John 20:19-31

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God… What happened was the Holy Spirit took a breath, and began to sing, and all of life came back to life. The Word of God is the light that shines in the darkness like the stars that spill across the night. And the Word of God is a love song for all creation.

Four months ago in the middle of Advent, the people of Church of Peace began a journey through the Gospel of John. Today we have arrived at the end.

For months now, we’ve been sharing the story of how the LORD our God looks at this world, and sees the violence, and God’s own heart breaks. It brings him to tears. For God so loves this broken world, they choose to come crashing across the boundary between heaven and earth.

God comes into the world to go with us —word made flesh!— and God has been crossing this boundary ever since. All through the Gospel of John, Jesus brings death back to life. He keeps on bringing the outsiders in and sending the insiders back out.

And in case you’re wondering how he keeps crossing these boundaries, I think it could be: This is what grace is.

More than a thought experiment that expands our notion of what’s possible…

More than the saturating of forgiveness or the mighty power of God…

Grace is the shining of the stars spilling across the night.

Grace is the welcome waiting on the other side. Grace is going to get us across the border!


In recent months, our world has seen millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine. We’ve seen old people boarding trains while holding the hands of children. We’ve seen teenagers carrying puppies. We look at these people and think, that could be us! We’ve got to do something.

In Poland, Jakub Golata drove a minibus transporting Ukrainian refugees who had come to the border. That’s when he realized they didn’t all have a place to go. He and his wife Gosia rented out the entire Park Hotel for women and children. This is remarkable, but what gets me, is this kind of thing has been happening all over the place.

Children in an Ohio Sunday School have been making sunflower prayer pictures. My friend Dave serves as pastor of St. John’s UCC in rural Illinois. Their music director, Tetyana, is from Ukraine. Their tiny country church hosted a concert that raised over four thousand dollars for the UCC Ukraine Emergency Appeal.1

Jakub Golata, the man who rented the hotel, said this to a reporter: “We cannot carry on drinking tea and thinking about the crisis. Now we’ve got hundreds of thousands of people exposed to potential abuse and sleeping rough. We need to act now.”2 In that comment, he could be speaking for the world.

When it comes to refugees from Ukraine, the global community has *not* been saying, We’ll help you if you meet our qualifications. It’s not been, Oh your city was just bombed? Well, we’ll help you if you pass this drug test. We have free clothes for children, but we’re only giving them to the kids who turned in their homework and brushed their teeth. I mean —that would be unthinkable!

In these past weeks, we have seen humanity cross the line dividing outsiders and insiders, the line dividing our assessment from our compassion. Instead of requiring that people fleeing for their lives answer the demand: How are you worthy? We’ve been asking them: What do you need? How can we help? Turns out, we have known how to ask this all along…


The story that Sylvia read begins on Easter evening. The disciples were afraid of the temple authorities; they were hiding in a locked room trying to figure out their next move. That’s when Jesus appeared in the middle of the room! He spoke words of peace, he showed them his hands and his side, he filled them with the Holy Spirit and commissioned them to carry forgiveness into the world.

Only problem was— Thomas missed the meeting. When the others met up with him and told him what happened, Thomas said the words that have made him famous:

Unless I see the nail marks in his hands—
Unless I get to touch him with my hands, I will not believe.

Now maybe he said that with haughty indignation; maybe he stamped his foot. For centuries now, Christians have blamed Thomas for being too literal, or too cynical, or too stubborn. Maybe the problem is his refusal to believe without seeing, but I will tell you, I don’t think so.

I think Thomas is telling us what he needs. And maybe— he’s allowed to do that.

If you have ever been left out of a group, then you understand. There’s a human impulse that induces panic at the first sign of being on the outside when we want to be inside. We think, well, this must be who I am now!

If I’m locked out, surely it must be their fault for excluding me. Or more likely… If I’m being left out, somehow this must be my fault.

We do this when we’re grieving.

We do this when our faith is weary.

We do this when we’re sick or in pain. You know, the first thing people say to me after surviving a fall, is Well, I knew I shouldn’t have done that… Done what? Walk?! Falling down is not your fault, but wow, we sure think it is. We are so quick to blame ourselves!

So of course we can imagine that Thomas was blaming himself. Here the risen Lord came back to see the disciples, but not him! Centuries of Sunday School lessons have joined in blaming Thomas, but there’s one person who absolutely does not.

The next week when the disciples were all together in the room, Jesus shows up again. This time, he goes over to Thomas, and he does not say, Your lack of faith is your fault. Instead, Jesus says, If you need to see me, if you need to touch me, I’m here.

Now Jesus didn’t even let Mary Magdalene touch him when she tried to give him a hug. He was all, Don’t cling to me! But here he comes back. The grace of God pouring heaven into earth, moving through the walls and the locked doors, moving across the boundaries between outsiders and insiders.

Jesus shows up, not because Thomas is at fault, but because Thomas is in need. That difference is everything.

Jesus comes to us for exactly the same reason. Maybe we need to be close to him too. And maybe— we’re not wrong to need that…

In our Lenten book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans says it like this:

“The gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, ‘Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.’ This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy. It’s a kingdom for the hungry.”3Evans, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN, 2015. page 149.


In so many ways, the world has been seeing the Ukrainian refugees and asking: What do you need? How can we help?

It’s just, this is not the only war going on right now. There are countless refugees, many who live right here in our neighborhood, many who are Black and Brown, many who have suffered beyond what we can imagine. Every day, they’re facing new barriers. They’re hearing, If you think you’re going to get any help, you better prove why you deserve it. The unspoken message is clear: If you’re poor, it must be your fault. If you’re hurting, it must be your fault.

But we know, that’s not it at all! We know how to ask the better question.

Already, Sylvia is talking with World Relief about English classes returning to Church of Peace next fall. Annette has been collecting donations for Afghan refugees who have come to the Quad Cities. George and Mary have been donating leftover food from the Pantry. If we decide that we want to build our partnership with World Relief, I’m telling you, this path would lead Church of Peace right into new life.


When Jesus went back to find Thomas, he said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Here’s the thing. Jesus wasn’t saying that to Thomas. He wasn’t saying that to the other disciples. All the people in the room did get to see him! Jesus is breaking the fourth wall and saying that to us. He’s looking right at us and offering us a way to be close to him.

See the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen its glory. From the fullness of God we keep on receiving grace upon grace upon grace.

More than a thought experiment that expands our notion of what is possible…

More than the saturating of forgiveness or the mighty power of God…

Grace is the shining of the stars spilling across the night.
It’s the dog being cared for inside the bomb shelter. It’s the bread from HyVee given to our neighbors who just arrived in this country. It’s what spirits us across the boundary from assessment to compassion, from outsider to insider, from heaven to earth.

Grace is Jesus standing right in front of us because the locked doors won’t keep him out, because we need to be close to him, because you can have the whole wide world, but give me Jesus! Then it’s grace that gives us the question that keeps leading us to life and new life:

What do you need? We have come here to help.

Thanks be to God.


3 Evans, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN, 2015. page 149.

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