Do We Doubt?

“Do We Doubt?”

John 20:24-31 (20:27) – April 11, 2021

            As a trained chaplain, I am sadly familiar with deep shocks and devastating emotions. Yes, I have come alongside of many in the hospital, in care centers, and at funeral homes, and sat with them as they experienced all kinds of massive trauma and shock.

            I can hardly imagine what it was like for the disciples, for the followers of the Rabbi Jesus, immediately after the Crucifixion. But, knowing what I know about strong, sudden grief, the disciples probably had terrible trauma and horrible experiences of that last week, and especially that twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life.

            When the women disciples burst in, early on Easter Sunday morning, with amazing, great good news, that must have been yet another shock. What was that, again? The empty tomb? Did someone move the Rabbi’s body? But – wait – the women said angels testified that Jesus was no longer dead. He is alive! He has risen from the dead!

            But, what does that all mean, exactly?  

            When people go through significant trauma and massive shocks to their brains, nervous systems, and emotional and spiritual regulation, it takes a period of time before things register. Even when it is positive, good news, after so much, so many horrible experiences. Different people take in this kind of news at different speeds, too.

            Just between you and me, if I had been one of the women disciples, I am not sure how I would have reacted. Would I have doubted, like the other disciples? I honestly do not know.

            What about Thomas, anyhow? What was the deal with him? Let’s go back in the Gospel of John, and find out a few things about Thomas. Remember, he was the disciple who cared enough to interrupt Jesus when he did not understand what Jesus was saying (in John 14:5). I see Thomas as straightforward and up front. He really wanted to understand his Rabbi. Thomas was also the one who told Jesus – plainly – that He was foolish to go to Jerusalem where His enemies were out to get Him, and even wanted to kill Him. However, when Jesus insisted on going anyhow, Thomas insisted on going with Jesus – “Let us go and die with Him!” (John 11:7-16) Thomas was that loyal, and that earnest. [1]

            How many of us, today, could say the same? Would we be willing to walk into a sure trap, with our eyes open, showing our loyalty to our leader? Thomas was.

            Let’s fast forward to that Easter Sunday, after what we know is the Resurrection. But, most of the disciples don’t know that yet. Not until the women disciples return from the tomb. The large group of followers of Jesus are huddled in the large upper room. They are hiding out, hidden away, laying low. Plus, they have locked the doors because they are all afraid.

            Can you relate? I know during wars and uprisings, groups of believers have hidden themselves away, very much afraid. I cannot blame this group of disciples. That great fear is exactly why they were hiding in the locked room. Except – they were in for the biggest shock of their lives. Jesus showed up, and came right in the upper room, even though the door was locked.

I would like to point out that Jesus did not say, “What happened?  Where were you?  You screwed up!” No, instead He said, “Peace.”  In other words, “It’s okay. I understand. I forgive you.” Imagine how the rag-tag group of disciples felt when they heard that. [2]

Except, Thomas was not there, for some reason. Perhaps he was not even in Jerusalem. Thomas has gotten bad press over the years. In fact, over the centuries. But, he totally missed the first appearance of the risen Lord Jesus. Thomas was extremely hesitant to swallow a huge story, especially when he was not an eye-witness. Do you know people like that? They won’t believe a hard-to-believe thing until they can see it for themselves.

Thomas had honest questions. He really wanted to see for himself what the others had already seen. We want to encourage people to ask questions, and come and see! That is what Jesus offered to Thomas: come and see! Jesus held out His pierced wrists and showed Thomas the wound in His side. Jesus is not afraid of honest questions!

One reason I am hesitant to label Thomas a doubter is because of the negative connotations doubting can have. Remember, Jesus welcomed Thomas’ questions! [3] Jesus welcomes skeptics, agnostics, just plain curious people, and people who really want to know things, even if they need to be convinced.   

            Do you have questions for Jesus? Thomas was honest and straightforward – he realized this was the real deal when he was face to face with the risen Jesus. With each person – with each of us – coming to faith is an individual experience. Thomas saw, believed, and made the statement, “My Lord and my God!” That’s his testimony to us.

 I sense the disciple John, our Gospel writer, had his own path to belief. He came to believe in the risen Jesus immediately. Will we believe in the risen Jesus just as easily as John? Or, will we need some time, like Thomas?

            The bottom line? It’s different for different people. Everyone has questions, too. Each of us is a unique individual, and each of us has a unique encounter with Jesus. “Be a believing Thomas. Push as hard as you need to until you are awestruck and moved to proclaim with Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God!’” [4]


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/02/year-b-second-sunday-of-easter-april-12.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 2, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-easter/commentary-on-john-2019-31-12

Commentary, Jaime Clark-Soles, John 20:19-31, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Jesus Wept, Too

John 11:1-44 (11:35) – April 2, 2017

John 11-35 Jesus wept, bible

“Jesus Wept, Too”

In hospitals and care centers throughout the country, chaplains are called to the bedsides of dying patients. The families of patients are grief-stricken, and need comfort, and spiritual and emotional care. Imagine the loved ones of the patient, recently deceased, rushing to the hospital from some distance to be with their loved one, one last time. Alas, the deceased patient has, sadly, already been moved from the room.

When I worked as a chaplain, from time to time this would happen. Can you imagine such a sad visit to the hospital? I would walk with the few relatives down to the morgue in the basement of the hospital with the nursing supervisor and we would bring them to see their loved one. Always—always the loved ones would be deeply moved. Sometimes with tears, sometimes with emotion. Their relative had died. I witnessed such raw feelings of deep grief, heartbreak, sometimes anger, and even despair—just as in our reading today from the Gospel of John.

Our Gospel reading today comes from John, chapter 11. I will read most of the chapter. This is about our Lord Jesus in the town of Bethany. I’ll let John fill us in on the details.

11 1-3 A man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the brother of Mary and her sister Martha. This was the same Mary who massaged the Lord’s feet with aromatic oils and then wiped them with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love so very much is sick.”

When Jesus got the message, he said, “This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son.”

From what John says here, we can see how much Jesus cares for Lazarus and Mary and Martha. We may wonder at the cryptic response Jesus gives in response to the urgent message from the sisters, almost an SOS for help. Jesus healed others, Certainly He will heal our brother!

“After two days, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” They said, “Rabbi, you can’t do that. The Jews are out to kill you, and you’re going back?”

9-10 Jesus replied, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I’m going to wake him up.” Jesus was talking about death, while his disciples thought he was talking about taking a nap. 14-15 Then Jesus became explicit: “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.”

This is a complication, to be sure! Bethany is just down the road from Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders were already threatening to kill Rabbi Jesus, and He proposes to walk right into their backyard? Moreover, Jesus knows that His friend Lazarus is dead. But, He goes anyway. And, His disciples go with Him.

17-20 When Jesus finally got there, he found Lazarus already four days dead. Bethany was near Jerusalem, only a couple of miles away, and many of their friends were visiting Martha and Mary. Martha heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet him. Mary remained in the house.

21-22 Martha said, “Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.” 23 Jesus said, “Your brother will be raised up.” 24 Martha replied, “I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.”

25-26 “You don’t have to wait for the End. Right now, I am Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world.”

We see more of this family, and more of their grief. Many of the sisters’ friends and acquaintances are mourning with them at their home. Mary remains in the house while Martha goes out to see her friend Jesus. Martha makes the heartfelt statement that Lazarus will be raised at the end of time. And, Jesus follows that with one of the most striking “I am” statements from the Gospel of John here! I am Resurrection and Life! Jesus not only has power over the present time, but He has power over the future, as well. Martha’s response? It is in the formal language of a confession of faith. In the midst of her grief, she affirms—she confesses—that Jesus is, indeed, Messiah, the Son of God.

28  She went to her sister Mary and whispered in her ear, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.” 29-32 The moment Mary heard that, she jumped up and ran out to him. Mary came to where Jesus was waiting and fell at his feet, saying, “Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33-34 When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, he was troubled and a deep anger welled up within him. He said, “Where did you all put him?” 34-35 “Master, come and see,” they said. Now Jesus wept.

Some people think Jesus is God. Only God. Not human at all. Yet, we can clearly see here that Jesus had emotions. He was troubled and deeply angry. He was sorrowful and He wept. These are deep feelings, and almost everyone has experienced them sometime in life. Jesus experienced them, too. Yes, He was fully God, and yes, He was fully human, like each of us, all of us. Jesus wept, too. He felt the loss of His friend’s death deeply, and mourned.

36 The Jews said, “Look how deeply he loved him.” 37 Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.” 38-39 Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!”

40 Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41-42 Then, to the others, “Go ahead, take away the stone.” They removed the stone. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.”

Everyone dies. Yes, it is incredibly sad. As soon as a baby is born into the world, we all know for certain that that baby will die. Yes, sometimes we say “She died too soon.” Or, “Died in his prime. What a shame!” Yet, death happens to everyone, with no exceptions. As a Rabbi acquaintance of mine said several years ago, “We all have an expiration date.” It just depends on whether it is sooner or later in our lives. Each of us must come to terms with our mortality. [1]

43-44 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.” 45-48 That was a turnaround for many of the Jews who were with Mary. They saw what Jesus did, and believed in him.

            God can come alongside of all of us, whether we are grieving the death of a loved one, the shock of a sudden medical diagnosis, or the loss of a needed job. Jesus weeps with us as we go through all of these experiences. He walks with us through the valley of the shadow.

But, that is not all—oh, no! We see from today’s bible reading that Jesus is much more than just a companion in time of need. John tells us that Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead. How can that be? How can it be that Jesus brought back to life a man who was dead?” [2] We can affirm that Jesus is not only Lord of creation, but also Life-giver of the living. Not only in the first century, but also today.

 

How this resurrection can possibly happen is not to be understood with our minds. But we can understand it by faith, with our hearts. Because it is by faith that you and I, like Martha, confess that Jesus is uniquely connected to God. It is by faith that we, like Martha, confess that Jesus is Messiah, the Christ, God incarnate. [3]

This is another blessed aspect of our Gospel message. As I say each Sunday after our confession of sins, “Believe the Good News of the Gospel!” Jesus tells us all today, “Believe My Good News!” Just as Jesus had the power to raise Lazarus, so He will raise us all. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. By faith we believe, praise God. Amen.

 

(The Gospel reading is from the modern translation The Message, by Eugene Peterson. With gratitude, I appreciate Rev. Peterson’s translation and use his words in my sermon today.)

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/fifth-sunday-in-lent7#preaching

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)