Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 8, 2018

2018.04.08 “How Do You Spell BELIEF?” – John 20:19-31

Central United Methodist Church
How Do You Spell BELIEF?
John 20:19-31

Pastor David L. Haley
The 2nd Sunday of Easter
April 8, 2018

The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_by_Caravaggio

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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.”

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.” 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 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.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.” – John 20: 19 – 31, the New Revised Standard Version

The big question for the 2nd Sunday of Easter is, “What do we do after Easter?” While my personal answer may be, “I need to get packing,” all of our answer should be to keep believing, towards an even more faithful and fulfilling life, lived in Jesus’ name.

After all, after the biggest day of the Christian year last Sunday, Easter Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Easter is often a let-down. The crowds have come and gone, the Easter lilies have disappeared, Easter eggs have turned into egg salad, and we return to our usual programming. Fortunately, today we were at least able to invite a world class opera star to be with us, so that helps. Thank you, Sal!

A solution some churches are resurrecting on the second Sunday of Easter to liven things up is an old Easter custom called “Holy Humor Sunday.” This is an idea rooted in an early Christian practice going way back, called the “risus paschalis,” (the Easter laugh), originating with the idea that God played a joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead, and at Easter, therefore, we all join with God in laughing. For centuries – especially in Orthodox churches – the Sunday after Easter was called “Bright Sunday,” and was observed by the faithful as a day of joy and laughter with parties and picnics in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Church people and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced. One pastor said she always looked forward to it, because at some point she always manages to include her favorite Jesus joke: “What did Jesus say when he was invited to the disco?” He said: “Help! I’ve risen and I can’t get down!”

As a humorous segway into the Gospel for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, about someone who missed Easter, I’d like to share with you a funny story told by Father Michael Renninger, Pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Richmond, Virginia. Instead of me telling his story, I want you to hear him tell his story (after all, you need to get used to listening to other preachers). You can do so thanks to a relatively new resource called A Sermon for Every Sunday, which records some of the best preachers in the country and makes their sermons available (for free) to churches not able to afford a real live preacher. We won’t listen to the whole sermon, just his introduction; I am more than happy to give Father Renninger 4 minutes of my time. (Readers may listen here. Note: I only used the first 4:05 minutes of Father Renninger’s sermon; you may want to stop there, or – better yet – listen to Father Renninger’s full sermon).

“You missed it!” In today’s Gospel, that’s what the rest of the disciples say to Thomas, when Jesus appears to them, and Thomas is not there. Fortunately, instead of a whole year – like Father Renninger and I and the rest of us prehistoric people had to wait for the Wizard of Oz – Thomas only had to wait a week for Jesus to show up and make good on his request: “I will only believe if I can see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put his finger in the mark of the nails in his side.”

One might ask, as Father Renninger asks later in his sermon, “Why did Jesus make Thomas wait so long?” I mean, once he’s appearing, couldn’t he have appeared to Thomas anywhere at any time, on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, rather than make him wait a week? Was it to teach Thomas a lesson, which was – not to always listen to your parents (although that’s a good lesson) – but “If you want to see Jesus, don’t isolate yourself,” because it’s among other Christians – among the community of the faithful –  where Jesus is to be experienced.”

There was, after all, quite an assortment of people gathered in that room. They were men and women, mothers and brothers, fishermen and tax-collectors. They were folks who accompanied Jesus and who deserted Jesus, including one who denied him. There were those who watched him die, and who saw him laid out in an empty tomb. There was one who also saw his empty tomb, included one who believed by what he saw there, and another who was merely confused. There was Mary in her joyful confidence that she had seen the Lord, but also Thomas in his skepticism. Many different people, emotions, moods, and reactions to the word that Christ was risen; yet all of them were gathered together. It is a picture of the resurrection community then, and, in truth, not that much different than the resurrection community – people like us – gathered here today.

While on the 2nd Sunday of Easter we often focus on Thomas skepticism, perhaps what we should do instead is back up and look at the larger picture; which is, in John’s Gospel, that different people believe differently. Mary Magdalene believed when Jesus spoke to her in the garden; the Beloved Disciple believed when he saw the empty tomb; Jesus’s disciples (without Thomas) believed when they saw him. For Thomas, however, neither the other disciples’ word nor Jesus’ appearance would be enough: he asked not only to see but also to touch; it’s not clear, given the opportunity, whether he really did, before falling on his knees and exclaiming, “My Lord and my God.”

But what is clear is that what John is saying to us – throughout his Gospel – is that faith is not the same for all, nor is faith necessarily generated by proof. Throughout John’s Gospel, in story after story, there is faith, and then there is faith. There is faith based on signs, and faith that needs no signs; there is faith that is weak, and faith that is strong; there is faith that is shallow and faith that is deep, faith that is growing and faith that is retreating.

After all, isn’t it the same with us? For some of us, faith is born and grows as quietly as a child sleeping on their mother’s lap. Some of us cannot remember when we did not believe; others of remember a time when we did not and a time when we did, our lives having been shattered and reshaped by a decision of faith. For others of us, faith is a lifetime of wrestling with angels and demons, struggling to believe, and then to keep what faith we have. Even in John’s Gospel, faith is never a once-for-all decision, but a choice made anew in every situation.

Oh sure, we say, it would be a lot easier to believe if we had the options Jesus’ original disciples did, to hear, to see, to touch. However, when John comes to the end of his Gospel, what he insists upon is that the possibility of faith is not limited to that circle of Jesus’ original disciples and to their face-to-face experiences of Christ. In fact, Christ pronounces a blessing on all of those – including us – who have NOT seen and will never see – and yet we believe, even on this 2nd Sunday of Easter.

The small church in which I grew up down in western Kentucky was firmly planted in the revivalist tradition. Every sermon ended with an altar call, often with shouting or pleading. Sometimes, at the end, the preacher would lean over the pulpit and plead: “While the organist plays one more verse of ‘Just As I Am,’ “Won’t you come? Won’t you?”

So I love how – at the end of this story – the old preacher John leans over the pulpit of his Gospel and pleads:

“I could have written a lot more about Jesus. I could have preached all night. But I’ve done all I know how to do. What I have written I have written not that you might have the facts, but that you might believe, and that believing you might have life in his name. You don’t have to put your fingers in his hands or your hands in his side. You don’t have to see him standing before you. Anyone can believe. Anyone can experience the difference it makes to live in Jesus’ name. “Won’t you? Won’t you?”

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