You Can Belong
preached by the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham, Rector
Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas
2014; 2 Easter Sunday, Year A
Revised Common Lectionary
(John 20:19-31) When it was
evening on the day of Resurrection, the first day of the week, and the doors of
the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus
came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he
said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced
when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As
the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed
on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the
sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are
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
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."
Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not
written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may
have life in his name.
One of the things we like to say around here is, “You can
belong before you believe.” God is a
mystery. Life is mysterious. We are all mysteries, each of us. Mysteries are ultimately unfathomable. We are always learning, growing. Growing into the mystery that we are –
growing into the mystery of everything.
From the beginning we all belong to God though we may know
nothing of the Divine Mystery. From the
beginning we all belong to life, and life continually uncovers its mysteries to
us. From the beginning we all belong to
each other – fellow earthlings, breathing the same air, neighbors and fellow travelers
on this fragile island home.
So here at St. Paul’s we want a warm welcome to all to
belong. We want to practice radical
hospitality. Welcome, fellow
seeker. “You can belong before you
There’s not a certain level of understanding about the
nature of God that you have to accomplish before you are allowed
admission. There’s not a particular
theology of the nature of reality or a distinct definition of humanity that you
have to understand and subscribe to before we let you in. There is simple acceptance. After all, that’s God’s model in Jesus. Welcome.
Accept the fact that you are welcome.
Jesus was radically inclusive.
The only people he scolded were those who tried to separate others
because they thought they were better than those others. Jesus called them “blind guides.”
We do have some insight in the Church. We’ve tried to put some of our best guesses
about the mystery of God and the nature of reality into words. But words are never enough. Mystery transcends words. Yet we have the scriptures. We have the creeds. They are like fingers pointing toward the
unfathomable mystery. They are good
guides, maps, written by our fellow travelers along the way. Unfortunately some people focus a little too
fundamentally on the fingers rather than on the ultimate mystery that the words
point toward. The Church itself – a relationship
of union within the mystery of Christ – the Church existed before the New
Testament existed; the Church thrived for 300 years before the creeds were
Thomas, the Apostle, was part of the Church from the
beginning. And when he didn’t believe in
the resurrection, the others didn’t kick him out. Relationship transcends belief. Love and compassion are more primary than
You heard the reading from John’s Gospel. On Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared in the midst
of the grief and mortal fear of the huddled disciples and gave them peace. Deep, restful peace. Joyful peace.
But Thomas wasn’t with them.
The others witnessed to him, testified to him evangelized him, if you
will, saying, “We have seen the Lord.”
It didn’t work. Thomas knew what
he had seen. He speaks like someone
suffering from PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He’s having flashbacks. He’s probably waking up in the middle of the
night, seeing the nails and the struggle, watching again the spear in Jesus’
side and the gaping cut. He can still
see the horrible wound with Jesus’ life pouring out of his body. Thomas can’t get it out of his head. NO!, he cries. “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.” His grief is deeper
than someone else’s beliefs.
Union is not the same thing as uniformity. Union/Unity is not sameness. In fact, union and unity is the reconciliation
of differences as the differences are maintained, even sharpened. Difference remains, yet is overcome,
transcended in unity. Jesus says in marriage
the two become one, and in a healthy marriage each partner supports the other’s
becoming more and more one’s own distinct, unique self, while remaining united.
The disciples seemed to know about that. Thomas remained with them, though he did not
believe as they did. Their relationship
of union transcended the differences even as the difference was
Think how much love and acceptance was present in that company,
allowing Thomas to be with them in unity.
You can only be in community by being yourself, by being honest. Thomas didn’t cave in so he could fit
in. And his friends didn’t force him to
be like them. They accepted him in his
So a week later, Thomas is still with them. Still belonging. Still accepted. Still respected. Still loved.
Still in relationship. That’s
Jesus honors Thomas’ honesty and his vulnerability. Jesus comes to be with Thomas in Thomas’ pain
and trauma and isolation. Jesus comes
and enters Thomas’ vulnerability, and when he does, Jesus’ wounds are still
there. The vulnerable and wounded one
comes to share Thomas’ vulnerability and woundedness, and Thomas is
healed. Jesus is still crucified, but
Thomas is no longer traumatized. Thomas
can live with renewed hope in this new and mysterious world.
Last night our McMichael speaker Nora Gallagher told a story
about her own separateness when she was diagnosed with a serious illness that
threw her into another country. Healthy
people went on with their lives, giving their bodies little thought, while
Nora, on the other side of a glass wall, cancelled every project and appointment
to struggle with her threatening illness.
One morning at the Mayo Clinic as she left another test, her
husband pushed her wheelchair out of the elevator onto the main floor. I saw a
little girl ahead of us, in a wheelchair, pulling herself expertly along. For most
of my life I had not known what do say or do around people in wheelchairs; I
nodded or said hello and looked away. They lived in another country; a place
I’d never be. But this time, as we pulled alongside her, I looked over and
said, “Hi.” And she looked at me with a full open smile, and said, “Hi,” and
there we were, momentary companions, on this particular road, in our own
country. No advice given or needed. No wall. Our mutual vulnerability was the
cord between us…
Later, Nora went on to reflect, When I looked over at the girl in the wheelchair at the Mayo Clinic,
and she looked at me, I had the sense that there was a third person there. He
was there because she was there. And I was there. A very fragile line connected
the three of us. Whoever this man was who lived and died and lived again was
there, not literal, not visible but not absent, not without influence, not
dead. The resurrection when looked at this way is not a magic act, but is
instead a revelation of what stays alive and what does not. Love and its close
cousin vulnerability stay alive.” [i]
Jesus shows us how God incorporates the whole human
situation into the Divine Life. God in
Jesus enters our vulnerability, brokenness, pain and isolation, accepts and
absorbs it into his own life, and dies the death we will all die. We also see in Jesus all of our human
capacity for good – the possibility within each of us for love, compassion,
wisdom and insight, connection, trust and hope.
Jesus’ immersion into the human condition shows us the radical belonging
of God, a connection with every human life.
Jesus absorbs all of humanity into his own being and takes that into the
very heart of the Trinity, where it has always been from the beginning.
Jesus shows us that all belong before or whether they
believe. All humanity belongs to God, in
our brokenness and in our virtue. As
Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation,” (Romans 8:1), “but Christ
is all and in all!” (Col. 3:11) All
humanity is united to God, even as our distinctions remain, and maybe are even
That's why I like to think that people of all other religions belong to us, to Christ, and to St. Paul's Episcopal Church as an expression of Christ's Body, in all their distinctive difference. That why we welcome all to Christ's communion with the word, "Whoever you are, or wherever you are in your pilgrimage of faith, you are welcome in this place; you are welcome at God's table." And so we say, "You can belong before you believe." When you belong, you may find, like Thomas, that you grow in your experience, even in belief. Yet no matter how much you may grow and how much you may understand and believe, we all still move toward mystery -- Mystery that draws us deeper into life, into the All.
the full text of Nora Gallagher’s talk is online: http://stpaulsfay.org/nora.pdf