John 20: 19-31
The Rev. Dr. Mary Abrams
Apr. 8, 2018
There are two messages in our gospel reading that I like to address today. One is about faith and the other is love. Let’s first think about faith.
Let me ask you, do you believe everything you hear? If I told you that I was a superhero with magical powers like Superwoman, that I have super strength, can fly and have indestructible bracelets and a lasso of truth, would you believe me? Good for you. You should not believe that. I am not a superhero. Our Gospel reading today is a story about not believing and doubt. It takes place several days after Jesus rose from the tomb on Easter Day, when he went to a room where his disciples had gathered and began talking with them. Now for some reason Thomas was not with the other disciples on that day. And later when Thomas saw the disciples they told him of their experience with the risen Lord. Of course Thomas knew that Jesus had been crucified and that his body had been placed in a tomb and that the tomb had been sealed shut. But now his friends were telling him that they had not only seen Jesus but he had been walking around and had talked to him. Thomas had a hard time believing this. He said he had to see Jesus before he would believe that he was alive. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t we all? If someone walked into this church right now and claimed to be Jesus how many of us would believe him? Thomas doubted.
Have you ever doubted? Have you ever wondered about Jesus, any of the stories about Jesus, his birth, the cross, the resurrection? Have you ever asked yourself if any of this is superstition or myth? Have we invented these stories for our own needs? Have you ever questioned why a loving God permits suffering? Have you ever really struggled with doubt and faith?
I have. I think most of us have at sometime. But who's to say that doubt is such a bad thing? Thomas had the courage to stand apart from the others and the honesty to say what he believed.
I believe a certain amount of doubt and disbelief is essential to strong faith. Doubt gets us started on our own personal journey towards a stronger faith. It is better to be honest with our doubts then to pretend we don’t have them. God wants our minds as well as our hearts. Without doubt our relationship with God would be shallow and emotionally based. Wrestling with our faith makes it stronger. Wrestling with our faith makes it ours not just that of our parents or our priest.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who lived among and served the poor and needy, is one of the people I have most admired throughout my life.
At an early age Mother Teresa knew she was called by God to serve God and God’s people. In 1937 at the age of 19 she became a Sister of Loretta and served at their school for almost twenty years. Although she enjoyed her work at the school she became increasing disturbed by the poverty surrounding her in Calcutta. In 1946 she experienced another call from God calling her to leave the convent and live among the poor to help them. It took her a couple of years to receive permission from her superiors but in 1948 she began her work with the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta.
Mother Teresa was known for her closeness to God. She felt Jesus’ presence around her and had visions of Jesus. She was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer. She continued her work until her death in 1997.
Three years after her death the world was told the true and shocking story about Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa had doubts, serious doubts. From almost the first day of her work in the streets of Calcutta, answering her call from God, she had felt abandoned by God, she could no longer feel the presence of Jesus either in her heart or in the Eucharist. She described it as a darkness, loneliness, and torture. She compared it to experiencing hell and at one point said it had driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even the existence of God. This darkness lasted for the rest of her life, for almost 50 years.
What is remarkable is that it was during this dark time that she became a public icon for what Christianity is all about, serving the poor and those in need. It was during her time of darkness that the order she founded grew from a small 13 members to over 4000. It was during her time of darkness that she received numerous awards and recognitions include the Nobel Peace prize. Without knowing about her deep distress and doubt, upon her death, people immediately began talking about her as a saint and the Catholic Church took the first steps toward that goal in 2003.
It is important for us to know that a charitable and self-giving person like Mother Teresa experienced the same doubts and fears that most of us have had. Thankfully and hopefully most of our doubts don’t last that long. To doubt is not to be lacking in faith. It is to be human. And to be faithful is not to be free of doubt, it is to engage the difficult questions and struggles with life's meaning in the face of the evils and difficulties that surround us. In the meantime, we like Mother Teresa, must continue to serve, each in our own way. We serve because no matter the answer, the suffering must be eased, the ill must be cared for, the dying must be comforted and held close. The injustices in the world must be corrected.
Today’s Gospel is also a story of grace and love.
The disciples weren’t of much help to Jesus in his final hours. One of them, turned traitor. All but the youngest fled. One followed at a distance, but when questioned, denied he had ever heard of Jesus. Now Jesus is back. They have failed him, and it’s time they paid the price.
His appearance in that room startles them but so does what he tells them: "Peace be with you.” he says. He does not condemn them, or even rebuke them. Instead he relieves their fear. "Peace be with you."
Jesus appeared to the disciples to let them to know that he was still alive and that he loved him even in their failures and that his love could live in them. He wanted to remind them that they needed to share that love with others. Remember what Jesus had said to his disciples before his crucifixion that he was giving them a new commandment “ to Love one another.“
The Gospel is reminding us of Jesus’ new commandment also.
If I told you that I had a whole forest in my hand, would you believe me? Well I do. It is an apple seed. If I planted this seed it would grow into a tree and that tree would have a lot of apples on it and each apple would have seeds. If I planted all of those seeds more trees would grow with more seeds. And pretty soon I would have a whole forest of apple trees. All from this one tiny seed.
So it is like the apple seed if we share God’s love with every person we meet and they share that love with every person they meet, soon there will be millions and billions of people who have God’s love in their hearts. Just as there is a whole forest of apples trees in this one little seed there can be a whole world of love in just one heart, if we like Mother Teresa, share it with others that we meet.
So the question that we leave with today is how do we each as individuals and collectively as a community of faith, as a part of the body of Christ, live out our baptismal vows to both continue to seek Jesus, and to follow his command that we love another, to live our lives even with our doubts bringing the love of God to others.