04/24/22 – Those Troublesome Evangelist


April 24, 2022
2nd Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:27-32; Rev. 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

This is the second Sunday of Easter, also known as “Low Sunday,” because, for many churches, the biennial churchgoers have gone back to their regular Sunday activities. Even some of the regulars feel like all the hoopla of Easter Sunday earns them a day off as if God, or their neighbors, are keeping track. Occasionally, even staying at home you are interrupted by folks from other churches doing their duty to evangelize. One of the advantages of my job is that door-knocking evangelists don’t even start their spiel after they find out I am a mainline Protestant pastor. With their introductory questions, they learn I do have a church, I do read the bible, and, furthermore, I tell them I preach every Sunday. They wish me a blessed day and off they go. Either they assume I am too far gone from the “right path” there isn’t much point in trying to convert me or they are afraid I will counter their witness with my own.

Being a witness is one of the themes underlying our scripture texts for today. Today we heard as our gospel reading, as we do every Sunday after Easter, the story of “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas is the last living disciple of the original twelve to see the risen Christ. John doesn’t tell us why Thomas was the only disciple to miss an encounter with the risen Christ. Quite frankly, he appears to me to be the most pragmatic of the lot. He hadn’t been hiding in a locked room out of fear. He missed seeing Jesus when the all the others did because he was getting on with his life. He experienced grief over his friend and mentor’s death. He was disappointed that the disciple job seemed not to pan out, but he didn’t waste time wringing his hands and feeling sorry for himself. Thomas picked himself up and went on to Plan B. He knew he had to get on with living and doing what he had to do to put food on the table.

Thomas was disheartened that Jesus hadn’t been the savior he thought he was so; he went back to doing that job himself. Thomas is a lot like those that grew up in a church then became disillusioned by the church or lost confidence in God’s promises and left to take care of themselves in the world they can see – a world created in their own image that operates by rules the world reinforces daily.

You see, Thomas wasn’t acting any differently than those other disciples did when Mary Magdalene ran to them to tell them she had seen the risen Jesus. They had to see him for themselves too. Have you ever wondered why Thomas is called Thomas the Twin, without any mention of a sibling? It has been suggested that being a twin is symbolic of being of two minds – faith and doubt – in one body.

When the risen Jesus visited the other disciples, he had breathed on them and given them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Talk about not being at the right place at the right time! It’s little wonder Thomas tells them he won’t believe their story until he sees Jesus for himself.  As the Apostle Paul explained in his letters to congregations of the first Christian churches, we do not achieve faith by any act of our own volition. Faith is a gift from God through the Holy Spirit.

Though Jesus offered to let Thomas touch his wounds, the author of John’s gospel does not tell us that Thomas took him up on the offer. Why was the sight of the wounds so important? If Jesus had come to Thomas with no signs of having suffered, how could Thomas – or the other disciples – follow where Jesus sent them.  The wounds assured them that he had suffered as any human would. Jesus was not like a comic book hero who escapes unscathed from his super-human feats. If Christ could come out on the other side of pain and suffering, so could his disciples. The Risen Christ came to the disciples, as he does to us, to give them the peace that could withstand the trials and tribulations of the world and the courage to do battle against the forces of evil.

It is the author of Luke, who provides us with an account of what the witnesses to the risen Christ did with the power of the Holy Spirit. In our reading from Acts, we see how the disciples used their experience with Jesus to bear witness to the Good News of the gospel. Although John says the disciples were in a locked room on that first Easter evening “for fear of the Jews,” Luke clarifies that the disciples were not targeted for persecution by the Jewish people, but by some Jewish religious leaders. In Acts, we read that the disciples, referred to here as “apostles,” were charged with crimes and misdemeanors by the Jewish council – the Sanhedrin. Many on the council were Sadducees, a group that did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. These Jewish leaders had to walk a fine line between the Roman government and the Jewish people, including the ones who revered the rabbi Jesus. The council majority wanted Peter and the apostles to stop preaching, teaching, and healing in Jesus’ name before the Roman authorities blamed the Council or, worse, all the Jews. Who wants to go looking for trouble, right? Yet, Peter and the apostles were so passionate in their commitment to follow the example set for them, the commission Jesus had given them, that they refused to cease being witnesses for Christ and the Resurrection.

When Jesus appears this third time, with Thomas present, he greets those in the room with the same greeting he used with Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb and with the other disciples in that locked room a week earlier. For the third time, he greets them with the words, “Peace be with you.” Without Thomas asking, Jesus offers to let Thomas touch his hands and his side. Notice also that John doesn’t say that Thomas even tried to touch Jesus. What John tells us Thomas says is the greatest affirmation of faith found in any of the 4 gospels. Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!” By offering to let Thomas touch his hands and his side, Jesus was just doing what he had always done for people — he came to them and did for them what they needed so that they might believe. God put mortal flesh on in the person of Jesus Christ to bring us into the fold, to lead us into God’s kingdom. Jesus did what he had to do, whatever those he encountered needed, to bring them from unbelief to belief. Sometimes it was being fed, sometimes it was being healed, and sometimes it was challenging their false or unjust ideas.

On Martin Luther King Day this past January, I participated in a Zoom reading of his Letter from Birmingham Jail, sponsored by Peoria’s Jewish Federation. After being arrested for participating in a peaceful public demonstration against racial injustice in the city, King was confined to the city jail. He wrote his letter in response to a letter, published in the city newspaper, from eight white clergymen urging King to stop his public protests. These clergies were among those who claimed to be sympathetic to the cause of civil rights for all, but, like the Jewish authorities who tried to stop the apostles from spreading the gospel, were more concerned with avoiding conflict than righting injustices. In speaking to these representatives of the mainline white church, King wrote:

“I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say that as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say it as a minister of the gospel who loves the church, who was nurtured in its bosom, who has been sustained by its Spiritual blessings, and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen. I had the strange feeling when I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery several years ago that we would have the support of the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, some few have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”

In this same spirit, King later declared in a public speech: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Holocaust Remembrance Day was observed last week on April 8. The German Christian Church’s cooperation with Hitler is another example of those claiming the name of Christ remaining silent, and even actively supporting evil. I’m sure you can think of some examples occurring today.

In our reading from Acts, Luke has provided models for integrity. There is Peter, and the other apostles, who refused to be stopped from doing works of compassion or silenced from bearing witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Luke also presents a model of integrity from a member of the Council. Gamaliel was not only a liberal thinker, in the true sense of the word, not the epithet thrown out in political arguments; but he was also a proponent of justice in a place and time when justice was the domain of the conquerors and oppressors. One could easily argue that has not changed – human nature being what it is. Gamaliel came to the apostles’ defense declaring: “I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”(Acts 5:38-39)

We must not forget the work of the angels in releasing the apostles from jail. When they had the courage to speak out and to act, divine intervention added to the apostles’ power to succeed in their holy mission. We should keep that in mind when we embark on seemingly impossible mission projects!

Our reading from Revelation puts us further along the timeline of the early church. Although John of Patmos lived under the Emperor Domitian’s rule, one of the cruelest persecutors of Christians, he continued to encourage Christian congregations with his letters from exile. Like Martin Luther King in the Birmingham jail, he could not be silenced. He continued to be a troublesome witness for Christ.

So now, we’ve celebrated the Resurrection. On Easter, our numbers in church swelled. What’s next? God’s Word for today gives us direction. We have been called to be witnesses. Will we go back into a locked room of comfort and accommodation, or will we stir up some “good trouble” against the evils of this world? Will we break out of the prisons of fear and speak up and act out what Christ has called us to say and do? The bible tells us this is how we celebrate Easter.

Amen. May it be so!





© Pastor Denise Clark-Jones, 2022, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Ave. | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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