Scripture: John 20: 19-31
Adam loves to know things. He is an armchair scholar. If you were to visit his house and look at the books you would probably find something that covers just about every topic you could imagine. Adam is a very intelligent man. He doesn’t seem to fit into that world because he is religious. On the same hand people in the religious realm look at him with skepticism because he embraces areas of study that some feel threaten their faith.
Adam is caught in that place where many people find themselves. They do not seem to fit. The communities they hope and wish to find comfort reject them, they are asked to compromise with little regard for their thoughts feelings or personalities. Adam like many in his position is tired of the fight, and is close to or has already left the assembly of believers.
We live in an era that is different then the others we have experienced. I have mentioned this several times. We are nearing the end of the age, but I think it is not the end that many of us think. We are nearing the beginning of a new age. An age that is different than the past ages. This frightens some because change is near. The problem with change is we do not have any clear view into the future. This new age is the age that Adam and many like him have already entered, but those around them cannot or will not encourage their growth. They cannot encourage them because they are in a cloud, a cloud of uncertainty.
The church is in this cloud of uncertainty. We unsure and because of that we hold tight to the things we once knew. I am sure that each of us have experience some aspect of this. We may feel threatened by the changing of our culture or we may be enthusiastic about the opportunities presenting themselves but frustrated by feelings of rejection. These clouds of uncertainty cycle through history, it has cycled since the dawn of time.
As we interact with the scripture today we look through a window into history where the world is in one of those clouds of uncertainty. We meet the disciples locked in a room for fear of the Jews. First off I want to mention that John is not being anti-Semitic when he says this, and we are not being anti-Semitic when we read this. The Jewish community is our spiritual heritage. When John says that they are locked in a room for fear of the Jews he is not saying that we should hate the Jewish culture, but that there was a clash between the established religious community and the emerging culture springing forth from that community. Religious establishments hold certain power over people, when that power is threatened those in control of the establishment begin to push back. This push is what causes fear, or uncertainty.
Jesus caused a balance shift in the religious community. He threatened the religious establishment and they pushed back. They pushed so hard that they wanted to totally discredit and eliminate the threat to the establishment.
We often look at the established religious organization of Jesus’ day with disdain but they were a very well organized, efficient religious community. They had programs that really promoted their faith. Not only in Jerusalem but they sent teachers throughout the world. Every major population center of the known world had a Jewish community within it. The largest, outside of Israel, was in Egypt, but there were communities throughout Europe and even deep in the ancient Persian Empire as far east as India. They were not just minding their own business in these communities, but they were ministering to the world. They were being what God commanded them to be, they were being a light to the Gentiles and were bringing people into the Jewish community. When we read the Gospels we can see this. We have Greeks coming to meet Jesus; we have Ethiopians making the pilgrimage to celebrate the Jewish festivals. There are an entire group of people known as the God-fearers who are gentiles who have not been formally initiated into the community as members but who engage in the worship and ministry of the establishment. The first century Jewish community was at the highest point they were the most efficient religion in the world, the only religion that came close to its power and influence over people was the cult of the emperor.
They had this massive religious enterprise that was teaching, training and expanding throughout the world, and suddenly a teacher comes that threatens it. He claims that this establishment that has done so much good was whitewashed tombs of dry bones. A cloud was dropping all around the community. Those that embraced Jesus were hopeful in this emerging community but suddenly the establishment pushed back and threatened them to submit. The disciples of Jesus locked themselves in a room because they agreed with Jesus and Jesus was killed.
But then Mary one of their own, a woman, the established religion did not allow women to rise in prominence but Jesus held them as equal to men, well Mary says that Jesus has risen. John and Peter agree with her and testify that the tomb was empty. But still they are all fearful. If they go out into the community and proclaim this what would happen? They are uncertain of the future. Then suddenly Jesus appears to them and says, “Peace be with you.”
It is a strange statement, but it speaks deep into their heart. They were not at peace their hearts were filled with the exact opposite of peace. Fear dominated their life. Peace cannot exist where fear dominates. Love cannot live in a fear-dominated world. Hope does not grow in an environment of fear. This was not enough for them. Jesus showed them his hands and his sided and then repeated, “Peace be with you.”
He then does a strange thing. He breathes on them. Have you ever really thought about this action? He breathes on them. This action takes them back, it opens a window into the most ancient of history, to the giving of life to the clay formed Adam. Breath is life. When you live in a cloud of uncertainty there is tightness to our breathing. There is tension, to the point we hold our breath. We cling to the air in our lungs like we are grasping at the very life giving power in that air only to be forced to release it and rapidly gather more air quickly. Peace be with you. Jesus is saying relax. Let out the air and breath.
Breathing only gives life if it is regular and consistent. That breath is a symbol of the life given by God in the form of the Holy Spirit. Relax, breath, and be at peace. The air will come the Spirit will be there if we are willing to receive it. Jesus is directing their prayers, he is encouraging them to see through the cloud and let go. To embrace the emerging culture growing out of the established community and they rejoice.
But Thomas was not with them. They unlock the door and they hurry to find their friend. Thomas says to them “unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the marks of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Because of this Thomas inherits the name Doubting Thomas. I believe that Thomas has a reputation that he does not deserve. He expresses nothing more or less than each of the other disciples, but he is singled out. Thomas is different then the others. He is the type of person that observes the situation and once he grasps an understanding, he fully embraces it. Thomas knew that Jesus was walking into certain death when He wanted to head to Jerusalem but he spoke out above all the others saying “let us go and die with him.” He was fully devoted to Jesus and His mission and willing to die for that mission with his lord.
Thomas the skeptic, says let me see for myself, and Jesus honors his request. Have you ever wondered why Thomas received such a special privilege? Jesus told Mary not to touch him, the others were not given permission either, but Thomas was asked to touch the wounds of Jesus and to reach out and put his hand into Jesus’ side. Why was this?
Thomas whom we all mock as the skeptic was very important. Thomas is a voice of reason, if he is convinced the rest will be also. It is Thomas that proclaims, “My Lord and My God.” It is Thomas that made the jump that Jesus was not just a great teacher but also the very incarnate, Emmanuel, and God with us. None of the others made that leap, but it was after this statement that the emerging church was lifted out of fear and into the place where they could embrace the mission that Jesus was giving them.
That mission is something that so often we forget. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus is giving us the power of God. He is giving us the control of the Spirit. We can forgive and release people from bondage or we can hold their sin over them and keep them from experiencing God. Yes that is right Jesus is giving them the keys of the kingdom.
This is where the cloud of uncertainty seems thick. These keys were in the hands of the temple leaders, but Jesus is passing them to the disciples. They now hold the power to forgive or retain sin. Thomas tells them why they hold that power is because Jesus is not just a teacher but God. This turns everything upside down; they know what great power they hold.
We close with a statement of purpose of why the Gospel of John was written. “…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.” Jesus gave them the power of God so that they could bring life, peace, and forgiveness. It is through Jesus that this can be obtained. The established religion was not good enough because it focused on the retention of sin, to control the population, Jesus came to free people from the bondage of sin to release people from fear, and judgment. He came to remind us to breath.
As we enter this time of open worship, as we experience communion with God in the manner of Friends. I ask again like I did last week, “what will it take for you to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and what will that belief cause you to do.” I ask you to take it a step further this week. We are entering into a new age, and age where skepticism is the norm; we are living in an age of uncertainty. As we center down into this time of silence, consider you breathing and what it is telling you. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you…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.” Breath in the spirit and release with each breath the pain, and judgment, exhale the tension and the rejection, inhale the love and peace of God and let us all know the peaceful life with Christ.