SERMON 4/15/12 Easter 2B
In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus and reported it to the disciples, but they all were skeptical followers who were cowering behind locked doors. One skeptic who is the focal point of today’s story was Thomas, “Doubting Thomas” as he has been wrongly dubbed. From our Sunday school classes, we were taught, do not be like Thomas because of his suspicion and wariness, because he didn’t have a faith as solid as a rock, and thus, we grew up believing that Thomas was a bad guy.
We can be pretty hard on these early followers, because we stand on the other side of the story, post-resurrection, post-Pentecost, and post- Evangelism. We can very easily find ourselves as hearers of this story, acting like Monday morning quarterbacks when we think, “They were just a bunch of cowards, they should have done this or said that. You know, we can fill in the right plays, and the right execution.” It is easy to be spectators on the sidelines and pass judgment.
Some of us might believe, “If I had been there, I would have been out in the street proclaiming, ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen!’” Really? Would we? If we are honest with ourselves, we would have been in that safe, protected, secure room with the other disciples being just as frightened and dismayed as the rest of them. Things haven’t changed much over the last 2000 years. There are still Christians who proclaim the faith, yet they live in perpetual fear of living the resurrected life.
Fear is an emotion associated with doubt, skepticism, and suspicion. Fear is the antithesis of trust or belief. Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” We probably hear Jesus’ words as cutting and terse admonishments for Thomas. We may even hear this statement as a chastisement for folks whose faith journeys include moments of doubt. I believe this is less a reprimand for doubting, and more of an encouragement to trust in Christ, even when you do not have visible evidence to support the trust you think you have. Thomas gets a bum rap my friends. Doubt is not sin! Uncertainty and skepticism are a natural part of trusting in anything. I will say this publically, “Doubt as Christians is OK!” There is a caveat to that though. We run into problems when doubt is present and yet, we become paralyzed by fear and thus, we become unable to recognize the great presence of the Spirit in our lives.
Mary Magdalene proclaimed the resurrection to the apostles and yet, nothing initially changed in this little community. The doors remained locked, and then it happened, Jesus burst into the room. “Peace be with you!” In a flash, they had encountered the Risen Lord right there in their very midst and from that point forward, everything changed. I am sure that this was not the last time there was doubt and uncertainty among Jesus’ early followers. Just read some of the Apostle Paul’s letters and you will from time to time, hear a little weariness and doubt, but he remained faithful. We do not need to dismiss doubt as faithlessness but rather; we should embrace it and let its presence become for us awareness, that we need intimate encounters with Christ, in order to walk the Resurrected Life.
Thomas wanted more than just an assurance; he wanted an intimate encounter with Jesus so that he could trust. I read in a recent article, these words, “Thepersonal encounter (of Thomas and the disciples in that room) makes Jesus’ resurrection real to this follower(s). In fact, Thomas’s answer, “My Lord and my God!” is the high point of John’s Gospel. When Thomas gets it, he gets it.” Hunter, Amy B. “The Show-Me Disciple.” Christian Century 119.6 (2002): 17-22. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 14 Apr. 2012 This Christian journey is about trust, which means a renewal comes from those moments when we experience an intimate encounter with Jesus. Faith is not merely an assent to a particular fact alone; it is experiencing Christ every day. We need to encounter the Risen Lord in order that our faith might be renewed and strengthened.
In one of the Eucharistic Prayers, we ask God, “deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” (BCP p. 372 Eucharistic Prayer C). Each week we come boldly before the throne of grace and in the Eucharistic meal, bread and wine become Body and Blood, and through this sacrament, we encounter the Risen Lord. Our trust is renewed. The Church was birthed because of this trust, lives over the centuries changed because of this trust, and we sit here today as hearers of the Gospel because of this trust. Is that enough though? Is it sufficient to sit here gathered and say; “He is Risen?” Are we mere hearers and not doers of the word?
What are we afraid of in this community? Do we find ourselves cowering behind closed doors distrusting, fearful, wary, and skeptical? Or are we rather, bold, confident in Christ, and are we ready to spread the Good News. What good is the resurrection and the Good News of Christ, if we are unchanged by it, if we choose to hide it, if we fail to share it, and if by our very lives, others are unable to see the Risen Lord. If we believe in, no, if we trust that Jesus is Lord, then we should live transformed by the power of the resurrection. Trusting in Christ means we live as if joy, reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and mutual love mean something every moment, every day, every week.
There are some practical ways to live the resurrected life and by doing so, encounter Christ. Here are just few: (1) Pray daily, (2) grow in Christ, (3) put your spiritual gifts to work in the Kingdom, and (3) share the Good News. Pray daily, not merely for your own needs, but for the needs of each other and the needs of the world. We need to carry in our hearts the burdens of our sisters and brothers both here, and beyond these walls. Through intercessory prayer, our hearts are softened for each other, and we are drawn to the heart of God who loves us and cares for us in trouble and in celebration. You will be amazed how fear will subside and trust will grow through prayer.
Commit to growing in your walk with Christ. We need to stretch our minds through the study of scripture, and we need to gather with other Christians beyond Sunday morning to share our journeys of faith. Scripture study may seem daunting, but it can be as easy as taking a journey through the Psalms. Consider reading one chapter a day and the habit will feed your soul. In addition, growth in the faith does not happen in isolation. We need the faith of our sisters and brothers to strengthen our faith. I encourage you to join a small group. If there is not one here already that interests you, come see me and we will start another one. Gather with other Christians, immerse yourself in scripture and you will be amazed how fear will subside and trust will grow through connections with others.
Search your heart for your God-given Spiritual Gifts and put them to work in God’s Kingdom. Do you sing? Do you play an instrument? Can you teach? Are you an organizer? Do you have great leadership skills? Have you ever wanted to serve at the Lord’s Table on Sunday mornings? Whether you serve the community in some way on Sunday, or whether you serve in some way through Outreach and Mission, each of us has been gifted by the Holy Spirit at baptism to serve. If you don’t know what your gifts are, come see me and I will help you unpack your gifts. Serve in the Kingdom and you will be amazed how fear will subside and trust will grow as you serve.
Share the Good News. Do not, I repeat do not, go buy a bullhorn and stand on 776 and shout Jesus Saves. That is not a good evangelism method. What you can do is live the faith every day. Love deeper, speak sweeter, and give the forgiveness you may have been denying. In each encounter you have with others, whether in the store, at the golf course, or out at dinner ask yourself this question, “Is this encounter the only one today by which, this person may see the face of Christ?” Then let your actions speak the Gospel to them. Share the Good News and you will be amazed how fear will subside and trust will grow.
It is time for us to open the lock of fear, to throw open the doors of skepticism and make a commitment to the trust which we all proclaim. Pray, grow, serve, and share … this is how we can encounter the Risen Lord each and every day. This is how we have an intimate encounter with Christ. Our faith will be strengthened, our souls will be renewed, and the Gospel will be shared. You see, we really have nothing to fear, unless we allow the Good News to be silent because of our fear, our indifference, or our lack of commitment. As the early disciples wrestled with trust and doubt, so must we wrestle for, “What good is the resurrection and the Good News of Christ, if we are unchanged by it, if we choose to hide it, if we fail to share it, and if by our very lives, others are unable to see the Risen Lord?”