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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

About Discipleship: Thomas - 04/28/2019

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Well, hello, fellow disciples of Jesus.

I’ve been thinking about this body of God’s children and discipleship a little more deeply these last few days, as I’ve thought also about this sermon … these strings of readings we now get from John and Revelation and Acts over the next five weeks … this season of Easter we have entered.

We are uniquely Eden on the Bay – formed from the clay of those of us whose families first conceived and organized this place of worship. Formed from the clay of those of us who typically show up here at various times throughout the week to keep things moving along and in order. The clay of this place includes those who take how they are formed here back out there in ministry to the wider community. We are made, in part, of the clay of those of us we wish we saw more often too … here at worship, around the prayer and bible study tables, in Sunday School and Confirmation, even in the sauna.

And, because of the nature of this place God has brought us all to, the clay of our community is also made quite exotic and colorful by the many visitors that come through here in the course of our annual waves of tourists, our visiting families and friends and even the occasional wanderer looking for a little cash or food or shelter.

I think it’s a beautiful clay and we thank God for how rich and complex and unique it has and continues to be, how it has all come together to make us, this particular body of Jesus’ disciples … this particular expression of discipleship and ministry in God’s world … this particular assembly of God’s people remembering and shouting Alleluia! Our Messiah is risen and we are freed to be exactly what God created us to be, all the while boasting of our Savior’s victory over anything that tries to get between us and God.

And so as we enter this season of Easter, I am thinking more deeply about what it means for us at Eden to be disciples of the Risen Jesus and how these Easter texts inform and prepare us. And I am and will continue to ask you to think more deeply about discipleship too. How do these scriptures incite and encourage us to be part of this faith community, particularly as it comes together to be fed this holy word, bathed in these holy waters and satisfied at this holy table?

And so we start with the example of those first disciples and particularly Thomas.

Thomas sometimes gets pigeonholed into just this part of the story. It’s an important and very well-known part of the story, but Thomas, our highly relatable example of what a Jesus follower can look like, can suffer by getting reduced to simply the doubting one.

There’s more to Thomas than that.

The first time we meet him is when Jesus decides to go to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. The disciples did not want Jesus to go. They had been hiding out from the Jewish Leaders who were feeling very threatened by what Jesus was teaching and the miraculous signs people witnessed in him. They, and the Romans they had truly given their allegiance to, wanted Jesus dead. So, naturally, his followers tried to urge him to stay away from Bethany. You could see the walls of Jerusalem from there. It was far too dangerous.

“The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ 9Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ 11After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ 12The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about (Lazarus’) death, … they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’” And here is where we meet “Thomas, who was called the Twin, (who) said to his fellow disciples (in a courageous witness of loyalty and willingness to push through fear and follow Jesus) ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” (John 11:8-16)

Thomas is courageous and loyal, we realize.

And then we meet him again during the bitter Passover feast we just re-enacted during Holy week. Jesus did and said a lot that night. And it was a lot for the disciples to comprehend.

During their supper together Jesus, the Lord of the feast, got up and humbly took on the role of servant as he washed his disciples’ feet. He told them how much he loved them, even Peter who Jesus said would deny Jesus three times as Jesus suffered and died on the cross … even Judas who he already knew had betrayed him and set the final pieces into motion – the soldiers were already preparing to come arrest Jesus.

Jesus also commanded his disciples to love one another just as he had loved them … to love the Peters and Judases of their lives too. It was a lot to take in. I’m certain that between everything Jesus was telling them, and the reality of the cross becoming clearer and clearer, and the wild range of emotions that must have been rising up in the disciples, it was more than overwhelming. It would have been traumatic.

If I were there, I think part of me would have felt like running as far and fast as I could, while also feeling paralyzed by fear and a desperate desire to keep following in spite of myself.

And to that, Jesus said, “‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  

4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’”  And it was  “Thomas (who, seeking to understand more deeply what Jesus was trying to say to them)  said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14: 1-6)

Thomas is courageous and loyal, and a seeker. When the others are tying to convince Jesus to saying in hiding, it is Thomas who recognizes Jesus will not be changing his mind. So he boldly calls the others to continue walking this counter-intuitive and dangerous Way with Jesus.

When the others are afraid to really hear Jesus say he would sacrifice himself to the cross in order that God be gloried, it was Thomas who dug deep and sought to understand Jesus more clearly.

Where we come into the story today, the disciples have just watched as their beloved teacher was executed. They are still trying to understand the empty tomb and Mary Magdalene’s story of meeting Jesus in the garden. They have locked themselves up tight in a room together. They fear that the Jewish leaders will come for them next – except for Thomas – he’s not there.

You know, we spend so much time talking about how Thomas doubted the story of his colleagues, but rarely do we consider that Thomas did not stay locked up in that room. What was he doing? Did they send him out for pizza or something? Did he just refuse to say holed up in fear? Maybe he went to the tomb to check it out himself. May he went somewhere quiet to pray and listen for God. Whatever the reason, it’s surprising, unexpected. It’s a lot like something Jesus would do.

So now we have Thomas the courageous and loyal seeker, and who, perhaps influenced by his teacher, is someone who tends to do the unexpected and surprising.

This is the picture of the more rounded Thomas who comes back from wherever to this news that Jesus has once again appeared. This time it was in a locked room full of people who only a few days before pulled their swords on the soldiers and high priests who came to arrest Jesus. Now they were letting fear get the best of them, afraid of their own shadows. Why should Thomas believe 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," (John 20:25b) Thomas says.

Thomas the courageous and loyal seeker, who is beginning to model Jesus’ unexpected ways, also has doubts.

So the resurrected Jesus appears to them again, and he says directly to Thomas, “I know you are having doubts right now. I get it, but it is me and all of this has happened just as the prophets foretold, just as I said it would. I know it’s been hard to understand. I know it’s not what you expected would happen. But I’m here to tell you, do not doubt, Thomas, but believe.”

And Thomas’ doubt fell away. “My Lord and My God, he proclaims. In Thomas we have an example of discipleship more relatable than we thought.

Finally, Jesus offers up another key teaching Thomas and the disciples would need as they prepared to continue sharing the story of Jesus and tending to God’s most vulnerable. "Have you believed because you have seen me?" he asks.

While Thomas and the others had the chance to see Jesus with their own eyes between the time he burst from the tomb and ascended to heaven, the people who would come after them would not. That is the daunting task that has faced the ministry of Jesus’ disciples from the beginning. So Jesus offered a blessing for all those who would come later … like Lydia and Paul and Constantine and his mother, like Katie and Martin Luther, like me and you.

So hear Jesus blessing fall upon us again today, fellow disciples of Jesus.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29b) 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 ~

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