Jesus Appears to the DisciplesJohn 20:19-31 (NRSVUE)
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, 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 that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may continue[e] 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 what our Christian faith is all about. 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 can throw at us, God’s good news is always stronger!
But the resurrection is not the end of the story folks; it does not end here! Now we find ourselves in the season of Easter or the Great Fifty Days. We have fifty days from Easter to Pentecost to rejoice, to celebrate, and to take time to reflect and encounter the risen Christ in our everyday lives. Because sometimes, I think we forget that God walks with us through all of our days and that Jesus is in the midst of everything we do. Somehow over the years, we have been led to believe that God is here with us in church, but when worship ends, and we go back out into the world, then we are left on our own until we come back to visit God again next Sunday. That’s why every Sunday, the benediction reminds us to be assured that the God we worshipped here today is the same God that goes with us through these doors and out into our week ahead. God never leaves us, my friends. It’s just that sometimes we pay attention to God, and other times we don’t.
Here in Oldtown, we often say that our church building is like our grandmother because she is old, and we need to treat her gently, with love and respect. But God is quite different. Now don’t get me wrong; we are called to love and respect God, but God is not fragile like this historical building. God is something that is bigger than we can ever imagine, and more complex than our words can even begin to describe.
It’s kind of funny, for the most part, when people come to worship, they are on their best behavior. They many times wear their nicer clothes, and they try their best to have good manners and to be respectful. I know that it is done out of a sense of reverence and respect, and I appreciate that, but if God is always with us, then God not only sees how we act on Sunday mornings but also on each and every day during the week. It’s a “24/7/365” kind of thing, my friends, which means God is there when we are having our good days and our not-so-good days.
One of the comments that I often get from visitors that come to worship with us here in Oldtown is that it feels “real” here. And that always fills my heart to overflowing. Because we may not have the fanciest of things here in Oldtown, we may not have the biggest choir (we don’t even have a choir) or the highest-paid professional musicians (all of our musicians are volunteers). And we may not have seminary-trained worship attendants (after all our children are often our readers!) But I think that speaks volumes to the humble honesty of who we are and how 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 only put on for Sunday, it’s something that we live every single day.
Now today, we have a lot to celebrate! We are in the midst of the Great Fifty Days, which means that we are still excited to find that the tomb is still empty! But today we are also going to take some time to celebrate some of the amazing teachers that have touched our lives along our journey.
A few minutes ago, I commented on the fact that here in Oldtown, we often say that our church building is like our grandmother because we need to treat her gently with love and respect. And over the years, she has shared with us many stories of our faith and encouraged us to stick together and work hard for what we believe in.
Grandmothers are often some of our first teachers. Though some grandmothers may be overly stern, many grandmothers long to lovingly hand on the wisdom they have learned to their grandchildren. In today’s storybook, Memory Jars, Gran teaches Freda that she can save her favorite summer blueberries in a jar as jam, just like the jam Grandpa used to spread into every corner of his morning toast. At first, Freda tries to save all her favorite things in jars, but it turns out that trying to save all those things means that she can’t enjoy them. So, in the end, Freda learned that sometimes things are best saved as memories.
Okay, now I am sure, like Freda, many of us have had grandparents that have taught us important life lessons. And to be honest, throughout our lives, we are introduced to many, many teachers, some who, through their words and actions, teach us what to do, and others that, through their actions, teach us what not to do. During our sharing time this morning, I invited you to share the name of one of your favorite teachers, and I hope that brought back some good memories for you!
Here in Oldtown, we have been blessed–and we continue to be blessed–by amazing teachers. Now they may not have education degrees or state teaching certifications, but they are individuals that share not only their wisdom but a piece of themselves with our congregation.
Friends, I want you to know that each and every one of you, whether you are three or a hundred and three, is a teacher in your own way. We all have gifts and understandings to share with others. Here in the church, we call it the “Priesthood of all Believers,” meaning that we are all ministers and teachers, and we teach not necessarily through sermons or even classes, but in the way that we live our everyday lives. But, unfortunately, just like in our public schools, we don’t always take the time to appreciate our teachers until they are gone.
I don’t think that I have ever, in my thirteen years here as your pastor, officiated a member’s funeral service and not named the amazing gifts and lessons that that person shared with us. And there are often so many lessons that it’s hard to choose which ones to share. Today, as part of our celebration, we are remembering Steve Whitney on the first anniversary of his passing.
Steve joined our church with his wife, Sue, on November 16, 2014, and he was the epitome of kindness. Steve was constantly encouraging others, and he greeted everyone with his big smile. He was humble and curious, and he taught me far more than I ever could imagine! Now because of his frontal temporal dementia, Steve had his struggles, but he was also filled to overflowing with joy. If Sue were having a tough day, Steve would never say a bad word, but he would say to her, “Sue, are you being a Snappy Turtle?” And, of course, many of us know what Sue would call Steve because he would tell everyone, “She calls me Bug in a Rug!”
Here at church, week after week, Steve would have a smile a mile wide. He loved to sing and say the Lord’s Prayer, and he reminded all of us of how important the simple things in life are. Steve found a home here in Oldtown, and he loved us unconditionally, just the way we are, even with our quirks and imperfections.
Steve would always say, “I love this church.” “Everyone is so nice.” “I love these kids.” “You’re so good.” “I love God.” And often, during worship, he would let me know that he loved me too, calling out, “I love you, Kelly!” And I would stop during the sermon or the prayer to let him know that I loved him too.
Now Steve also loved the band Journey, and I have to say, he opened my eyes to how often I used to use the word “journey” in my preaching, because every time I would say the word “journey,” Steve would call out from his pew, “Don’t stop believin’!” because that was one of his favorite Journey songs. Because of Steve’s love of the band Journey, in 2017, on this, the Sunday after Easter, we celebrated worship with a “Journey Sunday.” We focused on the story of doubting Thomas, as we heard today, and Steve’s favorite message, “Don’t Stop Believin’!”
Friends, if you remember, in today’s scripture, we were told about Jesus appearing to his disciples after his death and resurrection. But unfortunately, Thomas was not there when Jesus appeared. When Thomas returned, the other disciples were all excited, and they told him about what they had seen and heard. But because Thomas did not see with his own eyes, he could not believe. Well, finally, Jesus reappeared, and he allowed Thomas to see, to touch, and to believe.
Over the years, I have found that the best way to live out our faith is to be honest and real like Thomas was with Jesus, and like Steve was with us! Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to let people know how you feel, or to make mistakes, because that’s the way you learn and grow.
Friends, here in Oldtown, I am never going to stand in this pulpit and tell you what to believe, because you need to figure that out on your own. Each week, we’ll look to scripture, and we’ll sing songs and pray. I’ll do my best to inspire you and encourage you, and hopefully, we will all inspire and encourage each other. But you have your own path to walk down. We all have our own journeys. Yes, our paths cross here on Sunday mornings, and sometimes even during the week, and it’s our job to encourage one another, but I can’t believe for you, and you can’t believe for me; that’s not the way it works.
I know it’s not always easy because life fills us with questions and challenges. And we all worry about being wrong or making mistakes or not being good enough. But friends, remember this: you are a child of God! God created you to be just the way you are. Just like God created Freda from our story this morning, and her Gran who taught her about making Jam, and her grandpa who spread that jam on every inch of his toast. And just like God created Steve and all of us. And God gave each of us gifts to share and lessons to teach.
Folks, don’t worry about what everyone else thinks or believes. Take time to listen to what your heart tells you is true. And then do your best, and no matter what, don’t stop believin’. Friends, on Good Friday, when we sit at the foot of the cross, it’s important that we “don’t stop believin’,” because Easter Sunday is coming! When you are walking through the darkest valley, “don’t stop believin’,” because if you just keep going, you’ll experience moments on the mountain top too. And when you lose the people you love, “don’t stop believin’,” because not only are they still with you, just in a little different way, but our faith tells us that there will be a day, when the time is right, that you will be together again.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, don’t try to be something you’re not. Be who God created you to be, and inspire others with the gifts that make you you! And no matter what you face on your journey, or what you choose to do, don’t be afraid to ask questions, or make mistakes, or let others know how you feel. And most importantly, through it all, remember the beloved words of Steve Whitney, and “Don’t Stop Believin!”
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!