We are used to thinking about Thomas when we hear this reading. We talk about doubt and faith, about mercy and hope. We talk about different ways of knowing Gd, and different ways of encountering grace.
Yet there are other interests in the passage that I think are equally important – perhaps vital at this time. So let’s look at what John has to say here. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is raised, breathes the Spirit upon his disciples and ascends to Gd all on Easter day: they are the one act of being “raised up.” (“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”) One commentator wrote that, in John’s Gospel, to “celebrate the resurrection… is also to celebrate the beginnings of the church’s mission in the world. Jesus lives … because he breathes new life into (the) disciples through the gift of the Spirit and commissions them to continue his work.” Not to deny the Resurrection – but to make an expansion of it.
So a direct consequence of the Resurrection is that the church is commissioned for mission – not our usual Easter-tide message. We’re used to holding off on that until Pentecost – Luke/Acts time line. But today we are sitting with John. Our proclamation, “Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed!” is a loaded confession – of joy and hope, yes, and also of commitment and purpose. Toggled together the reading from the First Letter of John, and especially the reading from Acts read at the 8:00 am service (about the community of the first believers who shared all their possessions with one another) that purpose is made quite clear: to be a community marked by its exercise of forgiveness, which will be evidenced by the love that exists among us.
It’s up to us to live it out, publically, for all the world to see. Forgiveness is crucial. We must take it seriously. We must practice it generously. Yet it seems to me that forgiveness is something we don’t’ talk much about these days. We talk about “truth and reconciliation.” We talk about “restorative justice”. We may talk about “reciprocity” in some places known as “karma,” or, “what goes ‘round comes ‘round.” But except to use the word, when have we really talked about it – and about forgiveness within the Church? And, Just what are we supposed to forgive? Jesus has shared Good News with us: · Gd loves what Gd has created – including humanity – and · Gd reaches out in amazing ways to put that love in front of us. Jesus forgave sins. What sins? We hear him speak of forgiveness of sin when he is healing – yet he never says what the “client’s” sin was. He invites “sinners” to eat with him, without engaging in any preliminary ceremony of forgiveness we know of.
If it is our ministry to carry on the mission of sharing the Good News of Gd’s love shown by the forgiveness of sins, then we have to ask what it is Gd forgives – by looking at what it is Jesus shows us. And because this reading is in the Gospel of John, which tells the Jesus story very differently than the other Gospels, we need to what it says in terms of the particular viewpoint of John’s church, we need to understand sin in terms of what Jesus says in the Gospel of John. Jesus speaks of our ignorance of Gd as a blindness we stumble in – we are blind to the loving faithfulness of the Holy One. This blindness – this ignorance or even refusal to see – is sin. Jesus is the light that reveals this to us, and it is our choice whether we accept it or not.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what Jesus shows us is more the outcome of sin than the act itself. At its core, to sin is to engage in idolatry – to worship something that is not Gd. Its outcome is alienation – from self, from others, from the Holy One, and therefore from Truth. It is a separation that leads to disease and death, figuratively and often literally. It does harm. To forgive is to heal, to restore relations, to shine light on the darkness and set the blinded free. If we continue to think of sin as immoral acts, we continue to be blind. (paraphrase of Jesus’ words to the Scribes and Pharisees about being blind) Sin is not the symptoms, it is the root. The root is to be out of touch with the One who gives us life, because we have put something else in its place. Sometimes we don’t even know it because it is simply the way we were raised, the world we grew up in, where, these days, Gd is an option most of the time.
As bearers of Good News it is our job to be a light in this world – an example of the loving nature of Gd seen in the way we are with one another. This is something we haven’t done very well at all, in any generation of the church. Some churches in some places at some times – which is the way it seems to work. We have message of universal loving-kindness, we have an eternally true message, but it has to be expressed in local ways and time. Some days I despair that the whole world at just one moment will get it, but that’s Gd’s problem, not mine, not yours. Our problem is to live it where we are. I’m sure you’ve heard people say the church is full of hypocrites. I’m sure you’ve experienced people – even family – turn their back on the church over the way we’ve treated one another during the various debates of the past one-hundred years. We have not been communities marked by forgiveness. Just the opposite. Which speaks to just how difficult the Good News is to live. Why we desperately need the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Why we need to be ready to repent and start anew. Again and again. People all around the church are worried about declining congregations. People are grabbing at different ideas and models and things to do to bring folk through the doors.
Today’s Gospel is pretty clear: let them see us love one another. Let them hear us tell how forgiveness is the medicine that makes it possible. (If we can’t get them here to see it, we may have to take it out where they are.) We have been given what seems an impossible task – to love as Gd loves, regardless of comfort, difference, or agreement. If we are part of the family of Gd, we must love one another. We must be a light “to the nations.” This is our mission. Gd has given Gd-self to us in Jesus and the Holy Spirit – we have some one to imitate, and the energy to do it. As sacramental people, we are renewed constantly at the Table, reminded that we are receivers of forgiveness. Practicing forgiveness may not address the problem of bringing people to our doors; that’s another sermon . . .
Today’s is this: Forgiveness is crucial. We must take it seriously. We must practice it generously. We are meant to be a community marked by its exercise of forgiveness, evidenced by the love that exists among us. For this Jesus was raised . . . AMEN