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4/7/24 Sermon

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John 20:19-31 NRSVUE

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

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 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.”

26 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.” 27 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 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.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Acts 1:3-5, 12-14 NRSVUE

After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

On Belief in the Physical Resurrection of Jesus

by Denise Levertov

It is for all

'literalists of the imagination,

'poets or not,

that miracleis possible and essential.

Are some intricate minds

nourished on concept,

as epiphytes flourish

high in the canopy?

Can they

subsist on the light,

on the half

of metaphor that's not

grounded in dust, grit,


carnal clay?

Do signs contain and utter,

for the

mall the reality

that they need? Resurrection, for them,

an internal power, but nota matter of flesh?

For the others,

of whom I am one,

miracles (ultimate need, bread

of life,) are miracles just because

people so tuned

to the humdrum laws:

gravity, mortality-can't open

to symbol's power

unless convinced of its ground,

its roots

in bone and blood.

We must feel

the pulse in the wound

to believe

that 'with God

all things

are possible,


bread at Emmaus

that warm hands

broke and blessed.

Our scriptures are alive. Our God is with us. Resurrection happens over and over again in ways large and small, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. 

As we celebrate our faith each Sunday, we are living in a constant tension between the past and the present, with the known, and with the unknown. 

Our scriptures, to us, are frequently past tense, past history, foregone conclusions. But they do not need to be. The words can be as alive today as they were when written. 

We do not have the same element of surprise, shock, awe that those first followers of Jesus experienced when they witnessed his presence among them. How does anyone believe what they have not experienced? Thomas was very human. His doubt is our doubt. In fact, his doubt was all of their doubt. Until sometime after Thomas, no one believed without having seen. Not Simon Peter. Not the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved. Not James and Andrew… or Philip and Bartholemew… all of the disciples doubted Mary Magdalene when she told them that she had seen Jesus. Every one of them. They all had doubt. We all have doubt. It is part of our shared humanity. 

We believe what we can see, and hear, and touch, and taste, and smell. We like proof. 

Jesus knew this. We are told that he appeared in bodily form. He spoke to them and they recognized his voice. He offered to have them touch his wounds to feel for themselves his broken body. 

John likely experienced this desire for proof in his community of faith some sixty years after Jesus’ death. 

I recognize it in myself and in this UCC faith community. I have my personal doubts about the physical resurrection. However, I cannot say with any certainty that it did not happen. What I can say with certainty is that resurrections are still happening daily, while we are living and while we are dying. 

Resurrection happens when we fall off the wagon and get back on, refusing to give in to the demons of addiction.

Resurrection happens when we acknowledge harms that we have caused, make amends, and move forward in love. 

Resurrection happens when we forgive ourselves for doubting, questioning, straying. And when we forgive others the same. 

Resurrection happens each year when our annuals burst forth from the earth and sprout, and bud, and bloom.

Resurrection happens when we die and our spirits rise up and are reborn, for brief moments or for an eternity. 

We, all of us, over the course of our lives, learn to know others in this new way of resurrection as they, and as we, journey from life to death. 

Shalom. Peace be with you. This was a common greeting offered as a prayer to God for the well-being of the person being addressed. This is what Jesus said to those whom he met only days after his violent death on a cross. He followed it with, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “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.” 

As we learn in one of our Genesis Creation scriptures, God breathed life into humanity in the beginning. In this new beginning, Jesus breathes new life into the deflated and demoralized disciples. His greeting, familiar and yet refreshingly new, tells them what they need to hear. Shalom. Jesus continues to pray to God for their well-being. He instructs them to go, to continue his ministry of teaching and healing. As they are forgiven, they too shall forgive. 

For the writer of John’s gospel, seeing is not simply about vision, it is about a knowing deep within ourselves that cannot be denied. 

If one wasn’t present those first forty days before Jesus ascended, how do they come to believe any of this? John is speaking to them and to us. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet do believe. 

Thomas is held up as the exemplar – from such grave doubt to such intense belief – in the blink of an eye. Even though he was there, even though he saw Jesus with his own eyes… I wonder… was he able to sustain that belief? Or did it fade over time? Did it diminish with each passing day, month, year? Did doubt creep in and cloud his vision, causing him to question and mistrust what he knew to be true? 

Some of you know that what called me to ministry was an incredible experience of God’s presence with me, in my car, every day for ten days, on my way to work in May of 2010. It was vivid. It was life altering. It brought the scriptures to life for me. Scriptures describing individuals enveloped in a cloud became real, not metaphorical. It was unnerving and caused me to seriously question my sanity. I still know it all to be true in my heart, but the memory is fading. The details are getting dimmer. Fourteen years later I recall the experience differently than in the moment. Will there come a day that I will try to minimize the experience, make it less than it was? Will I ever deny that that presence existed? I wonder…

One April day in 2019, I learned the news that in the wee hours of the morning, my friend’s son had taken his life. I had an acupuncture appointment that day. I shared this loss with my practitioner. Among other things, we talked about deaths, and griefs, past and present. Also, there were needles. After the appointment I went home and meditated and found myself sending love to this friend whose son was now dead. I breathed in love, I breathed out love, sending it to her specifically. Unbidden, I had a visual experience of that love. As I breathed out, that love was emanating from my heart in wispy, tendrils such that one sees when extinguishing a candle, smoke fairies they are sometimes called. These tendrils were a vivid blue. I was fascinated. I could literally see them going from my heart, my chest, and dissipating into the air in the room. This happened for some time. The feeling of love was incredible. And then, doubt, or maybe fear appeared in my consciousness. So much love flowing out into the world. What if I could not stop the flow? What if I gave all of my love away? What if I emptied myself of love and had nothing left? And I brought it to a stop. That is a terrible admission to have to make. That is not the nature of love. Of course, we know that love is limitless, what we give comes back to us, multiplied. Since that time I now know this with all of my being. But I had doubt. I had fear. Irrational, but there it was. What remains is what I saw and what I felt. It was real. The love in me that I otherwise might only feel, I was able to see

Another time, in the months following the 2016 death of my nephew Spencer, a friend commented on my rubber ducky socks, which like my purple bracelet, are a tangible reminder of Spencer to me and my family. As I was telling her this, a tiny dagger pierced my heart as surely as if she had shot an arrow the eight foot distance between us. I felt the air quiver between us, saw the air shimmer where the arrow passed, and I felt the zing of that arrow entering my heart, where the love she sent landed with a quiet peace.   

I do not know if my friends son made any post-resurrection appearances, but I do know that my nephew Spencer did. He appeared to a handful of family and friends in the days and weeks following his death. How do I know this? I believe the witness of those he visited. 

Some of you have experiences of your own. Seen and unseen, heard in the silences, and most certainly felt. We are the mystics. We need to tell our stories, share our experiences so that others too may believe. 

Our verses from the gospel of John this morning end with,  “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

This is still true. Maybe even truer now than it was then. So many more experiences of the Living Christ among us…

We, like Mary Magdalene, like the other disciples, learned to know Jesus in this new way. He is not dead, he is risen. This I believe because I do see the love all around me that Jesus the Christ exemplified. This I believe because I do feel his presence in this world. This I believe because I witness Christ’s Spirit in this community and I see it here and now, in your faces, and feel it in your open hearts and hands. 

This air that we breathe is the breath of the Holy Spirit. Receive it. 

As Jesus was sent, so you are sent.

May God’s Peace be with us all. May God’s Peace be with you


Rev. TJ Mack – April 7, 2024

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