So I’m an entire week late in posting this, but it’s my sermon from last Sunday at the church I grew up in, Christ Episcopal Church, Bowling Green.
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.
Let me ask a question that many of us might have been asked before, but it probably wasn’t in an Episcopal Church: do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Maybe it seems like a loaded question- we live in a part of the country where it’s commonly used as a pretext for an agenda or as a litmus test for judgement, but since you can trust that you’ll get none of that from me, I’ll ask again: do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?
The thing is, personal relationships are sticky. They’re imperfect. Personal relationships mean that we show both our good sides: our devotion and affection, as well as our less-than-flattering sides: our vulnerabilities, jealousies, and insecurities. We give our whole self to our relationships and don’t get to pick and choose.
In this morning’s gospel, we heard about Thomas looking for a hands-on faith. Literally. After missing out on seeing the resurrected Son, he’s dubious. He couldn’t believe the resurrection until he touched Jesus’ own wounds. His so-called doubt isn’t about any lack of faith.
Put yourself in Thomas’s shoes: In a week, you’ve seen the person you’ve devoted your life to arrested, tried in a kangaroo court, tortured, and killed in the most humiliating and degrading way possible—and then, only a few days later, you go out to grab some food for your friends while you’re together mourning your loss, and you come back to them insisting that your teacher has come back to life!
Do you think maybe that will all seem a bit implausible—particularly in an emotionally raw state? It’s less a matter of “I’m not sure that really happened” and more a matter of “my heart simply can’t come to terms with that.” And he waits. He stays, and waits for one whole week.
Rachel Held Evans is an author just a few years older than me, from Dayton, Tennessee, and she wrote her book Evolving in Monkey Town: How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask the questions. (her hometown, Dayton is famous or maybe infamous for being home to the Scopes monkey trials, where in 1925 the State of Tennessee accused school teacher John Scopes of teaching about evolution in the classroom) It’s a book about how her own faith grew from being full of unquestionable answers, to one more open and honest. In it, she writes “Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter is a virtue.”
Jesus did make himself known to Thomas. Thomas’ vulnerabilities, jealousies and insecurities did nothing to scare Jesus away. In fact, Jesus addresses the problem even before Thomas says anything to him—note that right after entering the room, before Thomas has a chance to say anything, Jesus tells him to touch his hands and side. At this point, Thomas has told just the other disciples that he wouldn’t believe until he’d seen. But Jesus addresses Thomas’s doubts even before Thomas has talked to him—and there’s no rebuke there, no judgment.
This is what our best relationships are like, right? People who know us so well that they just walk into a room and see us and instantly know what’s wrong, who love us for our quirks but aren’t afraid to take us to task when the things we value most about ourselves are getting in the way of our moving forward.
That’s the same way our personal relationship with Jesus can work. As luck would have it, God’s omniscience even includes knowing you inside and out, backwards and forwards, your past, your future, your present.
If Jesus walked into this room right now, he’d know exactly what you needed to hear and say it.
What do you think Jesus would say to you right now? would it be a word of comfort? challenge? rebuke?
—-that’s the seed of the personal relationship with Jesus – let him talk to you – too often prayer is about talking at God or using a conversation with God as a pretext for talking to ourselves or to others – what would you and Jesus talk about, if he were here?
I get a lot of comfort from those last words Jesus says in this gospel — “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.” — he’s talking about every one of us here today. In a few moments when we share a meal we call the Eucharist and eat and drink the bread and wine that we somehow come to believe is Jesus. However we get there, it’s in that coming to believe that we will be blessed.