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Recognizing Thomas

Recognizing Thomas
Sermon for April 3, 2016
Rick Morris

In the our story today we are in the week following the resurrection. Last week we rang in this earth shattering event with awesome music, food, celebration. He is alive! Alleluia!

We begin our story on the very same night of the resurrection. Here’s the cliff notes version, in case you missed it: Peter and John and Mary saw the empty tomb, Mary talked with Jesus. Now it is night, and they are all together in a room, and they lock the door because they’re afraid.

Hours pass. The sky darkens. The door is locked and things are simmering.

Then, Jesus appears right between them, everyone goes crazy. Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit, tells them to go out and forgive every one’s sins, and start spreading the Kingdom of God out in the world!

And you know what happens in the very next paragraph? It’s one week later and everyone is still locked in the room. It’s scary out there. “We know that you came back to life Jesus, but there’s nothing stopping the government from killing us if we leave this room – and we don’t know how to come back from the dead!”

Some time passes and Thomas comes back from wherever he was. Perhaps he drew the short straw and made a run for the first century equivalent of take-out. He knocks the secret pass-code on the door [knock knock] and the disciples hurry him in and lock it up again.

“Thomas, you’ll never believe it! Jesus was here! He’s back from the dead- he appeared right in this room and we talked with him.”

Now Thomas was faced with a choice. Option one – his friends who had just experienced a horrific display of state terror and spent the night locked in a room together imagined that a dead man walked through a wall, talked to them, and disappeared.

Option two – the man Thomas loved so dearly that he quit his job and risked his life again and again to follow was back, he had been back for a week and didn’t visit Thomas, or bother to stick around long enough for him to return.

Thomas – when the rest of the disciples were afraid to go to Jerusalem with Jesus because they say “they’re gonna kill you,” Thomas said “Then let us go with him to die!” Thomas, the one secure enough to ask Jesus to clarify during the last supper, “So how exactly are we supposed to follow you?”

Thomas knew Jesus, and he knew that he wouldn’t pull a stunt like that without him.

“No, I don’t believe it,” Thomas replies to the disciples, “Jesus wouldn’t just skip out and leave me in the dark. I know him better than that.”

“Thomas, you’ve got to believe us! It was amazing. He showed us his wounds and he breathed on us and we were filled with this most amazing power.”

Thomas looks at him and says, “So Jesus not only came back from the dead, but now he can walk through walls and appear anywhere at any time, and he hasn’t once poofed over to visit me? And not only that, but he gave all of you this powerful Holy Spirit that’s been burning inside of you for a week. And you’re still here. In this room. Locked.

“I’m finding it a little hard to trust your version of events. We’ve all been through a lot the last couple of weeks. I’ll tell you what, let’s stay here, lay low for a little while longer, and if Jesus shows up again and shows me his wounds, I will believe everything. Otherwise, I am not going back out there”

Thomas and the rest of the disciples weren’t quite in a place to trust in that the Holy Spirit that would send them out in justice and forgiveness. They weren’t ready to trust that it was enough, or even real, for them to go out to do that work in the crazy city racked with unchecked state violence.

The themes in this story, and the worries in this story, have lately been played out on a stage for the whole world just about a 90 minutes’ drive north of us.

This past Wednesday, just a couple of days after Easter, protesters filled the streets of Minneapolis to the drumbeat of words from Martin Luther King Jr.

“No justice, no peace!” “No justice, no peace.”

The protesters’ chant, “no justice, no peace” is drawn from a speech MLK gave outside of Santa Rita Prison in December of 1967. The prison held peaceful protesters and members of the anti-War movement who were lately rounded up.

Outside of that California prison Dr. King spoke, “There can be no justice without peace, and there can be no peace without justice.” MLK was describing the situation commonly felt by oppressed communities the world over. It means that a community that has been struck by injustice over and over cannot sleep soundly in the sanctuary of peace. Instead a community struck by injustice is kept awake by a wound of violence.

A community cannot know true peace until it knows truthful justice. Until it can trust.

Those of you who have been following the news know that over this past week such a wound was reopened for the Black community in the Twin Cities. This past November 15th, a young Black man named Jamar Clark became the 143rd person killed by state violence in Minnesota since 2000.

In the ensuing four months the world’s eyes have turned towards Minneapolis as activists have organized sit-ins, demonstrations, protests and marches dramatizing the lack of peace and justice felt in their community.

Events were brought to a head again this past Wednesday when the county attorney announced that he would not be pressing charges against the officers. This makes Jamar Clark the 143rd person in a row killed by state violence in Minnesota without a single official charge or indictment of wrong doing.

The protesters had a choice on Wednesday. You can imagine the voices in their heads, things they might have grumbled to one another. “This is hopeless.” “What’s the point anymore?” “Is it safe for us to go back out there?”

The protesters and activists faced a turning point. They have doubts. Each person had to ask herself, “Do we have enough spirit to keep up this fight? Do I?”

The disciples faced this same question in that locked room a week after Easter. For them, something miraculous happened.

We all know the story. Jesus does come again to the locked room. And he does show Thomas, indeed he shows the whole crew, his wounds again.

And then Jesus leaves us a little puzzle. He says to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have trusted. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet trust.”

In that encounter and in those couple lines, Thomas recognized something so important, so huge, that he staggers back in awe and stammers, “My lord, and my God.”

Thomas, last of all the disciples to see the resurrected Jesus, here becomes the first to recognize Jesus, to recognize his beyondness, his God-ness. Jesus, Thomas sees, is more than his friend, his leader, more than the miracle worker.

Jesus is the kingdom. The death-does -not-win kind of thing. Thomas is the first to recognize that the resurrected Jesus didn’t just mean that they got their friend back – it meant that no matter what Rome or any other violent government threw at them, the kingdom survives. That their vision of the world redeemed is never wiped out for good. He saw the very embodiment of hope.

And Thomas trusted.

Notice the next scene their outside of the room. They’re fishing. Maybe Thomas convinced them that they wouldn’t die – at least not in vain – and got them out of the house. . . . Jesus has some words and then we have Acts and everyone is out changing the world. Thomas, incidentally, sailed down to India and worked the remained of his life amassing 20,000 followers for Jesus.

And here we are back to Jesus’s riddle. “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet still trust.” Blessed are those who, though they do not get to see Jesus in the flesh, and though they do not have evidence that their world will get more just, more peaceful, more redeemed, they still fight for a vision of a better world.

The words of Dr. King filled the streets of Minneapolis on Wednesday evening because a community of people is living out this riddle.

After the county attorney announced that for the 143rd time in a row the state has killed someone with zero charges of foul play, the Black community went out from the safe, locked room. They went out with a message from a preacher who was also killed, that even without seeing, they trust that their world will know justice, that it will know peace. Blessed are they.

Friends, in a moment we will share this bread and this wine. It is God’s body broken and God’s blood spilled by state violence. It is a feast that unites us here with with the disciples so long ago and with our sisters and brothers struggling 90 minutes north of us. It is a feast given to us to remember that even in a world wounded by violence, God’s kingdom comes.

May you trust that vision, though you cannot always see it. Amen.