Sermon: “Love Beyond Sight”

April 23, 2017: Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31

Poor Thomas. Every year, on the Sunday after Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary and the other lists of Bible readings for Sunday which are its relatives bring up this story.

And for Thomas, that’s got to be embarrassing.

He didn’t make it into the Acts of the Apostles, which is a shame. Ancient traditions say that he may have been the furthest traveled of the apostles, even more than the Apostle Paul, who gets quite a reputation as a traveler and evangelist from his voyages around the Mediterranean.

Thomas, say the stories, made it to western India. There are churches there who honor him as their founder to this day. They remember as well that he died as a martyr in India, far, far, from his home in Israel.

Thomas even got more time from our gospel writer, John, than most of his fellow male disciples. Thomas said, “Let us go with him, so that at least we may die with him” when Jesus decided to return to the hostile district around Jerusalem. He was bold and he was loyal.

At the Last Supper, when Jesus started talking about going places to prepare a place for his friends, Thomas was the one to ask, “How can we know the way, since you haven’t told us where you are going?” He was curious. He was courageous. And he was committed to follow Jesus with understanding.

But we forget all that. We remember him as “doubting Thomas.”

And that isn’t fair. Thomas asked for no more than what the other disciples had already experienced. In fact, they had been in exactly the same condition – not believing the resurrection of Jesus – at the beginning of the reading today.

Mary Magdalene, after all, had seen the newly risen Jesus that morning. She’d mistaken him briefly for a gardener, but she recognized him when he called her name.

Then she went and told the disciples this: “I have seen the Lord.”

And they? They did nothing. They got together; perhaps they were discussing the news, but they were concerned enough that the Roman governor would not stop with executing one Galilean, but continue on with them, to see that the door was locked behind them.

Without, strangely enough, Thomas. Perhaps he wasn’t there because he was the bravest one?

And then: Jesus stood there, alive and embodied. He was no ghost, but his resurrected body had a power that doors and locks could not resist.

So they told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” That’s exactly what Mary Magdalene had told them. They didn’t believe her then. Thomas didn’t believe them when they said it, either.

“Doubting Thomas”? No, more like “doubting disciples.”

Karoline Lewis, who I quote so often because she’s so incredibly insightful, writes: “Forever called ‘the Doubter.’ And even when we recall that the [Greek] word ‘doubt’ never appears in your story, that Jesus says to you, ‘do not be unbelieving but believing,’ that believing in the Gospel of John has nothing to do with an assent to claims and creeds of faith but is rather a synonym for relationship with Jesus, you are still given a name you don’t deserve. That happens a lot with name-calling, doesn’t it?”

Poor Thomas. Because the real reason John tell us his story is to pass on these words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

It was people who had not seen Jesus, pre- or post-resurrection, for whom John wrote his book. People like John himself, who nowhere in his gospel claims to be an eyewitness. He hadn’t been part of Jesus’ circle during his ministry, and he hadn’t been there to see his resurrection. This was a new generation of Christians.

John wrote his gospel for people like us. “Blessed are we who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Blessed are we, for we have not seen and yet have come into relationship with the risen Christ.

Or have we?

There was a time when I did not believe. I don’t say doubt, because doubt suggests that I was uncertain. I wasn’t in the least uncertain. I knew for sure that there was no God, no Christ, no resurrection, with all the certainty of a stubborn Swede.

It was doubt – doubt of my own correctness – that opened the way toward belief. Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” Doubt let me shift my viewpoint on the world, let me dream a different reality, let me consider an unimagined power.

Doubt also helps guard us from charlatans, frauds, and false guides. As Nancy Rockwell writes: “Never was skepticism more important to cultivate in ourselves than now… ‘Believe us,’ is the urging of scam artists. And doubt is our best protection.”

Doubt cannot, and in my case did not, bring me to belief, to the first steps of a relationship with Jesus. Very few of us will have a physical encounter with the resurrected Jesus. But I suspect that for most of us, something happens such that we can imagine it. Such that we can conceive of a relationship with someone we have not seen. Such that we can conceive of a love that is stronger than a human embrace.

I can’t tell you when that happened for me. I remember a time that I couldn’t make that leap, and I remember a later time when I could. People have told me stories about how they came to believe, and to seek a relationship with Jesus. Some have said simply that it was so much a part of their upbringing that they don’t remember a time when they could not imagine the risen Christ. Others can point to a single moment, a signature event, when they passed from non-believer to believer.

If you are still searching for your own moment or season or lifetime of learning, let me offer one clue. Look for the love. Because love is what this relationship is all about.

Look for the love shown to you by people who treasure you: they may be family, they may be co-workers, they may be friends, they may be the stranger who waves you out ahead of them as you’re crossing the street. Look for the love shown to you.

Look for the love shown to others by people around you: the daily kindnesses, the smiles, the extra servings, the care taken each day in businesses to set a fair price and pay a fair wage, the daily labor of helping agencies to heal the sick, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and feed the hungry. Look for the love shown all around you.

Look for the love showered upon us in this great creation, the stars that shine down on the Earth, the grains that spring up from the Earth, the taro root that waits beneath the Earth. Look for the love in flower and tree, in bird and beast, in mountain and sea. Mauka to makai, look for the love.

Minister and poet Rachel Hackenberg writes:

“Show us life where there is fullness of joy,
and we will make it our breath and our work.
Show us hope with possibility and clarity,
and it will be our guide and our salvation.
Show us faith that burns and opens hearts,
and we will give you ours over and over again.”

Nancy Rockwell continues: “We are saved, as I understand it, because God loves us. And God’s love is not an award for our belief, nor can it be stimulated by our good behavior, nor can it be turned off by our sinful lives.”

Yes. Yes.

God’s love can be experienced, and appreciated, and enjoyed – if we let doubt crack our certainties, if we let imagination expand our vision, if we let love fill us to overflowing.

So thank you, Thomas, for enduring two thousand years of our disparagement, and heaven knows how many more, so that we might join you in blessing. Thank you, Thomas, for your efforts to see that we appreciate this love beyond sight. Thank you, Thomas, for reminding us once again:

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!



The image is a mosaic in the Cathedral of Monreale, Italy, showing Thomas touching the wounds of Jesus. Photo is © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro /, CC BY-SA 4.0, Used by permission.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on April 23, 2017

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