That You May Believe

“That You May Believe”

John 20:19-20, 24-31 (20:30-31) – April 24, 2022

            Have you ever missed a really exciting event? Perhaps a big game or sports playoff? You had tickets, but at the last minute you got sick – or couldn’t go? And then, something really exciting happened at the game? Just recall what it felt like to miss out on something big like that! Frustrating, perhaps sad-making? Maybe you were even upset and angry? How do you think the disciple Thomas felt, missing out on the risen Jesus and His surprise first appearance?

            Let’s consider today’s narrative. John tells us in his Gospel: “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus, or “the Twin”), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” I suspect Thomas was gently ridiculed by his friends for not believing. But, Jesus did not return to His disciples for a full week, either.

            I don’t blame Thomas one bit for wanting some verifiable evidence, evidence he could see with his own eyes. I mean, this story the other disciples told him – it was a wild story, to be sure! Wouldn’t you want to see proof of such a thing for yourself before you swallowed the story, hook, line and sinker?   

            Thomas has gotten a bad rap for centuries. Imagine, having the nickname “Doubting Thomas” hung around your neck! Whenever anyone brings up your name, everyone always goes back to that single instance in your life. We can change that up, and look at Thomas as someone who really wonders. Someone who is curious and honest! What else can we say about Thomas?

            If we remember, Thomas was the disciple who cared enough – who was passionate enough about what Jesus was saying – to interrupt Jesus! In John chapter 14, Thomas did not understand, and he stopped Jesus in the middle of a statement. Jesus welcomed Thomas’s question! And, I am certain that that was not the only time Thomas asked his Rabbi a question. Thomas was a sincere seeker, and he truly wanted to know. To understand. And, to have proof. This is a good reminder for all of us: There is no honest question God cannot handle.

            It is important for everyone to keep wondering, and to continue to ask honest, sincere questions! Do you remember how your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews went through a time in their lives when they asked constant questions? “Why is the sky blue?” “How does the grass grow?” and “What kind of music does God like?”

Do you have questions for God? Is there a burning question you wish to ask Jesus, that you very much want to have answered? Perhaps a question about the whole Easter narrative, what we have been looking at during this Easter season? Remember, God has given us good minds and sensibilities, to help us figure things out in life. Even Godly things. God wants us to use our brains and celebrate our intelligence! Just like Thomas.

In the Upper Room, it’s like Jesus said, “Thomas, I know you don’t understand what is happening, But, whatever happens, I will be with you. You’ve got me.” It isn’t necessary to have a reasoned argument in every case – but we do need a faithful, loving presence, all the time. In Jesus, we have that!

            But, sometimes, people are scared to approach Jesus. Shy of pestering God. Are we straight forward? I mean, in terms of God? Thomas was! By the time Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Jewish authorities very much wanted to arrest the Rabbi Jesus. Thomas actually voiced the statement that going to Jerusalem was now a reckless, even foolish act. Thomas was a realist, and was not afraid to say what he meant, even when Jesus insisted He was going to Jerusalem anyway. Thomas finished that interaction with the bold, faithful statement, “Let us go and die with him.” Whatever else we say about Thomas, we can see how brave and loyal he was.

            Which brings us back to today’s reading from the Gospel of John. 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas needed to see for himself. He needed concrete evidence. (as some people do!) After Jesus returned and invited Thomas to place his fingers in the scars, Thomas made the most stirring confession of faith in the New Testament: “My Lord and my God!” His skepticism – his realistic questioning – was turned to certain, true belief. That was Thomas’s statement of faith! Thomas the realist. Loyal, bold, brave Thomas.

            Let’s move from Thomas, who has been known as a doubter. (Even though he probably was not, as we can see from the Gospel record!) Let’s think about doubting, in general. Which of us has never, ever doubted in our lives? I suspect all of us have had a whole wilderness of doubts and uncertainties in our lives! What do we doubt? Are we ever unsure about Jesus and His claims? About Jesus and His presence right next to us? About God’s faithful love for us?  

            Perhaps Thomas’s confession cancels out his previous question in the Upper Room, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Perhaps that is why John finishes chapter 20 with the words “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

            We can rejoice in the Resurrection! And, we can rejoice by believing in Jesus, the Resurrected One, and have life in His name – eternal life! Alleluia, amen!            

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to Carolyn C. Brown and her excellent article Worshiping with Children, Easter 2C, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016. For this sermon, I took a number of ideas from her suggestions for the Gospel reading. Wonderful commentary, too!)

Jesus is Back! Just Ask Thomas.

“Jesus is Back! Just Ask Thomas.”

John 20-28 st-thomas

John 20:19-29 – April 28, 2019

Who remembers reading storybooks to their children or grandchildren? I do! I love to read stories, and I read books to the preschoolers here every Tuesday morning. One of my favorite stories is about Curious George. Curious George is a monkey who is very curious and mischievous, and always gets into big trouble because of his curiosity. But, by the end of the books, everything always comes out all right. Except—George remains curious.

Traditionally, many people have thought of “doubting Thomas” as really negative, a person we might point our fingers at, and perhaps view as “the Disciple least likely to believe in Jesus.” But what if we viewed Thomas as curious, as the kind of person who needed evidence? Sincere questioning is positive. Being curious is positive. Some people need first-hand evidence. Curious Thomas was just such a person.

What would the monkey Curious George have thought of not being there for something exciting, a super exciting event he missed out on? That was what happened to Curious Thomas. For some reason—we are not told why—Thomas was not with the other Disciples when the risen Lord Jesus came to be with them on that first day of the week. Afterwards, I suspect when the others told Thomas about it, Curious Thomas was beside himself with curiosity! He had to see for himself what had happened!

Do you know someone who is like that, who really needs evidence to fully believe? How many of us need evidence before we stop being skeptical? “Well, I’m not sure. It seems like a real long shot. I wonder—but we will have to see.” Curious, yes! And skeptical, yes!

We know God welcomes questions! How many times was Jesus asked honest questions during the Gospels? And how many times was Thomas one of those asking the questions? I suspect Thomas was one of the Disciples who just had to know “why,” who was both skeptical and curious. Curious Thomas.

Dr. David Lose, one of my favorite commentators, put it this way: “But that’s not the way it works with Thomas. He doubts. He questions. He disbelieves. He’s not satisfied with second-hand reports and wants to see for himself. And again I would say, who can blame him? He was, after all, one of those who saw his Lord and friend mistreated, beaten, and then crucified and has probably spent the last few days pulling the broken pieces of his life back together and trying to figure out what to do next.” [1]

Listen again to our Gospel reading from John: “24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

In this modern day and age, scientific evidence is held up as the gold standard for many things: for medical testing, for chemistry experiments, for biological research. Commentator Dr. Martin Marty says, “The counsel is clear: do not accept something just because people traditionally have done so. Science is creatively disrespectful of such traditions. Scientists reason that if they are to heal, they must probe, criticize, evaluate, and seek to discover.” [2]

Sometimes, our honest questions show we are particularly curious, and extremely interested in what we are questioning. Sometimes, we need evidence, just like Thomas.

Except—Jesus does something remarkable the next time He returns to the Upper Room. He obviously knows that Thomas has honest questions, and He will certainly respond to them! However, listen to what Jesus does first: “26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Did you hear? Before Jesus does anything else, He wishes His disciples peace. “Peace be with you.” That is what we did after the reading of Scripture today. Many churches make the Passing of the Peace a weekly part of their worship service, and I wanted to highlight it. Peace, or shalom, is a traditional Jewish greeting, it is true, but for Jesus to wish His friends peace? For the risen Lord Jesus to bless His disciples with peace, and commend peace to them? This is so significant, and so moving.

It is only then that our Lord Jesus turns to curious, skeptical Thomas: “Then Jesus focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

The Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio created a famous painting called “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.” In this painting, the risen Jesus shows the wound in His side, and Thomas is actually sticking his finger into the wound. We know from John’s Gospel account that Jesus was quite willing to go to any length to give Thomas the evidence he needed to satisfy his questions, to allay his curiosity and skepticism.

How far are we willing to go with Jesus? Do we have honest questions? Do we have questions regarding some miracle, or are we curious about a parable Jesus told? Or, perhaps are we just plain skeptical about the Resurrection story itself? Do we wonder how on earth the story of Jesus rising from the dead 2000 years ago will make any difference in our lives today?

What is it to be a Christian? Do we need faith? Do we need evidence? Do we need to see God at work in people’s lives?

How serious are we about this thing we call Christianity? Is it a religion, a creed, a set of beliefs we believe in, and if other people don’t believe exactly the way we do, are they wrong? Do we banish them to outer darkness, and not allow those people to come into our churches or our lives? Or, do we have a living, vital relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ? Is He our Best Friend? Does He come alongside of each one of us, in the happy times as well as the sad times, and walk by our sides all the way? No matter what?

Thomas made the first-person testimony after he was convinced that Jesus was alive. He said, “My Lord and my God!” Can you and I say that, and mean it?

Jesus is waiting. He has His arms open wide. Come with your honest questions: God can handle them. Come with your skepticism and fear, your anger, or hesitancy and doubt. Jesus does understand. He really does.

Come to Jesus, today. Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/03/easter-2-c-blessed-doubt/

“Blessed Doubt,” David Lose, …in the meantime, 2016.

[2] Marty, Martin E., Theological Perspective on John 20:19-31, 2nd Sunday of Easter, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 2 (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 396.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!