Scripture: John 20:19-31 (NIV) — "Jesus Appears to His Disciples":
This is the "Second Sunday of Easter" in the Christian liturgical calendar. It has had some other names, such as:1
The events in today's Scripture reading take place over two Sundays, part of them later on Easter Sunday, after Christ had appeared to two disciples and Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and the other part a week later.
We don't know exactly which disciples were with Jesus the evening of Easter Sunday, but Thomas wasn't there. It isn't until a week after Easter that Thomas gets together with the others. He doesn't accept what they tell him about Jesus having been with them. He wants to see for himself. He wants evidence. And he gets it!
During each of these Sunday encounters, Jesus seeks to reassure his followers. The text repeats these words:
Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"
Throughout his appearances to his disciples, Jesus seeks to calm the fear, confusion and turmoil which they felt after the events of the preceding days. He responds with compassion and gives Thomas a positive and reassuring sign, just as he did with his other disciples. Everyone who identifies with Thomas can receive this assurance, this sign from Jesus. After calming their fears, Jesus tells the disciples, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."
There's a discussion group on the internet called The Doubting Thomas Society: Faith for the Skeptical and Indifferent. Their web site includes a quote from Martin Luther: "Only God and certain madmen have no doubts." But I think Thomas has been given a bum rap with his nickname of "Doubting Thomas". I think he was a practical, no-nonsense guy who wanted to see some evidence before making up his mind and taking action. After he saw and recognized Jesus, he worshipped him, saying "My Lord and my God!"
The events described in today's Scripture marked the beginning of not only Thomas, but all the disciples, moving from fear to faith. They stopped cowering in locked rooms, and began moving boldly out into the world to spread the good news. Can this year's Easter season also mark a time of new beginnings for us, personally? Can we each take inspiration from the Easter message and from today's Scripture, and resolve to move ahead with our lives? We shall see.
While we're discussing new beginnings, I might also wonder about Orangethorpe United Methodist Church. Can this be a time of new beginnings for OUMC? When we first heard the news, a few weeks ago, about Pastor Tom Tran's new appointment, and impending departure from our church, I felt fear and consternation and I heard worry, doubt and anguish from some of you. "How could they do this to us? What will happen next?" We all asked questions such as these!
Let's all remember that, for better or for worse, that's just the way things work in the United Methodist Church. As a recent e-mail from Rev. Bill Johnson reminds us:
"Members of the clergy are under appointment each year, for one year at a time – some may be called to remain in their current appointment, while others will be called to a different location."
In a few weeks, OUMC will welcome yet another new minister, the Rev. John McFarland. I don't know John, and have had only the briefest contact with him. While I don't deny, at all, the importance of pastors in the life of the church, I believe strongly that the health of any church depends on the character and quality of its lay members. When this church was founded 59 years ago, it wasn't just Rev. Frank Finkbiner who breathed life into it and got it going, but also dedicated lay people like:
Whether we wish to regard this year as a time of new beginnings, or simply as a time of resolving to continue to move forward with God's work in this little corner of His universe, we need to ask ourselves the question which is the title of my message:
Jesus told his disciples, "I am sending you!" Soon this little group of disciples, and their followers, spread out to all parts of the Roman empire, preaching the Gospel and making converts to Christianity. Some went to lands we now know as Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, North Africa, and the Middle East. According to ancient Christian traditions, Thomas eventually sailed off to India and founded churches there, whose members became known as the Saint Thomas Christians of India.
But we needn't contemplate packing up and moving to the ends of the earth. The world has come to us! If we'll just look around us, we'll see people who have come, or whose ancestors came, from all parts of the globe to this place where the cities of Fullerton, Anaheim and Buena Park come together. Some are already Christians. Some are not. Right here, in church this morning, I see people whose origins include Africa, Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Philippines. And if we'll stroll over to our Chapel, we'll see brothers and sisters worshipping God together, whose roots are in all parts of the Western Hemisphere. We don't need to go out into the world – the world has come to us!
Now, as ever, a strong and vital Christian presence is needed near the corner of Orangethorpe and Gilbert, putting into practice such commands as:
- "Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs..." – Psalm 100
- "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me... Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." – Matthew 25:35, 40
- "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them..." – Luke 18:16
And just what are we doing to carry out Jesus' commands right here and right now? What are we doing to worship and serve? Well, here are just a few of the things we're doing, and if they sound interesting to you, just ask me about them after church and I'll be glad to tell you all about them...
So where do we go from here? I'll answer my own question simply by saying: