John 20:19-31
Psalm 133

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 had 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, “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.

This is the Word of God for the people of God.

            Thanks be to God.

Karl Barth was a Swiss theologian, author of The Barmen Declaration in our Book of Confessions, and perhaps the most the important theologian of the twentieth century.  Barth once said that people come to church on Sunday with only one question in their minds:

Is it true?

The love of God,

the saving power of Jesus Christ,

the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit,

the resurrection from the dead,

the forgiveness of sins….

Is it true?[1]

Every other question we have about the life of faith, it seems to me, is some version of that question.  Is it true?

Because if it’s not true, I’m not sure how much this matters.  All the time, all the energy, all of the giving and work and struggle.  All of the meetings you have gone to, setting up tables, making casseroles.  All of the sewing of dresses and gathering of supplies, all the planning of lessons for the children our team will encounter in Haiti this coming week.  The crafts you have cut out for Church School lessons late on Saturday nights, flowers you have cut and placed, hours spent practicing anthems.  If it’s not true, I’m not sure it matters.

That may not be quite right.  Some of those things can matter a lot in the moment.  Beautiful music still makes you feel something.  Serving dinner at Urban Ministries or playing with children at Families Moving Forward does real good at the moment – a stomach was filled, hand held, shoulder given upon which to cry.  Those are good things, important things, wonderful things.  But they are also fleeting.  They don’t last.

I suspect Thomas knew this.  While he takes heat in some quarters, I think we should be thanking him, thanking the skeptics among us, those who ask questions, who aren’t comfortable with easy platitudes or simple faith.  Because if we SAY it, and we mean it, believing that this is true, and that Jesus is alive, matters as much as anything else has ever mattered.  Thomas knew that if Jesus REALLY WAS ALIVE, that EVERYTHING had to be different from that point on.

Even though it’s been a week for us, John reminds us it was still that same day, that first Easter morning, and everything is in chaos.  After Mary had broken in early that morning, after Peter and another disciple sprinted back to the tomb.  They bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, Jesus’ body gone.  At least one of them saw, and believed.  Then they went home.  We don’t know what they did first, but later that evening John tells us at least some of them were huddled, afraid, locking themselves in.  Suddenly Jesus stood among them.  “Peace be with you,” he says.  “Shalom.  That is a traditional Jewish greeting, David Bartlett reminds us, in the first century as now, but also has a deeper meaning of peace, well-being, confidence. The gift of God that drives away fears.”[2]

Jesus shows them his hands, his side.  “No, really.  Peace be with you.  My peace I am giving to you.”  And here, in a crucial point in John, the blessing becomes a commission.  The risen and glorified Son of God sends his disciples to bear witness to the life and light they have found in him.[3]  This is John’s Pentecost, condensing Luke and Acts 50 days into one resonant day.

Thomas isn’t there.  He misses Jesus and, because he knows this is a big deal, is upset.  Unless I see his wounds, he says, unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand and put my finger there, feel it, touch the place the sword pierced his side.  I will not believe.  AND THEN A WEEK GOES BY.  After that week – I’d love to know what that week was like – Jesus shows back up with the same greeting: “Peace be with you.”  Then he reaches out to Thomas.  Jesus didn’t rebuke him for his tone, lecture him on his lack of faith, tell him he needed to sit there and be quiet.  Put your finger here.  See my hands.  Touch this scab.  It’s true.  Believe.

Yet it is what we are called to do.  We say – us preachers stand up here each week, we affirm our faith Sunday after Sunday.  Even though this seems strange, we believe all this is true.  We do not say that we believe every single word we read in this bible and it is intended literally, though we do say we take it as seriously, with the help of the Holy Spirit, as anything we’ve ever read.  Its stories and teachings bear witness to Jesus, they point to Christ, the true and Living Word of God.  We proclaim, this Easter season, that something life-changing, world-changing, universe-changing happened, that the One we worship, a Jewish peasant carpenter, crucified by the Romans, died a brutal and painful death and, 3 days later, wasn’t dead anymore, but was there, moving, breathing, among them.  He showed up, ate with them, and said to Thomas, and to us, look.  Come here.  You can trust me.  Believe.

And while when you lean your head one way none of this makes any sense, and I think it’s important that the church name over and over that doubt is okay, that questions are not a threat, that ALL of us, even us preachers, wonder sometimes.  I wonder about the pain and suffering in the world.  I wonder about how cruel we are to each other.  I wonder why, over and over again, people and systems can’t work together to solve problems and we divide and conquer and oppress and crush those who are different, those who have less, why we, over and over, do so little for the poor, the left out and left behind.  Why children walk in with automatic weapons into schools.  Why people who we thought had model marriages get divorced.  These are things that not only get me upset at God on a regular basis, but makes me wonder if it’s true at all.  I bet you have some of those doubts, those wonderings, and feel a bit of kinship to Thomas, too.

So we live in the middle, faith and doubt all mixed up.  And so we say, in the words of the father whose son Jesus heals in Mark 9, “I believe, help my unbelief.”[4]

Help my unbelief when the world feels too hard.

Help my unbelief when I’m tired.

Help my unbelief when I go to Haiti with all its richness and beauty and desperate poverty.

Help my unbelief when I’m angry at someone I love.

Help my unbelief, over and over again, when we come to the table.  When we tear off a piece of pita and place it in your hand, “The body of Christ, broken for you.”  When you dip it in the juice or the wine, “The cup of salvation.”  And we are nourished and fed.  So that our lives might bear witness to Jesus Christ, crucified and raised, so that we might say, you know what.  I believe that is true.  I believe it with my heart, and I’m going to believe it in my living, for others and the world, over and over and over again.  All of this crazy stuff about Jesus might just be true after all.

All praise be to God.  Amen.

[1] From Karl Barth from Tom Long, “What Are They Asking?” Circuit Rider, September/October 2001, 5.  Accessed at http://www.firstpressarasota.org/archive/sermontext/sermon070408.pdf

[2] David Bartlett, “Preaching After Easter,” in the Easter 2015 Journal for Preachers, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 3, p 40.

[3] Lamar Williamson, Preaching the Gospel of John: Proclaiming the Living Word, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004), 282.

[4] Mark 9:24