Sunday, April 07, 2013

Credible Witnesses

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
April 7, 2013

Year C: The Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 150
(Revelation 1:4-8)
John 20:19-31

Credible Witnesses
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            Every year on the Second Sunday of Easter we hear the powerful and important story of the Resurrected Christ appearing to the frightened disciples hiding in the locked room.
            It’s the story from John’s Gospel of a little Pentecost, the birth of the Church, when the Resurrected Christ breathed the Holy Spirit onto his followers – and it’s the story of Thomas, one of the twelve, who missed the whole thing.
            I always wonder where Thomas was that evening. What was he doing that he missed out on seeing the Risen Christ? I suppose it could have been something mundane like running out to get food. Or maybe after the shameful death of Jesus on the cross, Thomas gave up hope, abandoned the other disciples and just went back to his old life.
            But, I like to imagine him off alone somewhere – out in the wilderness – shouting up at the evening sky, crying out to God. “How could you have let this happen to Jesus?” “How could you have let this happen to us?” “Why was I dumb enough to follow Jesus – to believe that he was the messiah?” “What’s going to happen to me now?” “Where are you?”
            Later the apostle earns his eternal reputation as a great doubter when the others report that they had seen the Lord. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
            Doubting Thomas.
            At least some of the time, Thomas is our patron saint because most of us – all of us? – even those of us who are in church all the time - have our doubts.
            But, why does Thomas doubt that the disciples have seen the Lord?
            Is it because he had lost faith in the promises of Jesus, because he was ready to give up on the whole thing and go back to his old life? Was it a case of fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me?
            But, I think Thomas doubts because the other disciples are not yet credible witnesses.
            After all, Thomas knows these people only too well.
            He has been with them for months, maybe years, following Jesus around the countryside, from town to town, listening to Jesus teach, witnessing Jesus perform his miraculous signs – healing, multiplying loaves and fishes, water into wine, raising the dead.
            And through it all, how have the disciples behaved?
            While Jesus lived a life of love and sacrifice, the disciples jockeyed for position, eager to be at the Lord’s right and left hand.
            While Jesus taught about the kingdom of God - a world turned downside-up – a kingdom where the poor and the hungry and the mourners are blessed - the disciples remained thickheaded and confused, still ignorant about the most basic teachings of Jesus.
            While Jesus was faithful right to the end, the disciples abandoned him in his greatest moment of need. They were unable to stay awake with him while he prayed in the garden on the last night of his life. They abandoned him to die in agony, nearly alone. And at least one of them denied even knowing him – not once but three times.
            Judas wasn’t the only disciple who betrayed Jesus.
            Yes, Thomas knows these people – knows these so-called apostles and disciples. And Thomas knows himself to be one of them.
            Thomas doubts because, for the most part, so far the disciples have not been credible witnesses.
            We all have our doubts, so Thomas is, at least sometimes, our patron saint.
            But, Thomas is really the patron saint of all those people out there – the people who would never think of stepping foot in church, the people who have been turned off by the hypocrisy, unkindness and even cruelty of so many Christians – the people who have been wounded by the Church.
            Thomas is really the patron saint of all those people out there who don’t find Christians to be credible witnesses.
            And, let’s face it, often we’re not credible witnesses.
            We lose credibility every time we reject Christ. We lose credibility when we ignore or reject the command to love God and to love one another as we love ourselves. We lose credibility when we pile up wealth and possessions for ourselves, giving little or no thought to the people here in our own community and around the world who have little or nothing. We lose credibility when we look away from suffering, declining to reach out to the lonely, the grieving, the frightened and despairing people who are all around us.
            We lose credibility when we live pretty much like everybody else.
            Often we’re not credible witnesses of the Risen Christ.
            So, who can blame the modern-day Doubting Thomases for not taking our claims seriously? Who can blame the modern-day Doubting Thomases for choosing playing on the golf course or reading the paper in bed or taking a walk in the park or enjoying a nice brunch instead being with us here today?
            A week later, when Thomas saw the Risen Christ with his own eyes, the doubting apostle cried out, “My Lord and my God!”
            And Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet who have come to believe.”
            Blessed are those who believe without seeing.
            We are not going to see the resurrected Body of Christ the way Thomas and the other disciples did long ago in that locked room.
            But we do see the Body of Christ – we are the Body of Christ – we are the blessing to those who have not seen - when we are credible witnesses.
            And despite the tiredness of the world and the cynicism of our culture, people still respond to credible witnesses – people are still attracted to Christians living authentic lives – people are still drawn to Christians whose words and deeds match up, at least some of the time.
            Just look at how the world has responded to the new pope. People have been so moved and impressed by Francis firmly rejecting much of the seductive trappings and pomp of his office, choosing to live in community, reaching out to the disabled, tenderly washing and kissing the feet of prisoners.
            We may not necessarily agree with some of his theology but we  - and the whole world - are encountering a credible witness of the Risen Christ. And that witness is still powerful.
            Even Jon Stewart said about the pope the other night on The Daily Show, “I love this guy!”
            Obviously, it’s not just the pope. We are all called to be credible witnesses. We are all called to live – not perfect – but authentic lives. We are all called to match up our words and deeds. We are all called to be credible witnesses.
            In a little while we are going to baptize Nora and Maya into the Christian life.
            Their parents and families and all of us will make some big promises.
            As we do at every baptism, we will all renew our baptismal covenant, making big promises to continue breaking bread together; to resist evil and to repent; to proclaim by word and example the Good News; to love our neighbor as ourself; to respect the dignity of all persons.
            Big promises. Lots of words.
            But, really we promise, with God’s help, to be a blessing for all those Doubting Thomases out there who have not yet seen.
            We promise, with God’s help, to be the Body of Christ in a tired world and cynical culture starved for love and craving authenticity.
            We promise, with God’s help, to be credible witnesses of the Risen Christ.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!