“Jesus Stood Among Them”
John 20: 19-31, April 24th
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Our scripture from the gospel according to John, chapter twenty, verses nineteen thru thirty-one, gives us the first glimpse of the disciples experiencing Jesus after the Easter event.”
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written 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.
“Having heard of the Disciple Thomas’ initial doubts, we may need to consider the doubts we still hold in our hearts.”
“Jesus Stood Among Them”
On Easter we heard the testimony from Mary that the tomb of Jesus was empty – and when she encountered the risen Jesus, she did not recognize him, until he spoke to her. Today we hear of the testimony from the disciples that encounter the risen Jesus in the upper room which had its doors locked because of their fear. Then we hear of the doubts which Thomas had, as he was not with the others when Jesus appeared to them. There they are – ‘fear’ and ‘doubt’ – stuck right in the middle of the most astonishing news in history. Despite the testimony of Mary and the disciples who had encountered the risen Christ, they were still afraid – and Thomas clearly was not buying into this story of resurrection, demanding to see for himself that this was Jesus! He wanted to see the scars where they pierced his side and the nail holes in his hands and feet!
Thankfully, they dared write these accountings down for us. Yes, it was a long time before someone took to writing these testimonies and all that went with them on parchment. Miraculously, these writings passed forward so that we moderns in the Twenty-First Century have them to help us; help us with our own faith journeys. Helping us to deal with our doubts and our fears. Doubts and fears which we all have! Do you still have doubts about these events? Maybe questioning the details? Perhaps speculating that someone has just overstated things and have embellished on the details. The truth is, we shall never ever know for sure. Not until we are at heaven’s gate. Consequently, what are we to do till then? How are we to grapple with these astonishing accountings? We still have miles left to journey. Are we going to allow ourselves to take our questions, our doubts as well as our fears to the grave with us? Let us pray that none of us deprive ourselves of having the courage that Thomas had.
Karoline Lewis speaks to us of courage. “Thank you, Thomas, for your courage to ask.” Karoline is right to point this out for us. It takes courage to ask questions that expose our fears and our doubts. We go to our doctors with our aches and pains, fearful of knowing the truth about our health. Our fear only holds us back from making the best choices for how to proceed and how to begin the healing… before moving from this life to the next. It is not always our bodies that need healing, it is our spirits that need healing. The doctors can only tell you what they know from the test and x-rays and such. Their job, the oath they take is to help us keep our bodies functioning, the best they can, with the science and knowledge accumulated over the ages. No matter what the prognoses is; we are responsible for our faith in our Creator, and for keeping hope alive within ourselves. Hope to feed and nourish our very spirits, our willingness to go forward into our futures. Therefore, let us begin to grapple with the courage within us to at least ask questions! Let us: Clarify all that we can so that we can fully explore the facts that are available.
Having had the courage to gather the facts, we then can begin to allow our faith to fill our hearts. We will not have the opportunity to stand face to face with the risen one. No, we are the blessed ones, the ones who shall come to believe without seeing! Alan Brehm tells us that the choices we make, surrounding faith, will direct us in how we live our lives. “Faith is a choice; a choice to look at reality from the point of view that God is making all things new rather than that death is the ultimate reality. But that kind of choice isn’t something you can prove or verify.” We shall need to gather the testimonies from scripture, from others who are willing to show us the way. We will need to use our sense of reasoning to take us forward as far as possible. We shall need to turn to all the traditions and rituals of our church and a bit of the same from our religious folks all around us. And we shall need to rely on our own experiences.
Thomas had not experienced firsthand the presence of the Risen One. He thus began to doubt. However, he did not draw on his faith from all that he had seen and done with Jesus over those three years they spent together. He did not trust his fellow disciples as they shared their experience with Jesus, their shared experience! We may never have the luxury of seeing the miraculous firsthand. We will need to face the future based on knowledge alone. ‘OR’ we shall nurture our faith, enlarging and growing our faith; trusting more fully in those who have had the courage to tell us of what they believe and what they feel and felt in their own hearts! If you or I had religious upbringings and can see how our parents, grandparents or even the stories of our great grandparents and their parents, matured in their faith. We then can glean from their faith stories, to help build on our own faith journeys. If we have had this opportunity and retained their faith in our hearts, we can savor it and nourish it allowing this faith passed forward to us to grow. In so doing we may bear the fruits of a mature faith which we can then pass to our loved ones. Building on this thought we can join with other faithful people, working together to build a genuine faith community that strives to pass all that we have learned… to the generations that follow us. Wow! That would be special, would it not!? Come to think of it, this sounds familiar, does it not?
We, you and I, we are familiar with the New Testament accounts, especially the gospels of course! The scripture today is from the gospel according to John. Remember the last verse, verse thirty-one, in our lesson from chapter twenty? “But these are written 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.” They were writing this for us, to strengthen our faith. They wanted us to pass it on! Then the Acts of the Apostles, these disciples, followers like Paul became Missionaries to take these accounts to others. Paul set up new church starts during his trips throughout the surrounding regions, all the way to Rome. We also hear how Paul found himself in prison more than once and even flogged as he shared his enthusiastic faith with others. The scriptures tell us: The Apostle Paul, was executed for his zealous and whole-hearted faith about the life, teachings, the death, and the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. His story in Acts and in his letters. They give us information as to the kind of things a church might need to reflect on as it seeks to ‘reach out’ to their communities, sharing their faith journeys.
The history of our fellowship, now referred to as the Riviera United Church of Christ, has built its history on the teachings contained in these scriptures; and on the traditions found in the history of the United Church of Christ. Along the way, facing questions and grappling with doubts became common. Fears openly discussed in the light of day, which surely scared those who were not fully committed to this ministry. Yet, trained and properly credentialed ‘Called” Pastors came to serve. Musicians and Musical directors and staff were employed; and during the high years paid modestly. Committed, and unwavering volunteers carried the burden of the implementation of programs and focused outreach projects which served the needs of the community. Lives transformed as generations of families came and grew in faith within this faith community. Those resolute volunteers, both members and friends of this community, have joined the heavenly chorus of those that still witness to the faith. The faith which it has taken to come this far. Let us never allow our fears, nor our doubts to slow down or stop our resolve to continue to seek new avenues of ministry, to serve the needs of God and others, within and beyond the communities we serve.
Let us reflect on our scripture lesson today. Looking again at verse twenty-one. Jesus commissions the disciples as he offers them peace, a sense of calm, a freedom from their strife, their current distress and anxiety. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He then went on to keep one of his promises as he sends forth the ‘Advocate’ (believed to be the Spirit of Truth) Jesus sends forth this Advocate to be there for them, just as Jesus spoke of in the gospel of John, chapter fourteen, verse sixteen. Today’s scripture from John’s gospel, chapter twenty, verse twenty-three reads: When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We must continue to hold onto this early faith, a faith that has passed from generation to generation, passing through the decades in which this faith community persevered. We must do so believing in the impossible just as those who came before us did. We shall press on, asking the tough questions, and not hiding from the truth because of fear. Our doubts of God’s Living Spirit among us, shall fall away- all we need do is trust in the Spirit of Easter which does continue to Live amongst us today!