March 19, 2023
John 20 gives us one of those timeless settings. The disciples had gathered in a house. Doors were locked. Questions were spiraling. The fear was palpable. Jesus had been crucified just a few days prior and the disciples still hadn’t really figured out what their next move should be. So, they sat. Confused. Doing nothing except worry about how the entire world had changed.
But then, all of a sudden, Jesus shows up. Only for a moment. Only for a brief second. It was as if he said, “Peace be with you!” in one breath and then “Peace, I’m out!” in the next. It all seemed to happen so fast.
All of the disciples were shocked. All of the disciples except for one. Thomas. He had missed it. Thomas left for what was probably a small time increment but was definitely a large faith experiential. The other disciples tried to explain what had happened, but Thomas wasn’t falling for it. He thought it was made up. He did not believe it to be true. He could not believe that their good news was for real. The other disciples continued to try and convince him until he said: “unless I see the marks …” (John 20:25).
We live in a post-Christendom world in which the church is no longer the center of our society. Some people even say that we now live in a post-post-Christendom world in which the transition from Christendom to whatever was to come after has already taken place.
Simply put, the world in which we live in is a new world! And it is unlike any world the church has ever existed in before. We believe this is a good thing. We hope you do, too! Our prayer is for us to move forward as the people of God in this new world, not retreat from it into a fictional state of yesteryear. But, since we live in a new world, this also means that we need to be ready to answer a new set of questions.
The church has historically been such a fixture in our communities that a lot of what we did as the church in the past had always been assumed, but we cannot assume that our new world understands what we do anymore. Therefore, we cannot be offended when the new-age doubting Thomas approach us with the timeless caveat:
This seems made up. This can’t be true. I don’t believe that this good news is for real. I don’t think I can buy into any of it “unless I see the marks.” (John 20:25).
For the past six years, The Office of Vital Congregations within the Presbyterian Mission Agency has been helping churches and presbyteries answer the question: “What does it mean for us to be vital today?” We have come up with a list of the “Seven Marks of Vital Congregations” to help us engage all the people around us in the world who want to hear more and believe but simply can’t until they see the marks. For more information, please visit us here.
Rev. Dr. Brian Coulter, Pastor/Head of Staff, First Presbyterian Church, Fort Worth, Texas
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, March 19, 2023, the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year A)
Today’s Focus: Matthew 25 Building Vital Congregations Sunday
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Dan and Elizabeth Turk, Mission co-workers serving in Madagascar, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Mienda Uriarte, Mission Director, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
Living Lord, by your Word and Spirit, show us your marks once again so that we may show them to this world! Breathe into our dry bones so that we may be a vital sign of the new life you offer to us all! In you, we live and move and pray. Amen.