SERMON Easter 2C 4/28/19 St. Monica’s Episcopal Church
Peace Be With you
One of my favorite old hymns begins with, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Let it begin with me. When he appeared to his disciples after his crucifixion and death, even while they were hiding behind fear and locked doors, Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you.” Peace today seems to be an elusive state we all seek, but what was this peace Jesus was talking about after his death? Some say peace ismmerely a “psychological” state that leads to peaceful behavior from a “serene inner disposition.” Some believe peace is inner tranquility.
The peace Jesus described is not just inner tranquility, but it is reality that comes from transformation within and through us. Peace is a new way of life. In John Lennon’s ballad “Imagine” he alludes to a hope for peace brought about by global change, action, and commitment to a new way of life. Lennon’s song might make you believe from his words, “Imagine no heaven, no hell, and no religion” that maybe he was an unbeliever, a doubter, and maybe even a skeptic about God, but I disagree.
In the chorus of “Imagine,” Lennon sings, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” Lennon believed in, hoped for, and diligently worked toward the Kingdom of God, and did so with conviction. Lennon may have said there was no need for religion, but I wonder if he really rejected God, or was it he needed to see more proof of the transformative resurrection of Christ enacted faithfully, boldly, and effectively in the lives of Jesus’ followers.
There are many folks today, who live this life hoping, dreaming, and waiting for the peace and promises of the Kingdom of God. I think the world hungers for the Peace of Christ and the hope of new life we Christians proclaim. “Peace be with you” is an invitation to “Thomas, and all who will come after him, to believe the truth that is too good to be true,” which is this, “in Christ real peace is possible,” even if we live as disciples in cycles of doubt, co-mingled with trust.
Thomas, the Hero?
The Apostle Thomas was in good company with folks like John Lennon, and the many others through the centuries, who needed proof of the hope of resurrected life. Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
The Apostle Thomas has been called “Doubting Thomas,” As if that was a bad thing. From Sunday school, we all “learned that (Thomas) was a dull, doubting follower of Christ whom we should not imitate. The moral of the story was clear— Don’t be like Thomas! Believe! Don’t doubt!” (3)
“Thomas was not an unbeliever; he was a realist.” Let me explain. Earlier in the gospel narrative, Thomas was the disciple that when “Jesus went to Bethany, a place he’d had to leave under threat of being stoned. Thomas supported Jesus’ apparent forlorn plan to go to Jerusalem to face the religious leaders when he said, “Let us also go that we may die with him.” (3) Doubt! Thomas decided faithfully to go on the journey with Jesus, regardless of the outcome.
Later in the gospel, Jesus said, “‘And you know the way to the place where I am going,’ but Thomas replied somewhat frustrated and yet seemingly willing to go, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas was plainspoken and gutsy. He had doubts, but wanted to understand what was going on, and he wanted to be able to face the situation at hand.” Thomas wanted to follow the Master, but he needed more information, and a clear-cut path, some direction, and evidence of the way.
Doubter to Believer
Thomas may have been a doubter, but he was well on his way toward being a true believer. There is a subtle bit of information in today’s reading that we tend to gloss over, but it is very important. When everyone else was locked behind closed doors cowering in fear, Thomas was not with them. Maybe he was out buying food, maybe he was avoiding the guards and soldiers, or maybe, just maybe, he was out in the streets looking for evidence of resurrection that Mary Magdalene proclaimed. Who knows, but what we do know is that Thomas was not like the others, stuck behind closed doors, afraid, hiding, and reluctant to get busy with the mission. When you consider that, Thomas seems a lot less like the bad guy skeptic that we learned about in Sunday school, and more like a bold, practical, follower of Jesus, who was committed to the mission by trying to figure it all out.
Thomas is a hero for we practical, no-nonsense Christians, who need to see the “proof in the pudding.” When offered the chance to touch the Risen Lord’s wounds, when he saw before his eyes the reality of new life standing before him, everything changed and Thomas proclaimed this truth about Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” “No one else offered such devotion or named Jesus as God. The so-called doubter that needed proof, who needed to see Jesus face to face, was the hero of the story. Thomas held out for an experience of Jesus on his own terms until he found his terms made foolish by the reality of seeing Jesus. Only then did he make his statement of faith.” (3)
How about us? We all need to experience the Risen Jesus on our terms, and I think the world today needs the same. The doubters and unbelievers need to see the proof of the Risen Christ in us who claim him as Lord. The world needs more “Thomas Christians,” and less “Simon Peter” Christians. We need to be less Peter-like Christians who have big plans to go the distance with Jesus, but fall short. We need to stop saying, “I will go to the cross with you Lord, and I will never deny you Lord,” and then we never leave the security and safety of the locked doors of the sanctuary.
Also, the world needs us to be honest about our own doubts. Maybe we all need to be honest and say, “I’m not sure I have this thing all worked out and I sometimes want to run away, but despite all that, I am absolutely committed to my convictions about the Kingdom God, about Jesus as my Lord, and about my desire to live the life of faith. I’m not going to stay behind locked doors, but I will go out looking for answers.” We Christians need to realize that doubt is not the antithesis of faith, but half-hearted claims of certainty, without the accompanying fruit of faith in our lives, that may very well be the fruit of unbelief.
There is a subtle difference between unbelief and doubt. Doubt is a condition of spirit that lies between belief and disbelief. Doubt involves uncertainty, distrust, and a lack of sureness about something. When in doubt, we are suspended between two polar opposite conclusions, and we find ourselves in a place unable to commit to either assertion. However, doubt is ok in this journey of faith. Even so, at some point we have to jump in with both feet into this life in Christ. Thomas may have been in a place of doubt, but when faced with the reality that the promises of God were true, in the flesh, right before him, his commitment led to action ,and he jumped in feet first saying, “My Lord and My God!”
Trust and Doubt
Thomas did not sit on the fence and say, well, maybe Jesus arose and maybe he’s God, and I am just not sure. No, Thomas jumped over the fence and he became a believer who did something about it. Thomas not only believed in the reality of the resurrection that took place in Jesus Christ, he reframed his whole life, and he put his trust fully in God. Thomas trusted God in all things.
In the Revelation to John, we hear these words of promise about Jesus’ return, when all things will be changed. John recorded, “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” This promise of God’s Kingdom becoming a reality today and tomorrow is not just a little sentimental promise for we faithful church attenders, who make a shy nod to it, as if it were merely a sentence in our creed. The reality of Jesus as Lord of All is a future possibility, but it is a present truth that should change us, and transform everything. Our lives must be a witness to that change and transformation.
Edgar Allen Poe once wrote, “The idea of God, infinity, or spirit stands for the possible attempt at an impossible conception.” I am sorry to say that more and more people see the Gospel as an impossible conception, because they need to see evidence of it in flesh, in us. We are the Good News in action and in flesh, when we love another, when we treat everyone with dignity and respect, when we say I’m sorry, and when we love the least, lost, and lonely among and around us. We are Good News when we advocate for and work to relieve suffering in the world. We are Good News when all that we do as a community is grounded in mission and God’s Kingdom.
“Imagine living in peace, imagine sharing all the world, and imagine living as one.” Despite our occasional periods of doubt, we must take a leap of faith. When the world looks at we Christians and say, “I will not believe unless I see it,” then we must show them the peace and Good News they seek; gospel in flesh. So, my sisters and brothers, maybe “we are just dreamers, but we are not the only ones.” We every day doubters in essence are inviting our neighbors and showing them the peace and Good News of Christ in us. Maybe then, our song will be and our invitation to the world will resound loudly, that these promises of God and the peace of God’s love is real and then, “Someday maybe you will join us, and the world will live as one.”
(2) Grant, Kristen Bargeron. “No Joke.” The Christian Century, vol. 120, no. 8, Apr. 2003, p. 18.
(3) Hunter, Amy B. “The Show-Me Disciple.” The Christian Century, vol. 119, no. 6, Mar. 2002, p. 17.
U2 Lyrics https://www.u2.com/lyrics/62