One learning for Karen and me in our first years of marriage was how I responded when my feelings were hurt or I was stressed or angry. My default position was to go and hide in my “cave.” Karen had to learn when to come in and join me, and when to drag me out of it kicking and screaming. And I had to learn how to tell her what I needed – whether to be left alone for a while, or when I was able to talk – and then to follow through and let her in when I was ready. We process through things differently – she talks her way through stuff, and I think my way through things, and my cave is where I go to do my thinking.
Walking in our neighborhood, I see several garages that have portions set aside; big screen TV, couple of couches; a sort of “man cave” for the homeowner. I can imagine the appeal of sitting in the garage with some friends and a cold drink or three and watching a favorite sporting event.
To be sure, some hiding is good and necessary – I think of Anne Frank hiding from the Nazis, for instance, or the recent news report of the extended family of Ukrainian Jews who hid in caves near their village for over a year to escape detection by the Germans during the war. Still other hiding is fun, like playing hide and go seek with friends. But the disciples’ hiding in the upper room in our reading this morning is unhelpful hiding.
In our reading (John 20.19-31), I believe the disciples – even Thomas! – model a “L-i-v-e Belief.” Now, how would you pronounce that? The title itself is delightfully vague. Is it “Live” (rhymes with “hive”) as an adjective, as in “live” as opposed to “dead”? or is it “Live” Belief as a verb, an action as in one should “Live” a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising?
In good Lutheran form, I believe the answer is “yes!” Thomas and the disciples in John’s gospel model for us both ways of reading this phrase: as an adjective and as a verb, and as we think about living out the resurrection we so joyfully celebrated last week, perhaps exploring the example of the disciples will help us in our faith, too.
It is tempting to go the route of moralism with this story: Thomas doubted, so Thomas bad; now don’t be like Thomas, be like the other disciples instead. Or, to go the other extreme: everyone doubts, so it doesn’t really matter what you believe; God will honor those beliefs, taking your lemons and making lemonade. I’m not sure either of these extremes is particularly fruitful in the long run.
I. “Live” Belief – adj.
Thomas and the disciples model a “Live” belief that includes questions and confidence, doubt and trust. That first week, all of the disciples were unsure. They were locked in the upper room on Easter evening and the next Sunday as well. Can’t tell me they didn’t wonder what was going on.
In fact, as we look at it, both Thomas and the other examples had a parallel experience. On Easter Sunday, the women came to the tomb and found it empty. They had an experience with Jesus, who encouraged them and sent them out on a mission, to tell the other disciples. When they did, the others didn’t believe them. So on Easter night, Jesus came to them in the upper room. He showed them his wounds, and they believed. Jesus encouraged them (gave them his peace and his Spirit), and then sent them out in mission. When Thomas came, they told him what they’d experienced, but like the other disciples at first, he didn’t believe it. So Jesus came to him in the upper room the Sunday after Easter, showed him his wounds, and then Thomas believed.
So, really, all the the disciples had a parallel experience of coming to faith. We may quibble about how Thomas didn’t believe the testimony of the other disciples. But really, he knew that motley crew; he’d lived with them for nearly 3 years. He had bugged out with them as Jesus was taken away and crucified, so maybe it wasn’t so far fetched that he doubted their witness. In any event, the disciples and Thomas shared their doubts and their questions, and Jesus responded with what they needed in order to believe.
“Live” Belief has another aspect: Each time when Jesus showed up to the disciples, John says Jesus “came and stood among them.” Literally, he was “in the middle of them.” I believe it’s important that Jesus stood in the middle of the disciples. It’s important that of all the groups that exist, the church remains a Christ-centered community. We don’t have to look far to find congregations or entire denominations who lost Christ as their focus, and to see how far afield they’ve drifted. Of course, no church body, no congregation is perfect. But that’s not the standard. The main thing is for us to keep the main thing the main thing. For the church, the main thing is Jesus Christ and what he does for us.
It’s no mistake that the first thing Jesus gives the disciples is his peace. Not just a lack of anxiety or concern. Peace here is “shalom” – Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Renewal. Absolution, if you will; and then, Jesus gives them mission:
If you forgive sins, they are forgiven.
If you retain sins, they are retained.
A “Live” belief experiences Jesus in the middle of the community of faith, nowadays, through the Word proclaimed and through the sacraments (Baptism / Holy Communion). Congregations will offer many ministry activities, but they should all point back in some way to Jesus in the middle of the community, and they should express in some way Jesus’ peace, his “shalom” his forgiving and reconciling activity in this part of world.
II. “Live Belief – verb
“Live” belief – more than just theological or intellectual assent, though it includes that. It’s important to know what we believe; to be able to articulate our faith when called upon, so we can share it with others when God leads us to do so.
Live Belief – speaks to mission. Infusion of the Holy Spirit. Being sent out as the first disciples were. Disciples model how to deal with those seasons in our life when are stuck, shut (or locked) behind closed doors. Dealing with grief, disappointment; not remaining stuck but forging ahead through the power and providence of the Holy Spirit.
Not a matter of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. No, God gave the disciples what they needed to be sent out into mission. It wasn’t long before most of the first 12 disciples left Jerusalem:
Thomas went to India, and many of those he brought to faith carried the message of Jesus even further throughout China and Asia.
John went to Ephesus.
Paul went all throughout the Mediterranean.
Where we go doesn’t really matter. The issue is do we go when God tells us to go, and do we go where God tells us to go?
It’s no surprise that the early Christian community was known as “The Way” – the faith was a “way” of life, and the early believers were always on the way, active, moving, sharing, reaching out. We may not ever leave our neighborhood or our hometown. But then, we don’t need to. The mission field is all around us. According to 2010 census data, 47% of Fresno County is affiliated with some (Jewish, Muslim or Christian) religious community.
Our community needs folks with a “Live” belief. Our world needs folks who will “Live” out their belief. As lives are transformed by Jesus’ saving love, communities may be transformed as well. What a blessing to know that God has already given us what we need to meet this challenge. But we’re left with a last question:
Will we go?
Lots of reasons why I might not. I like my life, my home, my circle of friends. I’m happy to serve in this community that I know and have called home off and on since 1988, but what if God calls me to another place? Will I go?
Lots of reasons why we might not. Our lives are full, our schedules are packed. Our church is comfortable the way it is. What if God calls us to reach out in some other way than we have the last 5-10 years? Will we go?
It’s difficult being stretched out of our comfort zones. To do something that is different, something that calls us for a new sacrifice, a different time commitment or expenditure of energy. Will we go?
“Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus tells his disciples of every age. With that gift, may our “Live” (adj) belief “Live” (vb) in us and through us.