Forsake Heaven. Love Your Ground.

A message I did on 4/15 on the usual “Doubting Thomas” Character. But, I did my best to keep Thomas in his place as a disciple, and focus on the message and power of Jesus, who, after all, is described by Thomas as My Lord and My God. You can listen along if you’d like: here. Just scroll down to find the date/my name, and BAM! It’s like I’m in the room with you…

but for all you visual learners:

Kelsey: I need a story to tell

Jon: Tell a story about a time you doubted, or had questions about faith…

Kelsey: Welcome to the story of my life.

When I was younger I was taught some of the great proverbs of elementary school—don’t believe everything you hear.  Actions speak louder than words.  Honesty is the best policy.  If all your friends jumped off a bridge would you jump off too?  The popular thing is not always what’s right, and what is right is not always popular.  And more recently from Harry Potter—a time will come when people will need to make a choice between what is easy and what is right.

I’ve heard sermons condemning Thomas—the Twin, for his unbelief, for his questions, his doubting, and his lack of faith.  He should have just had more faith—and the punch line of those sermons usually ends with a call to the hearers that we too—should simply have more faith.

Well….pssshhhhh pfffff… is what I say to that.  This sermon is not going to condemn Thomas—or any twin for that matter.  In fact, this sermon isn’t even really going to be about Thomas.

*Pause for confused looks and slight gasp?

It’s going to be about Jesus.  *Pause for amused looks and slight chuckles…

But in all seriousness, I’m going to do my best to leave Thomas in his place as a disciple—and talk about Jesus in the way Thomas describes him—My Lord, and my God.  After all, Thomas is only given a few sightings in the gospels.  Jesus has four books about him…well, ok, and the rest of the Bible…

We can get so hung up on Thomas—how and when in our lives do we doubt and not simply believe?  It says in the text he was not with them at that time…Where was he on that day, why was he not in the community of those believers?  We seem to vilify him, either to make ourselves look better, or to guilt others into our way of thinking…

So, in the spirit of elementary school—let’s not believe everything we hear, let’s question and poke around until we find some answers—or more questions.  Let’s let the actions of the characters in the story speak louder than the words we’ve made them speak.

What we can sometimes overlook is the fact that we are still reading the “Easter” story.  This is all still taking place on “the first day of the week” when the women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.  In John’s gospel Mary Magdalene sees Jesus in the garden and he tells her to go to the rest of the disciples and tell them.

In Mark’s gospel the women are told by the angels, “He is not here, he has been raised up! God and tell his followers that he will meet them in Galilee.”

AFTER all the Resurrection excitement of angles, missing bodies, and people running back and forth to the tomb, this is where we enter the story.  The text says…“Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house.”  Except for Thomas, Thomas was not with them when the disciples locked themselves behind closed doors.

On the one hand, we understand—and we’d probably be right there with them.  The Jewish leaders took a teacher right in front of his students.  Tied him up, beat him up, and killed him.  Now, his body is missing… a capital offense punishable by nothing less than death.  The disciples were hiding because they didn’t want to get in trouble with those same Jewish leaders.  They locked the doors and probably tried to act like no one was home…

But not Thomas.  He was not with them.  Maybe, he was distressed at the circumstances, and didn’t know how to interact with the group anymore…maybe he had lost hope, and was afraid that the last three years he spent with this traveling teacher were wasted and he was going to have to figure out a new plan.

Or maybe, he simply was not afraid the way the other disciples were.  Maybe he was not scared enough to hide behind locked doors.  We do not really know a lot about Thomas, but we know he was a traveler.  He is later recorded as the disciple who traveled all the way to India to preach the Gospel.  Not only did he go far, but he is also credited with being the only original disciple to travel outside the Roam Empire to preach the Gospel.  Yes, there were others among the group who told the story—but Thomas went, and he went far.

So maybe I’m stretching the story too far—but what if Thomas wasn’t afraid…Maybe he’s a bit braver than we give him credit.

But, I said before this isn’t going to be all about Thomas, so let’s get back to it.  For whatever reason, Thomas isn’t with the disciples.  Jesus shows up—forget locked doors and scared hearts, he not limited by these things.  The first words Jesus speaks to his disciples after his resurrection?  “Peace to you.”

Really, Jesus… do you know what happened while you were away?  They left you, fled from the soldiers in the garden, denied you, sold you off for silver coins, left you up on that cross… They’ve been hiding out for days, and don’t know what to do… and you say, “Peace?”

No lecture.  No punishment.  No harassment.  No interrogation.  No explanations needed.
Just, Peace.

Jesus comes to the scared confused disciples and gives them his peace.  Not only his peace, but the writer John goes on to tell us a different kind of Easter story.  Jesus comes to these disciples in a real, physical, human body.  The Word—made flesh.  This is a sort of creation story.  This is a new kind of humanity.  This is humanity fully accomplished.
And not only that—this is the Divine—in this body suit.

Over and over John labors to explain to his readers, the God we know in Jesus is different, because this God got dirty.  Moved into the neighborhood with us, spent time with us, and got to know us.  And now, shows us a new way of living—though love.

But this is not just an Easter story, not just a story about the new creation, this is also a story of what we know as Pentecost—where the disciples are given the gift of the Holy Spirit…It says Jesus breathes on them.  He whispers to them.  He gets close enough to them for them to feel his breath on them.  This is sensual, fleshy, intimate stuff…

Jesus gives his spirit to the disciples.  With his words in their ears, and now his spirit filling their hearts—he sends them.  Sends them out to forgive, which literally means to let something be as it is.  To allow it to continue.  To forgive does not mean to fix or change… it means to free it from any expectations you might have.  So Jesus breathes on them, gives them his Sprit—and then sets them free to set the world free…

Naturally, when they run into Thomas they tell him—we’ve seen the master!! Now, the story doesn’t say the other disciples told Thomas anything about the breath of God now living within them.  It doesn’t say that they told him they were to go, and unshackle those in bonds around them… but they do tell Thomas they saw Jesus.

Too good to be true!  I can’t even imagine it. This is Thomas’ response.  Yes, he’d seen a sick woman cured, he’d seen lepers healed and cleansed.  He’d even seen a dead man brought back to life.  But in all those amazing stories—Jesus was alive and he was the one touching the sick, and raising the dead.  How, if Jesus was now dead—how could he raise himself…?

His bizarre response of wanting to touch the nail marks, and the place where the spear pierced… maybe it’s not exactly literal.  I’m so hungry I could eat a whole zebra.  I’m so tired I could have slept for 20 years.  I’m so excited to see the Rabbi, to see Jesus, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too high, so I’m not going to believe unless I see it for myself!

So, one week later.  The disciples go back to the same house, the same room.  They return to the scene of the excitement. And once again, they lock the doors…and this time, Thomas is there with them.

And once again, Jesus comes to these scared and confused disciples.  And once again, Jesus offers—not a lecture, or punishment, but Peace.  Again and again Jesus comes.  Again and again he offers peace.

Thomas exclaims—My Lord, and My God!  He sees the hands, the feet, and the side.  He sees the chest of a man rising and falling with breath.  He sees the eyes, the hair, the stature of a familiar friend… and yet, in all of this familiarity, he sees the face of God.  Thomas is the first person to put the title of “Lord and God” on Jesus after his resurrection.  Friend or foe, doubting or unsure, Thomas is the first one to say—this is who Jesus really is.

God adored all that God had created—so much, that God forsook heaven to come down just to be with creation.  In Jesus, God ditched the divine and put on a body and came and lived among us.

As God sent Jesus, so God also sends us.  God comes to us as we are, scared, confused, people lost in the journey of life struggling with transitions and changes—God comes to us again and again and offers Peace.

Again and again God calls us to the Table and feeds us, and breathes on us and gives us God’s Spirit.  And then—we too are sent out to be peace, justice, and hope, and light and love for a world that needs to hear how much it is deeply loved.

These stories are written that you will believe and in the act of believing have real and timeless life in the way Jesus personally revealed it.

So, Pointe of Grace, Mukilteo, Washington…How do we believe—how do we live a life that is real and timeless—in the way Jesus personally revealed it?  What does it mean to live as a Resurrection people…?

Do we hide behind closed doors and wait for something to happen?  And when Jesus comes to us, again and again—which he does—will we  come back week after week and hide behind locked doors and wait for Jesus to breathe on us again?  Because, when we hide in this room, in this building and wait for something to happen, we are denying the resurrection.

Will we deny the resurrection?  Because every time we sit in these chairs and think this is it—we deny the resurrection.  “Every time we do not serve our neighbors, we deny the resurrection.  Every time we participate in an unjust system, we deny the resurrection.” [Pete Rollins.]

Or, like Jesus, who the story says personally reveals to us the way of life—will we forsake heaven and love our ground.  Will we ditch heaven and love the world that God so dearly loves.  “Will we stand up for those who are on their knees, will we cry out for those people who have no voice, will we weep for those who have no tears left—because when we do—it is in these rare and beautiful moments that we affirm the resurrection.” [Rollins]

So it seems, we have a choice.  To deny the resurrection and hide behind locked doors.  To hide behind comfort, security, safety and stability.  Or, to affirm the resurrection, to unlock the doors, to invite the outsiders in, to welcome the unlovable, and to forgive, to let be—not to change for fix…

We humbly pray,

May we have the strength to live in the reality of the resurrection—no longer living behind closed doors; but throw them open and go out to find Jesus, this same Jesus that breathes on us again and again and offers us peace—go out and find Jesus in the faces of the ones we meet.


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