“Thomas”

John 20:19-31

27 April 2014

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester and West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

 

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

 

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

 

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Prayer.

 

William Duncan Vandiver

served in the US House of Representatives

as a representative from the State of Missouri

for six years,

from 1897 to 1903.

In a speech at a naval banquet in 1899

he declared,

“I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats,

And frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me.

I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

Since then, Missouri has been known as the “Show Me State.”

Missourians are so proud of their identity,

They even print it on their license plates.

Congressman Vandiver and the Apostle Thomas

Could have been brothers from another mother.

Show me if you want me to believe.

Seeing is believing.

 

Jesus came and stood among them.

 

Now, it seems to me that

{C}·       {C}If Jesus was a fraud

{C}·       {C}If Jesus had faked his death

{C}·       {C}If Jesus had fooled the Roman and Jewish authorities

{C}·       {C}If Jesus had successfully pulled the sleight of hand before the crowds

Then he would not have remained in hiding around Jerusalem.

He would have been a fugitive,

and making an exit to the nearest wilderness

as soon as possible.

 

He didn’t.

He remained right there in Jerusalem.

So I don’t believe he was a fake, fraud, or fool.

He came and stood among them,

for everyone to see,

right there in plain sight.

I believe that the only logical explanation to this phenomena

is that Jesus suffered, died, and was risen from the dead.

His incarnate body is resurrected,

standing in their midst,

out in the open,

filled with the mind, heart, and soul of God.

 

Given this simple approach to logic

I would have been a pushover to anyone who testified

“I have seen the Lord!”

Wouldn’t you?

If ten others collectively shared the same testimony,

ten other eyewitnesses,

There would be no debate.

 

They had been locked in for fear of the Jews,

everyone, that is, except for Judas, of course,

and Thomas.

Considering the recent events,

 of what the Jewish authorities had done to Jesus,

we can understand the anxiety his disciples must have felt:

“They lashed Jesus; they are coming to rip our bodies to shreds.

“They crucified Jesus; they are coming to nail us to a cross, too.”

“Lock the doors, Peter!”

 

He just appears.

That’s right, he appears out of nowhere.

We can only guess the terror that must have held them,

almost as if he was wearing a hockey mask and carrying a chain saw.

Sure, Mary Magdalene returned from the grave shouting that he had risen,

but, you know, consider the source.

Dead people just don’t come back to life.

Or do they?

 

Over the course of the past three years,

Jesus had resurrected a few in his time.

We are told Jesus is said to have raised several persons from death,

including

{C}·       {C}the daughter of Jairus shortly after her death,

{C}·       {C}a young man in the midst of his own funeral procession,

{C}·       {C}and Lazarus, who had been buried for four days.

According to the Gospel of Matthew,

after Jesus's resurrection,

many of the dead saints

came out of their tombs and entered Jerusalem,

where they appeared to many.{C}[1]{C}

 

One would think that his disciples

would have become used to his resurrection shenanigans.

 

Had Thomas only been with the rest of the boys,

locked in the Upper Room

and not out running errands,

just imagine how easily faith would have been brought to belief.

Just as Peter is known as the “Open Mouth, Insert Foot Disciple”

I like to think of Thomas as the “Show Me Disciple,”

In a Missouri sort of way.

Earlier in the Gospel of John, chapter 14,

Thomas asks our Lord,

“Lord, we do not know where you are going,

How can we know the way?” (14:5)

Show us the way to you

That we might abide with you

In the place where you have prepared.

Show us this way.

 

First it was Mary who proclaimed

“I have seen the Lord!” (20:18)

Now it was the other 10 who joined the chorus,

“We have seen the Lord.” (20:25)

Had Thomas been from any other state than Missouri,

He would have believed the resurrection testimony.

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,

and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side,

I will not believe.” (20:25)

 

Wow.

Thomas sets the bar of expectation pretty high.

I always thought faith was believing without seeing.

Obviously, Thomas had witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus.

He’d seen the nails through Jesus’ flesh.

He’d seen the spear piercing his side,

bleeding him out.

Obviously, Thomas had come to know that

resurrection was Jesus’ signature calling card.

He’d heard Mary Magdalene

and now he hears ten of his closes associates

And he folds his arms and says

“I will not believe.”

Talk about a man resistant to faith;

You can’t get a more stubborn,

More difficult nut to crack than Thomas.

 

In a recent discussion I had with a 20 something emerging adult

Who had been raised in the church

I was told that since graduation

His faith had been slowly eroding away.

He didn’t know what to believe.

Like Thomas, some proof would be welcomed.

(I like to allow the silence between words

Become stretched out

At times like this;

You know,

to let God speak during the pregnant pauses.)

“I suppose it wouldn’t be faith

If it was a certain fact,” I replied.

 

Faith is a range of progressive continuum

On which we all fall.

We move on this continuum

according to life circumstances

and in relationship to our interactions with God.

At the one end

Are the tough nuts,

The hard to convince,

Lone dissenters on a hung jury;

People like Thomas.

At the other end are those of us zealots

Who’ve been at the faith journey business all our lives,

Who believe,

Yet haven’t seen,

Who know with hardly a shadow of a doubt

Yet we insist that our belief is still called faith.

Faith is an invitation to come and see the Lord,

To come be with the Lord,

Regardless of where is on the journey

At any single point in time.

 

There is no purpose in judging others based on

Our relative places on the faith continuum.

One isn’t bad because they have little or no belief in God.

One isn’t going to hell because they only believe a part of the story.

Neither is there anything to fear if we haven’t personally come to full acceptance.

There is nothing to fear

if we haven’t come to complete certainty

or divine omnipotence.

The only point we can and should make

Is the importance of

Loving God,

Loving our neighbors,

And testifying to our faith:

That Christ has died,

Christ is risen,

And Christ will come again.

 

Life moves us on the continuum of faith.

We don’t squat on a static position.

Generally hard times lead us towards confident belief.

Likewise, good times generally lead us in the direction towards disbelief.

This Biblical cycle is well rehearsed in Hebrew and Christian history.

Faith that ebbs and flows

Makes you NORMAL!

I’d take it further.

I’d suggest a dynamic faith

makes you pliable,

and less likely to break if dropped.

 

God also moves us on the continuum of faith.

God wills, calls, moves, cajoles, even lures us to

Make faithful decisions,

To open ourselves to the work of the Spirit,

To become the instruments of God’s deepest desires

and critical participants in the completion of God’s kingdom.

When we respond to God’s initiative,

We move with confidence towards belief.

John Wesley, the father of Methodism,

would call this, “moving on to perfection.”

When we turn a deaf ear to God

Or don’t respond to God’s invitation,

We often times drift away towards doubting,

Doubting Thomas.

 

Nothing would move us from doubt to belief faster

Than a face-to-face with God;

You know,

A burning bush in the back yard,

Clouds parting and a voice from above making an authoritative proclamation,

Flames of Pentecost alighting on your head,

Or walking into Jesus on the street and him showing to you

His hands,

His feet,

His side.

Thomas was no different;

He went from doubting Thomas

To believing and proclaiming Thomas in a New York minute.

 

A faith that is moving from doubt to belief

Is one that is simplifying.

There is no time for academic discord or debate.

There is no need to defend what you are coming to know.

The great Protestant theologian of the twentieth century,

Karl Bart, wrote from his post liberal, neo-orthodox perspective

Thirteen volumes of his systematic beliefs

(Church Dogmatics),

Published from 1932 to 1967,

Spanning 34 years of his life,

Yet,

when asked four years before his death

If he was able to summarize his whole life’s work and beliefs in one sentence,

Karl Barth addressed the audience in 1962

at Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago

with these words:

“In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee:

‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”

(http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/131christians/theologians/barth.html?start=2)

 

Faith that moves with Thomas

from doubt to complete belief

Is one which utter simplicity

Is released with joy and peace.

There is joy in knowing.

Joy’s only outlet is praise and thanks,

Worshipping at the feet of the Lamb.

There is peace that comes with the breath of Christ

Sealed by the Spirit.

 

“Peace,” Jesus extends.

“Peace,” he assures them again,

if, for no other reason, than to quiet their rejoicing.

Peace had become such a central facet of Jesus’ character

that this greeting fits him like an old pair of shoes.

There is no vengeance, no hatred, no retribution to be paid.

There is no malice in his tone of voice or violence in future;

There is only peace.

The passion, suffering, and death have passed

and need never to be revisited again.

“My peace I give to you,” Jesus said in the 14th chapter of John,

“not as the world gives, do I give to you.”

 

Peace is breathed upon those

Whose faith is being led towards belief.

Receive the Holy Spirit

Breathed into your lungs,

And with the Spirit’s help,

Roll up the sleeves and get seriously in the forgiving business.

Untangle the grudges and scores,

Simplify and straighten out the relational messes in life.

Forgive.

Forgive lavishly.

Forgive with whatever it takes to

Simply

Love God,

Love your neighbor,

And proclaim with Thomas,

That Jesus is “my Lord and my God!”

 

Are we so different than Thomas?

What are the old complexities that we are reluctant to relinquish?

What are the prior sins we’d prefer would remain buried?

What will it take for us to surrender

Our will to God’s will?

Dearly beloved, now that we, too, have seen the Lord

what will it take

To allow the simplicity of love and peace

To become the signature of our witness?

Welcome to the journey.

Let us all be led

From doubt to belief.

Amen.

 

 

{C}[1]{C} With thanks to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resurrection