Jesus Appears to the Disciples
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.”
Jesus and Thomas
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.”
The Purpose of this Book
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.
Last Sunday we celebrated Easter, which is the center of our Christian faith. Our faith revolves around the mystery of the empty tomb because through Christ’s resurrection, we are assured of God’s unconditional love for us. And we know that no matter what bad news the world might throw at us, God’s good news is always stronger!
But the resurrection is not the end of the story folks. The story does not end here! As I said in worship last week, if we don’t think about Easter again until next year, then we’ve entirely missed the gift. Because our lives are evidence of the resurrection! Our church is a reflection of the love of God and we are called to be the light of Christ for the world.
Now you may be thinking, “What can we as a small church here in North Attleboro do to make a difference? We don’t have a very big budget and we definitely don’t have a lot of extra money. What can we really do?” Well, friends, let me start by saying that money has nothing to do with it. Sure, we need to raise enough money to keep our doors open and to take care of our day to day expenses. So, I hope that you will share as generously as you can. But what we have in our pockets and even on our offering plates does not speak as loudly as the way we live and interact with others.
Sure, there are “big-steeple churches with lots of endowment money. They have lots of clergy on staff and all the Sunday school teachers and choir members that they could ever want. They pay for everything to be professional and perfect, and when we worship in places like that, we can be moved by the utter beauty. We experience the awe of the grand performance, and it can fill us and feed us. It can be incredibly moving, often even bringing us to tears. But if God is only found in that kind of glory and majesty, if God is only experienced in precision and perfection, then how on earth can we experience God in our own broken lives?
One of the comments that I often get from visitors who come to worship with us here in Oldtown is that it feels “real” here. Comments like that always fill my heart to overflowing, because we may not have the fanciest of things here in Oldtown, we may not have the biggest choir and highest paid professional musicians, we may not have seminary-trained Sunday School teachers and worship attendants – after all, the children from our Sunday School are often our readers – but I think that speaks to the honesty of who we are and how and why we worship.
Worship, my friends, is not about perfection here in Oldtown, but on the contrary, it is a “come as you are and share the gifts that you have been given” kind of thing. Our worship is real because our faith is real. It’s not like a fancy suit that we just put on for Sundays; it’s something that we live every single day.
Now on this Sunday after Easter, we always hear the story of poor Doubting Thomas. And I say poor Thomas because Thomas always gets the bad reputation of being a “doubter.” He wasn’t there when Jesus came. He didn’t see him like the others did. He didn’t get to experience the visit first-hand. All he could do was hear about it from his friends, and they expected him to simply believe.
But today, I want to look at this story a little differently than we usually do. Being the church that we are here in Oldtown- a church where all are welcome to come as they are, a church where we don’t judge others, but where we strive to share our gifts and passions and to share the light of Christ and the love of God with others – I don’t think it’s our job to judge Thomas for his lack of belief. I don’t think it’s fair to label him a “doubter.” Actually, if that is what we chose to concentrate on in this story, I think we are missing the point altogether, because rather than focusing on Thomas and his shortcomings, we should be focusing on Jesus and how he handles the situation.
Friends, in today’s story, Jesus teaches us how to reach out to people who are struggling, people like Thomas, and people like you and me. Jesus teaches us how to do ministry and how to bring peace to our own lives and to the lives of others.
Now as I said earlier, we hear this story of “Doubting Thomas” every year. I know that I have read it more times than I can count. But I have to say, I heard it differently this year. In the past, I’ve always focused on Thomas, but this year I turned my eyes to Jesus. Now scripture tells us that the disciples told Thomas, “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.”
Folks, can you imagine the struggle that Thomas must have been having? Can you imagine what an outsider he felt like? After all, all of his friends had seen Jesus, but he hadn’t. And can you imagine how hurt he must have been that he wasn’t there, that he wasn’t a part of it, that he wasn’t included? It would be like hearing that all your friends got invited to a birthday party, but you didn’t get to go. Jesus must have understood how Thomas was feeling, because as scripture tells us, “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.”
Now, this the part that I had never put together before. You see, the way that I had always heard the story in my own head was that Thomas doubted. Jesus appeared again. He let Thomas touch his wounds, and then Thomas believed. But what I never realized is that scripture doesn’t tell us whether or not Thomas actually reached out and touched Jesus. Sure, Jesus invites him to, but all that we are told is that Thomas replies: “My Lord and my God!” And it was in that moment that he believed.
Now, friends, we don’t know if Thomas actually touched Jesus’ wounds, but the important piece for us to understand is that it really doesn’t matter if he did or not. Did you hear that? It really doesn’t matter if Thomas touched Jesus’ wounds or not. What matters is that Jesus cared enough to give Thomas what he needed. Jesus was not disappointed by Thomas’ disbelief. On the contrary, it simply made Jesus reach out and look for another way to help him, another way to care for him and to bring him peace.
In our storybook today, Just How Long Can a Long String Be, we hear a similar story – a story about an ant that asks his friend Bird just how long a long string can be. Now Bird could have ignored his friend’s question. He could have given a quick answer as he tried to move on to something else. He also could have told Ant that it was a silly question in the first place and that there really isn’t an answer. But Bird didn’t. Instead, he cared about Ant, like Jesus did Thomas, and he started a conversation to help Ant better understand. Bird asked lots of questions about what the long string might be used for, and he imagined even more possibilities. In the end, the answer didn’t really matter to Ant as he decided that a long string is just as long as it needs to be. But Ant left at peace because he had been cared for, loved, and listened to.
Friends, there are lots of people in this world who are searching for peace in their lives, who aren’t looking for all the answers. They don’t want to be told what to do and how to do it as much as they want to be cared for and loved and listened to.
And if the Easter message is right, and our lives are evidence of the resurrection, our church is a reflection of the love of God, and we are called to be the light of Christ for the world, then I truly believe that that is exactly what we are called to do as the church – to be a warm and welcoming place where people can come as they are, a place where questions can be asked, and imaginations can be explored, and where we don’t have to worry about having all the right answers but instead a place where we can feel loved and cared for and listened to as we love and care for and listen to others.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, remember that it’s not your job to have all the answers. It’s not your job to be perfect and to never doubt or make mistakes. But it is your job to love and to listen and to care for those around you, remembering that they aren’t perfect because they doubt and make mistakes sometimes just like Thomas and just like you and me!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.