“Meeting Our Needs”

Cathy Harris – PFM – April 19, 2020 – John 20:19-31

Good morning! Thank you for joining us for worship this morning at Plainfield Friends on April 19 – the Sunday following Easter – as we continue to celebrate Easter – the risen Christ.

In today’s scripture reading, the story is familiar – we find the disciples at one of their homes on Easter evening – hiding – huddled together – behind locked doors – afraid – Jesus appears to them and says, “Peace be with you”. I’m guessing that this probably initially made them MORE fearful!

Then Jesus showed them his hands and his side – they recognize that this is Jesus – and they are thrilled! Jesus goes on to tell them that he is sending them out into the world just as God had sent him into the world – and Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on them, and gives them the power to forgive others. And he tells them again – Peace be with you.

This was very exciting! Jesus was alive! It was true, after all!

Jesus’ words of peace would remind them of Jesus’ words about peace before his death – promising to give them peace, promising to give them the gift of the Advocate – the Holy Spirit – so that they would not be alone – that he would still be present with them.

After Jesus left, Thomas comes to the house. Apparently, all of the disciples had been there and saw Jesus – except Thomas. They told him the good news – that they had seen the Lord.
Poor Thomas. It was bad timing – Jesus had died – he knew that, and here – behind closed doors, everyone else had gotten to see Jesus – alive – except him.
What bad timing! You might say that Thomas showed up and was a day late and a dollar short.

Have you ever had that happen? You arrived somewhere and some event had already taken place? Or Someone had been to your house to visit – and you had JUST missed them?

I have had that happen to me – several times over the years. I would go to the grocery or run an errand, come back home, and Tom would tell me – Meredith was just here OR Megan was just here OR your Mom and Everett were just here – and you JUST missed them – and I would feel disappointed.

That’s what happened to Thomas – he showed up at the house and everyone was telling him that Jesus had just been there – they had seen the risen Christ! You JUST missed him!

What does Thomas say? “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

From that point on, he became known as “Doubting Thomas”. When you think about it, though, Thomas has gotten a bad wrap over the years – being called “Doubting Thomas”.

And yet … Thomas isn’t asking for anything more than what everyone else has seen/experienced. But he is still known as “Doubting Thomas”.

Thomas didn’t say he doubted. He said he needed to see – he even needed to touch – the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his finger in Jesus’ side – before he believed. But he didn’t say that he doubted.

You see … in the resurrection story in John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene was the first one to go to the tomb – and when she gets there, it’s empty! What does she do? She runs to the home where the disciples are hanging out, and she tells Peter and John – so they take off running to the tomb to see for themselves.

Mary was right – the stone had been rolled away and Jesus’ body was not there. What had happened? They didn’t know what to think – and headed back home. But Mary stayed at the tomb and was crying – until Jesus appeared to her – but Mary didn’t believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead – not until the risen Christ appeared to her and spoke to her directly – personally.

She ran back to the home of the disciples and tells them, “I have seen the Lord.”
But they disciples dismiss her words – because they hadn’t seen Jesus for themselves.

That’s when they locked themselves in a room to hide, and Jesus appeared to them that Easter evening – and Jesus showed them his hands and his side – and it wasn’t until they saw Jesus that they believed he was risen.

That’s why I said Thomas has gotten a bad wrap over the years – because Thomas wasn’t the only one to have doubts when he merely heard about Jesus appearing to the other disciples and being raised from the dead.

Thomas was no different than Mary Magdalene – or Peter and John – and just like all the other disciples – Thomas wanted to see for himself. Each one of them needed to see – needed to experience the risen Christ – before they believed. And the disciples didn’t even have to ask to see Jesus’ hands and side – Jesus showed them. Thomas was asking – needing – to see Jesus as all of them had.

One week later, all of the disciples were in the house – including Thomas this time – Jesus appeared to them again. Jesus did not express any impatience with Thomas’ skepticism or impatience at Thomas needing something more than the word of the other disciples. Jesus tells them all again “Peace be with you” – and then he invited Thomas to touch the nail marks in his hand and to touch his side.

We don’t know if Thomas actually did touch Jesus’ hands or side – John doesn’t tell us. What we do know is that Thomas recognized Jesus and responded by saying, “My Lord and my God!”.

Jesus knew Thomas’ need, and Jesus cared enough to give him what he needed. Jesus did not scold him for doubting. Oh – to be sure – Jesus did go on to say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

It’s very good news that Jesus blessed Thomas as well. Jesus is in the business of meeting people where they are – and addressing our needs.

Perhaps Jesus is like a good doctor – who does not give everyone the same prescription – Jesus approaches us – his followers – in different ways – because – after all – our experiences are different and our approaches to life are different – and yet, Jesus finds a way to bless us where we are and to meet our needs.

It’s interesting that when Jesus appeared to the disciples both times at the house – that he told them repeatedly, “Peace be with you”. The only other places in the Gospel of John that Jesus says anything about giving them peace is when Jesus is telling the disciples goodbye – right before his death.

– John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

And again in John 16:33 – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

This Easter season – as we look at the familiar stories of those in the Gospel of John who saw the Risen Christ – to me, this Easter brings new meaning for the times we are living in.

Perhaps the disciples couldn’t imagine peace at that moment – Jesus had died – now he was risen – and they were afraid and hiding in their homes. Peace be with you – peace I give you.

The irony was not lost on me this week – here we are – sheltering in our homes, and concerned – if not afraid – of the Coronavirus pandemic – concerned/fearful for ourselves and for our loved ones – and not for many, many years have we been asked to make such significant sacrifices – not only for our own well-being, but out of love and concern for our neighbors.

To think about peace at this moment – during pandemic – is sometimes quite challenging.

In the year 1527, Martin Luther – wrote an article about whether people should flee from cities hit by the Black Plague or not, and he affirmed Christ’s peace during such a time. He wrote, “Christ’s peace is not to remove us from disaster and death, but rather to have peace in the midst of disaster and death, because Christ has overcome these things.”

This is the comfort – the peace – that we have here today – that God is still here with us – that Jesus meets us where we are and cares about our specific needs.

Christ is risen – Christ is risen indeed – and that’s not just a nice sentiment on one day – Easter – but each day throughout the year – that Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! What does the resurrection mean? It means God still shows up.

Too often the focus here is on Thomas’ doubt. But Thomas was not present when Jesus showed up on the other side of a locked door to greet fearful followers with peace and the instruction to forgive.

Thomas’ request is merely for what the others experienced. The wonder of this moment is Jesus’ willingness to meet Thomas exactly where Thomas names his needs. In fact, Thomas names his need – to personally see and experience the risen Christ and to touch his hands and side – and Thomas names what Jesus knew Mary and Peter and John and the other disciples needed – Jesus knew they needed to see the risen Christ for themselves.

The doors are shut. Jesus appears, nail scars and all. His offering of peace is followed by a demonstration of love – there is no condemnation for Thomas’ request—a simple invitation.

Thomas’ world was turned upside down – just as today, our world has been turned upside down with Covid-19.

This is story is not so much about a doubting disciple – Jesus is not even bothered by Thomas’ need to see – to touch – his scars – in order to believe. It is about Jesus, who shows up in a time of disaster, to meet people’s needs.

Here – the Gospel of John seems to say that Jesus still has the power to give us what we need – just as he did for not only Thomas, but Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, and the other disciples – and that Jesus continues to meet us in our need – Jesus shows up.

In the last verse that we read today – John 20:31 – John tells us why he has written this Gospel about Jesus. Several translations show that John is writing so “that you might come to believe” – but that phrase can also be translated – that John is writing so “that you may continue to believe”.

When Jesus was talking with the disciples – just before his death, he told them – he would be leaving, that they can’t go where Jesus was going – and then Thomas jumps in – interrupting Jesus – and says, “but Lord – how can we go where you are going? We don’t know the way”, and that’s when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”.
I am the way – when you can’t find your way.
I am the truth – the truth that you can base your life on.
And I am the life – I am the one who gives you life – who has come to meet your need, to give you peace, to send you out, and to give you power to forgive.

John 20:19-31
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Footnotes:
John 20:24 Thomas (Aramaic) and Didymus (Greek) both mean twin.
John 20:31 Or may continue to believe

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