The Mercy of a Second Chance
Acts 2:14a, 22-32, John 20:19-31
April 7, 2002

We give thanks for this reminder (Acts 2:14a, 22-32), this memory, that comes back to us about that movement of the Spirit and the way in which we are caught up in it and are energized to also give our witness.

One of the witnesses that needs to be given is the witness of Thomas. Listen again to this witness (read John 20:19-31).

We give thanks, again, for the memory of our faith. May our memories live on to make more memories for others. Amen.

We heard the words from Jesus, "Peace to you," three times in this short passage.

The first time was in the midst of fear. The disciples have heard about the resurrection of Jesus. Some have gone to the tomb, peeked in, seen no body. They have heard the witness of the women. And still they are hidden away. For "fear," they say.

Into this locked scene comes Jesus. The word Jesus raises to fearful people is, "Peace be with you."

It is at that point we are told that the emotional scene changes from that of fear and locked doors to that of exuberance! Jesus is back! Right here! amongst us! And that exuberance brings forth Jesus' second, "Peace to you."

Jesus, in a sense, says there is something beyond that fearful hiding away or that over-joyous response of the moment. What Jesus has in store, of course, is, "As I have been sent, now I am sending you." And we can't be sent if we are fearful. And we can't be sent if we are so ecstatic that all we can see is that sense of joy because we will be encountering other folks who won't have that picture and we will be so out of sync with their lives that communication won't happen.

We need that word of "peace" still today - in the midst of our own fears and in the midst of our own joys - that we might not be held back by our fears and that we not overwhelm people with our joys. Peace, peace.

Those are the first two instances of this phrase that Jesus uses in his presence with the disciples. We are told that as a result of that encounter Thomas, not being with them, found that he had to hold back and say, "You may have experienced something that you think is mighty, but I've not experienced it."

Now, I would like you to cast your minds into your own experience and back into this scene in order to take a look at what's going on here. We've got one group of folks who know something to their very bones - Jesus is back from the dead! Jesus has given us peace! Jesus has given us direction to go into the world!

And there is Thomas.

It is almost like trying to mix oil and water. These disciples who have been put on fire and Thomas, still living in his doubts.

But in some sense it is not too far different from the way in which we are gathered here this morning with our different understandings of what it means for Jesus to be a part of your life and the tendency we have to want to have everybody be like ourselves. There is a lot of oil and water that would go on today, too, right here in this congregation. If we were to turn to one another and start asking some of the very deep and personal kinds of questions there would be some hesitation and some holding back for fear of what somebody else would find out. And there are some of us who would roll over others with all that we would have to say.

In the midst of this time, I think it is important to note that they were able to live with one another even though they were not on the same page in terms of their faith. There were differences of experience in faith, differences of maturity in faith, even differences amongst the disciples. We were told that 8 days after Jesus came and gave the first blessing that Thomas missed out on, they were still together. They were still together.

Some translations have that as a simple "week," but I like the translation that says it was 8 days. It brings my own mind back to the creation story of 7 days. Here we hear about an 8th day - the rest of our life, in a sense. It is on that 8th day that Thomas and the other disciples, oil and water, different stages and experiences of faith, were still together.

They had not separated themselves off into the true believers and the doubters, but were able to continue to work with one another. It is into this scene that Jesus, again, came.

And so I give thanks that Jesus does not give up, that there is always the mercy of a second chance - always the mercy of a second chance.

And we, as Jesus' followers, need to find ways to share that mercy of a second chance.

One of the gifts that we are constantly given is a choice to be a part of a community or not. The choice is not just religiously, but culturally and globally, and there are lots of issues that are going on around the world these days where one group says, "I'm IT, you're not IT! I have the true belief, you have doubts about my true belief. We cannot live together. We need to be separated."

I don't think that is the biblical witness. I think that is human sin getting in the way of things. I would commend to those of you who get the Sunday paper, and those of you who do not to go out and get this morning's paper. In the Parade magazine there is a front cover that points to an article by Elie Weisel, Nobel peace laureate, entitled, "How Can We Understand Their Hatred."

In the article there is this pull-out to get your attention as an important something. What they have pulled out of this article is, "To the fanatic everything is black or white, curse or blessing, friend or foe, there is never anything in between. He is immune to doubt and hesitation. The fanatic perceives tolerance as weakness."

I would have you hark back to the disciples during these 8 days between Jesus' first visit and bringing of the word "peace," and his second visit and his bringing of the word "peace." Even though it would be very possible for the 10 disciples to put Thomas outside the group because he had not had the same experience as they had, the same faith as they had, but had his doubts.

Elie says here that the fanatic is immune to doubt and perceives tolerance as weakness. The disciples were not fanatics. They were, however, clear about what it was they believed and valued their ability to say it as openly and honestly as they could without boxing somebody somebody else in.

The disciples go out of what is described here as black or white, curse or blessing, friend or foe kind of thinking and were able to live together for these 8 days in the midst of confusion and doubts until Jesus arrived again.

We are in the midst of more and more "8-days" within family units, within communities, within the world. A part of our work is honoring the doubts and perceiving tolerance as a strength, not a weakness.

He goes on to say that the way we stem fanaticism is to first fight indifference. We fight that through education and we diminish it with compassion.

How can we have compassion upon the doubters of this world? How do we have compassion upon those who reach out to hurt us? Jesus would say, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake." How do we have compassion when we are persecuted? How do we have compassion when we see other folks being persecuted? How do we begin to do that?

Well, within our tradition we do that by listening to Jesus and hearing his words, "Peace, peace, to you."

Compassion begins and grows out of that word of "peace" that we have in our own heart.

Jesus also says, "I have a mission for you - to go and to be with folks in the same way I have been with you." This means we bring that compassion to the leper, we bring that compassion for the children, we bring that compassion for all who are hurting. We bring compassion.

The article goes on to talk about the most efficient remedy is memory. That's how we help to educate one another - we remember. We remember Jesus' offering in sacrifice for us and the whole world. Not that this sacrifice changed GOD's mind about us, but that it began to change us and the way in which we interact with one another.

We remember Peter speaking, we remember Thomas doubting, we remember how all of this works together and that we are called to a new way of living in Jesus' peace.

To remember, says, Elie Weisel, means to acknowledge the possibility of a dialogue. No matter what people do or how many bombs have been dropped or how many doubts have been expressed, we can still talk.

What memory is going to hold sway in our lives? The memory of our hurt or the memory of the possibility of Christ's compassion?


Let us turn to Hymn number 560 and read together the second verse.
Teach us, O Lord, your lessons, as in our daily life
we struggle to be human and search for hope and faith.
Teach us to care for people, for all, not just for some,
to love them as we find them, or as they may become.
(Fred Kaan)


Copyright 2002. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.

Homepage | Sermon Prep