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April 19, 2020

When in Doubt - Rev Carol McDonald

“When in Doubt…” - sermon by Rev. Carol McDonald

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Northminster Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, IN

First Presbyterian Church, Lebanon, IN

John 20: 19-29

Watch Video of this sermon here
One week ago, we celebrated Easter and what a strange Easter it was! In our living rooms, at our dining room tables, in our pajamas and yoga outfits, with cups of coffee and maybe even a Bloody Mary, we proclaimed to our own walls, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!”  Nothing felt familiar. No gatherings of extended family, no packed pews of voices singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” no scent of lilies to clog our sinuses. Even Zoom calls with family and friends didn’t feel quite right – where were the familiar rituals of Easter?

Well, friends, take heart …  something consistent and familiar awaits us this day -- the story of Thomas, Jesus’ disciple who doubted.  I’m not sure why, but the compilers of the lectionary offer us doubting Thomas on the Sunday after Easter, year after year after year.  I don’t know about you, but I find this familiar story comforting in the midst of all that is strange and unfamiliar in this season.

Listen now for God’s word as it comes to us in the 20th chapter of John’s gospel, beginning at the 19th verse:

John 20:19-29 (NIV)
Jesus Appears to His Disciples
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Jesus Appears to Thomas
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The stories of Scripture always speak to our current context and it’s important to read them that way. In the gospel accounts of the resurrection, Jesus appears to his followers in different ways – often as they’re walking along - going about their business, wondering whether or not to believe the story told them by the women at the tomb. But in John’s gospel, after encountering Mary Magdalene and the other women, Jesus first appears to the disciples in a house where the doors were locked because they were afraid. Mary Magdalene’s pronouncement sent the disciples into social isolation with fear and trembling … into a space where none could enter, a space where they could feel safe. Think about that in the midst of our current context!

Apparently Thomas didn’t get the memo; perhaps he was doing his laundry or attempting to gather food and supplies for what he perceived would be a season of social distancing for himself and his companions. He wasn’t with his friends when Jesus – never one to let a little thing like a locked door stop him – stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.” Seeing Jesus’ hands and his side, they rejoiced and received his invitation to be sent into the world.

But Thomas was not about to believe them when told “we have seen the Lord!”  “Unless I see him myself, unless I touch his wounds, I will NOT believe.”  Think about Thomas’ pronouncement in our current context. No one I know is sick … why should I be worried? No one in my family has any symptoms of COVID-19 – why can’t we gather for our weekly family dinner?  I’m fine – why do I need to wear a mask? There’s a bit of Thomas in all of us these days – we want absolute proof that we can see and touch and feel … and without it, we will not believe.

Clearly, Jesus knew and understood Thomas well … the very next week, when the disciples were still locked in their safe and isolated space, Jesus once again stood among them – offering the same greeting, “Peace be with you.” Then, immediately he addresses Thomas … “go ahead, put your finger here and see my hands; reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Finally … Thomas has the proof he needs and wants … he can see and touch and feel … and his response is instant, “My Lord and my God.”

But Jesus isn’t finished with Thomas. “Have you believed because you have seen me?”

Yes, Thomas got what he needed …  a sign – a sign that he could see and touch and feel. And aren’t we, like Thomas, seeking a sign … a sign that everything is going to be okay, a sign that one day we will again hug our friends, and share meals together, and gather for concerts and sporting events, and in-person Sunday worship?

But here comes the challenge of today’s gospel lesson … We must believe in order to see … “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” Jesus says to Thomas. And Jesus is saying those very words to each one of us today. We must believe in order to see.

Believe and you will see.

Believe in the flowers beginning to bloom, the trees beginning to bud, the grass beginning to stretch upwards … and you will see new life and new hope.

Believe in the doctors and nurses and other medical professionals who are risking their very lives to care for the sick, the elderly, and the lonely – and you will see health and wholeness.

Believe in the governors and mayors and state health officials who urge us to continue practicing social distancing – and you will see safety.

Believe in the mail carriers and grocery store employees, and police and firefighters, and all those who deliver things to your front door and those who stock food pantries … and you will see compassion and courage.

Believe in the pastors and church leaders and chaplains and counselors who are working like crazy to learn new skills and connect in new and different ways … and you will see spiritual nurture for your souls.

Believe in yourselves – that you will survive and even thrive in this strange season; believe in your capacity to cope, your energy to persevere, your desire to grow and learn … and you will see resilience and spirit and strength.

Above all, believe in the One who even now stands among us in our social isolation … the One who, each and every day, receives our moments of doubt … the One who, in the midst of perplexity and fear and hesitation, surrounds us with signs of love and hope and peace … the One who says to us in the midst of this strange and uncertain time, “Peace be with you.”

And may our response this day be nothing less – absolutely nothing less - than a shout of “My Lord and My God.”  For Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed! Thanks be to God!