Acts 4:32-35; John 20:24-29

I’ll beg your pardon here for talking about a Christmas movie during the Easter season, but it’s all one great big story, right? The movie is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the claymation TV special. Rudolph, you may recall, is ostracized from the reindeer games when his shiny red nose is found out, and he ends up skipping town with Hermy, the Christmas elf who wishes he could be a dentist. They sing a defiant duet called “We’re a Couple of Misfits” and finally end up on the Island of Misfit Toys. This is where all the not-quite-right toys end up. It’s populated by a Charlie-in-the-box, a train with square wheels, and a rag doll that for some reason doesn’t have a girl to love her.

That’s us, isn’t it? Once I was talking to another pastor about our congregation, and she asked me what our real identity is: what makes us different from all the other congregations in town? And I said, “Well, we’re kind of like the Island of Misfit Souls.” We’re the congregation where, when you don’t fit in much of anywhere else, we have a place for you. You might have wheels that don’t turn just right because of mental illness or emotional scars, but we understand. You might put all the wrong names on your understanding of God and the way we relate to Christ, but you’re probably not the strangest creature we’ve ever come across. You may not have anything “wrong” with you except that you don’t want someone telling you just what to think and believe. Well, here we are.

If we were to name this church after someone, it might be St Thomas. Thomas has this terrible reputation in the mainstream tradition, as if he were the only person Jesus ever chided for having something other than blind faith, as if he weren’t the only man in John’s gospel to even confess Jesus’ divinity (the only other person is Martha in chapter 11). For the most part, Thomas is buried under things like our bulletin cover this morning, which is titled “The Incredulity of Thomas” – I chose it just on account of that word.

Incredulity. Shameful, isn’t it? You’d think so, if you’re paying any attention at all to the dominant tradition of the church. The worst thing about Thomas, the only important thing according to some, is that he didn’t just believe what the other apostles said and get on with it. When the paid interpreter of scripture (that’s me) says something like that, it tends to mean: “Just do as I say and nobody will get hurt. I know the answers, I have it all figured out, and just quit asking already.”

Well, don’t believe it. Or, since you probably already don’t believe it, let me say this: you’re right. Thomas is right. Believing the right things, thinking the right things, accepting the right mythology, just isn’t the point. I’ll keep using the word “believing,” because that would be the point if we’d just use the word right, but there’s no faith in just taking stories at face value. There’s no life-changing power in hearing about someone else’s religious experience and deciding that’s good enough for you. Thomas didn’t stop there, and neither should we.

So what did Thomas want? What was he looking for? Well, he was looking for what everybody else already had. The disciples had all been together on Easter evening, and suddenly Jesus showed up, wounds and all, and the disciples joyfully put their faith in him. Thomas wasn’t there, for whatever reason – maybe he was making a Manischewitz run, we don’t know – and Thomas said he didn’t want a story that happened to someone else. He wanted Jesus there, again, in the wounded flesh. In the same flesh that he knew had died and gone into the tomb. Without that, this was just a story.

That’s when Jesus showed up, as John tells it. There, in the flesh, we have the one who was killed and raised again to life. And we know it’s him, because the wounds are there. As a sidebar: that was terribly important for John’s community, because some other early Christians believed that Jesus couldn’t really have suffered and died if he was the Son of God; John used Thomas’ story to insist that the death was real enough to make the resurrection truly matter. Thomas says here, and Jesus seems to agree, that this Easter-resurrection business must be for real. It has to be tangible. It must truly happen.

This is why we usually hear two different scripture readings in worship. The reading from Acts talks about this tangible, real, fleshy event of the resurrection as the early church lived it out. It talks about being so tightly bound to each other that we even forget what’s mine and what’s yours, we just share whatever we have with whoever happens to need it. We tell about God’s reality in our own lives, and the power of this shared presence changes the world. When Jesus talked about the people who wouldn’t see him directly but would still believe, I think he was talking about the people who would see this kind of thing instead. This was to be his future presence. We were to be his future presence.

Well, contextual readers, can you tell me how long it took before this ideal vision of community turned into something less glorious? How about three verses? I won’t spend a lot of time on the couple who didn’t quite get in line this vision for the church, because you already know their story: Even in the glorious new reality of the church, people are not yet perfect, and our embodiment of Jesus’ ideal life starts to look pretty rough around the edges. We shift from genuine concern for each other to petty gossip, we start measuring our contributions (and the thanks we receive) against others, we fence off our own little piece of turf (and by the way, I’m much more concerned about facilities and committees than about pews). We stand in a great tradition of people with high ideals and an utter inability to live them out consistently.

But sometimes, we do get it. Sometimes we invite people on the margins of the community into our fellowship hall for a meal or into our Deacons’ fund for some emergency assistance. Sometimes we create settings, like Food for Thought or Bible study, where people can bring their honest ideas and questions even if they don’t quite conform. Sometimes we ask, “No, how are you really?” when the first answer was more polite than honest. Sometimes we recognize each other, truly and deeply, as wounded and beloved children of God. Sometimes the risen Christ appears among us in human flesh.

When that happens, it’s visible despite and because of the wounds we bear. We’re the church together, not because we’re all perfect, but precisely because we’re all a little off kilter. We’re not supposed to be this magical utopia, we’re invited to be the Island of Misfit Souls, where we’re welcomed in with all our questions, our fears, our doubts, and our wounds. It’s in that welcome, halting and partial though it may be, that Christ becomes real in the human flesh around us. Look, touch, wonder, believe, and be at peace.

Amen.

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