John 20: 19-31, April 19th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Read statement of faith
“Hear now these words as written in the gospel according to John, chapter twenty, verses nineteen thru thirty-one.”
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 these words with our ears, let us now open our hearts as we reflect on their meaning in our current lives, here in this time period in history.”
Today, we hear of the ultimate sign of who Jesus was and is! “But these (these signs) 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.” /John 20: 31/ The gospel of John has taken us through seven signs, each miraculous in nature, so that we, you and I who seek to know God through Christ shall come to believe more completely. Why is this so important? One obvious answer is so that we can build up our faith; thereby renewing our hope that God truly cares about us, that God still loves us! Life wasn’t all that easy back in the time when these writings were composed, and they are not all that easy at this moment of time either! Perhaps we don’t all want to study the scriptures on a daily bases, but it is good for our spiritual health to look to the testimonies of those who came before us, so that we can get a grasp of their struggles and learn from them how they came to believe more fully.
When the economy was breaking new record highs, it was easy to feel good about life. The check book balances, and the bills are all paid, self-reliance seemed feasible. When you and your family have food on the table, a roof over your heads and a closet full of clean cloths, cloths that fit and look good – what more could you need. Who needs faith? Then along came this virus that has caused us to question and doubt so many different things. The more we learn the more concerning it gets. Our priorities seem to have been turned upside down. Record numbers of our family, friends and neighbors have lost their jobs. Our government has put together three huge stimulus packages and the prime interest rate has been dropped to zero. Now, we all know that we don’t fully understand what this means. That’s the scary part! How can any of us ask: who needs faith?! We all need something to hang on to – that’s for sure!
Our scripture lesson speaks of how afraid the disciples were after the death of Jesus. “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.” /John 20:19a/ For fear had gripped them. Despite the account we read on Easter morning, about how the women found the tomb empty and some ‘actually’ spoke of how they encountered the Risen Jesus. The disciples were still fearful and filled with doubt and confusion! They were devastated, they were isolated, and they were locked in that upper room afraid to go outside. Why? Because Jesus had been crucified and they saw him taken down from the cross and he was dead! They desperately needed new faith, yet, on their own they were not being very successful! The Rev. Kathryn Matthews offers us a reflection. “Perhaps we might relate to those cowering disciples, trying to stay safe behind locked doors, wondering if it would ever be safe to go outside again.”/ Yes, indeed, how many of us are behind our closed, isolating doors, socially distant and filled with fear? How many of us have felt our faith slipping away? Surely, we have lost faith in that false sense of wellbeing which was so easily smashed as things accelerated! Then the miraculous happens.
The scripture speaks of Jesus coming and being with them, yet, no one opened the door. How did he get in? One answer is that his presence was spiritual in nature. Whatever the case his appearance gave the disciples who were there – renewed hope. And it seems they also received the Spirit which had been promised them. “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” /John 20: 21a & 22/ Those that were there gained hope and the strength of the Holy Spirit and became emboldened. When they told Thomas, who wasn’t there, he would have none of their foolishness. He wanted to see Jesus firsthand, none of this ‘he said’ ‘she said’ talk. For those of us who have received our stimulus checks a glimmer of hope has begun to rise-up. But what of those who may wait months before receiving them; or the truly needy that are unsure if they are even on the list?
A week later Thomas gets his proof. Most of us wait a lot longer than that! Many, a great many never get anything like the proof which Thomas sought after. Jesus scolds Thomas, rebuking him for needing proof before he came to believe in Christ’s resurrection! “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.” /John 20:29/ Many of us have had spiritual experiences, yet, for the most part, there are very few witnesses, to having encountered the Risen Christ such as this accounting from John’s gospel speaks to! And for those of us who have not encountered Jesus or some miraculous event, we have been forced to have a blind faith. Either way, what happens next is the important thing! Anna Shirey, author of the “The Labyrinth Way”, speaks to us about blind faith. “I have begun to realize that while blind faith is a starting point, that’s all it is.” Once we have faith, at what ever level, with or without proof, the next step in our journey is key to this new faith becoming something we can grasp onto and come to trust and keep, in all times and places along the way! Let us consider why we need faith now; now that we have talked about how we may have come to claim some.
Why do we need faith? If we are going to learn or relearn to trust in God, or trust in an institution or regain confidence in something – we need faith. A friend told me about taking her car to a transmission repair shop. The guy had a good reputation. So, they relied on his word, because they trusted the recommendation of their friend. The first time he repaired it their expectations faltered when it still wasn’t right; even though he charged them much less than was expected for the job. But when the technician rebuilt the transmission the second time and only charged them $200 for the parts their confidence and trust in him soared! We all need a little re-assurance that things will be alright. As our faith begins to grow, which is accomplished only when we ‘let go’ and ‘let God’ handle things for us. We then begin ‘becoming devoted to’ and more ‘mindful of’ God in our lives. Becoming committed to God takes more than one repaired transmission. It takes time and it takes commitment, on our part, to develop a trusting relationship.
What is needed to have faith? Doubting Thomas needed proof, which is a luxury most of us never get. This is true in our religious faith journey, and it is true in other areas of our lives. Employers ‘trust’ they have made a good choice when they hire a new employee. Likewise, we ‘trust’ that the company or institution we go to work for, will keep their side of the bargain. Ultimately, trust is earned – not given. Faith in God is strengthened when we allow our God into our life. Pastor Alan Brehm, author of the “The Waking Dreamer” speaks to us of faith. “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.”
Ultimately, we all are forced to trust in someone or something. It doesn’t always go the way we want. But, as we mature, we learn that what we wanted is not necessarily what we needed. The nurse, so many years back, who refused to give me more morphine after my surgery, the day after, rather she made me take a walk down the hall. Let me simply say, what I wanted would have compounded my pain. The walk, however, relieved my discomfort. Thankful, our God often answers “No!” to our requests and gives us what we need!
When do we give up on faith? When do the doubts start? Pastor Michael Palmer speaks out to us in a clear and truthful voice. “We’re a people afraid, and that fear has trapped us. Like the disciples in those early moments after Jesus’ death, we’ve locked ourselves in an upper room, waiting for the other shoe to drop.” This is a difficult time. However, this too shall pass. Life must go on. We know this, even amid the painful moments along the way. No, life will not go back to what it was. Just like that tragic event back on September eleventh two thousand and one. It was horrific and shocking and a great many innocent lives were lost. Despite the pain we were forced to move on. Life has not gone back to what it was before. War and pestilence both bring disruption, loss and change.
These folks we refer to in history, what was it that gave them the ability to move on with life? What can we learn from them? Faith! What they had was faith. Why is this so important? Faith and renewed trust and confidence will move us back into our lives as a people! Beth Scibienski gives us words of inspiration. “What they have inside of them was valuable… Go give life to others. Be life for others.” She is telling us to give the little bit of faith we gleen – to others. Why? Why must we share it with others? Why, because it is the surest way to keep it. “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” /John 20: 21b/ Jesus gave the disciples the breath of his Spirit which gave them peace. Then he sent them out to do for others. If we get a little of this peace which is offered, we need to pass it to others in order to keep it. People of God cannot condone the suffering of others. We must use our faith, to faithfully give to others what we have so freely been given by God.
Doubt but for a moment, then allow God’s love to nourish your faith – as you grow in faithfulness to God.