Doubts and Dreams-Rev. Deborah Dail

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John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Sermon

The disciple Thomas was out of step with the others that day. It was Sunday evening of the first Easter. Thomas and the others were frightened. Jesus had been crucified. They had seen it happen with their own eyes. Jesus had been taken to the tomb. They had heard about it with their own ears. Early that morning, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John said the tomb was empty and Mary reported she had seen Jesus alive. Thomas and the others were on sensory overload. What could they believe? What were they to make of this whirlwind of events? One thing they knew for sure was that they were afraid of what might come next. Would those who killed Jesus come after them, too? So, they were behind closed doors when Jesus showed up.

But not Thomas. For some reason he wasn’t there when Jesus came that Sunday evening. We don’t where he was. Maybe he had gone out to gather intel on what was happening in Jerusalem. Or, maybe he went for a food run. Or, maybe, he could no longer stand the stifling togetherness, the overwhelming grief and fear, the rumors of resurrection. Maybe Thomas just needed to clear his head.

Thomas’ absence caused him to be out of step with the others. After all, they saw the resurrected Jesus. They heard his voice speaking “peace.” They felt his breath on their faces as he imparted the Holy Spirit to them. They experienced the unbelievable. They believed because they saw, heard, and felt Jesus in their midst. They were enlivened and ready to dance an Easter dance when they told Thomas upon his return “We have seen the Lord.”

You know what it’s like to be out of the loop, to have missed the memo, to have missed out on some important experience or news. You feel left out. You feel out of sync with the others. You’re out of step. You feel lost. And sometimes we doubt what people tell us about what happened because we haven’t experienced it like they have.

Thomas has gotten a bad rap over the years as if his doubts were somehow extraordinary. They were not. All he asked for was to have the experience the others had – the experience of seeing, hearing, and feeling Jesus. I think it is to Thomas’s credit that he spoke up.

“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.” Honestly, as much as I affirm Thomas’s willingness to doubt aloud, I am a bit taken aback by the “Unless” conditions he places on believing. But then, I think of the ways we also say “unless.” “Unless” you heal me, I will not believe. “Unless” you convince me intellectually and I have all the facts, I will not believe. “Unless” you show up in all the ways I want you to show up and do all the things I want you to do, I will not believe. And “unless” you make all those people who say they know you – all those church people – perfect and never hypocritical, I will not believe.

“Unless” is a big word after all for Thomas and for us.

A week later, Jesus shows up again and this time Thomas is at home. It is telling that Jesus offers peace again saying, “Peace be with you.” Then Jesus gives Thomas his “unless.” He gives Thomas what Thomas thinks he needs to believe. I’m guessing, though, that Jesus had Thomas at “Peace be with you.” Thomas proclaims: “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus then speaks what we all know very well. Future generations will be called upon to believe WITHOUT seeing Jesus as the disciples were able to see him. We will need faith without sight. The writer of Hebrews describes faith in this way: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We will need to believe without seeing. That is why we will also need the Holy Spirit breathed upon us in order to believe and to answer the call of Jesus to be sent into the world as he was sent.

Believing in Jesus is not always easy. Believing that he conquered death not only for himself but also for us is not always easy to believe. To remain hopeful in this life of challenges, pain, and difficulty is not easy when we can’t see, hear, or touch Jesus as his disciples did. It’s difficult to dance when we cannot see the “Lord of the Dance.” And so we stumble at times.

Today we sang a new song for you. “Teach Me to Dance.”

“Teach me to dance to the beat of your heart, teach me to move in the power of your Spirit, teach me to move in the light of your presence, teach me to dance to the beat of your heart.”

The only way we can dance and dream, even amid our doubts, is to know the heart of Jesus while he lived on earth – Immanuel, God with us, God in the flesh. His heart beat with compassion and justice for all, not just some. When our hearts are in sync with the heartbeat of Jesus, we will also live with compassion and seek justice for all, not just some. Jesus’ heart beat with a consistent rhythm of love, even for those thought to be unlovable, unworthy of love, lost causes . . .  even for those who refused to love him and sought to destroy him. That’s what our spiritual EKGS will look like when we are in tune with the heartbeat of Jesus.

But what of our doubts about Jesus? What about our dreams that have not been fulfilled even though we have believed in him?

Thomas’s dreams had been dashed after he dared to dream and become a follower of Jesus. For three years he had dared to dream, he had given up everything, he had followed the Lord of the Dance. It’s no wonder he doubted. Some of us have had our dreams dashed even though we have chosen to follow Jesus. We have not gotten what we expected. It’s no wonder we doubt sometimes.

I think Jesus understands, just like he understood Thomas that day long ago. Jesus can take our doubts and questions, our anger and frustration. Jesus can take it.

In the end, believing is our choice. It’s a daily choice – even a moment-by-moment choice. Today, I can only invite us to believe – to believe without seeing, to believe even when our “unlesses” have not been met. Today, I can only invite us to believe: to have that assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I can only invite us to “Dare to Dream and Dance Again.” I can only encourage us to invite Jesus to teach us to dance to the beat of his heart in this world filled with competing rhythms. I hope we will continue to accept these invitations.

Listen for the heartbeat of Jesus. Watch for the heartbeat of Jesus. Feel the heartbeat of Jesus. It’s there. It’s there in the Gospels. It’s there in your heart. Dare to Dream and Dance again.