through believing you may have life in his name

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Second Sunday of Easter, Year A 2011
Acts 2.14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1.3-9; John 20.19-31
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

In the Gospel we heard that one of the great purposes of the giving of the Holy Spirit is so that we have the power to forgive sins. It is our mission to offer the peace to others that Jesus offers and to carry out his work of love in the world. It gives life much meaning and purpose and we all get to be a part of what God is doing here and now.

Grace and peace to you from the wounded healer, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This past Thursday I went to the home of a friend who has a business of putting CD’s together. I had an order to pick up and as I was walking to the front door he met me outside and said,

“Hey Pastor Renee, great to see you! How are you doing?”
“I’m doing well,” I replied. “It is such a beautiful day outside. How are you doing?”
“Well I’m doing okay, but did you hear the news about the south?”
“The south? No, what do you mean, the south?”
“Well all the tornadoes. There was something like 280 of them and lots of people died.”
“What?! 280 tornadoes. I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Yes, it’s real bad.”

As I made my way into the house I tried to fathom what kind of destruction 280 tornadoes could be capable of and what forces of nature had to come together to produce something so unimaginable. Surely there must be some exaggeration to the story, I thought. I didn’t want to believe him and decided I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions until I heard more about what happened or saw it for myself.

My friend made his way to the television and turned it on and said, “Here. Watch.”

I watched. I watched horrified as huge monsters made their way into densely populated cities. Even seeing it on the television was hard for me to believe. Here I was, sitting on a couch in what seemed like a world away, trying to be in denial of what I saw with my own eyes through a screen. What I did know is that I could not deny the reality of the tornadoes if I were standing in the middle of a dismantled home and city with debris all around me.

And this all leads me to think of Thomas from our Gospel reading today believe it or not. Who knows how many times Mary Magdalene and the rest of the disciples kept trying to tell Thomas that Jesus was raised from the dead. I can just imagine the conversation:

“Thomas, Jesus has risen from the dead!”
“Yeah right. I don’t believe you.”
“No really, Thomas…we saw him.”
“I still don’t believe you.”
“Thomas, seriously…would we make this up?”
"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 (John 20:25)."

I have to wonder if standing smack in the middle of a torn apart home is proof that a tornado just ripped through, is comparable to the proof Thomas had of the resurrected Jesus as he was invited to shove his hands and fingers into the fatal wounds from Jesus’ crucifixion. For those in the south there is no denying that there were tornadoes. For Thomas there is no denying the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Now for us it’s a little more tricky because we cannot prove the resurrection like it was proven to Thomas and the rest of those who saw Jesus. We either believe the stories or we don’t. Either Jesus is risen from the dead or he isn’t. We don’t get to physically stick our hands in the wounds of the risen Christ, but rather we hear about and read the stories in order that we can come to believe.

This probably sounds easier than it actually is because some days it is really tough to believe. Not only to believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead but that it has something to do with you. I really like Thomas and I think he gets a bad rap. Most often the word associated with Thomas is “doubting.” He is often called “doubting Thomas,” and in many cases it is all he is known for. Thomas has two appearances in the Gospel of John before today’s reading.

The first comes in John 11 when Jesus wants to go back to Jerusalem. Typically it wouldn’t be a problem to go back to Jerusalem, except they all had to flee the city because people wanted to stone them to death. And here we have Thomas who says to the rest of the disciples: "Let us also go, that we may die with him (meaning Jesus)." At that time Thomas was willing to go wherever Jesus went even if he were to die. Then in John 15, Thomas asks Jesus, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"

Thomas is a person who doesn’t take something at face value, but rather deeply engages in the questions of life. He is logical…he knows that people can be stoned to death if you get enough people mad at you. And…people don’t come back to life after they die. Yes, Thomas can be stubborn, and have moments of unbelief, but I think it’s more than that. What if Thomas couldn’t bear to be disappointed? Dare he even hope that it could be true that his teacher and friend could be alive after such a brutal death? Dare he go up against all logic and reason? I would imagine he didn’t want to set himself up for disappointment.

I often think: What keeps us or has kept us from believing the incredible news of Jesus rising from the dead? I would imagine there is a whole range of things like: logic, reason, stubbornness, not wanting to be disappointed, not feeling the love of God because of horrible things that have happened, not having proof, or even having Christianity presented in a way that says, “If you don’t believe this you’re going to hell.” There is no room for doubt in these scenarios.

I have sometimes asked people the question: “What is the opposite of faith.” Immediately without hesitancy all have answered: “Doubt.” But do you know what the opposite of faith really is?…it is unbelief or being without faith. Perhaps a better translation for verse 27 is “Do not be faithless but faithful,” instead of “Do not doubt but believe.” Doubt still leaves room for questions, which we all have. Through Thomas’ questions and the grace of Jesus, comes the most clear and profound confession of faith in all of the New Testament: “My Lord and my God (John 20.28).”

Sometimes, but not always, we need something more than the stories. I would imagine the people living in the south need Jesus to stand in the midst of their demolished homes and say, “Peace be with you.” Sometimes we need to touch the wounds of our crucified and risen Lord to know that he is with us and suffers all things along side us and whispers in our ear, “Do not be faithless but faithful.”

And when we do have doubts and feel faithless, we have the stories and the community of believers to walk along side us and declare that Christ has indeed risen from the dead and that he is with us.

In a few moments we are going to have a baptism. Aaron, you have responded to these stories with belief and God has given you faith and a desire to be baptized. For these things we thank God. The very Spirit that Christ gave to the disciples and to those who have gone before you, Christ gives to you in your baptism today. The Spirit has been alive and active in your life already and today you will hear the commitment and love God has for you through water and Word, and also your call to be part of the mission of the body of Christ.

In the Gospel we heard that one of the great purposes of the giving of the Holy Spirit is so that we have the power to forgive sins. It is our mission to offer the peace to others that Jesus offers and to carry out his work of love in the world. It gives life much meaning and purpose and we all get to be a part of what God is doing here and now.

Thomas didn’t just simply declare: “My Lord and my God,” and then sit back and relax on some tropical island for the rest of his life. He, along with the other witnesses of the resurrection, witnessed to what they saw, which is why we believe 2000 years later, and he lived in Jesus’ forgiveness and spread that forgiveness around with great love and conviction.

So 2000 years later, dare we believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that we are forgiven and loved? Dare we question and then c
onfess like Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” (and be committed to God’s work of forgiveness and reconciliation in the world)? Dare we?

These things are written and proclaimed “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).”