Peace be with you

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, TX.
The lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Easter are here.

Peace be with you.

I would really like for today to be known as Peace Sunday rather than doubting Thomas Sunday. I think Thomas has gotten a bad rap. We tend to only remember him for asking for the same assurance the other disciples received and forget that not long before this when Jesus wanted to go to Bethany because of Lazarus, most of the disciples reminded Jesus that folks there wanted to kill him. Thomas was the one who said, “let us go, too, so that we may die with him.”

And here, in our reading today, Thomas wants nothing more than to see again the one he was willing to die with. We aren’t told why Thomas wasn’t with them as they were gathered in the locked house on the day of the Resurrection. Perhaps it was his turn to go get supper, or he was taking a walk to clear his head, or scouting out the talk of the marketplace to see what everyone was saying about Jesus’ death. His world had been toppled – the one who had promised so much had been murdered by the temple leaders and Roman authorities. Imagine his shock and utter dismay when he returns and the other disciples tell him he’s missed seeing Jesus. Imagine how you would respond.

Thomas’ stubbornness is fueled not by doubt but by the sadness that he’s missed out on something so very important – seeing Jesus risen.

And when Jesus does return, he doesn’t condemn Thomas but reminds him to trust in all that he has taught him. What we translate into English as ‘doubt’ is the negative form of the word we translate as faith, but doubt isn’t the opposite of faith, faithlessness is. Faith is trusting God’s promises, God’s way of life, relying on God’s peace in the chaos of this world even when we can’t see or understand what God is up to. The opposite of faith is denying God’s way and making our own plan to get what God has promised. It is Adam and Eve picking the one thing God said don’t touch; it is Sarah telling Abraham to have a child with her maid; it is James and John asking for the seats right next to God and the disciple attacking the guard who came to arrest Jesus. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt but forgetting or denying God’s faithfulness.

Doubt is a healthy part of our working out our own beliefs. Doubt leads us to ask questions, to consider what we believe and why so that we can be more and more confident and have greater trust in God. Mark tells the story of Jesus healing a boy and his father says to Jesus, “Lord, I have faith. Help my lack of faith.” Each moment we make the choice to trust God our faith is strengthened. It grows like Love: the more we have, the more we have. And it is the peace of God that enables this growth of trust, of faith, of love.

So, instead of zeroing in on the word ‘doubt’ I want us to focus on the word ‘peace.’ Each time Jesus enters the locked house, he begins with “Peace be with you”. This peace isn’t simply the absence of conflict, it isn’t a passivity that ignores conflict and chaos, it is the intentional working toward justice, security, and harmony for all as we, with God’s help, confront chaos and conflict with love.

And when John tells us that Jesus breathed on them and said “receive the Holy Spirit” the disciples would have thought immediately about the story of creation – the Spirit of God breathing across the waters to bring order to the chaos. Jesus is giving them what was promised, new life – life in God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. Life grounded in our relationship with God so that all of our relationships are made holy. A new life in which we trust in God’s faithfulness to be with us always, to love us unconditionally, to fulfill the promise to restore all things some day.

Just a few nights before this, at their last meal together before his arrest, Jesus said to them, “Peace I leave, my peace I give to you. I give to you not as the world gives. Do no be troubled or afraid.”

The peace that Jesus gives is a never ending resource to protect our hearts and souls as we proclaim the Good News with all that we think, say, and do. It is the very foundation of who and Whose we are and our sustenance as we journey with Jesus in the Way of Love. It is what we bring to the hurting and chaotic world around us, trusting in God’s promise to both be with us and to restore the Kingdom. Peace is like all blessings, God offers it to us so that we can offer it to others.

The world tells us that we must be afraid, that we will only be at peace when we defeat our perceived enemies – or at least really shame or belittle them on social media. Jesus says that true peace comes from loving our enemies so that we see them as our neighbors. The world says our anger can only be satisfied with retaliation and revenge. Jesus says peace comes with reconciliation, seeing the image of God in everyone so that we remember we are all children of God. The world says with enough power or wealth life will be easy or good. Jesus says love is the only path toward true peace. The world says we must look out for ourselves and take what we want without regard to the needs of others because everything is scarce. Jesus reminds us we are created for relationship and community and we are whole and holy when we are other-focused instead of self-centered and that all that we need in in abundance in God’s Kingdom.

Every time we gather in worship, we offer each other God’s peace. It is a bridge from hearing God’s word and praying to receiving the risen Jesus in the bread and wine at the Table. In this simple phrase we both give and receive. We are saying that if there is anything I’ve done to disrupt God’s peace in you, I’m sorry. We are saying that as a community of Jesus’ followers we are at peace in God’s plan and purpose even when we can’t see the next step. We are saying that all that we are and all that we do is because we know God is faithful, always. We are saying that we are in this kingdom journey together with God’s help.

Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

Nijay Gupta is a New Testament seminary professor who wrote a book titled 15 New Testament Words of Life says this about Peace: “When the boat of life is really rocking, we ought to cling to the God of peace who sent Christ and the Spirit to buoy us…. [and] we must … find out what is rocking the boat. We have a God-given responsibility to make the seas and the boat a safer place for others. That requires us to roll up our sleeves and do something about the problem.”*

Peace is the fulcrum on which our life rests. In peace, we are equipped to live in the world in such a way that others will experience the risen Jesus in and through us. In the presence of Jesus, Thomas no longer needed what he claimed would convince him. We aren’t told he actually touched Jesus’ wounds before he submitted to Jesus. The signs and wonders that John writes about are given to us so that we are reminded of God’s faithfulness, God’s presence with us always, so that we might have new life in the name of Jesus. The peace that Jesus gives us, the peace of God, is what “enables us to face the many difficulties and challenges of life with resilience and fortitude”* as we journey in this new life together with God’s help.

Peace be with you. Amen.

*Nijay Gupta, 15 New Testament Word of Life, Zondervan, 2022

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: