May 10, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
The Twelve Disciples…for people who were the very first to carry forth the teachings of Jesus, who walked with Jesus for three years, learned directly from him, witnessed his healings and miracles, ate with him, traveled with him, day in and day out…we know so little about most of them. The best known disciple is, of course, Simon, called Peter, the Rock, the leader. Many Christians around the world consider Peter the first bishop of the church, a fisherman from Galilee. Joining Simon Peter as a disciple is his brother Andrew, who is best known for…being Simon’s brother. James and John—the sons of Zebedee, sons of thunder, known for joining as disciples along with Simon and Andrew, being fisherman from the same village. Matthew-Levi is known as the tax collector. Judas Iscariot is known for betraying Jesus, and is also lifted up as the group treasurer, and a thief, in John’s Gospel. And Thomas, who shows up in our reading today, what is he best known for…doubting. Not a great legacy to have. He is known for insisting on proof of Jesus’ resurrection, to see and feel the holes left by the nails, the spear. And Philip, the other disciple who appears in today’s reading, what is he known for? Basically for being in today’s reading.
Doubting Thomas and Philip—Philip, from the few glimpses we do have of him in this gospel account, seems to be Jesus’ personal assistant of sorts. He first appears in chapter 1 when Jesus calls him into discipleship. Philip then immediately goes out and calls Nathaniel into the discipleship family. He appears again in chapter 6 as Jesus encounters the 5000+ people hungry in the wilderness. Jesus turns to Philip and asks, “Where will we buy bread for all these people?” Philip pops up again in chapter 12 as a group of Greeks seek to have some personal time with Jesus, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” In order to gain access, they go directly to Philip—Philip, the personal assistant.
And Thomas, poor, doubting Thomas. Thomas actually speaks up two other times outside of his post-resurrection story for which he is so famous. Along with his comment in today’s reading, Thomas interjects an unusual comment in the story of the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11. Upon learning of Lazarus’ death, Jesus announces to the disciples that his now going to go to Bethany, the home of Lazarus and his two sisters, which is only three miles from Jerusalem, By this point in the gospel narrative, Jerusalem is a dangerous place for Jesus for he is wanted man. Thomas interrupts Jesus and declares, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” In today’s reading, as Jesus speaks these familiar and beautiful words—“Believe in God, believe also in me,” “In my Father’s house are many rooms,” “And you know the way to the place I am going,”—Thomas interrupts, “We don’t know the way! How can we know the way?” Thomas the twin…Thomas the doubter? Thomas the interrupter.
Philip’s voice also interrupts Jesus in today’s reading. As Jesus continues after Thomas’ interruption “…From now on you do know the Father and have seen him,” Philip speaks up, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Two interruptions—two very, very important interruptions—gifts…preserved for all of Jesus’ followers, for us, by the writer of this gospel.
Jesus’ beautiful words in chapter 14 are well known and well loved. They paint a picture of the heavenly home of God, filled with beautiful rooms, lovingly prepared by Jesus for each of us. These are powerful words of comfort often shared at funeral and memorial services as we struggle with loss in our lives. However, today’s reading begins with Jesus giving an admonition that is hard to achieve. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.” “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Troubled hearts filled the upper room that night of Jesus’ last supper with his followers. The evening began with the discomfort of Jesus washing all the disciples’ feet. It was followed by a strange confrontation between Jesus and Judas, which ended with Judas leaving. Next Jesus told the group that he was about to leave them. And finally, Jesus told Simon Peter—the Rock, the leader—that he would betray Jesus three times before morning. It flows like this:
Very truly I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God…”
I can only imagine how stunned the disciples felt at that statement. “Wait a minute, Jesus. You commanded us to wash feet. Judas left for some unknown reason and then you tell us that you are leaving us. And now you drop this bomb on us the Peter, loyal Peter, is going to deny you three times! How can our hearts be anything but troubled!?
How can OUR hearts be anything but troubled in our world today? Our world is in chaos today. We anxiously pour over the news each day for virus numbers, search for word about changes in the current restrictions, hope for predictions for our collective and personal futures. Our hearts are weary of the drastic changes in weather. Snow in May is hard any year, but especially difficult when outdoors is one of our few escapes. Contentious politics are a heavy burden in this uncertain time. And the violent death of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man out for a jog and gunned down by a white father and son, who were not arrested and charged for over two months, both breaks our hearts and fills us with anger and horror. Do not let our hearts be troubled? How can we know the way? Show us God. Make God tangible for us, for all those who grieve, for the ill and the dying. Make God tangible for the weary essential workers and those on the front lines of this pandemic. Make God tangible for our beautiful environment, hurting from mistreatment, for the poor and marginalized, the jobless and homeless. Show us God to help our troubled hearts.
These interruptions speak for all of Jesus’ followers—past, present, and yet to come—who much contend with troubled hearts in an imperfect world. Thomas and Philip speak up on our behalf. How Jesus? How can we know the way? Please show us, Jesus. Show us God. Make God known to us in these troubled times. And Jesus responds. Jesus reminds his disciples—reminds us—that God is made known in all that Jesus said and did throughout his ministry: healing, feeding, teaching, challenging preconceived notions of leaders like Nicodemus, transforming ordinary people like the woman at the well into bearers of God’s good news, spreading his arms wide on that holy Friday and rising to resurrection life on Sunday morning while it was still dark. AND, Jesus reminds all of us that God is made known in the world of Jesus’ followers, those “greater works than these” that Jesus speaks of in our reading today.
God’s glory shines through the hearts, actions and lives of Jesus’ followers; through masks lovingly made for our frontline workers and all of us, in food pantries and meal programs finding creative ways to operate in these challenging times, with ministries among the homeless and refugee and immigrant, all those ill and in need. Glory shines within the voices united in raising a call for justice in all instances of racism, with our LGBTQIA+ and siblings of faith who are often the target of hatred. God’s glory shines when we extend love and grace and forgiveness and patience and understanding to and with one another, even when we are struggling in this frightening and uncertain time.
We might not know a lot of details about Jesus’ twelve disciples, or all the other followers of Jesus in first century Israel. We might not know a lot of details about the many, many followers of Jesus across the world today. But in them, through them, and with them God is made known in this troubled and hurting world. In us, through us, and with us God’s glory shines, touching and transforming all of creation. Even when our hearts are troubled, let us shine!
Thanks be to God! Amen.