We live in a skeptical age. Maybe it’s all the paid advertising we see that makes us cynical of a product’s claims. Maybe it’s the stories we hear of people scamming others. Maybe we’re now trained to read customer reviews of products and services before we commit and buy. Whatever it is, we’re often distrustful of statements and claims made by others until we test them and verify for ourselves. We want corroboration. We want proof. It’s as if we all live in Missouri, the “Show Me” state. I was walking in the hallways of Old Cabell Hall one day and saw an 8.5 by 11 piece of paper taped to a door with these words printed in block letters: “Skepticism is a Virtue.” Underneath that message was a handwritten reply scribbled in blue ink: “I doubt it.”
Last Sunday, Christians throughout the world celebrated the resurrection of Christ, and we proclaim that over two thousand years ago, God raised this human being from the dead. On this first Sunday after Easter, our assigned Gospel lesson from John recounts the risen Jesus appearing to his disciples. Thomas gets a bad rap here because of his skepticism of the news of Jesus’ resurrection, but his doubt was no different than the other disciples. There was a heavy dose of skepticism among all of Jesus’ male disciples regarding the news of his resurrection. Surely, they would have heard from the women who relayed the message that Jesus was raised. But they apparently doubted the women’s incredible news. Instead, they huddled together and locked themselves in a room, fearful that those who crucified Jesus would also come after them.
When Jesus first appeared to them (initially without Thomas), Jesus gave his disciples peace, breathed into them the Holy Spirit, and sent them out into the world. A week later, what happened? The disciples were still gathered in a locked room. This time, Thomas was with them. This time, Jesus specifically invited Thomas to touch his nailed scarred hands and punctured side so that he could stop doubting and start believing. Jesus showed Thomas his glorified, resurrected body, together with his wounds. Having seen with his own eyes, Thomas proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” John the Gospel writer records Jesus answering Thomas, but really addressing words to generations of disciples who, like us, will come after Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The resurrection is not an easy thing to believe, and Jesus knew that. I want to believe in Jesus’ resurrection because I’d like to think that after I die, because of my faith in the risen Christ, I too, will bodily rise one day. I don’t know what a post-bodily resurrection life is like, but I’ve often imagined that I would live in a similar way that I’m living now, except without sorrow, pain, loss or tears. But’s that not resurrection. That’s only resuscitation, the bringing back to life of a person who will live more or less the same as he has in the past. You may remember that Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. But Lazarus was not resurrected; he was only temporarily resuscitated. When Lazarus came out of the grave, he was still bound by his burial cloths, the markers of death. Resuscitation is like a caterpillar spinning a cocoon, and after a period, emerging out of the cocoon . . . still as a caterpillar. That is resuscitation.
Resurrection is different; it involves transformation. When Jesus was resurrected, his burial cloths were found neatly folded in the tomb. And while the scars were still there, Jesus’ body was transformed so that it could materialize in the midst of a locked room. Resurrection is like a caterpillar spinning a cocoon, and after a period, emerging of the cocoon as a beautiful butterfly. When the apostle Paul wrote about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he said, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.”
In order to believe in the resurrection, we must be willing to be changed. Despite the disciples’ initial skepticism, eventually they believed in Jesus’ resurrection, and their lives were radically changed. Peter changed from denying knowing Jesus to boldly preaching about Jesus during the day of Pentecost. The risen Christ encountered Saul, a Pharisee persecuting Christians, and transformed him to Paul, the greatest missionary spreading the Gospel of Christ.
This transformation takes place not only on an individual basis, it also takes place on a communal basis. We find in the book of Acts, the community of Jesus’ followers transformed. No longer were they huddled within the four walls of a locked room, shielded from the world. Instead they were sent out by God’s Spirit to become bold witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples preached, taught, and performed healing just like Jesus. They were united, not just in their beliefs, but they experienced racial, generational, and socio-economic unity. They took care of one another and they voluntarily shared everything. They weren’t trying to make a political statement; they were just living out of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection into their world.
Of course the early church was not perfect; the letters of Paul certainly addressed issues of disunity and factions within the churches. But Paul also described the church as “the body of Christ.” History has also shown that when the body of Christ practices resurrection, it has a way of showing even the skeptics the truth and reality of Christ’s resurrection.
According to Daniel Clendenin, the early Christians had a well-known and well-deserved reputation for social generosity that built bridges of community rather than walls of separation. . . . . The pagan emperor Julian the Apostate (ruled AD 361–363), who vehemently opposed Christians and stripped them of their rights and privileges, still acknowledge that while his own government could not meet the needs of the poor, the persecuted Christians not only took care of their own, but looked after the poor of any faith. The early church grew by leaps and bounds not only by their proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection; they showed the truth and reality of Jesus’ resurrection by their transformed life together in community for the sake of their neighbors.
A couple of weeks ago, Blake Tommey, Director of Baptist Collegiate Ministries at UVA, wrote an article for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship magazine about the transformation that took place at Tabernacle Baptist, a 128-year-old church, located in the Fan District in downtown Richmond. As the neighborhood changed in the 60’s and 70’s, the church declined an offer to move to the growing western suburbs of Richmond. By the time Sterling Severns arrived in 2004 as their new pastor, Tabernacle was struggling with an aging, declining membership, with no children, and a facility in desperate need of repair.
In his article, Tommey writes: Several years ago, Sterling Severns received a phone call from Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel that three families of Karen refugees from Burma (now Myanmar) had been residing in Richmond for six months without a place to worship. The very next month, the families filled an entire pew in the church’s sanctuary on World Communion Sunday for their first worship service.
After more than seven years of the church welcoming the Burmese newcomers, families of Chin, Karen, Kachin and Lisu refugees now comprise a quarter of Tabernacle’s congregation, and the entire community is exploring what it means to partner in renewing the vision of church and the life of the city of Richmond. … Each Sunday during the 11 a.m. service, each adult and child leading worship is instructed to pray, read scripture or offer testimony in their native language, without translation. While both communities initially struggled with the language barrier, they found that God’s healing and transformation did not depend on language.
Through partnering with many young families from Burma, Tabernacle has also learned what new life means in a more literal sense, namely through the children who now laugh, scream and boisterously fill the hallways once again. In fact, Severns said, children are the most crucial partners in renewing God’s world, which is why children of all ethnicities populate pulpits, conversations and other realms of leadership within the congregation.
“Our partnership with refugees from Burma is not a ministry of the church, it is the church,” Severns explained. “We’re raising our children together. The pews are full of all kinds of ethnic groups. On any given Sunday, the doxology could be in one of seven languages, untranslated. We’re being church together. We had been praying for years that life would come once again, and, lo and behold, it came by way of Burma.”
And by the way, Tabernacle Baptist is the church that trained and recently ordained one of our own, Julie Gaines, to the Gospel Ministry.
To the skeptics who demand, “Show me the risen Christ,” I would point to Tabernacle Baptist as an example of a church being the body of Christ striving to live the truth and the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. They are a community that is practicing resurrection and being transformed to experience racial, generational, and socio-economic unity.
On this Sunday after Easter, I believe that Jesus invites us to practice resurrection, as individuals and as a church. God’s Spirit sends us out into the world to be the body of Christ. We are commissioned to be Christ’s body, scarred yet transformed, to care for one another and to be sent out so that we might show the world that Jesus Christ is alive!
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
Go now with the blessing of God, and as you go,
May the risen Christ grant us peace
May the risen Christ give us the Spirit
So that we may be sent forth to be a transformed community
living and practicing resurrection.
We’ve heard about how the first disciples shared everything they had so that there were no needy persons among them. We come now to the time in the worship service in which we share our resources to meet the needs of those among us. Your offering this morning will support the ministries of University Baptist including our college students and Operation Mission Madness this coming weekend.
This month, we are also collecting contributions for national missions. Our goal is $3000, and the money will support the Cooperative Baptist ministry in Nada, Kentucky, one of the 20 poorest counties in the United States. You can make a contribution by using the envelopes located in the pew racks.
Please prayerfully consider your financial support as I offer this prayer of dedication…
 Dan Clendenin, “They Enjoyed The Favor of All the People”, http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20090413JJ.shtml
 Blake Tommey, “Being Church Together: Richmond congregation finds renewal among Burmese refugees,” http://cbfblog.com/2015/04/07/being-church-together/.