Have you been reading the newspaper in the last couple of weeks? All kinds of interesting miracles reported. In fact, there have been two articles about people coming back to life. Some dude named Lazlo or something just walked out of his tomb in front of his family and friends all wrapped up in these white fabric wrappings. No major medical intervention, his best friend just standing there calling his name.

Oh, and then not long after that the best friend gets killed - you know brutally beaten and tortured and the kind of stuff that is great money maker at the movies. They bury him and then people start seeing him walking around the town a few days later.

Hold up Newspaper. Anybody believe in this stuff? Not me. I'd have to see it to believe it. And even then, with all the high tech gadgets, virtual reality, holograms and such, I'd still not believe it. I'm a skeptic all the way. Remember the line, Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.

What about you? Do you believe what you have heard? Is the story behind this garden scene these ladies have so beautifully created real for you? Last Sunday we celebrated the resurrection with overflowing pews and nearly double our attendance. Can you say it? Christ is Risen …. He is Risen Indeed! Let me hear it again only a little louder! Christ is Risen….He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!!!! Amen!!! I know this is a little uncomfortable for us Lutherans to shout out loud but think about it folks! We have just remembered the most wonderful event in all history and that's all you can do? Can you say, "I believe!!!! ____________! Really? Then what are you doing here? Why are you not shouting it from the rooftops, the street corners, calling everyone you know and then those you don't to tell them? I was kinda hoping to have either an empty house because you were so excited and busy sharing the good news - or a packed house cause you had found so many new folks who were interested enough to come and see what Jesus is all about.

Truth is, we're all a lot like the disciples. We believe enough to get together and talk about it with one another, but our world is a pretty volatile place. There's atheists who want to remove all hints of religion from any public space. There's zealots who believe our country is God's gift to the world. Then there's radicals who just don't like us. And, its easier and safer to stay with our own kind and worship inside churches.

So, there were the disciples, hiding behind locked doors. Not just the Eleven who had been chosen, but other believers as well. They were gathered for fear of the Jews or at least some of their own people. Now, they all had knowledge that something big had happened. First they heard the tomb was empty. And, then Mary told them she had seen Jesus - face to face. He had spoken to her. But nevertheless they were hiding. All but one, that is….Thomas.

Now as the story goes, he was not present at this closed meeting when Jesus arrived. For the most part folks malign Thomas. Translators use the word doubt and we assume his faith wasn't strong enough to even prompt him to gather with the rest of his friends to talk about what they were going to do now.

But I think we need to be careful with our assumptions. The Gospel of John gives us more clues than any of the other gospels into Thomas' character. He's the one who insists the disciples accompany Jesus when he wants to return to Bethany - a place they had all narrowly escaped being stoned to death. He says, "Let us also go that we may die with him." John 11:16.

Then at the Supper when Jesus was telling them he was going to prepare a place for them and would come again to take them to himself. Thomas was the one to speak up and ask questions. He was the one who was honestly seeking to know instead of sitting there silently dumbfounded trying to hide their lack of understanding. So, while Jesus was saying, "so that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going. He said, Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?

Jesus' response is gentle. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.

I see Thomas as a doer. A practical man who knew what he needed to get the job done. I see Thomas after having heard Mary's announcement that she had seen Jesus, he was out there looking for that same experience himself…not sitting in a room somewhere. Then, when he found out Jesus had appeared to the disciples and they were ragging him about it saying things like, "We saw him, "We saw him with our very own eyes". Thomas was not going to take anyone's word for it. He knew what he needed to enliven his faith. He knew he wanted to see Jesus again. He knew what it would mean for his life and he wanted it. As gory as it may sound to some of us he wanted to touch the places of pain and death and see what unbelievable things Jesus had overcome. To get in touch with the magnitude of suffering that Jesus had borne for him.

I can picture him, weeping as the reality swept over him the truth of who Jesus is. I can see him sinking to his knees, hands clinging to Jesus' robes, As he confessed, "My Lord and My God."

Any of you who are educators know that not everyone assimilates information through the same methods. Some are visual. They can see something in print, read it, and they've got it. Others, have to reinforce the information by writing it down, or repeating it outloud. Others have to hear it, or see for themselves, others have to touch. So, if there is important information to impart for critical understanding, then a good teacher uses every method at his or her disposal so that the one receiving, gets it, She gets it - and is able to put it into practice in her own life. And Jesus has always been the ideal teacher, using every possible method available to him to help his flock be prepared in every way to continue the work that Jesus began. When Mary was emotionally distraught in the garden, he spoke her name. When the disciples were too afraid, he came to them. He was not upset with Thomas for not being there the week before. He simply gave Thomas exactly what he needed for his faith.

It is interesting, in the original Greek, Jesus does not say, "Do not doubt" - because doubt is skepticism - you know perhaps it didn't really happen so let me go check it out for myself, maybe I'll discover some clues to the real story. Rather Jesus says, "Be not unbelieving but believe." The verb forms here are two different states of being. It's a sense of a new life. What the other disciples had received a week ago was just that. He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." It invokes the beginning of life in Genesis, when God breathed into Adam and Eve.

Jesus shared his peace with them and sent them out! And now, Thomas is receiving that very thing. He too receives Jesus' peace. He too is blessed with understanding - critical understanding - for the days and weeks, and years ahead. For understanding is powerful when one is facing adversity and you need courage and strength.

We know something big happened to these disciples in those few days because they changed 180 degrees. They went from timid men hiding out at someone's house to becoming extremely visible and heard. The history portrayed in Acts tells us of bold men, imprisoned for their witnessing, freed by angels, and confidently teaching again and again in the temple - unafraid of imprisonment or floggings.

Church tradition tells how they each went to different lands spreading the news. And each one martyred for his faith. Matthew in Ethiopia, Mark in Egypt, John in Turkey, Peter in Rome, James the Just Jerusalem, Bartholomew also known as Nathanael in Asia, Andrew - Greece, Thomas - India, Barnabas - Salonica, Italy and Cyprus. James the Greater was accompanied to his trial by a Roman officer who listened amazed at his eloquence. As he walked with James to his beheading he was so overcome that he declared his new faith and knelt beside him to receive his own beheading.

At the beginning of the message I talked with the children about signs. How signs don't just share knowledge with us or direct us where to go, but point the way to a greater truth that may be experienced. The resurrection is like that. It is more than a miracle, it is more than a fulfillment of prophecy. It is a sign that points us toward experiencing the power of God.

Jesus said to Thomas, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." He is speaking about those who would come to have faith in the days when Jesus was not physically present. He is speaking about us. God knows what you need to enliven your faith and God offers it to you daily. And when your faith takes fruit in your life it is not a "decision" on your part but rather a work of the Holy Spirit that has changed your life and has caused you to believe - to be alive. To experience a relationship. That is what Jesus means by Blessed are those.

And so you have come, hoping that you may be showered with that blessing. Hoping that God will breathe into you new life that will carry you back out into the world.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan