Easter II- Year B Sermon
“We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
The words of the Gospel of Christ and the new church were written for us-a gift from the past to sustain the future, our eternal one, but also equally important, the current one.
John shares with us that there is joy in being community- because he writes these things so that the joy of the new church may be complete- by sharing.
Many would struggle
The writer John, not to be confused with John the Baptizer, understood that we would struggle today because the young church was already struggling. History tells us of the struggles as the word spread via story. This was a different story, not like the ancient stories that are memorized and did not change from generation to generation of verbal story telling. This was a new one. It was getting told as personal and second hand experience. It had not been committed to memory by a storyteller yet- it was the average person sharing. This struggle would be so profound that within 2 lifetimes, a creed was necessary. John The Evangelist, who wrote the Gospel of John and at least the first of the 3 epistles of John, trained Polycarp and Polycarp trained Iraeneus. It is in Iraeneus’ writings we first see a creed- the precursor of what we know today as the Apostles Creed. And that would not be the end of the creedal war- just the beginning.
This was necessary because followers were already arguing over things like the Gnosticism (the idea we can learn our way to eternal life) or the Quartodeciman Controversy which argued over whether and if so, which days Christians are supposed to celebrate the Passover Feast.
If you think we have too much controversy now, let me tell you, it was no different in the early church. We are humans trying to understand God! No wonder then that folks would struggle.
Some would doubt
In fact, some of even the first hand accounts would even doubt. Beloved Thomas is an example, along with Peter and the Beloved Disciple (name unknown) who had to run to the tomb to see for themselves. Somehow though we forget that Peter and The beloved disciple didn’t believe in the midst of Thomas’ doubt. There is a cartoon circling now about how “the guys will take it from here now, Mary” referencing that even though Mary was the first to witness and spread the Gospel of the Risen Christ, this is set aside and that she is dismissed in history’s telling in deference to the men. I am not saying that it was sexism at play, but it has had an effect throughout the remainder of history and even impacts us today. When I am out in public in my clerical collar, I am repeatedly asked how I think I am justified or qualified to share the gospel since I am a woman. But I digress.
The point is, Thomas was not the only doubter who wanted to see to believe. And when Jesus first shows himself to “the guys” in a locked room, Thomas is not there. He is in fact the only one courageous enough to be out and about in a very dangerous and volatile time. They have all had the benefit of seeing to believe, but he missed it.
I think what happens with Thomas makes him my favorite disciple. You see, he has the courage to say, “I know you all believe. But I didn’t see what you did. I am just not able to believe. I need to see what you saw- in fact, the reality is, I can’t even believe if I see, I need more. “
This is deeply courageous to say to your closest friends of faith that you are just not there. And I wonder how much we all might gain if we crafted a place where people feel safe to be like Thomas and admit their doubt and lack of faith.
Christ met the need right where they were
Because here is the thing, Christ met Thomas in his need- he didn’t just show up, he invited him to touch and feel the reality of his wounds to assure Thomas he was not dreaming. Thomas said, I need more. I am just not there. And Jesus response was, Ok- let me help you believe. Let me let you SEE first hand.
We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete- our community is in God through Jesus Christ
And that is what we are called to as the church. To do the same as the early church like it noted in John and Acts: to provide for every need in our community. To share freely everything. Our time, our money, our property, our lives, our story and our love. It goes against every capitalistic bone in our bodies- and it did then too.
John shares with us that there is an utter joy in this sharing- because he writes these things so that the joy of the new church may be complete- by sharing. It takes courage to share- and it takes even more courage to receive. Imagine the courage it took for Thomas to stick his hand in Jesus side? Imagine the risk he was taking- if it was an illusion his world would be shattered. If it was true- it would be turned upside down forever.
So how do we do this? Well, we have been given a great commission: we can forgive the sins of any and we can hold tightly to them until they too believe. Take a moment and look closer at the Gospel in the original language and it will reveal that it never actually said we could hold onto the sins of others. As my professor, Dr Mary Hinkle Shore points out translation work by Sandra Schneiders, the text actually reads: “A more adequate reading would be the following: ‘Of whomever (possessive genitive plural) you forgive the sins, they (the sins) are forgiven to them; whomever (objective genitive plural) you hold fast [or embrace], they are held fast.
In this then, we are given our task- to meet our community where they are- each member in their faith and doubt and to offer to them the forgiveness of their sins- to let that sin GO. And we are to hold tightly to them until they can believe for themselves. We are to love them, to care for them and to nurture them just as they are until they too are ready to believe.
There are two ways to believe: seeing, which the disciples all had the benefit of, and by faith, unseen. This is all we have. But the change and gift is so profound when we live in the illumination and promise of Christ that the early church knew their joy would not be complete if they kept it to themselves. They knew it would only be complete in sharing it.
So hear the words that Christ said to the disciples in their fear in the locked room- even after they had seen him alive: Peace be with you.
Receive the peace of Christ. Cling to it- and when you cannot, let us, this community of hope, cling to you; let me as your pastor cling to you until you have the faith to believe. We will cling to you 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.