Faith United Methodist Church

April 23, 2017

Second Sunday of Easter

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  John 20:19-31, Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Prayer for Illumination (Unison): 

Living Christ, you give us what we need to transform our doubt into belief.  You come, offering us peace, and filling our lives with your living presence.  With joy and rejoicing we turn to you, confident in your love.  Amen. 

And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.

Sermon:  Seeing Is Believing?

Thomas.  Thomas.  Thomas.  Doubting Thomas.  Tardy Thomas.  Too-late Thomas.  We’ve all been there, right?  We all know what it’s like to miss out on something really exciting, to arrive just a couple minutes too late.

But to miss the Risen Christ is really something.  Where was Thomas anyway?  The Scripture tells us that the disciples were locked inside the house where they were staying ~ doors bolted shut ~ for fear of the authorities.  The disciples were scared.  They were scared because their teacher had been crucified.  They were scared because of the rumors he had risen from the dead.  Whether Jesus was really dead or had actually risen, they had reason to fear for their lives.  So where was Thomas?  Why was he not locked safely away with the other disciples?  Was he not, too, scared for his life? 

Thomas appears in our Lectionary readings every year on the Sunday after Easter.  The Lectionary Committee, who assigned most other Scriptures on a three year rotating basis, must’ve thought that Thomas’ story was important enough to hear every year.  So each year we hear of how Thomas missed out on Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to the disciples.  Each year we hear how he complained that he couldn’t believe unless he saw for himself.  Each year we hear how Jesus then returned a week later to show himself to Thomas, nail-scarred hands and all.  And each year we hear Jesus pronounce, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have yet come to believe.”

I might be missing the point, but I think we focus too much on Thomas’ doubt.  The truth is that Thomas didn’t ask for anything more than the other disciples had already received.  Earlier in the day Mary had come to all the disciples to tell them, “I have seen the Lord!”  Yet, instead of celebrating they locked themselves away in fear.  It was only after they saw Jesus for themselves that their fear turned to rejoicing.  When Thomas returned from his errand all his friends told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas,  understandably, wanted to see him, too.

And, truth be told, so would I.   I do experience the Risen One in my prayer life.  I feel Christ’s presence in the midst of our church community.  I sense Jesus among us as we share together the bread and the cup.  I know Christ guides us as we share our gifts in worship, in ministries of compassion, in our encouragement of each other and in a hundred different ways within and outside these walls.  But how amazing it would be to see Jesus, to touch his hands, to feel his breath.

Yet, the reality is that we are about 2,000 years too late for that.   Christianity has moved from the Upper Room out into the streets and communities across the ages to us.  Unlike the disciples we don’t have the opportunity see the Risen Christ with our own eyes, to touch the Risen Christ with our own hands.  Our belief does not come from seeing for ourselves.

And that’s really the definition of faith, isn’t it?  In Hebrews we read that, “…faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  This echoes what Jesus said to Thomas and the other disciples, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have yet come to believe.”  We believe because others did see and shared and witnessed to the miracle that was ~ that is ~ the resurrection.

I’m glad that Tardy Thomas wasn’t there on that first Easter evening.  I’m glad that he showed up late to the resurrection party.  I like to think he was out grocery shopping for the other disciples who were too afraid to leave the room.  Fearless Thomas.  No matter how afraid they were, they had to eat!

The fact that Thomas wasn’t there that first evening gives us a chance to learn something important about the Risen Christ and the life of faith.  Upon returning Jesus didn’t scold Thomas for his lack of belief or call him out for being a doubter.  As Karoline Lewis put it in her reflections on this passage, “Jesus comes back for Thomas because he will not lose a single one of those whom the Father gave him.”  No one is left out.  No one is too late.  Jesus came back because of his love for Thomas.  And Jesus continues to come back ~ maybe not in flesh, but certainly in Spirit ~ because of his love for us.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Unlike Thomas and the disciples, we have not seen the risen Christ with our own eyes, we have not touched him with our own hands.  Instead, our proof of the resurrection comes in how lives are changed because of it ~ our lives and the lives of those around us.  We see resurrection when we witness love shared in community.  We see resurrection when the hungry are fed, the sick visited, the grieving comforted, the homeless sheltered.  We see resurrection when sins are forgiven and new life offered.  We see resurrection when love overcomes fear.  Resurrection is all around us.    Do you see it? 

So is seeing believing?  Or is believing something else?  Do we believe because we have all the facts, or do we believe because we have experienced the truth.  In the passage we read from Acts Peter preaches to his fellow Jews about Jesus, telling them, “God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.”  Peter had to convince those who had not seen to believe in the miracle that was Jesus’ resurrection.  If we read further in this passage we learn that, on that day, three thousand were baptized.

My Miriam Webster defines belief as, “trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something.”  Like Thomas, we might have missed it the first time.  We weren’t there in that Upper Room. But we don’t have to have been there in order to place our trust, faith or confidence in Jesus.  As Lucy Lind Hogan describes, “We are all…like Thomas.  We are not in that upper room on the evening of that day, the first day of the week.  But that does not matter.”  Because God’s love for us through Jesus Christ is limitless our opportunities to witness resurrection are limitless, our opportunities to experience resurrection are limitless.  We may not believe because we see, but we see because we believe.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and have yet come to believe.” This is the Good News of Easter which is with us every day.  Thanks be to God.  Amen!