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Apr 26, 2020

Touch and Know

Touch and Know

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: April 2020

Category: Faith

John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

“Touch and Know”   

         Each week we select an image to include in our preview of worship.  You may not have seen them since the pandemic started, but we’ll try and get them posted regularly again.  The image I selected for this week is of an intersection, and if you look closely, you’ll see it’s the intersection of Thomas and Church…

          It’s a picture of a street corner, the intersection of Thomas and Church.  Today’s gospel story is a great one, but an often misunderstood one, one unfortunately referred to as “The Doubting Thomas”  story.  Because of a scheduling swap, we’re getting to it a week later than most churches because the lectionary schedules it for the Sunday after Easter.  I wonder if it was placed there to try and hide it, since I’ve heard some people take the Sunday after Easter off.  We judge Thomas’ doubt.  We judge it in him and in us.  I hope this year, with the shelter in place orders, more people were exposed to this story, and I hope preachers didn’t squander the opportunity.

            Today, I want to do two simple things.  I don’t usually telegraph my sermons, but I’ve learned that watching a talking head for 20 minutes is hard work.  As we do this more and more, we’ll work on breaking that mold.  For today, first I will offer a defense of sorts for Thomas, one that doesn’t re-write Scripture, but actually takes it more seriously. Then I will show how Thomas’ attention to the tangible and the touchable can be a pathway not to a more shallow way of thinking but a deeper knowing.

            Let’s begin with Thomas.  We can call him “The Twin.”  That’s what his name means and how John refers to him elsewhere.  Twins deserve a place in the Bible.  Scripture doesn’t give much indication as to who Thomas’ twin was, which leaves me to wonder playfully if we are, in some measure and moments, Thomas’ twin. 

           As I mentioned, Thomas incurs all kinds of judgment upon his remark to the other disciples.  To their accounts of the risen Lord, he says, “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” (Jn. 20:25).  It is worth noting that Thomas was not with the other disciples when they saw the risen Jesus.  They got their proof.  Moreover, given that Jesus’ appearance had changed—remember in the resurrection appearances he is often not recognized—it is natural that Thomas would want to see something in him that demonstrated he was indeed the crucified Jesus of Nazareth. 

           Furthermore, Jesus himself does not render judgment upon Thomas.  He doesn’t scoff at Thomas or his lack of faith.  Why do we so often insist on being harder on some people than Jesus was and easier on others the likes of whom Jesus was quite critical?  To Thomas, Jesus merely says, “Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side” (v. 27).  Only when Christ has given Thomas evidence does he say, “Do not doubt but believe.”  Yes, the story commends those who can believe without seeing, but it does not condemn the one who needed to see to believe.

            In this day and age, should we not give thanks for one who wanted to act on material evidence, data if you will?  I, for one, am both wary and weary of those who seem not only to deny evidence and science, but flaunt it as if it somehow makes them faithful.  That’s not a faith of which I want any part. 

           Richard Rohr would say reducing this story to a contest between faith and doubt misses the point altogether.  In his book, The Universal Christ, Rohr writes,  

          Remember, the archetypal encounter between Doubting Thomas and the risen Jesus (John 20:19-28) is not really a story about believing in the fact of the resurrection, but a story about believing that someone could be wounded and also resurrected at the same time.  That is a quite different message and still desperately needed.  "Put your finger here," Jesus says to Thomas (John 20:27), and like Thomas we are indeed wounded and resurrected at the same time, all of us.  In fact, this might be the pastoral message of the whole gospel.[1]   

          Thomas’ desire to touch the wounds of the resurrected one points to this beautiful message, that you can bear wounds and be raised to new life.  His desire to look closely and to touch can become for us a practice that leads us into deeper reflection about the realities and possibilities of our own lives.  The created world is sacred as it is; it doesn’t have to be a tool for own wondering, but it is also that.  I took a simply tour of our property and look at the invitations I encountered:

plant thornHere is thorn growing out of a plant that will one day bear fruit.  In this season of crucifixion and resurrection, where is the suffering happening around us? Where is it happening within us?  Where is the sharpness?  And while it may or not be necessary suffering, ordered by God, how might it bear fruit in my life if I attend to it?

potHere is a plant that was once tall that we had to cut way back and let grow again.  It’s off to a good start.  Where is there pruning necessary in our lives?  What is dead and not only not any longer serving, but actually draining resources from us?

redwoodHere is a strong, tall, old established tree.  What are the deep principles in our lives that have endured, that tower over my us?  How do we remain rooted and grounded in lasting wisdom through commitment and longstanding practice?  How are we cultivating good soil for growth and strength?

boardsHere are some leftover building materials.  What could we fashion with what is around us that might serve?  What are we called to build in this world?

pink flowerre is something that needs no building, that just grows, extravagant, wasteful beauty.  Where is there beauty our life?  Do we allow for it?  Delight in it?  Cultivate it?  Notice it in others?  Conceal or share our own?

pathHere is a worn-out path.  What are paths that we have over-traveled?  Where are the worn-down places in need of lying fallow or being replanted or rewilded?

mailboxHere is the marker of the endangered postal service.  How am I taking care of our connections to others and the world around us? 

bud and handHere is a tiny bud offering new life, held by a tiny hand whose life is still 90% exploration.  Where do we see new life cropping up in our own, and where will we explore next?

soilHere is decaying material that gives up itself to make that new life possible.  What in us needs to decompose and provide the grounds for new life to spring forth.

Here is the sky and the clouds unscarred by airplane contrails inviting us into imagination.  What shapes do we see and where is our creativity waiting to birth something new?

This invitations are available to us all if we would but see and touch.  Let us not then judge Thomas but give thanks to him.  Perhaps for some of us he’s even a saint, Thomas our Twin.  Amen.


[1] Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ Audiobook.