Sunday, April 28, 2019

John.20.19-31; Second Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019;

John.20.19-31; Second Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, 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 in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, 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; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, 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 believed.”  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:19-31, ESV)
(Thanks to Dr. Norman Nagel)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
You know “doubting” Thomas gets a bad rap.  How would you like to have the kind of nickname that lasts for centuries after your death?  Of course, we know how he gets it.  We hear the story every year the Sunday right after Easter.  “Unless I see the nail prints… and actually put my finger in them…  I certainly will not believe.”  That’s Doubting Thomas, making his annual appearance.
Really, it seems that Thomas is the kind of guy who always sees the worst of a situation.  He’s the glass-is-half-empty type of guy.  If the disciples were planning a church picnic Thomas is the one who be saying, “I’ll probably rain the whole day.”  He probably does it, for the same reasons you and I might do it.  If we set our expectations low, we are less often disappointed.  If we set our sights low, we can be pleasantly surprised when things turn out better than we expected.  The easier our standards are to achieve the more success we can claim to have.  If we don’t expect much from our community, we won’t have to deal with the let down of missing the mark.
There’s a little of Thomas’ attitude at work here too.  We could invite lots of people to worship with us today (there are plenty of people sitting at home this morning right here in Grand Marais), but we might not because we’re afraid of what it says if they don’t show up.  We might even be afraid that they won’t like what we believe, teach and confess; or they won’t like what we sing; or the way we sing it; or what we say about God; or the way we say it.  We set our sights very low when we think that what the bible teaches is too difficult for people to understand and we must water it down to get people in the door.  It’s a lot easier to say to ourselves, “I’d invite them but they won’t come anyway.” 
You know, we don’t really know very much about Thomas.  He only speaks four times in the whole bible.  The first time he does is when Jesus hears about the death of Lazarus and speaks about going back to Judea where people wanted to kill him.  “Well,” answered Thomas, “we may as well go and get it over with… I guess we’ll all just go with you so we can all die too.”  There Thomas is again setting his sights low, preparing for the worst.  I don’t think he really wants to die, it’s just that he’s worried about what’s going to happen, so he speaks the worst, hoping that the worst won’t happen.  Now it just so happened that the pessimism of Thomas is completely unjustified.  It wasn’t long before the disciples witnessed Jesus bringing life back to Lazarus’ dead, decaying body.  Jesus told his disciples that they’d see great things (John 1:50) if they followed Him.  Thomas was expecting the worst; the cup was half-empty.  But Jesus filled it up with life.
While most of us probably more closely associate with Thomas and his aiming low strategy, it’s no better to only to look at the world with rosy glasses.  It is just as much of a problem pretend that the world is all goodness and light.  The world is not all filled with goodness and light, bad things happen every day, even to Christians.  You don’t have to go very far to see it either, switch on the radio and listen to the news.  Terrible things happen every day.  It’s a terrible thing that there is more real persecutions of Christians now than ever before.  It’s a terrible thing that divorce has become an everyday reality and even expected behavior even for God’s people.  It’s just as easy to hide behind a positive attitude as a negative one.  We deceive ourselves when we think that people are basically good and will do the right thing if they given the chance.  That just doesn’t play itself out as being true in the real world.  You know what it is like to be used as a rung in someone’s ladder to corporate success.  And even your friends will let you down, by turning their back on you when it is their own self-interest.  You know that the sales clerk will hide the truth from you rather than risk the sale, especially when her commission is in play.  Walking around pretending everything is great all the time isn’t any better than thinking like Thomas and always looking on the dark side.
Thomas doesn’t mean to be disbelieving, he’s just setting his sights low, so he won’t be disappointed.  So, when Peter and the gang tell Thomas, “We’ve seen the Lord!” even their joy can’t overtake Thomas’ fear.  He doesn’t just doubt that Jesus is alive; he won’t dare believe it to be true.  So, he set his expectations to where he thinks they belonged.  “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  He would be happy to see Jesus alive; he just can’t bear the let down if He isn’t. 
Jesus knows Thomas and his half-full complex.  When He appears, again in the midst of the disciples and Thomas he speaks directly to Thomas and his unbelief.  “See my hands, bring you finger over here and touch me, put your hand right here in my side.  Stop your unbelief…” Jesus is telling Thomas, “It is true, I am alive!”  Jesus knows exactly what Thomas needs.  He reaches out to Thomas with the nail scared hands that suffered for the unbelief of the whole world.   Jesus knows what Thomas needs.  He gives him what he can see and touch, a living body.  The unbelief that Thomas held evaporated.  Did he reach out and put his finger in Jesus side?  I don’t know, but I think his faith didn’t demand it anymore.  Jesus, who was dead, is alive.  He believes it.  He makes the strongest statement of faith in St. John’s Gospel.  “My Lord and my God!”
You know it sounds a lot like another time Jesus reached out and pulled someone out of his doubt.  Even Jesus needed downtime, and with the great crowds that followed him everywhere who could blame him.  After he did the miracle of feeding the 5,000 Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him across the Sea of Galilee in a boat, telling them he’d join them later.  He went up on a mountain by himself to pray and rest.  The disciples cast off, but they weren’t gone long and as the water cooled down and the wind came up they began to think they weren’t going to make it to the other side.  When they had gotten to the middle of the lake, they really got spooked.  Out walking on the water, right in a place where no person could possibly be was a man walking on the water.  Of course, they were frightened.  But It was Jesus and he called out to them not to be afraid.  Peter piped up, “Jesus if that is really you let me walk out to you on the water.”  “Come.” Jesus said with his hands outstretched.  Peter took a few steps out there on the water, and just as he thought he was doing ok, just as he took his eyes of Jesus, just as unbelief overtook him, down into the water he dropped.  But Jesus was right there to take hold of him, and pick him up out of his unbelief and put him in the boat.  
What a friend we have in Jesus.  For many people it’s a favorite hymn.  Jesus is a true friend because he meets us where we are.  Just like He did for Thomas.  Just like he did for Peter.  He didn’t zap them dead for unbelief, he reached out to him with the hands that would bear the nails for their sin.  Jesus dragged them through their unbelief right to himself.   What a friend they had.  What a fried we have! 
Thomas was blessed to see Jesus physical body right there.  Is Jesus going to appear right here standing showing us the nail prints and his side?  Well, probably not.  But he does do that in a way.  What is it that Jesus calls those who have faith in Him, gathered around His word and Sacraments?  We are the body of Christ.  Jesus knows exactly what we need, and he comes to us through people.  Every day he reaches out to you with the hands and feet of the people all around you.  That’s what Friendship Sunday is all about, too.  To help us remember that we are to bring Jesus to this community. 
The message we must bring is nothing less than what God did to come near to people who need him.  Those holes in Jesus hands are proof of it.   God isn’t a God far away, He’s very close at hand.  Jesus is God’s Word made flesh a living breathing, bleeding dying, rising and living again Savior for you and me.  When Thomas focused on his friend Jesus, his doubts ran way.  When Peter looked away, he sank like a stone. 
Our faith is centered in Jesus.  With our eyes focused on him we don’t have to speak the worst and hope for better.  We already have life and victory.  We are connected to Jesus’ victory over death.   We are connected to Jesus’ life.  That’s God’s promise given to you in Baptism.  As surely as Jesus rose from the dead, you will have that same victory over death.  That’s the certainty Thomas saw in Jesus’ wounds.   It’s the certainty we have when we gather around Jesus’ the altar to hear again about his self-sacrifice for us; as we gather to receive the meal of his holy body and blood.  As we do, he gives us the forgiveness of sins that we need, even forgiveness for not believing.
Now, it’s easy to fall into the old pattern of unbelief, hedging our bets, speaking the worst to avoid disappointment.  After all, we have lots to be disappointed about.  Life is like that.  Lot’s of people around here are still grieving the loss of the school.  Our kids grow up, move go away to school and don’t come back.  Burt has changed and it’s going to keep changing.  But Jesus gives us exactly what we need.  He reaches out to us, what a friend we have.  Jesus is exactly what all the people of Grand Marais need.  In fact, that’s exactly why Life in Christ Lutheran Church is here.  Invite a friend to Jesus.  Amen.
“Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
The peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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