With Great Power: Dancing Together; John 20:19-31; 1 John 1:1-2:2
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; April 11, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
Poor Thomas. All these years later, he’s still most known for his weakest moment. It’s sad. Still, we can’t honestly think bad of him, can we? He’s us in a whole lot of ways: that little voice inside us that resists easy answers to hard questions about faith, who might like a little proof, even though we realize that proof and faith don’t always work very well together in the same sentence.
That defining moment in Thomas’ life happens because he has separated himself from the other disciples. Perhaps he is only gone for a few minutes; maybe it has been hours. Maybe Thomas is actually the strongest one among them—the one who isn’t so overwhelmed by fear…not needing to remain behind locked doors. Maybe he has been out on some errands to provide for the others: to pick up food or other needed supplies, or to simply walk the streets to see if he can discern the mood of the community, to try to figure out if they actually are in any danger, if it is safe for them to come out, to move about freely. It’s easier for one man to move about unnoticed than a whole group. Better for one to be arrested than all of them together.
Maybe Thomas is actually the strongest, the bravest, the one most willing to begin considering what they might do next, where they might go next.
Whatever the reason, Thomas isn’t with the other disciples, and while he is gone Jesus comes to them. Although they’re startled at Jesus’ sudden appearance, when they hear him speak, “Peace be with you,” his words—as they always have—settle them.
Jesus shows them his hands and his side. If there has been any question about what Mary has told them—that she had seen the Lord—if there was any uncertainty remaining as to whether his body has been stolen, or has been resurrected as Mary is convinced, then now—the evidence is before them. The wounds inflicted on the cross mark his body. They know those hands, those arms, those feet, those legs. They had seen his body when it was whole. This was the same body, now wounded, now visual testimony to the truth of his resurrection. He died, and now he is alive and present before them, in this room.
How can they NOT rejoice? Relief, joy, wonder, amazement—a whole range of emotions let loose, and these 10 men who have been pretty much paralyzed by fear just a few moments ago, are like children bubbling over to talk to Santa Claus just a few days before Christmas.
Peace be with you, Jesus says again. Peace. Just as God sent me, I’m sending you. In the same way God sent me here on earth to be with you, to teach you, to show you, I’m now sending you out to do these same things for others: to teach them, to show them. And then he breaths on them the Holy Spirit, empowering them to do these things, commissioning them, authorizing them.
When Thomas returns from wherever he has been, they tell him what they’ve seen, what has happened, but Thomas dismisses their words. I can’t help but wonder how they respond to this: is it discouraging (if our own brother can’t believe what we say, then how can anyone else?)? No, I won’t believe it, Thomas says, not until I can see with my own eyes. Maybe he wants to believe but can’t. Rather than pretending, he just says it to them straight: unless I see where the nails entered his body, unless I can touch those places for myself, I won’t believe it. I can’t. That’s not who I am.
A week later, they are once again in that same house, and this time Thomas is with them. The doors are shut (Are they locked? Still bolted? Had they seen Jesus, received his peace, been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and were still locked behind closed doors?) Jesus once again comes and stands among them. Startled again, Jesus calms them again, Peace be with you. And then he turns directly to Thomas and offers him exactly what he has asked for. Exactly what he has said he needs. With this, Thomas believes, responding, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus says to him, “You believe because you’ve seen? Blessed are those who haven’t seen but still believe.”
Blessed are those who haven’t seen but still believe.
With these words, I think Jesus is blessing us and all of the generations of Christians who have followed from that day: those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to hear his voice, who weren’t able to walk down a dusty road and have a conversation with him, who can only imagine what his face looked like, who are uncertain about the color of his skin, and who wonder how he might respond to the various challenges that have come along in these modern times. People like us who only “hear” his words as we read them in scripture, as we hear them proclaimed in worship, as we come to know them through the actions of the martyrs and our Fathers and Mothers in the faith who are willing to teach us, to show us by their words and by the way they live their lives.
Blessed are we who haven’t seen and yet still believe.
That’s encouraging, isn’t it? But I believe that this word comes not only to encourage us, but also to challenge us to grow, that we might be effective witnesses in this day. There are reminders in this story about Thomas that I think are important for us to hear.
The first reminder is the importance of being in community. Thomas missed out by not being with the others. For whatever good reason it may have seemed to be at the time, he went a whole extra week of not knowing, of not experiencing peace, of not being at-one with his brothers and sisters, who together had experienced the living Lord.
Sometimes we’re tempted to do life on our own. We get frustrated with the church (with the larger church or our own local church), with decisions that or made or the time it takes to get things done. Sometimes there are people in the church that frustrate us, who disagree with us. Sometimes we get caught up in the smaller things and forget that we’ve been blessed with the Holy Spirit and can accomplish even “greater things.”
But together we can do so much more, we can grow with others around us to challenge us, to offer us different perspectives and possibilities that we may not have considered before. To do things we probably wouldn’t do on our own.
Together, we’re the Body of Christ. Broken, but mighty. Alive and empowered.
The second reminder from this text has to do with community as well, and it is this: Here in this place, your questions, your doubts, your insecurities are not treated as deficiencies or weaknesses. We believe that working through the questions can make us stronger, they mean that we’re working to make faith real, and not receiving it thoughtlessly. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to share our faith/to pass our faith on to the next generation. We need to do our best, to tell stories, to invite our children and grandchildren into relationship. And questions are an important part of doing that. We don’t have to have all the answers, but accepting the one who asks the questions and working through the answers is what’s most important.
Back years ago, when I was newly teaching nursing, I asked a colleague about how she responded to a student who asked a question she couldn’t answer. She said she told them to look it up!! I responded in that way to one question one time, and it didn’t feel right. I think the correct answer then—and now—is to say, “I don’t know! Let’s look it up/figure it out together!”
Though I feel sorry for Thomas to be known for his “weak moment,” what we’re reminded here is that doubt doesn’t separate him from Jesus. Jesus isn’t offended or angered. Questions are just fine. And perhaps it’s a good thing to realize that denial won’t mean God is through with you, or that the church will be done with you. The church, according to Frederick Buechner, is a place where questions are welcome, where doubts can be voiced, and where faith can grow.
And that brings us to the third reminder: We have a God who seeks us. You and I have a loving God, a seeking God, a finding God. Remember the stories Jesus tells of the prodigal son, the lost sheep and the lost coin? There was much celebration when each of these were found! We have a God who seeks us out, who can make his way through locked doors and through hardened hearts, like Thomas’. Like mine. Like yours. We have a God who will meet us where we are, who will accept as we are, and who will walk alongside us as we venture forward.
God offers love and grace to those who don’t deserve it, who don’t even think they want it…God sees treasure in these broken clay pots of our lives. And that is such good news for all of us.
We’re an Easter people. We’re partners with God in this world today. We’re here to make a difference—together—in people’s lives. We’re here to invite others into the dance—to dare them to dance again if they’ve stepped away for some reason. If they’ve been knocked down by life.
Our world needs good news; our world needs Jesus…so may we be ready to live it, to teach it.