Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
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.
* A note about the video: During the children's moment, Pastor Chrissy and the kids made cascarones, confetti filled eggs, to share during the Easter season. If you'd like to make some yourself, the Tiny Teachers in this video can show you how.
The Outcome of Faith: John 20: 19-31 and 1 Peter 1: 3-9
Think of one of your closest friends or co-workers... someone who you know well and trust, maybe even trust with your life. Someone who you know is honest and forthright and does not make up strange stories. Now, imagine that that person has just shown up to tell you the wildest story you could ever imagine... no, wilder than you could imagine... so wild that there is no way that they could make that story up. That is the place where the disciples have found themselves at this point in the Gospel of John. One of their closest friends, one of Jesus' closest confidants, Mary of Magdala, had rushed to them early one morning and told them something incredible.
She said that she had see two angels and that Jesus' body was no longer in his tomb. Then, she told them that she had spoken to the two angels and they spoke back! As if that weren't enough, she told them she talked to Jesus. Yes, that Jesus, the one who had been dead. At first she thought it was a gardener, but she was wrong. It was Jesus! He was alive. She said that she knew it was him the moment he said her name. No one else said her name like he did. He was alive and as bossy as ever. He gave her a job. He told her to go tell the others. So, she did. How could she not! She ran to them and said, "I have seen the Lord." Isn't that incredible!
Now, imagine if you had been in their shoes... sandals... and your dear friend has rushed into your house at, like, seven in the morning and told you that she had seen angels and that Jesus is alive and she talked to him. What would you have done? I'll tell you what the disciples did. In this version of the story, in the Gospel of John, the disciples hid. That's right. They hid all day long. Mary Magdalene had shown up with amazing news just after sunrise and they were so afraid that, by that evening, they still hadn't left the place where they were hiding. This house was their normal meeting place, a place that we might now call a church... I mean, that's what you call the place where a bunch of Jesus' followers meet right? They were hiding in their church, terrified by what they had heard.
I think it makes sense that they would be afraid of the religious leaders who had threatened Jesus' life. That's probably what it means when it says they were afraid of "the Jews," their religious leaders with whom they disagreed (I mean, Jesus' followers were Jewish, too... they wouldn't have feared other Jews out of hand). These leaders had cajoled the Roman authorities into seeing him as a threat. Rome was all too happy to kill someone who seemed seditious. So, it makes sense to me that they might be frightened of powerful people in their own community. Well, it makes sense to me that they'd be frightened before they talked to Mary. It is interesting to me that they are still so scared after hearing her testify to the morning's events. I would have expected Mary's words to give them some hope. Right? Because Mary's own encounter seemed to have helped her feel hopeful, even excited about further possibilities for ministry and excited about Jesus' next steps. Wouldn't you expect her hope to be infectious?
It turns out that just hearing her words wasn't enough to inspire them. It may have even scared them more, because who knew what was going to happen to her if she went around telling everyone she'd seen angels and talked to Jesus. Maybe Mary's garden encounter ended up being one more weird and hard thing in a series of weird and hard things that they had had to deal with. Maybe it was just too strange to bring them joy. Even after having several hours to try to figure out what to do with that new information, all they can do is lock the doors to one space that they think is safe, and hide. It's a good thing that Jesus is no more put off by their fear than he was by his own death. The doors his followers locked themselves behind did not stop him from showing up to bring them peace.
Scripture tells us that he walked right through the barriers they built to protect themselves, and helped them experience resurrection. He looked at their frightened faces and offered them peace that would overcome their fear. He showed them his wounds, acknowledging the pain they all had been through over the last several days, and gave them proof of life that he knew they desperately needed. It is only at that point, after seeing his wounds and feeling his peace, that the disciples feel the joy that Mary felt back at the tomb. It is only at that point, when they have felt his hands and seen his side, that they are ready to receive their own mission from Jesus. It is only at this point that they can rejoice.
Even Thomas, Thomas who was prepared to died with Jesus back in the middle of the book of John, had to experience Jesus on his own before he rejoiced. Fortunately, Jesus didn't begrudge him of this need. He just showed up once again, marching through closed doors, holding out his hands, and showing him his side. Upon seeing Jesus and touching his hand, Thomas was finally able to rejoice, too. Jamie Clark-Soles, one of the scholars I read this week, suggested that this is a very typical pattern of faith throughout the Gospel. A person encounters Jesus, finds joy, and shares their testimony with the next person. The next person might not believe them right away and may only come to a full and deep faith when they, too, encounter Jesus. It turns out that in the Gospel of John, it's pretty common for people to be unable to increase their faith until they actually get to see Jesus. Sometimes other people's testimonies aren't quite enough to get them to unlock that locked door.
The thing is though, you still need the Marys of the world, telling that first story of the resurrection. We often still need the foundation of somebody else's experience with Jesus to help us build our own. It is these testimonies of faith that help the next person in line even begin to approach Jesus and new life with the openness required. This story shows us that Mary couldn't force them to rejoice and do God's work, but she could travel to the place where they hid and give them a head's up that Jesus wasn't finished with them yet.
Have you ever heard of the Catholic priest, Father Greg Boyle? He works in Los Angeles with people who are members of some very dangerous gangs. I think he's a modern day Mary. He has said that one of the most significant things that he has learned in his 30 years of ministry is that he, alone, can't save any one of the people he works with from gang life. He said the reason why is that him wanting someone to leave a gang would never be as powerful a motivator as that that person actually wanting to leave themselves. He said he doesn't save people (that's the Coast Guard's job). His job is different. He's got to go find all the places where people are hiding, and be willing to sit with them and tell them about the new life he's experienced. Only when he's with folks behind their own locked doors can they all be rescued.
He recently shared the story of a young man he worked with named Louie. Louie had gone from making himself wealthy by selling drugs to making himself sick by using those same drugs. Father Greg had tried to get him to go to rehab several times. It didn't happen until Louie was ready to go himself. About a month into his treatment, Louie's brother died by suicide. Father Greg offered to take him to the funeral but insisted that Louie got right back to rehab after the service. Louie told him, "I want to go back. I like how recovery feels." When Father Greg showed up to pick up Louie, Louie shared that he'd had a dream about the two of them the night before, and he had to tell Fr. Greg about it.
Louie said that in the dream, the two of them were sitting in a completely dark room... No lights of any kind, and they weren't speaking. In the dream, Father Greg quietly pulls out a flashlight and aims it's beam at the light switch. Louie said that knew that, in the dream, he had to be the one who turned on the light, and he was thankful that Father Greg for having the flashlight to help show him how. Louie describes nervously crossing the room and flipping the switch, filling the room with light. As he tells Fr. Greg about his dream, Louie begins to sob. He told Fr. Greg that in the dream he realized, "[T]he light is better than the darkness." Fr. Greg said Louie hadn't seem to have known that before. He didn't know that the light was better. He didn't know how to turn it on. It took someone else holding up a flashlight for him to see that the light was even possible.
We don't have to light up the whole world with our one little light. That's Jesus job. He's the one who knows how to get through the locks and make the room shine. But, this Easter season, I hope you'll remember Louie's dream. I hope you'll find ways use your light to help make the next person's way just a little easier. You've seen the Lord. Help other's been ready to see him, too. Jesus hasn't finished with us yet. We need to be ready.
Pastor Chrissy consulted the following resources while writing this sermon:
Karoline Lewis: https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4864
Jaime Clark Soles: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3222
Elisabeth Johnson: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1991
Father Greg Boyle: http://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/03/28/father-greg-boyle-i-thought-i-could-save-gang-members-i-was-wrong
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.