It Could Mean Everything

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It is Easter evening—hours after Simon Peter, and that disciple who Jesus loved, and Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb… hours after Mary told the disciples that she had seen the risen Lord—and ten of the disciples are gathered in a house, and the doors are locked, and they are huddled together in fear.

And while they are there, Jesus comes and stands among them. And he shows them the holes in his wrists where nails had hung him. And he shows them the gash in his side were a spear pierced him. And he wishes them peace.

And that’s not a small thing. This morning, in the garden by the tomb, Mary did not recognize Jesus until he said her name. And later, on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, the disciples will not recognize Jesus until he performs a miracle.

But here and now, Jesus tells the disciples who he is. And Jesus shows the disciples who he is. And they believe.

And that means everything.

A while ago, I was listening to a podcast where the host was interviewing Izzy Lowell. Izzy is a doctor in Georgia who provides affirming care to trans and non-binary youth and adults. And the host asked about how someone who is ten or eleven years old could possibly know that they are trans or non-binary. How could some kid know enough about themselves to go on puberty blockers?

And I have had the same question. It’s part of the reason that I like the slow and methodical way that we help young people transition. It’s part of the reason that I like that there are plenty of opportunities to try things out… to pause for a while… to take a breath.

But Doctor Izzy said something that opened my eyes a little more. She said, more or less,

I didn’t know a lot of things when I was 10 or 12 or 20. I didn’t know my sexuality. I didn’t know if I wanted to have kids or not. I didn’t know about some huge decisions about major life things. But I did know what gender I was. If you think back, when did you first know that you were a boy? It’s early on. It’s beyond the extent of our memories. We just grow up always knowing that. (https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc-podcast/why-is-this-happening/treating-trans-youth-dr-izzy-lowell-podcast-transcript-n1289635)

And that tracks. As much as I have had to discover myself as I’ve grown up… as much as I’ve experimented with my identity over the years… I have always known that I am a boy… and I have never doubted that aspect of my identity. 

So if someone tells me—even if they seem young—that they do not feel at home in their body… if they tell me that they are really someone other than I assume… if they are insistent, and persistent, and consistent about it… how can I doubt them? If know myself, then surely they know themselves.

It is Easter evening—hours after Simon Peter, and that disciple who Jesus loved, and Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb… hours after Mary told the disciples that she had seen the risen Lord—and Thomas isn’t there.

So the other disciples go to Thomas and tell him what has happened. They tell him, “Christ is risen… and he has appeared among us… and he has shown us the holes in his wrists and the gash in his side!” They make a bold claim, and a very bold claim, and an extraordinarily bold claim.

And Thomas does not believe. And I get it. But…

Thomas does not tell them that he needs to hear more, or that he needs to visit the empty tomb, or even that he needs to meet the risen Christ. Instead, he tells them that he needs to put his finger in the holes in Jesus’s wrists and his hand in the gash on Jesus’s side. And if he can do that… then he will believe.

And that means everything.

Today is our annual celebration of extravagant welcome. 

Today is the Sunday when we reaffirm that we are an inclusive and nurturing community. 

Today is the Sunday when we recommit ourselves to embracing differences of race, ethnicity, culture, faith, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital and family status, age, and ability. 

Today is the Sunday when we redeclare that we celebrate and welcome all to share equally in the life of our church family.

Or, to put that another way, today is the Sunday when we testify again that no matter who you are, and no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here, and we are glad that you are here.

But today is also a Sunday during a year when we are having courageous conversations about mental health. And that means that I need to share some hard truths with you. I have shared these hard truths before. I shared them in a sermon a couple of years ago. I shared them in an unscripted aside to a sermon a couple of months ago. But they are important enough to share again.

LGBTQ youth—especially trans and non-binary youth—consider, attempt, and complete suicide at a considerably higher rate than their peers. And that is because LGBTQ youth—especially trans and non-binary youth—face considerably more stigma, discrimination, violence, and rejection than their peers.

And that stigma, discrimination, violence, and rejection… the book challenges and overwrought worries about age appropriateness… the rumors about litter boxes and accusations about grooming… the laws and policies and executive orders…

(And these are not just conversations that adults are having about young people. These are conversations that young people know about. These are conversations that young people are involved in.)

…the steadfast refusal to believe that LGBTQ youth are who they say that they are… are who they show that they are… kills kids.

It is a week after Easter—a week after Simon Peter, and that disciple who Jesus loved, and Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb… a week after Mary told the disciples that she had seen the risen Lord… a week after ten of the disciples saw the risen Christ—and eleven disciples are gathered, and the doors are closed, and they are huddled together.

And while they are there, Jesus comes and stands among them. And he tells Thomas to put his finger in the holes in his wrists where nails had hung him. And he tells Thomas to put his hand in the gash in his side were a spear pierced him. And he tells Thomas not to doubt, but to believe.

And it’s a bold claim, and a very bold claim, and an extraordinarily bold claim. But Thomas believes. Because he has seen. Because he has inspected. Because he has felt. And I get it. But…

Then Jesus says something that should open all of our eyes a little. He says, more or less, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Because you have inspected me? Because you have felt me? Blessed are those who haven’t done any of that, but who have come to believe!”

And that means everything.

There is something that dramatically reduces the rate at which LGBTQ—especially trans and non-binary youth—consider, attempt, and complete suicide: individuals and communities who affirm them.

Only half of LGBTQ youth describe their schools as affirming. Only a third describe their homes as affirming. And I can’t even imagine how few would describe their church as affirming. In fact, I suspect that the vast majority of LGBTQ youth avoid churches as much as possible. And I suspect that those who can’t… just go to church and do their best not to be found out.

But I know… as surely as I know my own gender identity… as insistently and persistently and consistently as I know my own gender identity… that churches that affirm LGBTQ youth… that churches that affirm LGBTQ people… that churches that affirm people, period… that churches that believe people when they show us who they are… save lives.

In our scripture for today, Jesus is not in danger. He has already been to the cross. He has already risen from the grave. But he is asking Thomas to believe him.

And let’s be honest. There are times when we are like Thomas. There are times when we ask to see, and inspect, and feel. There are times when we demand the right to poke and prod. There are times when we steadfastly refuse to believe someone who is telling us—who is showing us—who they are.

Or, maybe even worse, there are times when we are like the ten other disciples who were in the room that night. There are times when we stand by while someone else sees, and inspects, and feels. There are times when we watch while someone else pokes and prods. There are times when we stay silent while someone else steadfastly refuses to believe.

And we know that Christ lives in every pleading face… and in every outstretched hand… and in every person who cries themselves to sleep because they are not welcome at home or at school or at church.

And now we know that our standing up… our speaking out… our stepping into discomfort… our maybe being just political enough to declare that everyone—no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey or what decisions you are trying to make—is loved and worthy of love, and we will love you…

Well, it could mean everything.

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