Grace and Peace are yours from the Risen Christ. Amen.
“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.”
We give Thomas such a hard time sometimes.
In some academic-y type faith circles, Thomas is held up as a hero, a sort of unofficial patron Saint of Doubt and Reason and Empirical Data. And in other circles, Thomas is scorned as the disciple whose faith wasn’t big enough and given the disdainful nickname, “Doubting Thomas.”
I’m sure those of you who are familiar with the story have already realized or had this pointed out to you, but Thomas was not asking for anything that the other disciples hadn’t already had.
Each of them had come to their belief by seeing, by experiencing. Mary saw Jesus at the tomb. The other disciples had seen Jesus a week earlier when Thomas was not there with them. So yes, these other people believed in the miracle of the resurrected Christ, but only after seeing for themselves. Thomas wasn’t asking for any more. He wanted to experience this crazy thing for himself, like they had. And when Thomas DID have his own experience, he uttered a pure cry of faith, “My Lord and my God.”
In lieu of debating the relative merits of skepticism and belief as if they are not two sides of the same coin, I find myself instead being drawn to this story this time as a story about the POWER of the lived experience.
This last week the whole nation witnessed the shooting of Walter Scott by police officer Michael Slag. We weren’t there in South Carolina with Walter as he bled out and died, but because of the heroism and bravery of a young man named Feidin Santana who videotaped the encounter on his cell phone, we witnessed it nonetheless. Walter’s death was brought into our living rooms on the 6 o’clock news, onto our timelines via social media….in the midst of our daily routine, Death came knocking on our door, and the stench and horror of it interrupted our everyday lives. We weren’t there to put our hands in his wounds like Thomas, but we experienced it nonetheless.
And now from my white friends who had previously held doubts about the state of racism in our country or the state of our criminal justice system, now from these friends who had doubted before I am hearing cries of belief. “My God,”they say in horror, “How could this happen?!”
And from my Black friends I hear also, “My God!” But instead of shock and horror, my friends of color are sighing in relief, “My God!” They exhale, “Maybe now they will believe.”
Because to my Black friends, Walter Scott is not news. To my Black friends, Walter Scott is no surprise. To my Black friends, this is the daily reality of their lived experiences.
Lived experiences are powerful. They frame our reality. For myself, as a white woman, I have to admit that a year or so ago, if I would’ve heard about Walter Scott, I would’ve been surprised too. The privilege of living in my white skin allowed me to ignore the realities of the lived experiences of my friends of color because I myself had not had those experiences. I never experienced being pulled over for Driving While Black. I never experienced terror or fear when interacting with law enforcement. That was not my lived reality, it was not my experience and so even though I would never have thought my friends were lying, exactly, I guess if I were to be honest I thought they were blowing things out of proportion. It wasn’t until I went to Ferguson 8 months ago in August and saw for myself that I believed.
After Walter Scott was killed, I posted something on my Facebook wall that was shared over and over by my Black friends. It said, “Ask yourself, what will it take for me to believe Black people about their own experiences? #WalterScott.” I asked one of my friends to tell me why that post had resonated with her and she said, “You’re white. And I can’t tell you how important it is to me, how much it means, to have you believe me.”
Jesus blessed Thomas for believing after seeing, but then blessed even more those of us who would choose to believe without having seen. Walter Scott died and now, “My God,” more of us have seen and believed. But how many more blood sacrifices must be made on the altar of White Supremacy before we choose to believe people about their own lived experiences?
You might be wondering what all of this has to do with Youth Ministry, since of course that is in large part why I am here with you today. First of all, the current Civil Rights movement, which is taking place in our own diocese, birthed in Ferguson and St. Louis has, has been driven forward by the vitality and tenacity of the leadership of youth and young adults.
But also importantly, this lesson of listening, seeing and believing can and must be applied to any situation in which we are interacting with a group or person who is disproportionately underrepresented.
I do not have to tell you that in our churches, young people are underrepresented. Young people are underrepresented in the pews, yes, but even more importantly than the numbers, young people’s voices have been under-appreciated in the process of visioning the future of the Church.
Seeing, listening, believing is a foundational component to youth ministry. I have found that in my ministry with young people, the most key and important thing that they need from me is not flashy youth programs or ski trips or beanbags or pizza parties. The most important thing that youth need from you and from me and from the Church is to be believed. To be seen. To be heard.
And so I am here today to urge you to make young people FULL PARTNERS in your ministry building. It might not be easy or neat. In fact I can pretty much guarantee that it will be difficult and messy….and RIGHT and GOOD and NECESSARY.
Because our lived experiences do not exist in a vacuum. We belong to one another. In our epistle reading today it says this, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–his life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—“
And then, then it says this, “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us.” We share this lived experience with you so that you may have fellowship with us. We share who we are with you, we share our lives with you, so that we may, like thePsalm today said, “Live together in unity.
Because it is only when we listen and see and hear one another that the picture painted for us in Acts 4 can happen. That’s the only way we can move forward, it’s the only way that we as a group of believers can live, not as a fragmented and broken body, but as a body of believers together beating as “one heart, one soul.”
Can you imagine the kind of power that THAT body would have in the world? A body which doesn’t forget its old and cherishes its young?
A body which our differences in gender and skin color are SEEN and LOVED and CELEBRATED and bring us CLOSER TOGETHER instead of driving us apart?
Can you imagine a body like that?
It would bring a Revolution.