"Shut Up and Show Up" – John 20:19-31
When 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." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "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."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So 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."
A 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." Then 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." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.
Whenever this bit about Doubting Thomas shows up – especially just the week after Easter – I side with Thomas. Frankly, I feel like Thomas gets a bad rap by forever being dubbed the “doubting” one. At least it seems like a bad rap to me, if the presumption is that Thomas’ doubting is a bad, or negative, or less-than-faithful way of being in the world and responding to the good news of Easter.
And I’m not one to throw stones, I have to tell you, because who could blame Thomas, really? I think I might have been right there with him – skeptical, cynical, afraid, doubtful, whatever – in the face of this Easter news, so soon after it had all gone down. And I would have been skeptical not just because the news was out of this world… crazy… unbelievable stuff about a man being raised from the dead. Never mind the unbelievable facts of the matter. The sources of the story – the reporters of the news – weren’t the most reliable bunch, remember.
These disciples, I mean, had been down a long road of ministry together, and time and again they had missed the point. They misunderstood Jesus’ teachings. They misinterpreted Jesus’ miracles. They misjudged Jesus’ intentions all along the way – as he spent time with sinners, while he healed the sick, or when he preached about the Kingdom of God. And just the week before, leading up to his crucifixion and death, one disciple betrayed him, another disciple denied him three times, others fell asleep on him in the garden before his arrest and every one of them left Jesus in the dust to be taken away and crucified. So it’s no wonder Thomas doubted what these knuckleheads were telling him they had just seen.
And I would say we’re no different, too much of the time. And that the world around us is filled with “Doubting Thomases” who have a lot of really good reasons – just like Thomas – to be cynical, skeptical, and afraid, even, about the motives, the mission, and the ministry of so many Christians in the world.
I read an article recently about what non-believers believe about Christian people, these days, and it’s not pretty, or easy to swallow. When asked what they would say to Christians if they thought we would listen, non-believers said things like:
Christians are hypocritical.
Christians hold modern beliefs that aren’t Christ-like.
Christians think that philosophy, science, postmodernism, movies, [and more] are out to get them.
Christians are judgmental, narrow-minded, and tell others how to live their lives.
Christians reject reality, think non-believers are horrible and unworthy, and condemn others.
Christians are arrogant, and think asking questions and searching for answers is a bad thing.
Christians are on the wrong side of big issues like discrimination against people of color, women, and homosexuals.
Of course, I don’t think these opinions are right for all Christians, but I’ve seen and read and know enough Christian people to understand why these stereotypes and opinions exist – and are true in too many cases. And because of them, it makes the prospect of sharing Easter’s good news in ways that will matter for people like Thomas – the doubters, the skeptics, the cynics; and the scared and the sad and the struggling, too – a daunting proposition. And sharing Easter’s good news is what we’re called to be about as people who believe it. It’s what Jesus was up to when he showed up in that room, breathing, sharing the Holy Spirit, showing off the battle scars of his crucifixion, and charging his followers with the power to forgive sins.
And my temptation – and I think that of too many Christians – is to see Jesus’ encore performance – the following week, when he showed up again, for the benefit of Thomas? – as a second attempt at proving his case; as evidence that couldn’t be refuted; as a closing argument for the defense, if you will, for the hard-hearted, closed-minded, doubt-filled disciple who missed it the first time.
But then I remembered something Philip Yancey has said: that “No one ever converted to Christianity because they lost the argument.” “No one ever converted to Christianity because they lost the argument.”
And it made me imagine that Jesus was up to much more than just proving his case or proving Thomas wrong. What Jesus did for Thomas was … whatever Thomas needed in order to believe, to have faith, to experience Easter’s joy and good news and new life, in a way that mattered for Thomas.
So, I wonder what that means for me… for you… for us… as we do our best to live with faith – and to live faithfully – in these Easter days so many generations after the fact when our faith and belief are so wrapped up in how we’ll vote and who we’ll vote for; when so many confess their faith in defensive ways; when so much proclamation and pretend evangelism happens by way of tweets and memes and bumper stickers; when faith is debated and debatable and argued and fought over in ways that drive away the skeptics and the cynics and the scared and the struggling, instead of drawing them closer to the light and life and peace and joy God means to offer.
And I think it means we do more of what Jesus did for Thomas: we don’t debate; or argue; or shame; or scare. We don’t state our case or prove our point with words or arguments or whatever.
We show up, like Jesus did. We share the waters of baptism and new life … not just in worship on Sunday morning, but by building water cisterns for families in Haiti, and by protecting the waters of God’s creation.
We show up, like Jesus did. We break bread, not just in worship, but in the world, by sharing food with our food pantry, or handing out those “bags of blessing,” when we see someone in need.
We show up, like Jesus did. We confess and forgive sins, not just as part of our liturgy, but daily, in prayer and in person, and for and with the people in our lives.
We show up, like Jesus did. We breathe and we live and move and have our being among believers and non-believers and other kinds of believers in this world, bestowing peace by way of our actions and presence and patience and grace.
We show up, like Jesus did. We show our scars, acknowledging our brokenness and our struggles and our fears and our doubts. And when we’re able – with honesty, integrity, hope, and joy – we share how God has filled the holes of that brokenness with light and life and healing and promise.
Because when we do these things – if we just show up and maybe shut up more often – we become the hands and feet of the resurrected Jesus, and others will see God’s grace at work among us and come to believe and share in this new life that belongs to us all.