April 16, 2023 – Second Sunday of Easter – John 20:19-31

If I used the phrase, “pulling a Buckner,” would you know what I meant? I figured some of
you would. If all of you knew, the sermon could be at least a paragraph shorter. But so as not to leave anyone behind, let me retell the story – as gently and as kindly as I can since I, too, am now a member of Red Sox Nation.

The year was 1986. The place: Shea Stadium. Game 6 of the World Series between the
New York Mets and the Red Sox. The Sox were leading the series 3 games to 2. Game Six was knotted up at the bottom of the ninth, and the game went into extra innings. In the top of the 10th , the Red Sox pulled ahead. They were one out, even one strike away from walking away with not just the game, but the championship, when Red Sox first baseman, a man by the name of Bill Buckner, let a slow rolling ground ball go through his legs and roll into right field, allowing the Mets to win the game and pull even in the Series. The next night, too, the Mets won – meaning they won the World Series. From that day, “pulling a Buckner” has meant making a really bad, really obvious, really costly mistake. Never mind the fact that Bill Buckner had a terrific 22-year career in baseball. Never mind that he won a batting title and was voted an All Star. He will always be remembered for his error.

Not unlike the Apostle Thomas. What is it that everyone remembers about Thomas? They
remember that he was a doubter. Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples in the Upper Room the first time the risen Jesus appeared to them – and consequently, he didn’t believe that they had really seen the Lord. “Unless I see the nail marks on his hands, unless I touch the nail marks and the place where the spear pierced his side, I just can’t believe that it’s true.” That was the “error” that gave him the nickname “doubting Thomas.” Never mind the fact that Thomas is depicted in the Gospels as being a loyal and faithful disciple. Never mind that he probably did just as much as the other disciples did, both during Jesus’ time on earth and after the resurrection. But he is remembered for this one incident in John chapter 20. Now fortunately for Thomas, a week later, in the same place and in the same way, Jesus appeared once again to the disciples – and this time Thomas was with them. Then, having seen and touched Jesus’ wounds, he, too became a full-fledged believer. But this is not the part of the story that people tell. They mostly just remember his doubts.

But no retelling of the story of Jesus and Thomas in the Upper Room can be complete without assessing the actions of the other disciples, just as no retelling of the failure of the Red Sox to win the ’86 World Series can be complete if all we remember is Bill Buckner’s error. It took more than one fielding mistake to lose the World Series. It also took the failure of the rest of the team to come through at critical moments. And there were many failures of Thomas’ teammates, too. In fact, what I’d really like to know is why they, who had already seen Jesus, were still in the Upper Room a week later, the door still locked out of fear.

It’s easier to understand why they were there the first time Jesus appeared. It was Easter evening. The grief and shock of Jesus’ sham trial and horrifying execution just two days before must have still weighed heavily on their hearts and minds. Remember, according to John’s telling of the Easter story, none of them had yet seen the risen Christ. Only Mary Magdalene had seen him, and although she had told the disciples about her encounter, I’m sure that it would have been hard for them to believe. Plus they were afraid. The crowds had shouted for Jesus’ blood – who was to say they wouldn’t come after the disciples next? Hence, the doors of the house were locked for protection. But of course the locked door did nothing to restrict Jesus’ access to them. He came and stood among them and gave them his peace. He breathed the Holy Spirit on them. And then he sent them out to continue his work of forgiving sins and reconciling people to God. So my question is: if Jesus had appeared to them, blessed them, given them the Holy Spirit, and instructed them to get busy in ministry . . . why were they still in the house a week later? Maybe Thomas wasn’t the only doubter. Maybe the others were also having a hard time moving on.

But Easter means there’s work to be done! “As the Father has sent me,” said Jesus, “so I
send you.” The disciples had work to do – and so do we. As we once again tell the story of his Easter appearances, can’t you sense his presence here? I can. He has stirred up the Holy Spirit in us – can’t you feel his love beating within your heart? I can. And he has sent us out to continue his work in this world. We have love and healing and reconciliation and forgiveness and strength and blessings to share – with one another, in our community, for our planet, and throughout the world.

But sometimes we’re a little like Thomas and the other disciples and need a little
reassurance and encouragement to get to work. Sometimes we’re a little like Bill Buckner, still living down mistakes from our past. Sometimes the doors to our hearts are closed and locked because we’re afraid to risk getting hurt. Sometimes we get to feeling a little run down, a little used up, a little spent. But whether we are fighting inertia or regret or fear or weariness, Jesus comes among us again and bids us peace. As often as we need him, as many times as we need another infusion of his new life, he will be here in this place, among this community, to give us peace, to stir up the Holy Spirit within us, and to send us back out for the sake of the world. He does it through hearing his Word. He gives us peace and stirs up his Spirit by feeding us with his body and blood. And when our worship is over, he sends us back out into the world.

Because Easter means there’s work to be done – for every member of our team!

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