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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

2012-04-15 The Sunday After Easter

Dear, Doubting, Absent Thomas
on the Sunday After Easter, 2012

John 20:19-31

Good morning. It's good to have all of you here today. Because we in the trade, refer to the Sunday after Easter as a "Low Sunday." On the High Holy Days, like Christmas, and Easter, and Mother's Day, everybody comes to church. But then, the next Sunday, attendance is typically low. Hence, "Low Sunday." Those of you watching on the Internet are seeing the backs of fewer people's heads today. So, whether you're here in person or watching silently, from the cloud, like Jesus, on behalf of Carla, Scott, the Choir and myself, thanks for being here and tuning in.

Another church thing is on the Low Sunday after Easter, we read the story of Doubting Thomas. It could be coincidence. But I doubt it. Because Thomas is the story of the disciple who disappeared immediately after Easter. Seriously. The disciples gather to worship after Easter and, "Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them." The Bible tells us so.

So. You faithful attenders, who have already looked around and made mental notes of the people who aren't here this Low Sunday morning, you chosen remnant, remember this: An apostle layed out, too. Thomas is the subject of scriptures and sermons around the world today. This may be the only day of the year when it's OK to talk about somebody who's not here. It's not gossip. It's in the Bible. He's not only Doubting Thomas; he's Absent Thomas.

OK. Are you with me so far? Here's the dilemma for preachers this morning. We generally write sermons (or invent them on the spot as guided by the Spirit), for people who are present and believe. Doubting, Absent Thomas flips preachers on their heads. Which believe me is a very uncomfortable preaching position. 


Have you ever composed a letter, or an email, or a manifesto to someone who isn't around? I'll bet you have. Have you ever daydreamed about someone? Wondering where they are and what they're doing? I'll bet you have. 

If you're angry at them, you're probably imagining them sitting at home, alone. Beside the dead goldfish. Unable to tend for themselves because they're thinking about you and how they wish they could take back that thing they did. 

If you're missing them, you might be staring up at the moon. Imagining that wherever they are, they're staring at the same moon. Which is lit by the light of your reflected love. 

If they'd died and can't come back, your letter is filled with all the things you wish you had said. Memories of the times you shared. Updates on how everyone's doing. Prayers of hoping that even from the cloud, they're watching, and smiling. Approving.

The Bible doesn't tell us where Thomas was when the other disciples gathered, just after Easter. Maybe he was writing Jesus a letter. 

So I thought maybe today, we should write Thomas a letter.

Dear Thomas,

It's the Sunday after Easter. Everybody's in the house where we worship. We're reading scripture. We're praying. We're singing songs. We're not really sure where you are. We miss you. And we wish you were here.

We're don't exactly know why you're not here. We have some ideas. But you see, the doors are locked and the shades are pulled for fear of, well, you know, outsiders. Sometimes it's comforting to hear your own voices. You know how it is. Sometimes you just have to close the doors and get away. The world's kind of gone insane. They're looking for us. It's kind of like there's a war on people who believe in Jesus. The culture is unfriendly. Deadly, even. So, it's important for us to be together. To count heads and make sure we're alright. You understand that. Don't you, Thomas? So, where are you?

Look, Thomas. Do you think you're not obvious? Do you think you're so hard to read? We've all seen you. We've seen you at the market. We've passed you on the street. You're a good guy. You're kind and friendly. You do all the things Jesus said to do. You give to the poor. You visit people who are sick. You'd give a stranger the tunic off your back. But, Thomas. Really. We know you. We've spent years with you. We know what's going on. You doubt.

We've been meaning to talk to you about your issues. We've even formed a committee to go see you. But we're definitely not coming now because you'll probably slam the door in our faces. Or you'll tell us you're concerned about us and about our issues. And you're not coming back until we straighten ourselves out. And that you've joined another group of disciples who are more accepting to doubters like you. And, if you have, that's OK. We'd rather have you going someplace else than going nowhere.

Thomas, we know you doubt, but you have to believe us. Jesus was here. And he's alive. And he spoke to us. Really. We're not lying to you about this. He breathed the heavenly Spirit on us. He anointed us as his chosen, all over again. Just like in the good days. If you were only here, you wouldn't doubt anymore. You'd believe. 

But you. Thomas the doubter. Thomas the skeptic. Thomas the one who never listens to his heart. Always in your head. Always worshiping logic. Honestly. You're worse than the Greeks. Don't you know they're a bankrupt people? Mister Sensibility. Thomas, listen to us. Some things just can't be proven. Some things just can't be seen until they're believed. After all the time you've spent with Jesus, you should know that by now. We were certain of what we'd seen. But then he just appeared here in the house. We didn't think it was possible. We all knew Jesus was dead and in the tomb. 

The tomb. Maybe that's where you are. Maybe you're still at the tomb. Maybe you're looking for Jesus in the one place he isn't. Maybe you're thinking God is dead. Maybe you're thinking God failed you. Maybe you're thinking you have to figure everything out on your own. And if you can't make sense of it, maybe you're just going to leave it all behind. Do you think we haven't been there? Oh, we've been there. Mister, we WERE there when they crucified Our Lord. We were there, in the garden. OK. Only two of us actually went to the garden, not counting the woman. But they told us about it. Actually, she told us about it. But you know how we feel about women preachers. She said, "I have seen the Lord." And, at first, we doubted. Did you catch that, Thomas? We doubted, too. We have our moments of doubt. There are lots of times we want to cry out, "Dear God, why have you forsaken me?" Just add the crucifixion to the times we've thought, "OK, God. If you're so all-powerful, why don't you stop this from happening?" In fact, Thomas, if we could, we'd have God lift you up on a cloud and bring you right here this instant. We actually prayed that a few minutes ago. We prayed for you. We prayed that you'd show up, knocking at the door and asking us to let you back in. But you didn't. God didn't do it. We know we're not supposed to question God's ways. So instead, we're questioning your ways. You should make yourself more available. More open to the Spirit.

Or maybe doubt's not your real problem. Maybe you're just lazy. Maybe the morning of the first day of the week just isn't, "Your good time." Maybe you're still sound asleep. Don't you think we'd rather be doing that too? Don't you think we'd rather be just about anywhere else than here? Wait. That didn't sound right. What we meant was, the irresistible Spirit drew us here against our wills. No, wait. That doesn't sound good, either. What we mean to say is, a power higher and greater than we called us together, in this house, in this time. Yes, we locked the doors. But that's just a precaution. This is an act of courage. It's our statement to the world that we will go on. Isn't making statements important to you anymore? What happened to your courage? What happened to your excitement, and your energy?

I'll tell you the truth, Thomas. We're all tired. We're weary to our souls. We're excited that Jesus came back and all. But, honestly? The ups and downs of the past weeks have taken a toll. Maybe we're all delusional. Really. Stress can do that. It wouldn't be the first time a roomful of hysterical people claim to see something or someone who wasn't there. I guess I shouldn't say that. I hope God doesn't strike me for saying that. But it's true. Maybe we're making it all up. You think about these things. At least, you think about these things. Well, I guess we all do.

So, I think what I'm trying to say here, Thomas, is that we kind of need you. And, in times like these we need you more than ever. Because you're the one who's never afraid to challenge us. You're the one who never settles for an easy answer. You're the one who says what everybody is is thinking, but afraid to say. Even though we might get mad at you because you're so weird, we need you. We need you to help us sort out what's real and what's not. Jesus might really be gone this time. We don't know. But we know for sure you're gone. And you - you big, doubting, demon - we need you.

So, dear Thomas. It's the week after Easter. Things seem kind of empty. But it'll come back. The Spirit will come back. Jesus will come back. We're gonna hope. And we're gonna pray. And we're gonna comfort each other. And we're gonna take care of the poor. And we're gonna visit the sick. And we're gonna try to open up the doors and invite more people crazy enough to believe in Jesus. And you. You crazy, absent, doubting disciple, we'd like you to join us. 

If I were a disciple, and if I were writing Thomas a letter, that's what I'd say this morning. What would you say