11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
Sermon April 12, 2015
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.
“HE BREATHED ON THEM”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This morning we hear the familiar story from John’s Gospel about “doubting” Thomas. This is well known to us. But today I’d like to go deeper into it. Some of what I say may be a touch unsettling. Yet the truth, sisters and brothers, is that a pastor who only comforts and consoles while seldom challenging and proclaiming our common need for continual conversion is only half a pastor!
Now God knows we need comfort and consolation on a regular basis. We need comfort and consolation on a regular basis because of the fragility and the frigidity of our world. But comfort and consolation make up only half the gospel; challenge and conversion make up the other half.
Let’s look at this Easter story. It’s Easter evening. The Risen Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene – but to no one else. Now the Risen Jesus appears to all the disciples, huddled together because of fear. The Risen Jesus comes to them despite the locked doors. He breathes on them – as a kind of Pentecost – he breathes on them the spirit of Easter – the spirit of the Resurrection.
But Thomas is not present. Where was Thomas? Who knows? Maybe he was at the movies? But because he was not present to witness the Risen Jesus as were the other disciples – he doubts that Jesus is truly risen.
And who can blame him? I believe Thomas’ doubt arose out of emotional pain rather than mere intellectual hubris. (Don’t you love the word “hubris”?) If the Risen Jesus had indeed come to the other disciples – Thomas would have been feeling left out. “Why them and not me?” he might have easily wondered. Was not Thomas one of the 12? Why would Jesus appear to the others – minus Judas, of course – and not to him? I strongly suspect that most doubt arises out of some kind of pain.
And certainly the news Thomas is being told is beyond belief! Jesus has been raised from the dead? How is this possible? No – the news is too good to be true. He wants to believe it – but it’s too much for him. Not unless he sees the Risen Jesus will he believe – not unless he sees the wounds and puts his hand into the wounds – will he be persuaded!
But who doesn’t want to see the Risen Jesus? I want to see the Risen Jesus! Doesn’t everyone here want to see the Risen Jesus? Of course, we do! Thomas’ words are the words of every disciple. Thomas’ words are the words of every Christian: I want to see Jesus!
So what happens? The Risen Jesus comes back a week later. Thomas sees and believes. Jesus doesn’t castigate Thomas. The Risen Jesus has returned to facilitate – to activate - belief in Thomas. And the Risen Jesus invites Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe!” And what is Thomas’ reaction? “My Lord and my God!” This, brothers and sisters, is the highest proclamation of who Jesus was and is found anywhere in the Gospels.
What I’d like to say today is that we should not run from doubt. Doubt is part and parcel of any healthy faith. Belief is not typically a matter of absolute faith or absolute doubt. No faith is absolute until one actually sees the Risen Jesus. No doubt is absolute until one completely despairs of life in all its manifold forms.
And how does doubt and despair grow in us? Doubt and despair grow in us when we stop looking for the Risen Jesus. Despair grows in us when we stop accepting invitations. The invitation of the Risen Jesus to Thomas is crucial to his conversion. Jesus invites him to put his finger into the nail prints. Jesus invites him to put his hand into the wound of his side.
Sisters and brothers, it seems to me – from this account of Easter faith arising in the midst of doubt – that we, as disciples, are invited to put our hands into the wounds of the world. Somehow through the wounds of the world we come to see the Risen Jesus. These wounds can be our own wounds. But it seems wounds are somehow required for Easter faith.
Of course, we don’t have to seek Easter faith. We can be quite content with normal Christian faith. Normal Christian faith is the kind of faith that just goes along with the status quo. It’s the kind of faith that worries more about doctrines and dogmas than about Easter faith. That kind of faith is the kind of faith I encountered frequently in my former denomination. It’s not Easter faith – it’s a faith that is concerned with obeying the rules so one can get to heaven and avoid hell. It’s a faith that can’t stand questions. This kind of faith is not Easter faith.
Yet there are also other variations of faith that are not Easter faith. If the Bible is the only focus of my faith – then I cannot come to Easter faith. A focus only on the Bible – even a focus on the Gospels – is a faith that looks back to what was. Such faith is not Easter faith. Easter faith is about the present. Easter faith is about what’s coming. Easter faith looks with the wide-eyes of hope to the future. It is not only focused on what is past.
Now certainly, brothers and sisters, we look to the Scriptures – we look to the Bible – to discover the foundation of our faith – the roots of our faith. God continues to speak to us through the pages of the Bible. But our faith should not be content only with what is found there. Our faith must be more open. Our faith needs to look to the present and the future if it is to be Easter faith.
I believe Biblical fundamentalism stifles the possibility of looking to the future because its focus is usually on the past. Fundamentalism – of every variety - is often not open to continued divine revelation. But as a person of Easter faith, I do not believe revelation ended with the last word of the New Testament. Revelation continues. We must live beyond any written word to be people of Easter faith!
Brothers and sisters, our God is not silent! The Risen Christ is not silent! Revelation is happening all around us if we have the eyes to see it and the ears to hear it. Easter faith requires us to be open to what God is doing among us right now. Easter faith requires us to be open to what the Risen Jesus is doing among us right now.
Now it goes without saying that doubt doesn’t stop God – doubt doesn’t stop the Risen Jesus. We see that clearly in our preaching text. But God never overwhelms anyone. The Risen Jesus never overwhelms anyone. Yet invitations are continually sent our way.
Remember when you were young, how exciting it was to receive an invitation to a party? Haven’t we all had this experience? I recall the excitement I felt near the end of grade school when I began to be more popular than I had been. And the really exciting part is that I began to be invited to parties given by girls! My goodness! And even though the invitations came to an abrupt end when I went off to a boarding high school seminary – I gratefully and gleefully accepted every precious invitation that came my way in those final weeks of grade school.
Well, brothers and sisters, Easter faith is a lot like receiving exciting invitations. Easter faith is paying attention to not only the exciting invitations but more importantly paying attention to the subtle invitations coming our way. The Risen Jesus continues inviting us to place our fingers in his nail prints. The Risen Jesus continues inviting us to place our hands in his wounded side.
But I believe we should prepare ourselves for these invitations. We can prepare ourselves if we pray each morning: Risen Jesus, help me to be of service to you today. Lead me and guide me so I can be helpful to you in some way today. If we pray such a prayer each morning, I believe we’ll be surprised by the invitations coming our way.
However an unfortunate truth is that some of us think these invitations are the by-product of indigestion or insomnia or perhaps a case of “brain fog.” Some of us think that once we hit a certain age – 60 or 70 or 80 or 90 – then the Risen Jesus and the God of All There Is, stops sending invitations because we’re old and decrepit. As if being old and decrepit mattered to God!
It can go the other way, too. Some of us may think that we’re too young for the Risen Jesus and the God of All There Is to notice us. Some of us think we’re too busy – running around doing 40 things all at once - for the Risen Jesus and the God of All There Is to have the effrontery – the godly gall – to want us to spend at least a little time each day living with Easter faith. Some of us would rather keep up with the Kardashians!
Now, sisters and brothers, you know I’d teasing! But the truth is the Risen Jesus is as fully present to us as he was to the disciples in long-ago Palestine. This is what Easter faith means! In our preaching text, Jesus breathes on the disciples that first Easter evening. Why did Jesus breathe on them?
I believe Jesus breathed on them so they might catch the spiritual virus of Easter. Easter is a virus – but unlike a cold – Easter is not easily transferred from person to person. Easter is not easily caught!
But the Risen Jesus keeps trying to spread this wondrous resurrection contagion! The Risen Jesus continues walking among us – breathing on his disciples – hoping they might catch a bit of what he caught from God that first Easter morning. May we allow ourselves to be faithfully and fully contaminated with Easter! Amen!