I’m curious to know: did those who know go and tell those who don’t know?
Our scripture today finds Jesus’ disciples in a place of confusion, fear and anxiety, a place of disbelief and belief, disorientation and denial. And there in the middle of them, through the locked doors, came Jesus. Peace be with you, he said. And after this he showed them his hands and his side. And they rejoiced. And Jesus breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit. Which I believe they did.
One of the group was missing on that day. Not sure where he was. Scripture doesn’t give us a clue. When he did show up sometime later the disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas said, “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.”
I love this guy, do you? Why do I love this guy? It’s personal. I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith tradition in the 1950s and 60s. From third grade I went to Catholic school and then when the family moved to another town I went to public school. This community did not have a high school so I returned to the Catholic school system — this time it was an all-girls high school run by nuns of the order of The Religious of Jesus and Mary and overseen by a parish priest or two from Sacred Heart Church deep in the French-Italian-Irish Catholic belt of Woonsocket, Rhode Island.
It was around the time I was 12 years old that I had a sense of being called to ministry and within that tradition, ministry for a girl was narrowly defined to be a nun. At 12 years old that was fine, but by the time I was 15 and started dating I wasn’t so sure that was the answer for me. But even more significant were the questions that I was facing within this faith tradition. Questions about the infallibility of the Pope; about its catechism we learned by heart, but not in the heart; about why priests can’t marry; about why girls can’t be priests; about confession; about eating fish on Friday; about the sinfulness of missing Mass. At that time my faith was so entwined with this faith tradition, I didn’t realize I was trying to untie that knot.
I remember questioning the authorities about my doubts, especially in my senior year of high school, and was told by the nuns and priests to “accept everything on faith”. What seemed OK when I was 12 no longer worked for me. Those answers did not jibe with who I was sensing God to be in my life and who God was calling me to be. What this tradition was asking of me first of all was to stop asking questions. I don’t think so. Secondly, to accept these pat answers from authority? I don’t think so. The threat that I was going directly to hell. I don’t think so. And as a result I became unchurched for perhaps a dozen years — rejecting organized religion but not my belief in God
It really wasn’t until many years later, actually while I was at seminary, that I came to recognize myself in this story about Thomas, and that felt freeing and affirming. And even though a doubter, there was still room for Thomas within the group of disciples and also at the table. He was called. And I was able to embrace the truth of the fact that there was room for me and other seekers and doubters at the table as well. God’s grace knows no bounds. That’s why I love this story about Thomas who is known as the doubter.
Theologian and writer Frederick Buechner wrote the following about faith: “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” (sermon.com) Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. I love that line.
Are there any hippies among us this morning? I came across the following recently and think we might all understand its veracity. It’s called “The Hippies were Right”.
For all of you who aren’t sure,
It is possible to be gay and Christian.
It’s also possible to believe in God and science.
It is possible to be pro-choice and anti-abortion.
It is equally possible to be a feminist and love and respect men.
It’s possible to have privilege and be discriminated against, to be poor and have a rich life, to not have a job and still have money.
It is possible to believe in sensible gun control legislation and still believe in one’s right to defend one’s self, family, and property.
It’s possible to be anti-war and pro-military.
It is possible to love thy neighbor and despise (their) actions.
It is possible to advocate Black Lives Matter and still be pro police.
It is possible to not have an education and be brilliant.
It is possible to be Muslim and also suffer at the hands of terrorists.
It is possible to be a non-American fighting for the American dream.
It is possible to be different and the same.
We are all walking contradictions of what ‘normal’ looks like.
Let humanity and love win. (Unknown author)
I would add: it’s also possible to doubt and to have faith.
For many of us these seeming contradictions troubled us. It took a while to understand that being told how to believe is not the same as coming to belief. God is with us leading us to reach a real faith even as we continue to search. Like those search and find word games — maybe one day we will see clearly what is already there. How does God speak to you? Even though I have dedicated most of my life to ministry, I do so still under the umbrella of questioning. I do not question the existence of God. I don’t know that I ever have. But there are so many other things I question and still, I come to a faith that is deep and meaningful and gives me comfort and the room to question even more.
Maybe that’s why I delighted so much from a place called Dog Mountain in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. An artist by the name of Steve Huneck drew and sculpted flying dogs and cats. Dog Mountain is where Steve did most of his work until his death. He got the vision for Dog Mountain much earlier in his life during a long illness and went to work on developing the area.
Living in Vermont, I was fortunate to be able to visit this site several times. As a life-long cat owner I even bought a wood cut print of a cat with a halo with the caption, Good Kitty. There was a companion piece that had been sold out of a cat with horns and the caption was Bad Kitty. Guess there are more of those than good kitties. If Bad Kitty had been available, I would have bought that one as well.
Steve’s humor and his deep love for animals was evident in so much of his work. He built a dog chapel that looked like a typical New England congregational church — white building with a steeple. The end of each pew in the chapel was fashioned with a full profile of a sitting dog. The entrance of the church was covered with thousands of notes from animal lovers writing about an animal they had loved who had died — very touching. But the greeting on the sign entering the chapel always did this old minister’s heart good. It reads: Welcome. All breeds. All creeds. No dogmas allowed. (Google Dog Mountain and go to images.)
I wonder if that’s where the UCC statement, “No matter who you are or where you are on your life’s journey, you are welcome here”, comes from?
From Thomas’ story, to “right on” hippies, to Dog Mountain, and back to Thomas is the unmistakable understanding that God loves us. That’s the good news of Easter. We are called to living our lives to the fullest. We are called to live life with tears falling down our face because we can feel both the heartbreak that bends us, and we can feel the joy of life that bubbles up to laughter that lifts us. Those hearty guffaws do us wonders. Serious books after all have been written about the healing power of humor.
I wasn’t aware until very recently that the Sunday following Easter is called Holy Humor/Laughter Sunday. Where have I been? From re-worship blog spot.com (March 16, 2011) I learned that “The idea of setting aside one Sunday each year to celebrate God’s gift of laughter and joy [may be new to me, but it] has a long and rich history in many congregations around the world”.
Laughter Sunday (also known as Holy Humour Sunday, Hilarity Sunday, God’s Laughter Sunday, Bright Sunday or Holy Fools Sunday) has its roots in a number of different Christian traditions. In the Orthodox tradition, people would gather on Easter Monday to tell jokes and funny stories, and to dance and eat together.
Churches in 15th-century Bavaria used to celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Risus Paschalis (‘God’s Joke,’ or ‘the Easter laugh’). Priests would deliberately include amusing stories and jokes in their sermons in an attempt to make the faithful laugh. After the service, people would gather together to play practical jokes on one another and tell funny stories. It was their way of celebrating the resurrection of Christ — the supreme joke God played on Satan by raising Jesus from the dead.
The observance of Risus Paschalis was officially outlawed by Pope Clement X in the 17th century. Perhaps people were just having too much fun. Unfortunately, that sobering attitude trickled down through the ages and still is with us here and there. I’m sure we all know where some of those places.
In 1988, the Fellowship of Merry Christians began encouraging churches to resurrect some of these Christian traditions–to celebrate the grace and mercy of God through the gift of laughter and joy. They suggest the theme of the festivities be “Jesus is the LIFE of the party.”
The Joyful Noiseletter is full of good stuff. Visit http://www.joyfulnoiseletter.com/hhsunday.asp.
So . . . have you heard this one? There is a story about a pastor who spotted Groucho Marx in a hotel lobby. The pastor was wearing a clerical collar and rushed over to Groucho, shook his hand, and said, “Thank you, Groucho, for bringing so much joy into the world!” “Thank you,” Groucho replied, “for taking so much joy out of it.”
So often people of faith are seen as humorless, buttoned-down, rigid, joy killers. My way or the highway. What a, terrible burden to carry. Maybe it’s time to shed the image of “God’s Frozen Chosen”. Perhaps we missed the opportunity to holy hilarity this year, but maybe we can plant the seed for next. In the meantime, however, know that God loves both the believer and the doubter; the sinner and the saint, the curmudgeon and the joker, and through grace, you and me. So, my question is: who gets the last laugh? May God’s gift of humor give us a sense of hope as we embrace joy and fullness of life.
Christ is Risen. Alleluia and amen.
Copyright DMC 2018.