Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Jesus Comes to Thomas, Amelia Rose, and Us”
John 20: 19-31
April 23, 2017 (2nd Sunday of Easter)
Thomas is often called “Doubting Thomas.” Unfortunately, claiming that Thomas doubted Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the disciples probably plays a bit fast and loose with the whole truth about him.
Thomas was absent the evening of the resurrection when Jesus appeared to the other ten. It is easy to ridicule him for saying, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe”—easy to ridicule Thomas but hardly fair. Thomas didn’t so much doubt as demand proof that Jesus had actually appeared to the disciples. Is someone so terrible just because they want proof of what is impossible to believe?
It is easy to forget the whole story about Thomas. Thomas was the one who said of Jesus, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” That was a whiff of courage on Thomas’ part as Jesus drew dangerously close to Jerusalem where he would soon die.
Thomas also asked the tough questions when others felt too shy or too silly to do so. When Jesus was with the disciples at the Last Supper, he spoke to them about going to his Father’s house. Thomas was courageous enough to ask the question on everyone’s mind: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Yet again, Thomas demonstrated honesty not doubt. He wanted to know what in the world was up.
While we know the nickname, “Doubting Thomas,” we probably are not as familiar with his other moniker, “The Twin.” The Bible gives no indication who Thomas’ twin was but I like Frederick Buechner’s suggestion: “If you want to know who the other twin is, I can tell you. I am the other twin, and unless I miss my guess, so are you.”
Aren’t we all Thomas’ twin: we soar to courageous heights and then promptly plummet to cowardly lows.
Many of us find it easy to criticize folks like Thomas. We have the time of our lives at parties mimicking their quirks and mocking their shortcomings. Everyone slaps their knees in riotous laughter at our hilarious barbs. But, Jesus never joins our catty conversations. He always removes himself from such sarcastic goings-on; he is always so understanding of those who come up short of our so-called “exacting standards.”
Jesus could have easily lambasted every, single disciple. They repeatedly demonstrated failure of nerve and revealed all manner of double-dealing behavior. Jesus could have hollered, “Shame on you all.” But on that first Easter evening, when Thomas was absent, Jesus came and stood among the ten disciples and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” Remarkable when you think about it: not a single word of rebuke.
Eight days later, Thomas was in the house. The doors were shut and, somehow, again, Jesus made it through and stood among them. And, once again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” and once again, there was no ferocious scolding. The disciples watched closely to see how Jesus would respond to Thomas’ demand to see his wounds before he believed. Astonishingly, Jesus was the essence of grace; he drew so close to Thomas and lovingly said to him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side…”
Jesus, of course, had already died on the cross, already forgiven each of them with arms outstretched. Now, yet again, he showered them with love. There was no need to say, “Shame on you!”
There is another interesting detail in this story. Though he was risen, Jesus still had wounds in his hands and his side. I can’t figure out why Jesus still had the crucifixion wounds—he was risen after all—but let me take a guess.
We bear our wounds and imperfections, too, and you have noticed, I’m sure, we still are called the body of Christ. Why doesn’t God call perfect people to do ministry in this world? Why not brilliant people who can offer perfect answers to the most difficult questions of life? Why not people who never stumble? Why does God call us with all our failures and crashes?
In a few moments, we will baptize Amelia Rose von Bargen. Now, admittedly, from her parents and grandparents’ vantage point, she is a tiny bundle of perfection. But, come on mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, we know better. Little Amelia Rose had barely entered this world before she screamed up a storm. “Drop everything and feed me,” she shrieked the best she was able. God did not say, “Shame on you, Amelia Rose, for demanding such special attention.” Instead, God brings her, this morning, to the center of the universe; with the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” she becomes Jesus’ precious sister and ours as well. We have no idea why God does this except for love’s sake.
I have a hunch Amelia Rose will be much like Thomas. Who knows whether she will scream or laugh or be quiet and mellow as the baptismal water is poured over her head in a few moments? As she grows older, I’ll bet she will have moments that will delight mom and dad and others that will exasperate them. Whatever happens, all the while, you must remember, she is a treasured child of God.
I have no idea why Jesus still bore the wounds after he rose from the dead. I wish everything had been perfect, don’t you? Maybe it was. Maybe Jesus was showing us that he could bear our sorrows, disappointments, and failures even when we shout bloody murder because the world does not revolve around us.
Jesus is here today, yet again, this time with us, wounds and all, in the water spilled over Amelia Rose and in the meal of bread and wine.
We will not hear a single, “Shame on you.” Instead, Jesus will say, “Peace be with you.”
And hearing that, we will shout, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!”