesus is our Lord and our God. This is what leads to Thomas’ profound confession. It’s not the physicality of miracles that lead to faith, it’s the truth they reveal; thus firsthand experience is not significant. What is significant is that we know the stories; that we know scripture whose power lies in making the presence of God in Jesus available to the faith community in each successive generation. [x] The same is true of our witness, which is only about sharing the transforming presence of God in creation in Jesus, and in the Spirit.

And now we are back to the beginning, not of John’s Gospel story, but of our worship. A colleague of mine blogged this week:

my question to you, dear reader, is this, “what does your life show that you believe?” If those two things aren’t matching, how can you change your life to better fit what you believe about God’s dream for his creation? [xi]

 It’s born of today’s collect in which we pray “…that [we] may show in our lives what [we] profess…”

Sometimes we live as we profess often we don’t. For many reasons we get anxious or threatened. Johnson writes:

The natural thing to do when we are feeling anxious or threatened is to hunker down and lock the doors, to become focused on our own security rather than the risky mission to which we are called.

Our trouble is, as she continues:

… is that Jesus cannot be stopped by our locked doors. Jesus comes to us as he came to the first disciples. … [and] he keeps showing up. As he came back a week later for Thomas, Jesus keeps coming back week after week among his gathered disciples — in the word, the water, the bread, and the wine … And he keeps sending us out of our safe, locked rooms, into a world that, like us, so desperately needs his gifts of life and peace. [xii]

John’s almost final chapter assures us all we need to come to believe that Jesus is God’s anointed, is revealed in our Holy Writ.

That brings relief. It also sends us out into the world to share the story, so others may come to believe. That is always a challenge, for lots of reasons, like life happens; nonetheless it’s true; our calling is to share with all the world that Christ is risen, Alleluia; and our prayer is for all the world to answer in fervent faith: [hand to ear]  Christ is risen indeed Alleluia!


[i] Elisabeth Johnson  John 20:19-31 Commentary by Elisabeth Johnson – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL) 1/4 RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on John 20:19-31, 4/23/2014
[iii] John 8:24 (NRSV)
[iv] Johnson, ibid
[v] King James John 19:27
[vi] Johnson, ibid
[vii] N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays, Yeas A, B, C Morehouse Publishing, 2012
[viii] John 1:48
[ix] John 20:30,31
[x] O’Day, ibid
[xi] Steve Pankey, Draughting Theology, Walking the Talk – Why I blog, April 24, WordPress,2014
[xii] Johnson, ibid

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