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“See-It-Myself Thomas”

A sermon preached at the Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford,


Connecticut
April 11, 2010
The Rev. Dr. Joan M. Saniuk
(Year C, Easter 2)
John 20:19-31
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This morning’s gospel tells about Jesus’ second appearance to his

disciples after the Resurrection. We usually refer to this pericope as the story

of “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas is the one holdout among the disciples who

refuses to believe in the Resurrection just on the word of the others. I need to

see it for myself, he says. Thomas needs to see and touch Jesus’ raised body

before he will believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead. And lo and

behold, Jesus gives Thomas that opportunity!

In the usual interpretation of this story, Jesus is scolding Thomas for

his lack of faith. Jesus says, “You believe because you have seen. Blessed

are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.” The author of the Fourth

Gospel uses these words of Jesus to set up these closing words, the words

that marked the original end of the Fourth Gospel: “Jesus did many more

signs and wonders, more than are written in this book; but these have been
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written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and by believing,

have life in Jesus’ name.” Thomas makes a sort of bridge between those who

were eyewitnesses to Jesus, and those of us who only know of Jesus through

this and the other three Gospel stories. We haven’t seen Jesus in person, yet

we believe. This is a good message, and a true one. And having said that, I

want to suggest for us this morning that Thomas is a very good model

for us. Instead of “Doubting Thomas”, I like to think of him as “See-It-

For-Myself” Thomas. Like Mary Magdalene, who did not believe that

Jesus had been raised until she heard him call her by name, Thomas

needed to experience the risen Christ for himself. I believe, in fact, that

each of us needs to experience, and does experience, the Holy One and

the living Christ for ourselves.

That personal experience of God, of Christ, is one of the four

foundations of the Wesleyan quadrilateral. For the last few years, I have

been teaching teenagers and ‘tweenagers’ Sunday School at my

neighborhood church north of Boston, and I have told them about John

Wesley’s teaching, that revelation has a four-sided foundation of Scripture,

Tradition, Reason, and Experience. I explain it by saying that it is all very

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well and good to know the Bible, the tradition, and theology, but there is

something missing if we don't also have an experience of God in our hearts.

Furthermore, as Reverend Elder Nancy Wilson likes to remind us, any one

of the four elements of Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience can

critique the other three!

I am convinced that this personal experience, with its ability to

critique Scripture and tradition, is particularly important for those of us who

are LGBTQ and supportive people, as a people for whom sexual expression

and gender identity and sexual orientation are not an issue. We especially

need to know, and trust, our experiences when we so often hear Scripture

and Tradition quoted back at us in a way that demonizes us. We need to

have experiences to hold on to, and to remember, at those times when our

adversaries foolishly dismiss our experiences as wrong-headed, tragically

mistaken, or other variations on the word “false,” because they can’t get

their minds or hearts around the notion that being gay, or lesbian, or trans, or

bi, or supportive of the same is not a barrier to God’s love and acceptance. In

those times, it is especially important to remember and to own what we have

seen for ourselves, what we know for ourselves, of God’s presence and

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God’s love.

Like Mary, and like Thomas, we have sensed and we have known

God’s presence with us. We have felt and we have recognized the presence

of the living Christ in our midst. When and where has it happened for you?

When did it happen for the first time, that you knew without a doubt that

God loved you and that Christ was with you? Maybe it was in childhood,

when you learned to sing “Jesus loves me, this I know,” and knew for a fact

that it was true. Or maybe it was when you made your First Communion,

when after weeks or even months of preparation, you received Jesus into

your heart and felt that deep peace, when you knew you that the Holy One

was with you.

Troy Perry tells some of his stories in his books, The Lord Is My

Shepherd And He Knows I’m Gay and Don’t Be Afraid Any More. He tells of

hearing God, in the form of that “still, small voice” that he received in

prayer, telling him that the time to start his new church is Now. Troy

recollects the time in prayer when God said in his heart, “Don’t you tell me

what I can and cannot do. I don’t have any stepchildren!”

When have you heard ot seen God? When and where have you

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encountered the living Christ? I know where I’ve seen God: just this

morning, in the kind born-again Christian guy who works at the Willington

rest stop and who gave me a ride into church when it became clear that

Sharilyn and I would be stranded there for a while. I’ve seen the face of

Christ in the gay man who invited me to follow Jesus by feeding the hungry

and sheltering the homeless. In the friend who many years ago, when I was

very ill, prepared meals for me for two whole weeks -- a friend who would

later come out to me as a transman.

I remember one of the General Conferences, when I was new to MCC,

when I felt like running away screaming from this crazy church, where I was

told we would be singing “the songs that everyone knows” and I not only

didn’t know any of them, I didn’t like any of them! But when it came time

for communion, the lesbian minister who prayed with me brought a word --

and I don’t remember what she said, but I remember what the message was

-- that I was right where I was supposed to be.

I know the power of God who is guiding my life still, and I know that

She didn’t bring me this far just to drop my on my head. I have known the

joy, at my mother’s funeral two years ago, of the assurance that Mom, like

Christ, has risen in a place where there is no more sorrow or pain. And, yes,

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I know the presence and the love of God through the love that my spouse,

Sharilyn, has for me. I never really understood what unconditional love

could be like, until I experienced it from Sharilyn. No matter how stupid I

can be, she still loves me. It amazes me. And now I can understand God’s

love.

Where have you seen God? Where have you met the living Christ?

Remember it; for we who have seen for ourselves have a good reason to

believe. We who have seen for ourselves have a knowledge that is deep and

true, that cannot be shaken by the thoughtless words of others who think

they know us better than God does. And if by chance you have not had that

personal experience of God’s power in your life, I pray that right here, right

now, or sometime in this week when you least expect it, you will have an

undeniable sign of God’s presence with you and Christ’s love for you. After

all, the disciples didn’t believe that Jesus was risen, until he appeared in

their midst. Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize Jesus in that garden, until

Jesus called her by her name: “Mary.” And then she knew. Thomas said he

needed to see it for himself... and Jesus obliged him. Would Jesus, would

God, do any less for us?

Remember: What we have seen for ourselves, what we know for

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ourselves, is the truth we can hold on to. This truth, what we have seen and

heard for ourselves, is the foundation of our testimony and the bedrock of

our faith. And so we can say, in the words of First John:

“Something that is known to have been from the beginning,

“This we have heard, and seen with our own eyes;

“Something we have touched and have care-fully watched,

“The Word, Who is life: this we share with you.

“Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia.”

May God’s outrageous love and blessing fill your lives this week.

AMEN.

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