Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
The Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
Sermon 9 of 12 in Summer Sermon Series ‘Unraveled’
9 August, 2020
Today marks the twenty-second Sunday we have not met together in-person for our communal worship; next week, we will be entering our sixth month of being a Zoom-gathered congregation. And one of the things I’ve missed terribly, especially as our church family has experienced very particular losses, is the presence of our younger families and children in this sanctuary space.
I’ve enjoyed some of the creative things we’ve discovered are possible in this way of gathering for worship, including the artwork we’ve been using recently to help with the “Introduction to the Theme.” But, there’s something about talking about faith with children that I’ve really missed.
Yesterday morning, I was able to meet with Kim Burton, one of our two Sunday School Superintendents, and her two children, Everett and Hannah. We were preparing a video to send out to our Church School families in light of some of the recent losses we’ve experienced in our community. And I decided that (having previously heard that some of the adults in our congregation actually prefer children’s messages) it would be good to share the message that went to our Church School families last night with all of you this morning, because it ties in to the theme of our Scripture reading. Here it is: [play video]
“When the unimaginable happens,” the artist Lauren Wright Pittman wrote, “we can find ourselves drowning in doubt.” Well, I guess it hardly needs saying that we’ve been getting familiar with some unimaginable circumstances lately. “We flail,” she continued, “reaching for something to bolster our faith in a sovereign, living God.” When our world – which usually includes a mental framework or “worldview” that we invest a fair amount of confidence in – unravels, our confidence in that understanding or worldview can start to break down as well.
Thomas needed something tangible; evidence he could see and touch. And for whatever reason, he gets a bad rep for it—did you ever wonder why? Maybe it’s because we recognize something about ourselves in him, and we wish that our own doubts didn’t make us feel so spiritually weak? Maybe because our doubts and uncertainties feel like vulnerability to us, reminders of our lack of mastery over this world, its realities, and our understanding? Who knows?
But Jesus is clear. He doesn’t judge or condemn Thomas at all; he accepts him and meets the disciple where he is. Because faith is not a binary thing, where you either have it or you don’t. Faith is a relationship. It’s sometimes likened to a muscle. Using that metaphor, then perhaps doubt is like a flexing or straining of that muscle—but it’s a definite engagement, it’s a healthy sort of testing of the muscle.
Jesus invites Thomas to do what he needs to do, to confirm or deny the experience and understanding he’s had of Jesus. And, Thomas’ confidence in their relationship and Christ’s identity was firmly established as a result: “My Lord, and my God!” he confesses. What had unraveled during the unfolding of unimaginable events was repaired, restored, and stronger than ever.
It’s worth noticing that Jesus appeared to the group, or community, of disciples. Where was Thomas when all the others were together the first time Jesus had appeared to them? We don’t know. What we do know is that they had all been through a tremendous trauma and loss, and everyone grieves differently. Maybe he was one of those who simply needs time alone before he could re-engage.
And it’s also worth noting the words Jesus repeated to them in both his appearances: “Peace be with you. Peace be with you. Peace be with you.” As though they were words of blessing and assurance he wanted them to remember; words worth passing along to others: “My peace is with you, abides with you, my peace is for you.” Words and meaning they could remind each other of when the storms of life rocked their boats again. Community is important; the threads of our individual experiences strengthen our collective faith and our relationships with God and each other. When we’re navigating uncharted territory, the warp and woof of fellow community members helps to reinforce the protective and sustaining fabric of faith.
The ravaging effects of a global pandemic are still unfolding, disrupting so many comfortable and comfortingroutines; unveiling vast inequities among individuals and peoples whom God cherishes equally; unraveling so many assumptions about the strength of our social structures and our collective commitments. And, while we’re beginning to see and further anticipate some of the farther-reaching effects this pandemic will have on all of life, and especially on the lives of the most vulnerable, the truth is that it can all feel overwhelming. It can make us doubt all sorts of things, not least the sovereignty and presence of a God who cares.
But into the cramped and locked spaces of our fearful hearts, minds, and habits, Christ Jesus appears to dispel our doubts; to meet us where we are; and to assure us that we are not alone.
“Peace be with you,” he says to us through the life of a 9-year-old boy called Adam who understood and said, “We all have a job to do while we’re here on earth”— and the community recognizes how brilliantly he accomplished his job in drawing us all closer to God in prayer and each other in mutual care and concern.
“Peace be with you,” he repeats, as the church continues to gather for worship and fellowship despite the challenges, as we discover new ways of reaching out and supporting one another in these unimagined times.
“Peace be with you,” he says through the lives of front-line workers on the COVID front, doctors and nurses and teachers and poorly-paid service workers who risk the unraveling of their own health and wellbeing for the sake of others.
“Peace be with you,” he says, as his Spirit continues to move among us and breathe through us, empowering us to become conveyers of holy transformation. “Peace be with you,” he says as together we work to loosen the cords of injustice, to unravel entrenched systems of callous oppression, as we commit ourselves to integrity and reconciliation and God’s passionate concern for those whom the self-serving of the world so easily push aside. “Peace be with you,” as our doubt unravels and our faith discovers renewed strength, conviction, and purpose.
“Peace be with you. Peace be with you. Peace … ” Amen.
For our musical interlude this morning, we have the gift of a video from the Angel Choir directed by Joy Hire in Granville, OH, who—prior to COVID—were going to perform a concert for us as part of a New England tour. They’ve had to sacrifice that tour, but they’ve put together the following powerful song called “I Believe.”
Watch it by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g79I1VW180Q