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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Thomas Days - 04/03/2016

I was blessed to have both of my grandma's in my life into adulthood. They were baptized Lois Monahan and Bernice Therese Augustine.

I'd like to tell you a story about my Grandma Bernice. She has been gone now for almost 10 years and I can still see her dancing to weather station jazz and hear her reminding me “God doesn't make junk.” I always knew her to be a woman of steadfast faith. She was quite vocal in her faith community – which could be good or a little prickly. She supported the ministry of her church with her time and resources. She rarely missed worship. Overall, I just remember her as someone who's faith seemed unshakeable.

In truth though Grandma had some serious doubting Thomas days. For her they started in 1959. It was the winter my Grandpa died. He was only 43. I'm told my grandma shut down, for a time. She did just the very minimal of what she needed to get by – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Her whole world, including her understanding of God's presence in her life, had crumbled all around her. What she was feeling and experiencing didn't seem to equate with being redeemed in Jesus' death and resurrection. So, like the disciples in our story today, she hid away from a world that had changed drastically and painfully in the course of one event. It took awhile for her to be able to leave the confines of her grief and confusion, to weave herself back into day-to-day life, her relationship with God, and those in her community.

Those were my Grandma's doubting Thomas days. I, of course, wasn't born yet and only know of this side of my Grandma through family stories. I wasn't there to personally witness this time in my Grandma's life, but I can imagine it a little, how hard it must have been for her. And how lonely it must have been sometimes, because I too have had my doubting Thomas days.

***

Doubting Thomas. I think it's safe to say he is one of the most well-known figures or examples of the human condition from our biblical stories. I wouldn't be surprised to hear anyone refer to someone as a “doubting Thomas,” And I wouldn't be surprised if that person didn't really know the story it comes from.

Even for those who are quite familiar with the story, I think it's a good one to dive into repeatedly – there's a lot here. The story starts later in the same day in which Mary Magdalene has returned from the tomb with her proclamation of the Risen Lord and his message to the disciples: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” And yet the disciples cannot bring themselves to leave that room and in fact lock themselves in there.

Of course locked doors are not going to get between Jesus and anyone. He appears among them and his first words to them are those of compassion and strength. “Peace be with you,” he says.

Then he breathes the courage and hope and action of the Holy Spirit into them as he sends them – just as we are sent – out into the world empowered with the ability to forgive each other and to hold each other accountable when necessary too.

And then, of course, there's Thomas and his transformative encounter with Jesus. Despite all his demands for proof, in the end Thomas doesn't need them. They seem to fall away as Jesus says again, “Peace be with you,” and then, “Do not doubt, but believe.” And now Thomas is among those proclaiming the Risen Lord too. It's the encounter with Jesus that is game-changer here – not the ability or even the opportunity to actually put his fingers in Jesus' wounds.

There is so much to catch our attention in this rich and lovely story. I would like to pull out two things in particular.

When Thomas hears the account of the other disciples and draws his line in the sand, I think we can get caught up in what it is Thomas is doing. Maybe we are rubbed a little wrong at what some might consider a rather audacious move: to demand to see the marks of crucifixion, the evidence of the brutality and humiliation of the execution Jesus had endured.

Maybe Thomas' attitude draws us in because we ourselves have somehow demanded proof that Jesus is our Risen Lord. We find ourselves feeling convicted by Jesus words: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Whatever it is that draws us in to the details and actions of Thomas, I'd like to suggest that we give just as much attention and allow ourselves to be drawn into Jesus response to Thomas' demands.  Jesus simply comes back. This is the one who has just told Mary at the tomb “Do not hold on to me;” the one who has baptized the disciples in the Holy Spirit and told them to go somewhere else – go outside that room with the Good News. And yet he comes back and with the same strong and compassionate air about him, he greets Thomas with words of peace. Jesus comes and Jesus meets Thomas where he is …  as if to say “I hear your requirements, Thomas, and if that's what you need, OK”

That continues to be the way of our Risen Lord today. Our ability to recognize God in our lives, to see Jesus in our world, may shift and change, but Jesus does not change. He remains constant in our lives. In our doubting Thomas days it may be impossible for us to see any of this. But as Jesus shows us in his encounter with Thomas, he is patient and understanding and – thankfully – persistent in coming to us, in meeting us where we are. 

That was my Grandma's experience. Try as she might to lock herself away in that house and turn her back on a world that no longer included her husband, Jesus found his way in, greeted her in peace and love, met her where she was in her grief and confusion and was right by her side when she unlocked those doors and returned to community.

The second thing I'd like to pull out of this story today is not something that happens, but something that doesn't happen. When Thomas comes back to his fellow disciples and hears of their amazing encounter with Jesus and then doesn't believe what they are saying, the disciples don't to try to correct him or put him out of their circle. This would have been particularly important to the first people who heard the Gospel of John's account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Their beliefs did not meet the requirements of the Jewish Leaders of the synagogue, and they were being put out of their faith community.

That is not what happens here. Not only does Jesus meet Thomas where his is, but Thomas' faith community remains around him as he makes his way to belief.

That is precisely the promise we make to each other here – in baptism and around the Lord's Table , places where the playing field is continually leveled … places were we promise to stick with each other as we all make our unique ways as followers of Jesus.

Today at Eden on the Bay we find ourselves with the blessed circumstance of welcoming John McAllister to the Lord's Table for the first time. When we celebrate this sacrament, the Holy Spirit blows into our lives, it changes us … our faith is nourished, our sins are forgiven and we are reminded of the way Jesus urges us to go from here as witnesses of the Gospel.

Because what sense does it make if we only give heed to the gift of this sacrament when we are here in this room? What does it say about our belief in God and Jesus as our Messiah if we compartmentalize our faith? … if we separate all that we hear, see, taste and feel while we are assembled here from our Monday-Saturday lives out there? If we do that we are no different than the fretful and fearful disciples who have locked themselves away in a room in the wake of this astounding Good News that Christ is Risen!

Maybe one way to describe John's First Communion and his (and our) every communion is as doubting Thomas insurance. And what a safety net that is. John, just like the rest of us is going to need this insurance at some point … times when he is not sure of God's presence in his life and the world all around him. He will have doubting Thomas days too, just like Grandma and me and probably every one of us in this room today.

But doubt is not the opposite of faith, in fact doubt is often an experience God uses to grow us in faith. And no matter where we stand, we keep coming back to the table for the nourishment and the guidance God surely provides, especially in those deeper, darker days of doubt.

And it's worth noting that there are no asterisks in any of this with a  little foot note that clarifies these promises are redeemable only if John's or anyone else's faith journey meets our expectations and approval. 

In fact it is often in those times of doubt, in those times when we don't feel close to God, those times that we demand Jesus show us his wounds, that being the Church of Christ to each other is more important then ever …

Because then we find ourselves in the rich and lovely story of Christ right here and now and like Thomas, the doubter, the demander, the audacious one, we find ourselves in community uttering the highest praise of Jesus we find in the entire Gospel of John, “My Lord, and My God!”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Amen

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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