Hymn- Jesus Loves Me
In addition to this virtual worship post, Hannah will be on WALH radio today as part of the Quaker Hour. Tune in at 10 am or 3 pm.
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Ross and Violeta. All of those who are sick, or who have loved ones who are sick. Healthcare workers, grocery stores workers, and other essential workers. Our neighborhood and our community. Wilmington Yearly Meeting. Our leaders in all levels of government. People in the recovery community. Parents of small children, and parents who will be homeschooling for the rest of the school year. Everyone who is feeling discouraged. All of those who have lost jobs, or who are struggling financially during this time.
Hymn- Precious Lord, Take my Hand
Meditative Moment (Followed by silent worship)
Wilmington Yearly Meeting Revised Queries #1: Do I live in thankful awareness of God’s constant presence in my life?
John 20:24-29: But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So, the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
In my brief time as a pastor, I have occasionally found myself in the situation where I just had nothing to preach about. It’s rare, but it happens. This week, though, I found myself in the opposite position—I had way too much that I wanted to say. And not all of it was exactly helpful in a pastoral context.
I have always been very interested by the story of Doubting Thomas. If I could write fan fiction about any person in the Bible, Thomas would definitely be my top choice. The way in which this story is written just leaves so much to the imagination. It makes me want to fill in the blanks. It makes me want to dig a little deeper into who Thomas might have been, and into what he might have been feeling or thinking while all of this stuff with Jesus was going on. It also makes me want to dive into multiple perspectives, and to explore all the different lenses through which this story could be told.
If you prefer the traditional approach, then Thomas was in the wrong. He had doubts, and he lacked the capacity to believe in the risen Christ without first seeing Him in person. But God’s grace does not discriminate. It is available to all people, all of the time, even in the worst circumstances. Jesus showed up, and He took care of Thomas by letting him see what he needed to see in order to believe.
If you agree with the traditional approach that Thomas doubted, but you aren’t so sure that doubt is wrong, then this story is a signal of hope. Jesus doesn’t condemn Thomas for his doubts. He doesn’t say “they told you so”. He doesn’t do that thing that we humans sometimes do where we do the complete opposite of what somebody asked so that we can teach them a lesson. Jesus met Thomas where he was, and gave him the help that he had asked for.
Maybe you don’t see Thomas as a doubter, but as a person who is bogged down with grief. The guy has just lost his friend and teacher—the man who he believed to be the Messiah. His hopes for the future coming of the Kingdom of God have been crushed. And anyone who has experienced grief knows that grief has a way of doing weird things to our brains. So, Thomas’s refusal to believe in the resurrection could have been a coping mechanism—a way to deflect from the fact that everything has fallen apart. And when Jesus hears this from his friend, He comes to Thomas and offers to transform his pain.
A theory that I like is that Thomas was suffering from Middle Child Syndrome. I say this as a proud middle child myself. It never feels great to be the one who gets left out, but imagine how devastating and disappointing it would be to be the one who got left out of a moment as beautiful as Jesus appearing alive to his friends. Maybe Thomas says that he won’t believe it until he sees it—not because he really doubts—but because he is desperately hoping that Jesus will take it as a hint to come on down and to let him in on the experience, too. And Jesus does just that. Jesus gives Thomas that experience that he so badly wanted.
Another thought is that this story is a story about fear. It makes sense to think that Thomas’s doubts are not really about not believing—they are about being afraid to have hope. After experiencing something as traumatic as watching the brutal murder of someone who you cared about, it would be scary to dare to believe that maybe He wasn’t really dead. It would be scary to open your heart up, knowing that there is a possibility that it will be broken again. So, Thomas uses doubt as a shield—as a way to deal with fear. And Jesus responds to this by proving to Thomas that he had nothing to be afraid of—not even death could separate Thomas from the love of God.
So, this is what I wanted to talk about today. I wanted to dive into all of these different perspectives, and see what truths could be gleaned from each one. I wanted to re-imagine Thomas, and to maybe even redeem him from the unfortunate nickname that he has been given. But there were two problems with that. 1.) Doing that would take hours, and I only have 20 minutes, and 2.) Literally nobody would enjoy that but me. So, I decided to go in a different direction, and to talk about the common denominator in all of these scenarios—that Jesus takes care of Thomas. Every single time. Every single time, Jesus gives Thomas what he needs. Regardless of Thomas’s doubts, grief, fears, middle child syndrome—or whatever else—Jesus shows up and lovingly cares for His friend.
With things being the way that they are right now, it can be difficult to talk about God taking care of us and giving us what we need. There are so many needs all around us. And so many of them seem to go unfulfilled. We need a vaccine for COVID-19, and an effective way to treat it. Healthcare professionals need more masks and gloves. We need more COVID-19 tests. Small business owners need those Paycheck Protection Program Loans, which somehow ended up in the pockets of larger businesses. Parents need a break—juggling working from home and homeschooling is a lot. People in the recovery community need to be able to go to their meetings. Folks who have been laid off need their paychecks. Grandparents need to be able to see their grandchildren. We need to be able to hug our relatives and friends again. As a whole, we need to have some sense of normalcy again, and soon. It’s easy—in the midst of all this—to feel uncertain when somebody talks about God taking care of us. To wonder if God really cares about us at all. If He does, then why He doesn’t just sweep in and make everything okay again already? If God really takes care of us and gives us what we need, then why isn’t He doing it right now?
I’m not going to give you the answers to these questions today. Mostly because theologians have wrestled with these questions for centuries, and I’m not sure that there is one “right” answer. Also, if these are the sorts of things that have been on your mind, I’d like to invite you to work on coming up with some of your own answers. To really think about it—to pray about it and to read scripture—and to talk to people who you trust about it. But I will tell you why I continue to believe that God takes care of us and gives us what we need, even when things are uncertain.
For one thing, Doubting Thomas gives me hope. This story paints for me a picture of a God who cared so much about this one, individual apostle, that He provided to Thomas the sight that he needed to see. God was this invested in His relationship with Thomas—that He didn’t write Thomas off as a lost cause, a wimp, a sad-sack, or as a whiny middle child—but He did something big for him. This doesn’t mean that we always get what we want, or that God is our personal genie. I’m not a fan of the “name it and claim it” type of stuff that sometimes comes out of this train of thought. But this story proves to me that God really does listen to our troubles, and that He provides to us wild graces—sometimes big, sometimes small—that get us through.
Then there’s the story of Hagar. This is all the way back in Genesis. Hagar is an Egyptian slave woman who works for Abraham and Sarah. More specifically, Sarah. The details of the story are a little long, so I’ll be brief—but God had promised Abraham and Sarah a child, and they had been waiting and waiting—and it hadn’t happened. So, Sarah got impatient and gave Hagar to Abraham so that they could conceive a child in that way. Hagar—who hadn’t been asked if she wanted this—gets upset when she discovers that she is pregnant. Sarah then gets upset that Hagar is upset. So, Sarah treats her horribly, and Hagar runs away. An angel of the Lord finds Hagar in the desert and asks her where she is going. Hagar tells the angel the story, to which the angel makes Hagar a promise. That if she goes back, she will have many descendants. That her child will have a future—and that in turn, she will have a future, too. In response, Hagar names God “el-roi”, which means “God who sees.” God saw Hagar—this woman who had been mistreated and whose agency and person-hood had been stolen from her—and took care of her. He didn’t give Abraham and Sarah the come to Jesus moment that I would argue they needed to have. Nor did He declare slavery a travesty and release Hagar, as I wish that He would have. But He showed her His love for her, and gave her a grace that would sustain her in the years to come.
Even Paul, who I sometimes struggle with because of the way that people tend to misquote him, roots my faith in the way that God cares for us. In II Corinthians, Paul speaks of a thorn in his side that causes him many troubles. He prays and prays and prays, but this problem is never taken away from him. Instead, the response that Paul gets from God are these beautiful words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul finds inspiration and strength in the ways that God steps in and offers grace and help when Paul just can’t do it on his own.
And then there are the little things that happen every day that convince me of the way that God takes care of us. I heard on the radio this week that a network of people with campers have started a program where they lend their camper to healthcare professionals. It prevents the healthcare folks from possibly infecting the people who they live with. An author who I really like has started a spreadsheet where people who have a serious need—like help with their electric bill—can add it to the spreadsheet. And readers are then free to send money to these folks to help them out. I have a pen pal who lives in Maryland. She’s a teacher and a foster parent, and she’s a super cool person. And every time that I get a letter from her, it just makes my day. I had a terrible day at work last week—the credit union that I work at was going through our annual audit, which is super stressful—and I came home to this lovely letter from her. A good friend of mine who knows that I have an anxiety disorder has been regularly checking in on me throughout this whole stay at home order. And because it is both mental health awareness month and my sweet husband’s birthday today, I’ll say that my husband’s constant support over our almost ten years together and his willingness to walk the bumpy road of an anxiety disorder with me has been an enormous blessing and grace in my life. At risk of sounding like a cliché, I look at all of these things, and I can’t help but to see little gifts and little graces from God. They may not be the cure all. But they certainly give us life, and they remind us that we are not alone—that we are cared for.
So, take some time this week to ask yourself how you feel about the idea that God is taking care of us. Is that hard for you believe? Or is it easy for you to see it? What are some small graces that seem to continuously appear in your life that help you to get through the hard moments? Does the story of Doubting Thomas give you hope? What do you feel like you need most right now? Has that need been met for you in some way, or are you still waiting? In what ways has God taken care of you in the past? How do you hope that He will take care of you in the future? How do you keep yourself aware of God’s unwavering presence in your life, and of His unending love for you?
Be well, Friends. May you find comfort and renewal in God’s presence and care this week.
Hymn-God Will Take Care of You
Ada Chapel Prayer
Father, we thank thee for the night; and for the blessed morning light. For rest and food, and loving care; and all that makes the world so fair. Help us do the things we should; to be to others kind and good. In all we do, and all we say; to grow more loving every day. Amen.