Monday, April 20, 2015

Second Sunday of Easter, Doubting Thomas sermon

Second Sunday of Easter, Doubting Thomas

The Rev. Kirsten Snow Spalding
Each of us, has at some time in our lives asked Thomas’ question:  show me evidence of God’s presence.    "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."
What struck me as I prayed the Gospel this week, is that Thomas wanted to see Jesus’ wounds—the holes in the hands where Jesus was pounded to the cross, the hole in his side where he was pierced by the soldier.  Thomas didn’t ask to see new healing miracles performed by Jesus.  He didn’t ask to see Jesus turn water into wine again.  He didn’t ask to see Jesus walk on the water—no he asked to see the wounds.

And Jesus appears to the disciples in the locked room, because there is the threat of violence all around his disciples. The persecution that led to Jesus’ crucifixion continues—the disciples are still under the threat of death.  Jesus shows the disciples the evidence of his own wounds, proof of his death.  He does this in the midst of the violence.

But after showing them his wounds Jesus promises them peace.  “Peace be with you, he says.”  And then he breathes with the wind of the Holy Spirit and promises them that forgiveness of sin is theirs and demands that they must forgive all sin. 

In the Epistle, we have a similar combination of themes.  We have the image of a community united in fellowship with one another by the blood of Jesus.  In his death we are united to God and to one another.  But we have simultaneously, the promise that by his death, Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

We have the poetic language of the epistle, Jesus is the light.  “In him there is no darkness at all”, but  Jesus walks in the darkness.

And so these readings point us in a particular direction as we like Thomas search for evidence of the Risen Christ. We are pointed towards those locked rooms where there is violence, hatred, death and destruction.  We are confronted with the wounds, the blood, the pierced side, the broken hands.    In death, we search for reconciliation.    This is not to say that God is not present in peaceful happy places or times of our lives.  But maybe it is that in these moments of death and violence, when we need to find God most.  And in these places, these moments, God promises peace and offers reconciliation for us and for the whole world.

As I read the news, it seems that there has been unspeakable violence and tragedy in the past few weeks.  The murders of everyone on the GermanWing flight.  The massacre of the Christian students in Kenya.  The shooting death of Walter Scott in South Carolina, this week.  Where is the Risen Christ in these places?  As we look into the darkest places, can we see the light?

 If you read the newspaper articles, or listen to TV or radio news broadcasts about these incidents, you hear the voices of family members who remember the people who were killed with love.  Walter Scott’s brothers talk about his pride in his team, his love of his family.  The families of the students killed in Kenya talk about their Christian faith, and how it sustained the students and now sustains the family and friends that they have left  behind.  The families of the German Wings passengers mourn their losses and seek to understand the mental illness that would lead to this evil act.

It is somehow in these places, where and when we need God most, that this promise of Peace is meaningful.  It is in these places, where we are most alone, that our fellowship with God matters most. 

Our scripture today direct us not just to look for God in the dark places, but to participate in God’s reconciling work in these places.  Jesus tells his disciples to go out and forgive with the wind of the Holy Spirit.  The Epistle tells us to walk in the light, in fellowship with one another and Jesus.  This direction focuses us not on human forgiveness—not those moments, when we say,  “oh it’s all right I forgive you for hurting me.”  No, we are pointed to the discipleship work of sharing God’s forgiveness.    By the resurrection, forgiveness of sins is offered to us and to the whole world.   This is a reconciliation that is deeper than accepting an apology, this is about divine justice, about a new life that overcomes death.

I think that we, like Jesus’ disciples are being called to create peace.  To look at those dark and violent places and see our work—the work of bringing about peace and justice.  It is our work, walking in the light with Jesus, to find ways to stop religious intolerance.  It is up to us to create a world in which someone so disturbed as the Germanwings pilot gets psychological help and if they cannot be cured, then that they be kept out of society.  We are called as disciples to work against the systemic racism and economic disparities that lead to black people being killed by violence and incarcerated at much higher rates than white people. 

When we, like Thomas look at the wounds of the Body of Christ,  we must reach out and touch them, like Thomas did.  We must hear Jesus’s message of peace, God’s promise of forgiveness and reconciliation.  And with the Holy Spirit, we must do God’s work, co-creating work to bring the new life that Easter promises.


Acts 4:32-35
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Psalm 133 Page 787, BCP
Ecce, quam bonum!
Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *
when brethren live together in unity!
It is like fine oil upon the head *
that runs down upon the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron, *
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
It is like the dew of Hermon *
that falls upon the hills of Zion.
For there the LORD has ordained the blessing: *
life for evermore.

1 John 1:1-2:2
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us-- we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

John 20:19-31
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.

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