First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Testimony to the Resurrection

First United Methodist Church
April 14th, 2024
Rev. Lauren Hall

Testimony to the Resurrection

Have you ever received a letter in the mail offering you a better deal for something you already have? For example, we recently upgraded the phone system in the office and I think in the last six months, we have received calls from three or four other phone companies who want our business. Sign up with us, they say, and you’ll get a better deal! Another letter I receive quite frequently is the one offering to buy my car. “We need your car,” they say, “and we’ll get you into a better car with little or no out of pocket expense.”

Now I tend to be pretty skeptical about these kinds of offers, but I also don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity, so I occasionally do look into them, hoping to find a way I can “win,” or come out ahead.

Every once in awhile, these offers really do result in a better deal. So, whether it is a credit card, or a lower interest rate, or a new car, it’s worth investigating a little bit. There may be a cost, but what we have to determine is whether that cost is worth it.

Jesus offers us a better deal also.

When we encounter the disciples in our scripture today, they are gathered in the Upper Room, frightened, and wondering what to do. Three days before, their best friend and leader was arrested, convicted and crucified by the Roman Empire. Now they fear for their own lives, since it is logical that in being followers of Jesus, the authorities will soon begin to hunt for them also.

Earlier, Mary Magdalene had found them and announced that she had seen the Lord and that he had given them the message that he was “ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” They were a little confused about what that meant, since Peter and John had also been to the tomb and seen that Jesus was already gone, and he hadn’t “appeared” to Mary until after they had left. Perhaps she had seen a ghost.

We can assume that the disciples were discussing all of these things when Jesus appeared to them. Remember that the “doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked…when Jesus came and stood among them.” (John 20:19) He probably noticed that their faces turned three shades of grey before he greeted them with the words, “Peace be with you.” Think back to John 14, Jesus’ farewell discourse, when he says,

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate,[a] the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you… 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. 30 ” (John 14:25-30)

When Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” he is reminding them of the things he told them that evening. He shows them his hands and his side, as if to say, “Here I am. It’s me. I’m not a ghost. Just like I said when we shared that last meal together, ‘I am going away [for a few days], and I am coming [back] to you.’

But now I am preparing to ascend, so here is the Holy Spirit, receive it and use it wisely. But mostly allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to you all the things you need to know and believe (that’s from Luke). Now I am sending you out. Go. Be disciples and make disciples. See you in a bit!”

That’s the deal that Jesus offers. So what is the cost?

Let’s dive into our scripture a little further.

When all this was happening, Thomas wasn’t there. Thomas gets a really bad reputation for his doubts, and in this passage, he questions whether Jesus really did appear.

But realistically, we should call him, “the absent Thomas.” If Thomas had been present on the earlier occasion when Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples, he may never have said the words that made him famous, “Unless I see…I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

The other disciples had been given that experience. They had seen Jesus, and he had shown them his hands and his side. They knew he was real, but Thomas had to rely on what they told him about their experience. And so he suffered for another week, both emotionally and spiritually, until he had his own encounter with Jesus.

How different is this from what we are experiencing in our world right now? Our world is filled with skeptics who doubt and question and don’t believe. These people do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah and so, they are not experiencing life in his name. But what if we stopped calling these people non-believers and simply considered them absent? How would this change our outlook?

Think about this for a minute. How many of you have had a personal experience with Jesus? Who was there to witness it? Now think about all the people who weren’t there.  Maybe they don’t believe in Christ because they haven’t experienced that same overwhelming sense of love and surety about Christ. These people don’t believe yet because they weren’t present when we had our own personal encounters with Jesus. They have to rely on what we share with them about our experience. And because it isn’t their experience, they don’t believe, or they doubt. So they suffer for another week, or month, or year, both emotionally and spiritually, until, like Thomas, they have their own encounter with Jesus.

Now, lucky for Thomas, when Jesus appeared to them a second time, he was with the other disciples and this time he had an opportunity to see and believe. This particular verse is a very important detail in this passage. The best place to maintain faith is in the company of fellow believers.

One of the things we see in Acts and in Paul’s letters is that the early Christians established faith communities from the very beginning. 1st John reminds us that “the reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1) Their challenge, and ours, is exactly what Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

We are charged to find ways to bring those who are absent into the company of fellow believers, because it is usually through this fellowship that they will have their own personal encounter with Jesus.

Consider this:

A volunteer at a homeless shelter had been bringing clothes and toys and special books and games to a woman with two young boys in the shelter. The woman was quiet and grateful but not effusive about her thanks. She never had a lot of conversation with the volunteer, but nevertheless the volunteer continued to bring her things she thought the family would enjoy. Sometimes it was food, or maybe a new blanket, always they were items that seemed to meet a specific need or an interest.

Several weeks into their strange relationship, the woman with the young boys was going through a rough time. She had responded in heated anger to another person at the shelter and was issued a warning. The director of the program told the volunteer that in spite of this outward burst of anger, the woman had expressed great love for the volunteer who visited her routinely. This was a relationship she looked forward to and didn’t want the consequence of her anger to be the loss of these regular visits. 

This really took the volunteer by surprise. “Why? She never really talks to me. We don’t have a real relationship.” The director said, “She may not speak much, but she has never been loved before. And you keep coming back. You bring her things she needs, you always remember to include her children, and you come when you say you will come. No one has ever done that for her before. This is the first time anyone has loved her.”

The way the volunteer treated the woman in the homeless shelter was confirmation for the woman that love was real. Perhaps she had known that, but throughout her life she had mostly been treated with anger and disrespect. She had to experience love before she could believe in it or even trust it. Sometimes seeing really is believing.

I don’t know the rest of the story for this woman and her children. But I do know that during the chapter of her life while she lived in the shelter, she received a glimpse of kingdom life, and that even when she struggled during this time, her visits with the volunteer brought her joy.

When Thomas doubted, Jesus didn’t chastise him or punish him for his unbelief. Instead he shows up so that Thomas will believe.

This is the better deal that Jesus offers us! Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Just as my father sent me, I now send you.” Receive and go. Show up in people’s lives and share kingdom life.

Christ will do whatever is necessary so that we can see and experience the power of God.

What is the cost of Jesus’ deal?

We have to determine what our duty is as a follower of Jesus versus living our lives as we choose. We have to decide whether Christ’s offer of discipleship is worth the cost. Let us pray.

God of the resurrection how grateful we are for your loving mercies. You saw our fear and doubt, our suspicion, our mistrust, and you banished them from our lives, replacing them with hope, peace, love, and joy. You called us to be your witnesses, to all the world, unafraid of what others might think or say about us. We have been invited out of our darkened hideaways, into the light of your world as emissaries of hope and justice, peace and compassion. Be with us, as we participate in ministries of healing and hope through this church, in our community, region, nation, and world. Give us courage and strength to be your disciples in all the circumstances of our lives; for we ask this in Jesus’ Name. AMEN.

Invitation to Discipleship:

John writes, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” As you go out into the world this week, go believing that Jesus loves you and be prepared to share your faith and your love as you proclaim the good news of the Resurrection through your words and your actions.