Homily: April 12, 2015

SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B; Rev. Vant Washington, Deacon  

The scripture I just read, like all other Gospel readings, has all the elements we were taught in our English classes when we studied sentences.

In my day, they taught us to diagram sentences with dotted lines, slanting lines and all manner of graphics. They don’t make kids learn that stuff these days. Maybe that’s all for the good, but I’m going to begin today’s sermon with a refresher course.

Now I don’t want to see any of you passing notes or scribbling on your desks as we go over this. No spitballs. No staring out the window. Pay attention class or teacher will call the principal.

If you recall, sentences are made up of the parts of speech. There are verbs. Every sentence has to have a verb. There are adverbs. They modify the verbs. And there are nouns. Let’s pay particular attention today to the nouns. They’re important.

As I’m sure you remember from last class, a noun can be a person, place, thing or action. Let’s start diagramming this scripture by looking at the person.

There’s Jesus. He ‘s certainly a person. He’s also God. We all know that. But who is this Thomas fellow.

In Greek, he’s known as Didymus. We know him as Doubting Thomas. The other disciples didn’t call him that. They also didn’t call him Didymus because they didn’t speak Greek. Didymus is the Greek noun for twin. Thomas has a brother, a twin.

So how did he have the misfortune to be saddled with the nickname Doubting Thomas? You see he wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the other disciples. He had the audacity to question what the other disciples said about Jesus’ appearance. Couldn’t he believe the account of this own brother who appears to have been there when Jesus made his appearance. Clearly, Thomas was an underperformer when it came to faith. Or was he.

Personally I think several of the other disciples had some questionable feelings about Jesus returning. They probably wouldn’t admit it, but I bet they did. I have lots of doubts about what I read in the gospels, but I accept what I read on faith. I guess I’m more like Thomas than all those other disciples who figured everything out in a flash. They were certain. All the rest of us who aren’t entirely certain have to live by faith. Paul teaches us, however, that we are saved by faith. Paul doesn’t have anything to say about certainty.

As I hope you can tell, I sympathizing with Thomas. At least he’s honest and forthright. He wanted proof. Thomas based his conclusion on the idea that "One must see it, feel it, smell it, or taste it to believe it!”

Maybe Thomas helped shape the great state of Missouri 's motto: “I'm from Missouri...you got to show me!"

Let’s move on with our study of the noun. Nouns also can refer to places and there are lots of places in this scripture. The most important is the holy city of Jerusalem where the people have gathered for Passover and where Jesus was tried, executed, placed in his tomb and was resurrected.

At the time, there was a festival going on and Jerusalem was packed to the gills. Folks were out celebrating, but not the disciples. They’re hiding behind bolted doors in the Upper room, a place very familiar to Jesus. Their fear was understandable. Their leader has just been executed. They were afraid they’d be next.

But what is an Upper Room?

According to several of my friends who are students of architecture, an upper room in a place like Jerusalem had many advantages. It kept intruders out and, probably more importantly, put some space between the disciples and livestock that was stored in the lower rooms. Jerusalem, like most ancient cities, didn’t smell like a bouquet.

Even though I know what Jerusalem smelled like, the Upper Room has a special place in my heart. When I was a little boy, my mother would often play Mahalia Jackson's records on an old "Hi Fi” while preparing dinner.

I can still see my dear mother tear up while snapping green beans, as Mahalia sang that old gospel “The Upper Room”. I wasn’t old enough to understand why she was moved so strongly. As I got older I begin to understand as I reflect on the worlds of that gospel.

In the upper room with Jesus
Sitting at His blessed feast
Daily does my sin confessing
Begging for His mercy, sweet Trusting in his grace and power
Seeking there, His love in prayer
It is then I feel the spirit
As I set with him in prayer Oh, it's in the upper room with Jesus
Oh, it's in the upper room
With my Lord and your God

I lost my mother some years back. I still feel the loss, but the thing about the upper room is that it is where the disciples first met the resurrected Jesus. In my grief over my mother’s passing, I turn to the Upper Room and all that is promises.

The thing about the Upper Room (Remember we’re still working on the definition of the noun and nouns can be things. The thing about the Upper Room it is the place where we take our doubts. The place where we find our faith. The place where we encounter the resurrected Jesus. What a blessed place to be able to contain all that. We all need access to that room. We need a place to take our doubts and fears. We need a place where we can admit that we are not always certain, not always faithful. We need a place where we can find our faith and find the resurrected Jesus. We’re in such a room this very second. Do not think that you don’t belong in this room if you have doubts. You belong and I belong precisely because we have doubts. You see my brothers and sisters here at Gethsemane without doubt...there is not Faith!

The foundation of our Faith is the doubt we feel in our daily lives. Doubt about ourselves, doubt about our family members, even doubt about the future God has prepared for us.

Who can build on such a rocky foundation? Christ can. This congregation can.

Do we have to be certain of everything, to have all the answers to make sure that all who enter this room encounter to the risen Christ? Do we have to be prepared to answer all their questions, to give them a roadmap to salvation.

We don’t. We have to be honest, as Thomas was honest. We have to be ourselves in all our flaws and foibles. We cannot serve up certainty because we have no certainty to serve. We have only faith. And by faith alone we will help others to encounter the risen Christ.

I started today’s sermon by threatening to give you a lesson in grammar. Maybe some of you like those kinds of lessons when you were in school. I didn’t. Those lessons were all about rules, rules put there, as I saw it, to make me and all my classmates feel unworthy.

The teachers who taught those lessons were so certain of what they were doing. I wonder if they ever doubted whether they were helping or hurting us. I guess I’ll never know.

What I do know, what little I remember from those lessons, was that a noun is a person, place or thing. In our community, the person in Jesus and the persons are all of us Doubting Thomas’ doing our best to serve Him. The place is the Upper Room and this room and all the other rooms in creation where the Resurrected Jesus welcomes us. The thing is faith. Not certainty but faith. The kind of faith that can move mountains.