April 24, 2022, Shaken to the Core, John 20:19-31 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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I got an email from a friend this past week, who is struggling with her faith in the face of all the suffering she sees in the daily news, especially the suffering of the people of Ukraine. “I still believe,” she wrote, “but I am shaken to the core these days. It is a hard time to be a Christian.” I think most, if not all, of us are feeling very much the same as my friend, at least from time to time, when the pain and suffering in the world and the degradation of the environment, not to mention the personal troubles of the people closest to us, all come together in an overwhelming mass of sadness and worry. Then, indeed, we are shaken to the core, and it feels very hard to be the Christian people we think we ought to be, strong in our faith, unwavering in our hope, constant in our love.
If I’m honest, I have to say that there isn’t any easy answer to all of this. But there are truths that we can hold onto, that we need to hold onto. First of all, no matter how terrible things are, God is here. God reveals himself to us as the One who dwells among his people. All of Creation belongs to him. Jesus has told us that not even the tiniest sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing about it, without God caring about it. We are right to cry out to him in our dismay and our fear and our sadness and even in our anger – because this whole messed-up, wounded world is in the hands of God. It all belongs to God, and God doesn’t let himself off the hook or make any excuses.
It’s Thomas Sunday today, the Sunday after Easter. Thomas is here to remind us that it never has been easy to be a Christian, that it’s been a struggle to hang on to faith right from the very beginning. And, incidentally, Thomas reminds us that doubt isn’t a failure or a sin – that doubt is just part of being a human being. But I want us to look at what Jesus did to convince Thomas in his doubting. He showed him his scars: the marks of the nails in his hands and feet, the wound in his side where the soldier had pierced him with his sword. Jesus didn’t convince Thomas by doing some dazzling work of power. He convinced him by showing him the marks of his suffering and pain. In Jesus, God has made himself known to us as the God who suffers, as we do. In Jesus, God has made himself known to us as a God who knows about being afraid and sad, a God who has felt pain, a God who weeps with those who weep – even a God who understands doubt.
We do live in terrible times. But we are hardly the first. This world has seen an awful lot of terrible times. It’s never been easy to have faith. But the first thing we can know for sure is that God doesn’t leave us alone in our suffering. The word “compassion” means, literally, to “suffer with.” Our God is a God of compassion. He suffers with us; he makes himself known to us by the scars he bears, even in his resurrected body. He understands all our sorrows, and he cares about every one of his children. In the most terrible times, we can remember that he promised us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
But Jesus didn’t only come to his disciples to bring them comfort. When he showed up on that first Easter evening, he also told them that he had work for them to do. “As the Father sent me,” he said to them, “now, I am sending you.” He breathed the peace-giving breath of his Spirit into them. He showed them the scars of his compassion. And then he commissioned them – he gave them an assignment, and the power and the authority to do it. I think mostly when we are struggling with doubt, when we are shaken to the core, what we want above all things is that peace – the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that guards our hearts and our minds, that comes only from God. We’d be just fine to settle for that, to just have relief from the fear and grief and anxiety we’ve been carrying around day after day after day. But God has more for us than that. He also sends us out into this troubled world, to do what he has given us the power and the authority to do.
On that first Easter night, Jesus gave his disciples a commission to bring forgiveness out into a world in desperate need of it. “If you forgive the sins of any,” Jesus said, “they have been forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness, it has been withheld.” Jesus put that immense power into the hands of the men who had so recently needed his forgiveness. Maybe that’s why they could be trusted with it.
But all of us are commissioned in a unique way, too, as individuals with our own abilities and situations. I think, in the face of earth-shattering problems like wars and pandemics and natural disasters, we need to be reminded that the small things God puts it into our hands to do are also his way of sending us into the world with his peace. When you take something old and useless and make it beautiful and useful again, you are bringing new life into the world. When you visit or call someone who is lonely or isolated you are bringing comfort into the world. When you care for a little creature that has been abandoned or neglected, you are bringing kindness into the world. When you create something bright and lovely for people to enjoy you are bringing beauty and goodness into the world. When you plant a seed or a tree, you are bringing hope into the world. God doesn’t measure sizes in the same way we do. The work of our hands and our hearts, even though it might seem so small and insignificant to us, brings life into the world God loves, and that is of infinite importance.
By faith, we believe that our God cares about us all; that he suffers along with his children in the most terrible of times. By faith, we believe that God sends us out to do what he has given us to do, and we believe that what we do matters, even in the most terrible of times; that we matter, because he loves us. But we need more, because even though there have been many terrible times in the long course of human history, it does seem like our times are darker and more terrible than most, sometimes darker and more terrible than we can bear.
Yesterday I saw a story in the NY Times that a three month old baby and her parents were killed by a Russian missile that struck a residential neighborhood in Odesa. When we hear such things how can we help being shaken to the core? In the face of such evil I believe, I have to believe, that God will heal our hurting world, and that all evil and violence and cruelty will one day be destroyed forever. I believe that Jesus will return, as he promised us: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And the sooner the better, it seems to me. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Truthfully, it has pretty much always been a hard time to be a Christian. It’s always hard to hang on to faith in this broken and hurting world. But some times are much harder than others. Most of us could probably pray along today with the father whose son Jesus healed, saying, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” We can probably all sympathize with Thomas, who needed a little help overcoming his doubts that Jesus, whose dead body they had all seen a week ago, was alive and well. When your own faith is shaken to the core, remember that Jesus didn’t criticize or rebuke Thomas for his doubts. Instead, remember that he showed Thomas his scars – the wounds of his love – the marks of his compassion.
Last week we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord. By faith, we proclaimed that after the world had done its very worst, the sun rose on an empty tomb and discarded grave clothes and the disciples of Jesus, facing the new day in a state of grief and confusion and fear. And then, we have the testimony of Mary Magdalene, who met the risen Jesus in the garden. We have the testimony of the disciples from Emmaus, who talked with the risen Jesus on the road and invited him in to dinner. We have the testimony of the disciples, who rejoiced to see the risen Jesus as they were hiding in the locked room. And we have the testimony of Thomas, who couldn’t believe until the risen Jesus showed him the marks of the nails in his hands and feet, and the wound of the sword in his side.
And then Jesus said to Thomas, as he says to us, “Do not doubt, but believe.” +