This morning’s sermon is based on John 20:19-31. This story is commonly known as Doubting Thomas, but yet makes up 2 separate examples of Post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus.
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You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
I’ve got quite a few pictures that decorate my office. Some are pretty new…others quite a bit older…they were taken in a wide variety of different situations and places…but a couple of them were taken in one of my favorite places in the world. Rainbow Trail Lutheran Bible camp in the mountains of southern Colorado.
Most of you have probably heard me talk about Rainbow Trail before. Once a year, my family packs up the car and road trips out west for a week of family camp. We drive and we drive…and finally after winding our way around countless mountain peaks, we turn off the main highway, and drive about 3 miles up a bumpy gravel road to camp.
Its usually the highlight of our year. We are refreshed and rejuvenated. We enjoy the company of wonderful people that we’ve gotten to know over the course of the past 11 years. We spend every waking moment taking in glorious views, with the constant programming we are going from morning till night…and perhaps most wonderful of all, up in the mountains there is zero cell reception…so there are no interruptions from the outside world.
But inevitably…the end of the week rolls around…and we pack ourselves back in the car…and the tiredness of the week catches up…and the cramped feeling of being in the car at the beginning of more than 11 hours’ worth of driving sets in…and as we drive back down that bumpy gravel road…back into the presence of cell service…the phone starts beeping with all the missed calls and texts…and usually before we’ve even driven 5 miles, we’ve started bickering. And when that happens, one of us, usually my wife makes the statement “Welcome back to real life.” (pause)
I can’t help but think that same sort of situation has been our reality in our very recent history. Just 1 week ago…we all experienced the mountaintop that is Easter Sunday…and it was glorious. Here at the church, Easter kicked off with our Confirmation Students leading the worship for our Sunrise Service…This led into a wonderful time of fellowship downstairs for breakfast…a couple hours later the sanctuary was packed to the rafters for our regular Easter service…and after that everyone scattered out in their own directions for various family dinners and gathers and celebrations…and it seemed…for that brief moment anyway…that everything was perfect…and nothing could mess up that feeling. (pause)
But I find myself wondering…just how long that feeling lasted for everyone? How long did it take for real life to take hold again…how soon did the craziness of life push that mountaintop experience of Easter to the back burner? (pause) THE TOMB IS EMPTY…HE HAS RISEN…HALLEJAH!!!!!! Oh, but guess what, welcome back to real life. (pause)
As true as that seems to be for us today…I can’t help but think that the earliest followers of Jesus must have been experiencing the very same thing…and I wonder just how quickly real life…how quickly reality…got in the way for them. (pause)
Over the course of the next several weeks…we’ll continue to encounter the various stories that occurred when Jesus made post-resurrection appearances…times when various individuals would encounter the risen Lord. And as we begin to take a look at those different stories…those different encounters…we begin to see some similarities between them…but we also see some pretty major differences for the individuals who have these experiences.
Now interestingly enough…our story today…commonly known as the Doubting Thomas story…it begins on Easter…so as we pick things up today, we almost need to backtrack a week…almost like the beginning of most tv shows anymore that give you a quick reminder of “previously on our show.” (pause)
Well previously on this show was Easter Sunday…when the tomb is empty and as we hear in John’s gospel…Mary Magdalene is the first one to encounter the risen Lord…but at first she doesn’t recognize him…and its only through their ongoing encounter that she does…but when she does, she goes off and tells the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” (pause)
Well now, we jump ahead a few hours…to the evening of Easter Sunday…and we find 10 of the disciples, no Judas, no Thomas…but the rest of them…huddled in a locked room out of fear. They’ve heard Mary’s report, but it doesn’t seem that its made much difference for them…and they are stuck in the reality of fear…afraid for their lives…afraid that their association with Jesus might just land them in the same boat with the Religious leaders…and they might be arrested or killed just like Jesus had been.
Suddenly…out of nowhere…Jesus is standing among them. We don’t know quite how he manages this…but he does…and he says to them, not once but twice. Peace to you…and he shows them his wounds so that they know its really him…and then he strengthens them by breathing out the very spirit of God…the Holy Spirit into each one of them. (pause)
Amazing right? Now, here in the midst of their fear…the resurrected Jesus has appeared, defying all logic…and for these men, everything is different for they have encountered the Risen Lord…all except Thomas. Poor guy.
When he hears the news he can only think that he’s missed out…that he’s missed his opportunity…but since he’s heard the reports…it seems that he hopes to have the same experience. Mary encountered the Risen Jesus and reported “I have seen the Lord.” Then the other disciples encountered the Risen Jesus and gave the same report “We have seen the Lord.”
So don’t sell Thomas short here…even though history remembers him for doubting…it seems to me that he’s simply expressing his hope…his desire…to physically encounter the Risen Jesus just as the rest of them had….and low and behold…a week goes by…and the situation is still pretty similar….they’re all still locked away…and so it seems that the fear is still hanging around…and this time Thomas is there…and once more Jesus is among them with the same message…Peace to you…and then he turns to Thomas, who gets his personal encounter with the Risen Jesus…and once he does, Thomas makes the ultimate confession…My Lord and My God. (pause)
Now these are just a few of the different stories we have of the Risen Jesus and the encounters that different have with him. We also hear of the road to Emmaeus when two disciples encounter him…and walk along side him for 7 miles…talking…and they don’t recognize him…being to consumed by grief. (pause) We hear of the disciples encountering Jesus on a mountain, and they worship him…but we hear that they doubted. We hear that Jesus appears on the seashore after Peter and handful of the others decide to go fishing.
And interestingly enough…John tells us that there are others stories that we haven’t been told…that he did many other signs in the presences of his followers that are not recorded…but we hear about these ones so that we might come to believe…and even Jesus himself reminds us that blessed is the one who has not SEEN…and yet comes to believe. (pause)
Now I bring all of this up…all of these stories…to remind us that countless people encountered the Risen Jesus in many different circumstances…and it would seem that none of those individuals was in an overly happy mode when it happened.
Likewise…I think its safe to say that as wonderful as our Easter mountaintop experience was last Sunday, real life came crashing back in pretty quickly didn’t it…because real life is still happening at the same time as our celebration of the Risen Christ.
This craziness of life comes at us in many different ways. Different for each of us. I discovered it first hand as I tried to deal with a malfunctioning air conditioner and lack of internet connection in the office. Granted these are minor problems, but they added up to create a couple of crazy days this week. But there are others out there who have experienced a whole lot more “real life” than this. Some are dealing with the last days of a loved ones life. Some are dealing with surgeries and sickness. Others with unease in their employment and finances…others experiencing broken relationships…and the list goes on and on.
Every single one of us is experiencing the ups and downs of life…the roller coaster…with wonderful things happening in one instant…and devastating things happening in the next…and that’s life. But here’s the thing…that is where we encounter the risen Lord. Remember that from last week…no one encountered Jesus in the tomb…they encountered him in the midst of the pain and the anguish of life…and so do we.
But if there’s one thing we can take away from today’s story…and the encounter of Jesus with the disciples in the locked room, both the first time around as well as a week later when Thomas was around…its this…the first words of Jesus to us in the midst of the craziness of life…the first words uttered by the Risen Lord are this. Peace be with you. (pause)
He doesn’t tell them not to be afraid…he doesn’t tell them hi or anything else so trivial as that…in the midst of whatever anguish and pain that life had dealt them in that instant he offers them peace.
This is what our Lord can do…this is what our Lord has already done. He has come into our broken existence…and through his life, death, and resurrection has somehow, some way made it possible for us to find a sense of peace right in the middle of all of it…he has given us something to cling to when things are darkest…he has given us hope…and we receive this hope through the power of the Holy Spirit that he has given us. (pause)
I can’t tell you just how you have encountered the Risen Lord…because as we see in the scripture, that’s different for everyone…and its especially important to note that our experience is very different from his first followers…for they were actually able to see him…and like Thomas they were able to see the marks in his hands and feet…they were able to physically encounter the Risen Lord…but our reality is a little different…and our encounter with the Risen Lord comes through the proclamation of others…through their stories of ways that they have encountered the power of God at work…through their stories of what the Holy Spirit has done….and yet Christ reminds us that we are blessed because we have not seen and yet we come to believe. (pause)
Whatever craziness of life you are facing in this moment…whatever storms are raging in the back of your mind…because they are the reality of your life…remember this…the Risen Lord grants you peace in the midst of it….a peace which passes all human understanding…a peace that we cling…just as we cling to one another for support…and as we look around this room today, may we see one another as a gathering of people who are willing to offering this to one another…for this is why we gather together today, to get through this thing called life…knowing that with the peace of God given to us by Christ, and the strength that we find in the united body of Christ here on earth…that somehow, some way, we will find God’s peace in the midst of the craziness of this life. Amen.