Rev. Sara Lamar-Sterling
May 1, 2011
First and Summerfield UMC, New Haven, CT
John 20: 19-29, I Corinthians 10: 14-17
I remember as a teen and as a young adult, I had a lot of questions and a lot of doubts about God and Jesus and my faith. When we would read the story of Doubting Thomas from John 20, the message I heard over and over again was that doubts and questions were a sign of faithlessness. If you really believed in God, you didn’t have questions and doubts. It wasn’t until my college chaplain, a United Methodist, helped me to see that my questions and doubts could actually be an expression of my faith. And so, as a young adult living in NYC in the 1990s, my doubts and I joined a United Methodist Church in Greenwich Village, Washington Square UMC. There, questions were a good thing and a sign of faithfulness. That community helped me finally answer my call to ministry and become a pastor. As Paul Tillich once said, “doubt is not the opposite of faith, but an element of it!” Our questions and doubts can indeed lead us to deeper faith, just as they did for Thomas.
During my time at Washington Square, our congregation was very proud of our reconciling status. The congregation even claimed to be the first reconciling congregation in Methodism, because back in the 1970s and 80s, a pastor named Rev. Paul Abels, served the church for 14 years as an out, gay man. It was around this time in our denomination’s past that a backlash against gays and lesbians began to reverberate throughout the United Methodist Church in the policies we enacted at quadrennial General Conferences. But during my time at Washington Square, before I had gone to seminary or started the ordination process, I had no idea that Christianity was known for being so hostile to sexual minorities…
Until I went to my first Annual Conference meeting. It was in the mid-90s. I was serving as the lay delegate for my congregation, so I was there with my pastor, voting on legislation one afternoon. My good friend Beverly, a life-long Methodist with several pastors in her extended family, who was also a member at Washington Square Church, traveled out to Hofstra for the day to see what annual conference was like. Beverly and I were sitting together during one of the general voting sessions. I can’t remember what the legislation was about, or the details of what was being said. But there on the floor of conference, an issue about homosexuality had come up. One person spoke in favor of the legislation, another spoke against it. I remember being really interested in– and also shocked by–this dialogue unfolding; I’d never before heard some of the outrageous antigay things I was hearing, until I realized that Beverly was no longer sitting next to me. I looked around to see Beverly slowly backing out of the gym. She had a pained look on her face. I left my seat, and went to her; I didn’t realize what was upsetting her. She said, “I can’t be here for this. I can’t hear my Church talk about me like this.” She turned and walked away. “Bev, do you want me to come with you?” I asked, not sure whether to stay or go. “Stay,” she said, “and vote.”
So I stayed and voted. I don’t remember the details, but I recall that the antigay legislation we’d voted on was voted down. Beverly was glad to hear it. But she was still wounded.
That was a pivotal moment for me. I saw the nail wounds in Jesus’ hands and feet in the pain that my dear friend was going through. From that day forward, I began to see that the pain the Church inflicts on gays and lesbians as something that happens to me, too. The debates about sexuality aren’t theoretical arguments; they are about life and death. We are a broken body as Jesus’ body was broken on the cross.
But it’s the week after Easter Sunday when Mary Magdalene came bursting into the room to say, “He is risen, he is risen!” The body once broken is whole. Like Doubting Thomas, we want to experience it for ourselves. If we missed out last week, then this week we are holding out to see for ourselves. Thomas gets criticized because he has to see in order to believe. But the rest of the disciples are no different: they all believe only because they see.
So here we are, a week after Easter, when Thomas does see Jesus for himself. Thomas doesn’t even need to touch Jesus’ wounds. He sees him and responds with a powerful declaration of faith: “My Lord and My God.” Thomas gets it. More clearly than any of the other disciples, he gets it! Jesus resurrected isn’t a magic trick or a ghost. Jesus resurrected is his Lord and his God.
Like Thomas, we all want to experience Jesus resurrected for ourselves. To see him, touch him, know him. But one of the reasons the Gospel of John may include this story about Thomas is so that Jesus can say to disciples like you and me, “Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
How can we know Jesus’ body broken on Good Friday and not know Jesus’ body resurrected on Easter? We are reminded of this brokenness that leads to resurrection in every communion meal we share. The bread that we break and the cup of blessing that we bless, are these not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body. In that body is our unity and in our unity is our resurrection. What effects you, effects me. What hurts you, hurts me. All over America, and even in this sanctuary, people like my friend Beverly, gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender people created in the image of God, are wounded and beaten and denied and betrayed and abandoned by the Church.
But resurrection is possible. New life from this brokenness is possible. Because all over America, and even in this sanctuary, gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender people created in the image of God are welcomed and affirmed and loved and wanted and married and ordained in the Church. That’s the Christianity I want to be a part of. That’s the United Methodist Church I believe in. Together, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, may it be so.