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April 7, 2013

Rev. Barbara Lorbach

John 20:19-39 (NRSV)

     19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.”
     26A 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.” 27Then 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.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.



     Walter Brueggemann, prominent theologian of our time, suggests that the primary challenge facing the Christian Church in North America in the 21st century is that for most of us, God is no longer a primary actor in the story of our lives. It’s not that people don’t believe in God, it’s just that apart from church they don’t think about God all that much. It seems to me it is in part due to an image we have of the Bible. For some, the Bible is an old book that doesn’t pertain to living in a 21st century world. For some, the Bible can’t be trusted because it has been used to condemn people we love or to condemn us, both as individuals and as a community of faith. The stories throughout scripture, however, do not end with the words…“and mistakes were never made because they were perfect in every way.” Instead we see the real and very human face of people, who are like us in many ways.
     Here in the Gospel of John after the resurrection, we see real people experiencing loss, isolation, fear, and hopelessness. The scene with the apostles in the upper room, scared, barely clinging to each other for comfort, lost without their beloved teacher, comes as a bit of a shock. The shock doesn't come from how alien the scene may appear. Rather, the shock comes from the realization that the disciples were human beings. In fact the scene is very typical of our own responses of doubt, loss, skepticism, and fear in the face of the enormous task of living in this world.
     The Bible describes how a particular ancient people in a particular place answered questions about life—how, why, what, when, where questions that ultimately led them to conclude there must be a great power at work in the world—a power so holy, one could not utter the name. We call that power God. As they struggled to understand their relationship with this God, they told stories—stories of their triumphs and of their failures, stories of great leaders and prophets, but never quite understanding what this God expected of them. Finally a man comes who is like no other. He loves them and leads them. He tells them that God loves them. He teaches a worldview he calls the “kingdom of God.”
     The kingdom of God—what does that mean to us today? The kingdom of God is a worldview that is not only Christian or only Jewish or only Muslim or by any other name. The kingdom of God is not only American or European or Asian or African or South American or any other country. The kingdom of God is not from the top down but from the bottom up. The kingdom of God means everyone. We share planet earth as our home and we need each other.
     Eventually the frightened disciples came out of the upper room. Eventually they picked up the task Jesus left for them to do—make disciples. A disciple is one who learns. To be a disciple of Jesus is to learn about the kingdom of God who is the restless weaver, ever spinning threads of justice and shalom; dreaming patterns of creation where all creatures find a home; gathering up life’s varied fibers--every texture, every hue: with God’s creative vision, we weave the world anew.
     The vision of justice and shalom is being expressed by the UCC in a tangible way for 50 days following Easter. It is called Mission 4/1 Earth. Some days I find the task of being a faithful steward of creation enormous: just remembering to think about my own consumption is a challenge, and then actually living a simpler life and consuming less and more wisely for the sake of the human family and the environment often makes me paralyzed like the disciples were in the upper room before encountering the risen Christ. It’s hard to do this on my own. With Mission 4/1 Earth, we have an opportunity for to partner with UCC churches throughout the United States. Today we are receiving a card to express our commitment to Mission 4/1 Earth. Together we make a difference.
  1. Ride a bike, carpool or use public transportation instead of driving alone in a car.
  2. Read a book or watch a documentary about the environment.
  3. Plant and tend an organic garden – all that weeding and watering time adds up quickly!
  4. Prepare a sermon, lead a Bible study, plan or attend an earth-care-focused worship service.
  5. Write advocacy letters (which counts in time AND in letters sent!).
  6. Install energy-efficient light bulbs or appliances.
  7. Attend an Earth Day rally.

Mahatma Gandhi, 20th century

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every one's needs, but not every one's greed."