Sermon for Sunday, April 16th: The Rev. Laura Palmer
Acts 2:14a 22-32 The Rev. Laura Palmer
1 Peter 1:3-9 St. Martin-the-Fields
John 20: 19-31 April 16th, 2023
Psalm 16 Year A
Ants in the Pants of Faith
May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be acceptable to thee, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer, AMEN.
As if on cue, the magnolias are gone. The explosion of pink I watched unfold from my kitchen window, as bold as the Easter trumpets that heralded the resurrection only a week ago have disappeared; exited stage left.
The great sugar highs of Easter, both actual and spiritual, have crashed. Green leaves are on the magnolia tree, its blossoms brown on the ground as we begin the 50
Imagine that you’re a contestant on Jeopardy and say, “Let’s try Biblical History for forty.” “Which of Jesus’ disciples was famous for his doubt?’
Thomas. Bing, Bing, Bing! Exactly right. And therein the problem lies. Because Thomas has become a cliché and something not to be—an admonishment-- Don’t be a doubting Thomas.
Clichés make great shortstops. When we assume we know, we stop thinking, probing and imagining, cheating only ourselves.
Thomas needed a second source on the resurrection. In the aftermath of something impossible and unimaginable, he needs proof that it really happened because he wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus first appeared to them. Why should he take their word for somethings so staggeringly unbelievable? As a former journalist, I get it. No editor of I ever had would have run the story.
Like Thomas, Job is often reduced to a cliché by his “patience.” But Job wasn’t patient at all. He was furious and persistent. God ultimately answered Job’s furor and rage by responding directly to him.
Thomas’ “doubt” could only be answered by answered by a direct encounter with the risen Christ and he gets it. John tells us he waited a week. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
Upgrading Thomas to “curious” instead of “doubting” is fairer and more relatable. As someone who’s always curious, I’ve thought a lot about it. Now I no longer say, “I was just curious” when asked to explain something I’ve done – like go to Saigon two months after graduating from college-- because I realize now that in my life, the Holy Spirit has acted through my curiosity. Curiosity has often been the tap on the shoulder that’s steered me to places I never intended to go but recognized the moment I arrived.
Thomas has had a bad rap over the millennium for his doubt. Plenty of priests, more than you might imagine, have doubts and questions about their faith. Curiosity and doubt keep faith alive. Thankfully, we are a church that embraces both.
As author and theologian Frederick Buechner wrote:
Whether your faith is that there is god or that there is not a god, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it moving and awake. ( Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, A Theological ABC, Harper San Francisco,, January 1st, 1993)
I am grateful to Thomas and admire his courage in speaking his very inconvenient truth. He had no guilt or shame about resisting someone else’s reality and going along with a majority view he could not with integrity, accept.
Living into the resurrection is different from the great standing ovation we give Jesus every Easter. Living into the resurrection is work and Thomas has something to teach.
Call it doubt or curiosity, it’s what led Thomas to the wounded flesh of Jesus. He wants to put his fingers into his wounds, his flesh, although we never know if he actually did.
Jesus is unfazed by Thomas’ need to know. How easy it would have been to be dismissive. But Jesus meets Thomas where he is, without criticism or judgment. Just as he welcomes all of you and me. We have nothing to hide, but how often we do because of our shame, sin, guilt, or sin. But that’s on us, not Jesus.
Remember what the disciples did immediately after the crucifixion? They locked themselves into a room, prisoners of their fear. How often are we immobilized or imprisoned by our fears that shut life out?
Author and pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber writes:
The doors were locked that Easter night for fear of what might get in, but the biggest danger came from inside the room, not out…So it is here, sitting amidst fear and locked doors, amidst blame and justifications that the disciples encounter the risen Christ. He crashes their pity party and messes everything up in a way that only an incarnated, crucified and resurrected God can. He took them as they were. Full of fear and I suspect more than a little shame. Because it takes more than locked doors and low self-esteem to keep Jesus out. ( Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Take Me as I Am.” The Corners by Nadia Bolz-Weber, April 19, 2022)
There was nothing weak in Thomas’ faith. It was, in the end, quite robust. Inspired by the Good News of the Risen Christ, he became a missionary to India. Thomas, transformed in his life and work, reminds us that Jesus’ wounds have everything to teach us.
Writes Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest:
God uses the very thing that would normally destroy us—the tragic, the sorrowful, the painful, the unjust deaths that leads us all to the bottom of our lives—to transform us. There it is, in one sentence. Are we prepared to trust that? ( Richard Rohr Daily Meditation: 4/21/22)
A Christ with us in our wounds and brokenness. That’s the Jesus I need; the one who promises us that we do not suffer alone and that death is not the end.
On Easter I preached that Mary Magdalene encountered Christ in the darkness of the tomb because she stayed with where her pain was; her deepest wound.
Thomas teaches us that to know Jesus is to know his wounds. Go ahead, Jesus says in effect, “put your hands into my wounds and you will know who I am.” It is what’s perhaps most essential about him.
Think for a moment how you would describe Jesus to someone if you couldn’t use words? Reach out a hand? Share a hug? Hard isn’t it? But it’s a problem American sign language had to solve and here’s how it did:
Place the middle figure of your dominant hand in the palm of the other. And then do the same with the middle figure of your non-dominant hand.
Put your hands into my wounds and you will know who I am. And that will change everything. AMEN