Yesterday after church, a young woman said that my sermon made her think of Beauty and the Beast. She talked about how the young man was cursed because he did not love, but the curse was removed when he learned to love and be loved in return. I love that! When we recognize how much God loves us we change – we learn our value and the value of others. Jesus is all about recognizing the value in everyone and exhorting all of us to do the same. He meets each one of us where we are and tells us to love one another, he says. Uplift, care, create space to live as God created and breathed in you, knowing that you are the beloved of God.
Here are some highlights from yesterday’s sermon:
1 Peter 1:8 “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,”
John 20:21: 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
It’s been a week for us since Easter, but in our text this is still the resurrection day, but later in the afternoon. Jesus comes to the disciples and then disappears. Thomas is not there, and needs the evidence. A few days later Jesus shows up again, aware of what Thomas had said and invites him to put his fingers here at the wounds. No more disbelief, he says. Believe! He doesn’t deride Thomas, he gives him what he wants. But then he does say: “Happy are those who do not see and yet believe.”
We easily look around and can doubt the evidence of God in this world. We can hear words about Jesus, words about the Holy Spirit, be excited for someone else’s faith and still find our own selves lacking. There is something about staying close to Jesus and saying “show me,” there is something about being in community that allows the questions, that allows Jesus to present himself, in the present day, in the midst of the void.
The resurrection story is one of love through doubt, love through absence, love through the void. It is God’s love at work, not your level of faith, so rest easy about that.
But sometimes we feel like we’re missing out. We see things happening over here and over there, and we just didn’t get there. Think about that for a minute. We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples – maybe his kid had a soccer game, or he had to work late, or his mom was sick – or, in spite of the tragedies going on, he and his wife went to the coast because they absolutely needed to get away. Life goes on, regardless of good or bad, but when we are somewhere else, we aren’t …. Somewhere else. And maybe we miss out on a golden moment.
That’s where Thomas was. He didn’t get that breath of Jesus on him. I would have been pretty despondent. ‘Breathe on me, Jesus!” I want to be filled with you, Jesus, just like the others.
Have you ever wished you were more spiritual? You know the Beatitudes in Matthew – blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (or the things of God) and they will be filled up – maybe not the same day as everyone else, but take heart, beloved, God hears your cry.
Thomas got to have his own encounter with Jesus. Specific to him, right for him, in a moment that mattered for him. Apart from, but part of, the community.
I want to be all in, breathed on, soaked in everything that God has for me in Jesus Christ because well – that’s where the action is! That is the beauty of life and love and creativity. That is the beauty of life in community, connected to God and connected to one another.
We hear it said that God doesn’t have grandchildren. You cannot be a believer in Christ based on someone else’s word. To be clear, you can hear the message, and be told the good news, but you must have your own encounter with the risen Lord, with the powerful God who loves and defeats death, who calls us to loving relationship. But the wonderful thing is, in some way form or fashion, Jesus shows up to you. You must encounter Jesus on your own – struggle, wrestle, enjoy, delight – all the things that make life and faith vibrant is first-hand experience, first-hand prayer, first-hand devotion to God. You don’t get it through your mama, your spouse, or your good works. You get it because God gives it to you – full on, overflowing abundance, but you must, must, must put out your hands to receive. You must be in the right place at the right time. And the right place is willingness, and the right time is now. The time is always right to have an encounter with Jesus Christ. Keep that in mind when you breathe in the dawn of a new day or sink your head into the pillow with a sigh toward sleep. Now is the time for devotion, now is the time for joy, now is the time to breathe what God has for you.
I love that Jesus appears to the disciples when they are together. I love that he appears to Thomas when Thomas is back in the group, returned from whatever kept him away the week before. Can you imagine? I’m in groups like that all over this parish. When we gather on Sunday mornings and we worship the Lord together, we pray together. When I join the bible study on Thursdays or the Emmaus group on Wednesdays, share a meal or a cup of coffee, or various opportunities when we are invited to come and participate with each other. It’s always uplifting, encouraging and enjoyable. We learn from each other, we grow in our friendships and we increase in our desire to love and be like Jesus.
Don’t settle for someone else’s experience. Thomas had the desire to see Jesus on his own terms and Jesus knew this. Don’t you love how when Jesus shows up again he alludes to the conversation and tells Thomas, you wanted it, you got it, touch my hands, see the wounds. When we have the desire for the things of God, for a way of life or a transformation that will enhance our lives and our families and our communities, in line with the love of God, stand back. The prayer will be answered, even though you might not recognize it. It may humble you a bit (as I’m sure Thomas felt) or it may call you deeper into your understanding of Jesus and demand something of you. The desire for God is a first step to responding to the love of God in our lives. See if the true Love of Christ doesn’t show up when you express that desire.
Are you asking God to breathe on you? Open your hands, open your hearts, make space for the Holy Spirit in your time and life and place. I have no doubt the Lord will meet you. You may not feel like Jesus is carrying you down the beach and helping you pick up the gifts of the spirit and the pretty shells that catch your eye, keeping you out of the salty rolling waves, but in the end, and I know this is true, God’s got your back. God will breathe on you, too.