April 29, 2019

Second Sunday of Easter, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

John 20:19-31 + Second Sunday of Easter + April 28, 2019 + Gloria Dei Lutheran Church + Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

When was Thomas labeled as “Doubting Thomas.”. The text simply calls him “The Twin.” Did it come from one of the other disciples, who conveniently forgot that they had been locked in the room because of fear?  From someone centuries later who needed to divide up the church into believers and doubters, as if any of us are one or the other?

If he got the nickname in his lifetime, did he fight it?  “You can’t define me by that one moment.  There’s more to me.  More to my identity.  More to my person.” Or did he claim it?  “Hi, my name is Thomas. I’m a doubter.  I asked for what I needed, and I got it.”  Jesus met him where he was.  He provided the next step that he needed to move forward, which is usually just what we get from the risen Jesus; not the whole answer to every prayer, but a step into the future, one insight that helps us move to the next.

Maybe we should name him as “Courageous Thomas.”  He had the courage to be clear about exactly where he was, honest about it no matter what anyone else thought about it, asking for enough grace to place his struggles into a larger context, to live into the light of resurrection, life shaped by the old but growing into something new.

Our label for this Sunday has been “Recovery Sunday.” It’s the Sunday that is sponsored by our Hope and Recovery Team, a Sunday to remind one another that recovery from addiction is, indeed, a sign of resurrection.   There’s a risk in labeling our experience; naming it out loud in church.  Which of us are alcoholics?  How many of us are addicted to sex?   To opiates?  To anything that keeps us from feeling our pain?

It’s a risk because there’s still so much shame attached to addiction.  Some of us in recovery can’t tell anyone because we’re afraid of being judged, or we haven’t yet come to terms with our own internalized shame.  Some of us are embarrassed that members of our family are addicts, whether in recovery or not. There’s still a prevailing view that addiction is just a matter of will power and those who fall into patterns of addiction are weak or undisciplined.  There’s a stigma that comes from the mental health issues that often are nested together with addictive behavior.

This stigma affects all of us.  It hides the social and personal cost of addiction and denial.  It makes addiction and recovery a private matter for an individual to struggle with, rather than a problem that affects the way we build and maintain healthy and abundant community.  When shame flows through the system, we all end up deformed.

Here’s where Thomas is helpful.  He knows that the only way he can move forward into life is if he touches the wounds of Christ with his own hand.  He knows himself well enough that, in order to come alive, he has to look directly at the wound.  Resurrection doesn’t come by looking away from pain and hurt, but by looking right at it.  By touching it. 

I watched a parent introduce their little girl to a dog recently.  She was terrified by the animal.  She recoiled and tried to hold on to her mom.  But her mom kept inviting her gently, “You can pet him.”  “He won’t hurt you. I’m here.”  She didn’t force the girl’s hand. She didn’t say, “You shouldn’t be afraid.”  Or, “You’re being silly.” She pet the dog herself, saying, “Look, he’s not going to hurt you.”  Eventually, the little girl ventured a quick pat on the puppy’s hand.  Then another.  And that was it for the day.  It didn’t end with the puppy in her arms, licking her face.  But there was a sense that the trajectory had changed.  There was a little less fear.

We all walk through this life with pain that we’re afraid to name or touch or acknowledge.  Jesus shows up behind the locked doors of our fear to say, “It’s okay.  I am here. The pain you bear is pain that I bear with you.  The suffering that you have experienced, the deep pain of abandonment or oppression or judgment or abuse, marks my body, too.  Let’s share this pain together, even as God shares it with us.

St. Paul says that “I bear in my body the marks of Jesus. (Galatians 6:17)  The Greek word for mark is stigma. When placed in the hands or on the side of Jesus, our own “marks” become not signs of our shame, but a font of holiness.

I noticed that our team changed the name of this Sunday.  More than just “Recovery Sunday,” it’s now called “Recovery and Resilience” Sunday.  “To bounce back.”  “To have elasticity” “To be tough.”  “To rise again.”

Recovery may come from a courageous determination to be well, to avoid further devastation and hurt, but more likely it comes from a deeper well than our own.  It comes from the place where the risen Christ marks our wounds and gives us new life.  This higher power of resurrection flows in all things, even remarkably in our deepest pain.

It’s always impressive to me at twelve-step meetings when people speak by naming themselves with their given name and with a label that is now transformed.  Hi, my name is Thomas, and I’m an addict.  In those gatherings, the label becomes the mark of recovery, a sign of what God is doing, a moment of resurrection.

Hi, my name is you-fill-in-the-blank, child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever.