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Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Doubting disciples. Faithful community. Risen Lord.

Jesus the risen Lord comes to the one who cannot believe, who grieves, who doubts, whose hope has died.  Jesus comes, light in Thomas’s dark, isolated room, disregarding all the shame and despair which locked him away, for Thomas is too important, and we are too important, for Christ to disregard.

Vicar Erik Doughty, Second Sunday of Easter; text: John 20:19-31

I know that some of us here have had times in which doubt has paralyzed us.  Though I am now gladly married to my partner Scott, many of you know I lived a period of time when I was praying “God, change me, God change me, God, change me,” convinced I wanted to be someone other than the gay man I was becoming.  Fear shut me up into my own little room.  I had faith in God as someone who listens to prayer, but my life was paralyzed by fear.

And there was a time I lost faith in my call to ministry; completely lost faith in myself, as my first internship ended early due to my mistakes.  There was a lament there, too:  “God, how could you let me be this human?  Why is this happening?”

And when any of us grieve, or when we survive some sort of trauma, our faith in God can be wrenched or broken.  We lose the ability, at least for some time, to know and trust God’s presence with us.  Some people live for years in that non-sensing place.  Mother Teresa is one famous example; but it is likely that some of us here live that, too.

In our text today the Apostle Thomas has just such a broken faith.  He has just seen his Lord crucified; he has just started to know himself as one who runs away instead of one who defends his beloved teacher and Lord.  He is grieving his own self-respect and his hope for all that Jesus meant to him.  He isn’t constantly with the others; he goes off alone; what does it even matter?  Jesus is dead.  Nothing now can ever come to any good, as Auden writes.  Friends, have you lived this despair?

In his grief and hopelessness, Thomas misses Jesus’ appearance as risen Lord; and though the 10 are rejoicing, he cannot.  He has seen other wonders; but this?  No.  For this he needs Jesus in person.  He needs to see and touch his Lord.

And Jesus wants a relationship with his friend and disciple.  Jesus comes to Thomas, disregarding any judgements on doubt.  Jesus appears among the disciples again, with peace, showing his wounds, allowing himself to be touched and seen.

Jesus the risen Lord comes right to the one who cannot believe, who grieves, who doubts, whose hope has died.  Jesus comes, light in Thomas’s dark, isolated room, disregarding all the shame and despair which locked him away, for Thomas is too important -- and friend, you are too beloved -- for Christ to disregard.
Christ died and was raised for sinners, for doubters, for the uncertain and ashamed.  The ones in this faithful (though sometimes doubting) community of Mount Olive, and the ones everywhere else.

Jesus has not come to us bodily, in person.  But have we not seen Christ here recently?  As we visit one another, as we trust and share with one another, as we serve this neighborhood?  This is where we see and touch our Lord.

We dip our finger in the cool baptismal water of the font and trace a cross on our forehead; that awful cross Christ died on for sinners like us.   We break bread together and we pray for all the joys and wounds we know.  Those wounds we hesitate to speak of are the ones Christ comes to heal.

We do not share all things as did the early church; but we do share despite our fear, disregarding our faithlessness we come here anyway, we pray here anyway, and Christ comes because we need him here.  Christ comes because he has claimed us and will never abandon us.  Christ comes because his love is stronger than our senses, stronger than our doubts and wonderings.  Christ has conquered death, including the death of our faith.  Christ is with us in all love.  Christ comes despite the locks our fear puts around us.  Christ comes to this faithful community.

Are you huddled in your room, wondering what to trust and whom to believe?  Frightened child, Christ comes to you.  Do you despair of hope, spiraling into darkness and depression, sure that nothing will ever change?  Beloved, Christ has conquered death itself; your darkness is not darkness at all; God is with you even now; in Christ’s light your walk leads to hope; darkness is a continually-lightening shadow of its former self.

It is not so that life will be sweetness and bunnies, hugs and kisses, from now on.  Our human nature will see us fail and fall.  Darkness retains some power to shade our lives.  Yet I have experienced the crucified and risen Christ in this place.  Christ comes to this community and I’ve seen him in a hospital bed, or walking with a walker to a pew, or sitting at Book Study, attending Godly Play, eating at Community Meal.  We are Christ’s body; and we serve Christ in our neighbor; I have preached that before.  And during Lent we spoke of ways Christ is present graciously to us.  We forget and need reminding that Christ shows up in faithful community through, with, and for us.  Even when not all of us feel particularly faithful.

Sisters and Brothers, we belong to the one who has risen, who bears us with him, who lights our path in the darkest valley; we belong to the one who died and now lives; the one who comes to disciples and to doubters, who calls to the afraid and the alone; and he calls us into community to love one another; to do justice; to advocate for the voiceless and oppressed; to serve the neighbor.

So child of God, look and wonder; see the empty tomb; know the wounds of Christ are for you; this community of doubting disciples is for you.  Our faith is not perfect and yet Christ always comes to us, to this community; to you, as a parent runs to a loved child; as a teacher attends a favorite student; and you, too, in this faithful community, at this table, can touch Jesus’ risen body and rejoice with Thomas and all the saints:  My Lord and my God; he is risen!  He is here.  Alleluia.

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