So that you may come to believe

John 20:19-31NRSV

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.”

Jesus and Thomas

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.”

The Purpose of This Book

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.

So that you may come to believe

I feel bad for Thomas.  He makes the list with all of the other disciples, but this is the only story where he has dialogue and because of it he gets the nickname “doubting Thomas”.  John is the only gospel that recounts this event, and some scholars believe it was written to discredit the writers of the Gospel of Thomas.  We don’t really know for sure.  The writer of the gospel of John says that it (the whole gospel) was written so that we may come to believe in Jesus. So, this story must have something to do with faith.

Jesus appears to the disciples (after he appeared to Mary Magdalene earlier that day).  He breathes the Holy Spirit into the room that will sustain the disciplines in their new life.  So, in John’s account, Pentecost, the commissioning of the church, happened Easter Evening.  Christ tells the disciples (and all of us) to speak peace, breathe in and out the holy spirit, and to love and forgive everyone we meet.  And that’s what the disciples set out to do.  

And we (the readers) sometimes assume that John meant all of the disciples or at least the 11 named male disciples, but John doesn’t exactly give us the attendance sheet for this event.  A couple of verses later we find out, it was everyone, except Thomas.  We have no idea if he was an excused absence or if he just forgot the meeting time.  These things happen.  But now all of the other disciples are echoing Mary Magdalene’s words “I have seen the Lord”, except for Thomas, who missed the coolest part of the gospel.  When the disciples say, “we have seen the Lord” Thomas isn’t part of the “we”.  I would be upset too.  He spent all this time with Jesus, and now that he can tell other people about the risen Christ he has to say, well, I didn’t see him but that’s what the other guys told me.  I would want to see Jesus for myself too.  And after what I imagine is a week of Thomas being sad and a little cranky in ministry, Jesus visits him and says, hey buddy, I’m here for you.  Jesus gives Thomas what he needs to believe and to do the work of a disciple.  

And I think a lot of us have had times where we felt like Thomas.  If only we had seen Jesus, believing would be easier.  But Mary Magdalene looked at Jesus and thought that he was the gardener.  Seeing him didn’t lead to believing he was risen.  She recognized him when she heard him say her name.  

This really is not Mary Magdalene or Thomas; this is about Jesus.  And because we have these stories, we know that Jesus’ relationship with his disciples and with us does not end with his death.  We can have a loving relationship with God because the divine relationship with humans did not end with Jesus’ death or for that matter our deaths.  The love of God is eternal, everlasting, and unconditional.  

The love of God is for all of us and for each of us. 

We are looking to God as individuals and as a community of disciples.  The relationships we build with each other matter greatly, because they will affect how we speak peace in our community, how we express love for each other, how we offer health and wholeness and the forgiveness of sins.   As a community and as individuals we have to be able to articulate why we believe and how that belief has changed our lives.  

Is it not enough to say, I believe in Jesus Christ the risen Lord?  Or do we have to be able to prove it?  And if we have to prove it, where is the proof?

Friends, the proof of Jesus’ resurrection is not the empty tomb.  The proof of resurrection is not in the shroud or Veronica’s veil, the proof is not in the stories we find in our scriptures or in the texts left out of our cannon, the proof is not that Mary Magdalene heard Jesus’ voice or that Thomas touched his scars, the proof of resurrection is not in the building of ancient churches or the tradition of popes in line after Peter, the proof friends is in us, it is in the love that we share, the peace that we bring and the healing forgiveness we offer each other.  

At Third Church we are loving each other and our neighbors by being as inclusive as we can possibly be.  We share peace and healing by promoting gender equality, working for racial justice, supporting affordable education especially for those with special needs, and providing dignity for those facing economic hardship.  And we are going to talk more about the ways in which we live as a community of faith after the service next week.  

And with that, each of us will examine our own hearts too.  We will ask ourselves questions about our faith and how it shapes our lives.  We will ask questions about how our beliefs line up with those around us.  We will ask questions about how our faith will guide our decisions moving forward.  With these questions will come certainties and doubts.  What I can tell you for sure is that Third church is a place where you belong and where you are loved.  

You are the beloved of God.  As beloved as Mary Magdalene, as beloved as Thomas, as beloved as any child of God.  You are beloved if you are full of faith.  You are beloved if you doubt.  You are beloved if you fluctuate between belief and doubt.

You are beloved if you are excited about the new directions our church might be headed.  You are beloved if the idea of change makes you queasy.  

You are beloved of God and beloved of your pastors and beloved of your friends and neighbors.  You are beloved.  

You are beloved.  You are beloved.  You are beloved.  Amen.

Other loosely related stuff that I looked at when I should have been writing the sermon.  Perhaps it helped and perhaps it was just some fun procrastination:

Gospel of Thomas (Wikipedia)

Dance Naked

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