Asking, Answering, Believing

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Easter; Acts 5:27-32, Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31

Terry is a friend of mine from my home parish. We share 3 things in common: Holy Trinity at one time we were both in the computer business, and a love of good jokes. I’m lucky in this respect, he is the source of all kinds of great jokes and stories. Thursday he shared this:

 No English dictionary has been able to adequately explain the difference between these two words – “Complete” or “Finished”. In a recent linguistic competition held in London and attended by, supposedly, the best in the world, Samdar Balgobin, a Guyanese man, was the clear winner with a standing ovation which lasted over 5 minutes.

The final question was: ‘How do you explain the difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED in a way that is easy to understand? Some people say there is no difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED.’ Here is his astute answer:

“When you marry the right woman, you are COMPLETE. When you marry the wrong woman, you are FINISHED. And when the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are COMPLETELY FINISHED!”

It is amazing the truth we can learn when we ask the right question.

We all know the story of Thomas. We all know the story was wrongly named “Doubting Thomas” centuries ago. No matter what we just heard the word ‘doubt’ is now where in the passage (O’Day). The trouble is we get all caught up in Thomas’ reaction to the disciples telling him “Jesus is risen.” But think back to last week; the women come racing back from Jesus’ tomb and share their story, including that Jesus is risen. What is the disciples’ reaction?

But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

This verse is from Luke’s Gospel story, the equivalent verse in John Gospel story is unless I see … I will not believe (John 20:25). Thomas not believing the disciples’ story is just like the disciples not believing Mary’s story (O’Day).

To be honest, I simply wasn’t drawn to parsing the subtleties of all this again. I had decided to explore the glory of Psalm 150, the closing psalm of the Book of Psalms. the Psalm cajoles us

  • to praise God
  • where to praise God
  • why to praise God and
  • how to praise God, which is with everything we have, instruments, dance, and voice, literally breath, which is a sort of returning to God, the gift of life given to us as God breathed the breath of life into us (deClaissé-Walford) (Genesis 2:7).

My divine Muse had another idea.

On the road, between two events, and I have no idea which ones, or when, it occurred to me, I realized Thomas is just asking a question. It’s a hard question, and it is a risky question. Just as the disciples rebuffed Mary and her companions for a stance the disciples did not hold, the disciples may well have rebuffed Thomas for not accepting a stance they did hold. What matters is I was drawn back to John’s Gospel and Thomas.

So, I went digging. From the Greek – English New Testament Interlinear we hear Jesus say, “not do be unbelieving but believing.” The authors clean it up a bit: “Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (Olive Tree). Another resource for this kind of digging around is Young’s Literal Translation; which reads: “and become not unbelieving, but believing.” And that is the end of my search, the beginning of learning (Young).

I was troubled by the dichotomy, the stark choice between “be unbelieving”, and “be believing.” The key is ‘become’ which indicates there is movement from one position to another, thus, there is a gleaning; a choice to be made. The important thing in Thomas’ response to the disciples’ proclamation about seeing Jesus is not the parameters, fingers, hands, and wounds, etc., but the underlying question about Jesus and resurrection, and his desire to discover the answer, to discover the truth. While it is unusual to ask a question of one person or group and get an answer from another, sometime later, with no discernable connection between the two, it does happen. Thomas asks the disciples and Jesus answers. No matter how strange the path between question and answer, the glory in the story is Thomas’ confession “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). It is every bit as powerful as

  • Nathanael’s “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49),
  • or Peter’s “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:69),
  • or Martha’s “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (John 11:27).

The last verse of this chapter is:

But these (signs) 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. (John 20:31).

Here we find the purpose for asking questions and responding to questions. We should dare to ask questions so we may become believing and have life in Jesus. We should dare to answer questions so that another may become believing and have life in Jesus. I am beginning to see that in both the asking, and the answering we should take a queue from Psalm 150; we should both ask and answer with everything we have, instruments, dance, and breath, so that all may know the breath of renewed life in Jesus; know shalom, wholeness in the presence of God.

In our asking and in our answering, we are never finished, certainly, we are never completely finished. Nor are we ever complete, yes, we have begun to become believing and begun to have life in Jesus’ name. Still, the world we live in is dynamic, ever-changing, therefore our believing is always facing new things, and so we face new opportune times to become unbelieving and struggle with lesser life or continue to become, to grow in our believing, living an ever-evolving life in Jesus.

So      me                        Alleluia Christ is risen

congregation        The Lord is risen indeed Alleluia!

May your becoming believing bring you to be a blessing to all (Genesis 12:2-3) (Thompson).


References

Crouch, Frank L. “Commentary on John 20:19-31.” 28 4 2019. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy. Commentary on Psalm 150. 28 4 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 4 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 20:19-31. 28 4 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Linger A Little. 28 4 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

—. Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Thompson, Barkley. “To be a blessing.” 17 3 2019. God in the Midst of the City. <https://rectorspage.wordpress.com/2019/03/17/to-be-a-blessing/&gt;.

Woods, Joshua. “Among His Disciples, Easter 2.” 28 4 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon>.

Young, Robert. Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible. 1892: Public Domain, n.d.

 

 

 

Now I Believe

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

I should have known better. After more than 37 years, I just should have known better. Early last week, Angie told me about a nurse, who made a replica of Van Gogh’s Starry Night out of medicine bottle caps. I didn’t believe her. Aren’t all medicine bottle caps white? And don’t they come in just a few sizes. I just didn’t believe it. I should have known better. Later that day she brings me her I-phone, held it out for me to see, as she shared “Here it is!” Who knew there were so many different shades of blue and yellow bottle caps? Who knew someone could be so inspired to sort them all out and glue them so meticulously on canvas size board? Now I know better. Now I believe.

We read from the Bible every week. But we never read a book from beginning to end, and that is our loss. It is like reading bits and pieces of your favorite novel, you get the high points, but you miss the subtle interactions that fill in missing pieces and fill out the richness of the story. Last week I mentioned finding who you are as a character in a bible story as a study method; and that I had seen a character I’d never seen before. The same is true today; kind of, because it’s not a character, but a structure of John’s Gospel. I don’t recall if it was in seminary or college, but I had written a paper, and for whatever reason, I had to go by the professor’s office to pick it up. My professor congratulated me, because I had gotten an A; then said, because the way you structured your paper, I thought you were going in a very different direction (and the way said it let me know that was not a good choice) my professor went on to say he was surprised and glad I came to the conclusions that I did. It was the first time I ever realized that the structure of a paper or an argument could give meaning. The same is true in literature, and the same true of writers of the books of the Bible, and the same it is absolutely true of John the Evangelist.

When the first of John the Baptist’s disciples follow Jesus, they ask him where he is going, and Jesus replies come and see. It is one of my favorite bits of scripture. A few verses later Philip tells Nathaniel we have found the messiah Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth (John 1:45). Nathaniel answers Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip replies Come and see. (John 1:46) A bit later Nathaniel meets Jesus and comes to believe he is the messiah (John 1:49).

A little bit later in chapter 4 after his disciples return, the Samaritan woman leaves Jesus at the well, and returns to her village and tells everyone about Jesus and wonders if he can be the messiah. They follow her back to the well. And after a brief conversation, they invite him to stay with them; and he does, and many came to believe in him (John 4:41).

In John 9 Jesus heals a man born blind from birth. When he returns from the well of Siloam, where Jesus sent him, his neighbors are conflicted, wondering if he really is the man that was born blind. Some of them tell the story to the Pharisees, and they are also divided, some reject the idea because it is the sabbath, some wondered, it has to be a man of God who can heal the blind. (John 9:16) At the end of the story, the man meets Jesus a second time and proclaims his belief in Jesus (John 9:38).

When Jesus goes to Bethany, because Lazarus has died, he meets Mary, who, along with her friends mourning with her, go to meet Jesus. Some of them wonder if he, who healed the blind man could not have kept Lazarus from dying (John 11:37). And after Jesus calls to Lazarus and he comes out of the tomb many of them come to believe (John 11:45).

There is a general pattern in all of these stories. Person A has an encounter with Jesus and at the least wonders if he is the messiah. That person shares their story with Person B, who is doubtful or does not believe. And later Person B meets Jesus and comes to believe (ClarkSoles).

We see this pattern in this morning’s gospel story twice. First, the disciples have been with Jesus for 3 years. They witnessed everything he said and did, well most of it. And some witnessed his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Mary meets the risen Jesus and runs to tell the disciples. A bit later most of them have locked themselves away in a secure, undisclosed location. Jesus shows up. They do not recognize him, they are terrified, and both of those little facts tell us they did not believe Mary. He shows them his hands and his side, at which time they recognize him and come to belief. Some of them tell Thomas, who was at another undisclosed location, but he doesn’t believe. A week after that Thomas and the disciples are gathered in the first undisclosed location, and Jesus shows up again and shows Thomas his hands and side, at which time Thomas come to believes (ClarkSoles).

You can see the encounter, share, doubt, invitation, encounter, and belief pattern we see throughout John’s Gospel in Thomas’ story. But, there is a significant language bit that expands the possibilities of this pattern. It begins by understanding that Jesus never says “doubt.” He says: do not be unbelieving, but believing, and this is important because John ends the chapter, and some think the original Gospel:

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 (John 20:31).

 But wait there is more! because some authorities translate the sentence

But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 Either “come to believe” or “continue to believe” are real possibilities (O’Day). The significance is that this story is about believing, about coming to belief, and about continuing to believe.

And yes, there is a powerful evangelism story here, which is why I have always been drawn to the phrase “come and see” which I believe is the quintessential evangelism tool, a simple invitation. But, this pattern, this character is even more complex.

Sometime this past week, I read the guest column titled The night I learned to take chances. It is about the two brothers who were sons of a minister who required them to memorize bible verses. Which they did, even if they did not understand the meanings. When the youngest was 17, their parents divorced, their mother went to live with her sister, and their dad just disappeared. They did their best to supported each other and eked out a meager existence. One Christmas they decided to hitchhike from Long Island to Dallas to go see their mom. On the way, they got stranded on a snowy interstate. As they were waiting for promised help to return, for the first time ever began to talk about their life. It the conversations gets tense when the author said to his brother we [are] basically disposable to the people who were supposed to love us. His brother retorts we know that all things work together for good to those who love God (NKJV Romans 8:28) which got them to sharing bible verses they had memorized all those years ago. The youngest shared Isaiah 43

 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you . . . Because you are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you.

 Years later, as president of Princeton Theological Seminary, he realizes

I don’t keep taking chances in offering leadership because I expect to succeed; I take them because I know I can handle it if I fail. What’s the worst that can happen? Will I be alone, broke, and abandoned? Been there. Will I make humiliating mistakes? I tried hitchhiking on a closed interstate. And at the bottom, I found the relentless love of God who was with me and always will be, no matter how deep the waters (Barnes).

What the story reveals is where most of us live most of our lives; which is somewhere between believing and coming to believe what Karen Lewis calls betweenness (Lewis). The story reveals that life is hard; that life is risky. And so is faith (Warren). If you stop and think about for just a minute, believing in resurrection makes no sense, it really never has, it is hard to believe in resurrection (Hoezee). And because our faith is grounded in the hard to believe in resurrection, is why we come together as church (Lose).

Each of us has a Jesus story to share. At one time or another, all of us are going to be between and need to hear somebody’s story. A story that will remind us, of the astounding truth in scripture that God … sent the Son into the world in order… that the world might be saved (John: 3:17), that we might be saved; it also reminds us that the bible is here so that we may come to, or come back to, or continue to believe. And also, John reminds us, that we who have never seen the risen Lord, and yet believe are blessed, every much as those who saw Jesus (John 20:29). So, today, you may need to hear my story. I know I have needed to, and have heard your story. 20 years’ experience has taught me that you never know how your story, how your invitation to come and see Jesus’ hands and feet and side, in all its many forms will impact a stranger’s life.

Christ is Risen
[hand to ear]
The Lord is risen indeed!

There is no better story to invite a friend or stranger, struggling in the in-betweenness of life to come and see.

Amen.


References

Barnes, Craig. “The night I learned to take chances.” 26 4 2017. christiancentury.org. <christiancentury.org /article/night-i-learned-take-chances>.

ClarkSoles, Jaime. Commentary on John 20:1931. 23 4 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 23 4 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 4 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Easter 2A . 23 4 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.

Lewis, Karoline. Betweenness. 23 4 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Easter 2 A: Thomas, John, and the Reason We Gather. 23 4 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Warren, Timothy G. “Doubt Strengthens Faith, Easter 2(A).” 23 4 2017. Sermons that Work.

 

Believing More Together Than Apart

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Easter: Acts 5:27-32, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31, Psalm 150

 

Galaxy Quest is a curious science fiction tale, of a TV show that has gone bust, but whose actors still make the public appearances. A galactic civilization picks up the transmissions, believes them to be true and constructs their entire civilization around the show. They get into trouble with an aggressive civilization and come to earth seeking the show’s heroes help. It gets quite comical, dramatic, and has its tragic moments. Near the end, the commander uses the Omega 13 device, allowing him to go back in time, for a do-over of a catastrophic ending. I’m inviting us to make use of the Omega 13’s back in time feature before we begin exploring the ending verses of John 20. The change of scene is necessary because its preceding verses are so different from Luke’s story we heard Easter morning.

So here we go. [smack the railing]

Now that was painless. It is now last Sunday morning, two days after Jesus’ crucifixion and burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb, discovers Jesus’ body is missing and runs to tell the disciples. Peter and another disciple run to the tomb to see for themselves. They see the burial linens laying to one side neatly folded, well lying there. They don’t understand any better than Mary Magdalene did. They go to their homes. Mary Magdalene stays at the tomb, where she has a strange encounter with two angles, and the gardener, who turns out to be Jesus. He tells her

 … go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

That evening, the disciples are gathered behind locked doors because they are afraid of the Jews.

Commentator Scott Hoezee questions their decision to lock the doors. To this point in John’s Gospel, there is no hint the Jewish or Roman authorities are scouring the city for Jesus’ followers. So, why are they afraid? He also wonders why they are not out looking for Jesus? Don’t they believe Mary Magdalene? It seems unlikely they would have doubted Peter’s supporting witness, but the story says he went home. Why isn’t he out looking for Jesus? Where is his impetuous self? Why hasn’t he organized a search? Is it possible they are really afraid of Jesus? Have they remembered their behavior of the last week? It is not exactly like anyone stood in solidarity with Jesus. It is possible they haven’t gone to find Jesus because they are afraid they will find Jesus (Hoezee)?

In the end, Jesus finds them. He appears in the room, offers them peace, shows them the wounds in his hands and side. The disciples recognize him and rejoice. But, you get the feeling they still don’t get it; they are just really glad to see Jesus; they haven’t yet connected his appearance to his teachings that he would be betrayed, killed, and rise again. Undeterred by their continued struggle to realize who he really is, Jesus: gives them peace, tells them he is sending them into the world, just like God sent him, breaths on them, just as God breathes life into humanity in creation (Gen. 2:7), and gives them the gift of the Spirit. End of scene.

We don’t know anything else for a week. Well, except that they tell Thomas, who is mysteriously missing, that they saw Jesus. Thomas says

I don’t believe it; and won’t until I see what you saw, the wounds in his hands and his side.

The Bible doesn’t say where Thomas has been (Clavier). And Hoezee’s question about why the disciples aren’t out looking for Jesus has me wondering if that is where Thomas has been. Thomas has shown the desire, the willingness to follow Jesus. When Jesus invites them to come with him to awaken Lazarus, it is Thomas who, recognizing the danger of returning to Judea, where the people recently tried to stone Jesus, says

Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).

When Jesus is teaching about the glories of heaven and assuring the disciples they have a place there, and they know how to get there, it is Thomas who says

Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?  (John 14:5).

He wants to go; he wants to be with Jesus.

All this has me wondering if Thomas has been out looking for Jesus. I’m wondering if his disbelief is born of frustration

I’ve been out looking him, and Jesus shows up here, as you all cower.

As intriguing as the speculation is, there is no way to know.

What we do know is this. A week later all the disciples are again in the house. John says the doors are shut; he does not mention the lock. Jesus once again shows up; once again offers the disciples peace. Then he turns to Thomas and says

Do not be unbelieving, but believing (Olive Tree).

Thomas’ immediate response

My Lord and My God.

is the most profound proclamation of faith in the Gospels. Speaking to Thomas, and to those of us who follow, Jesus says:

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

John ends the chapter, which may have been the Gospel’s original ending, revealing that he has written this Gospel so those who read or hear the story may come to believe and have life (Harrelson).

This story is about resurrection, which is about being in relationship with Jesus; a relationship that includes the scars of life: Jesus’ scars, Thomas’ scars, the disciples’ scars and our scars (Hoch) (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). The story is also about the transition from being disciples, or followers, to being apostles, those who are sent. And remember that an apostle’s task is simply to go (Pankey). And on our way share the story of the Kingdom’s presence ~ here and now.

Sharing the story is not always easy. The disciples knew it first hand, and they locked themselves in a tomb, that looks a lot like a house. It is important for us to learn what our tombs look like (Hoch). That will help us understand how we experience here and now. This perspective of Thomas reveals that he is what in today’s world is known as data-driven (Hoch). Many of us are data drive, and this perspective may give us some assurance about the legitimacy of our faith journeys. However, not everyone experiences life this way; we experience life in all kinds of ways. All of them are valid. Not all of them agree.

I started with a bit of science fiction. I’m coming to an end with a bit of wisdom from Einstein. Relativity kind of eliminates the notion of where. The universe did not begin in a place; it began at a time. All our experiences are time-based. We see the moon as it was a second and a half ago, the sun as it was eight minutes and 19 seconds ago, Jupiter as it was 37 minutes ago, the center of the Milky Way some 26,000 years ago. We see you after in tiny time it takes light to get from you to me. Relativity also reveals that everyone’s experience is unique because we are all in different vantage points. This means that there is no such thing as universal knowledge. Knowledge overlaps and the more experiences we share, more and greater knowledge is available to all (Overbye).

Your relationship with the crucified scarred resurrected Jesus, whose experience of you includes all your scars, is unique. It is important to everyone else because it is only when we share all our experiences, whether they agree or not, that we can glimpse the fullest possibility of the Kingdom here right now.

The Omega 13 has done its job. And relativity always brings us back to the present. From here I have no doubts; that together we can be more believing than apart, and Jesus is sending us out there [point out] to share so everyone may be more believing.

 


 

References

Clavier, Anthony. “My Lord and My God, Easter 2 (C) – 2016.” 3 4 2016. Sermons that Work.

Ellingsen, Mark. Easter 2, Cycle C (2016). n.d. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 4 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoch, Robert. Commentary on John 20:1931. 3 4 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. Easter 2C. 3 4 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 3 4 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Resurrection is Relationship. 27 3 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

Overbye, Dennis. “Don’t Let Them Tell You You’re Not at the Center of the Universe.” 1 4 2016. New York Times. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/02/science/dont-let-them-tell-you-youre-not-at-the-center-of-the-universe.html?_r=0&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. “Becoming Apostles.” 30 3 2016+. Draughting Theology.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

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) http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1991 1/4 RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on John 20:19-31, 4/23/2014
[ii] GAIL R. O’DAY, New Interpreter’s Bible  THE GOSPEL OF JOHN INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS
[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