Sermon: April 19, 2009

20 04 2009

Sermon

April 19, 2009

Zion Lutheran

Jeff Greathouse

 

Before we begin today’s message, I want you to take a few seconds and think of a time when you got hurt (physically, emotionally, spiritually, or otherwise).

 

What’s the most important thing you learned from that experience?


In the weeks leading up to Easter this year, sad news filled nearly every newspaper and broadcast. In just over a week, there were five mass murders in the U.S. alone, from Oakland, CA, to Binghamton, NY, killing nearly 40 people. In Italy, just as that predominantly Roman Catholic country was beginning to celebrate Holy Week, a massive earthquake killed at least 260 people. Violence continues in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in other war-torn corners of the globe. And all over the world, people continue to struggle with a devastated economy and our community has not gone untouched.

 

The week after Easter is an unmatched Sunday in the church. On most Sundays, the appointed readings are different each year, following a three-year cycle. But every year, on the week after Easter, we hear this story about Thomas, the disciple who asked for proof. That makes me wonder: What’s so important about this story that the church asks us to read it every year during this time?

It seems to me we could answer that question with two words: doubt and scars.

 

In the midst of danger and suffering, it’s normal for a little doubt to creep in. Thomas asked, and for good reason, to see the same proof that Jesus handed — literally — to the other disciples. For Thomas, as for most of the citizens of Jerusalem, the resurrection had not changed anything. Well, not anything they could see anyway. Life was still hard, and death was still at hand. So before Thomas took the message of “He is risen!” very far, he needed to be sure he wouldn’t just be telling a cruel joke to people who needed some real, meaningful hope.

 

(pause)

So, we look today at Doubting Thomas ……

Doubting Thomas is a term that is used to describe someone who will refuse to believe something without direct, physical, personal evidence; a skeptic.

The term is based on the Biblical account of Thomas the Apostle, who doubted the resurrection of Jesus and demanded to feel Jesus’ wounds before being convinced (John 20:24-29), although the Bible does not mention if actual contact took place. After seeing Jesus alive and being offered the opportunity to touch his wounds – Thomas professed his faith in Jesus; on this account he is also called Thomas the Believer.

Even though Thomas earned a negative label, he was not lacking in some very good qualities. He displayed great courage and loyalty. When the other disciples tried to keep Jesus from going to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead because of the danger from those in the area who had just earlier tried to stone Him (John 11:8), Thomas said to them, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). Thomas also asked Him one of the most famous questions. John 14:5-6 says, “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”

I think I have behaved similar to Thomas at times. I have gone through stages in my life when I questioned God. Have you ?

 

So, let us take a look at the story once again, with the focus on Thomas

Shock and Disbelief

On Saturday he is in shock. On Sunday he is so disillusioned that he doesn’t gather with his fellow disciples for an evening meal. Thomas is dazed, hurt, bitter — and lashing out. Monday morning, the disciples go looking for Thomas and tell him what has happened in his absence.

“Thomas, we were in that upper room where we’d been meeting. We lock the doors for protection. Yet, all of a sudden, Jesus appears. ‘Peace, Shalom,’ he says. Then he shows us his hands. There are jagged holes where the nails had been. He pulls back his tunic and shows us where the spear penetrated his chest. But he isn’t weak or sick or dying. He is alive, raised from the dead!”

Afraid to Believe

“I don’t believe it,” barks Thomas. “I don’t believe a word of it. You’re seeing what you want to see. Jesus is dead. I saw him die, and part of me died with him. But he’s dead, and the sooner you accept that fact, the better off you’ll be. Give it up!”

Peter pleads with him. “Thomas, I saw him myself, I tell you, and he was as real as you are!”

Thomas is cold, with an edge in his voice that cuts like ice. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

But Thomas’s anger cools, and by the next Sunday evening he is eating with his fellow disciples in the same locked room. Suddenly, Jesus stands among them once again and speaks — “Shalom, peace be with you.”

All the blood drains from Thomas’ face. Jesus turns to him and speaks plainly, without any hint of rancor or sarcasm, “Put your finger here, see my hands.” Jesus holds out his scarred hands for him to examine. Thomas recoils. Not out of fear, really, but from a mixture of amazement and revulsion.

Jesus begins to open his outer garment and says, “Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

My Lord and My God

Thomas is weeping now and then begins to sob out loud. Jesus reaches out and puts a hand on his shoulder. Then Thomas slips to his knees and says in awe, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas, “Doubting Thomas,” as he is sometimes called, is the first disciple to put into words the truth that Jesus is both Lord and God. “Doubting Thomas” utters the greatest confession of faith recorded anywhere in the Bible.

—————————————————————————-

I don’t see Thomas as a doubter at all.

I see Thomas as someone who is seeking the truth.

I see Thomas as an unusual someone

who does not just go along with the crowd,

but is willing to stand up and say,

Sorry, I just don’t buy this.

I need a little more evidence

 

Jesus knows and loves Thomas, too.

Jesus understands the depth of Thomas’ love for him.

Jesus returns when Thomas IS there with the other disciples,

and the very first thing Jesus says is,

Peace be with you.

 

A small side note ….

 

Peace be with you.

 

Imagine how our relationships would change if we began our conversations—especially our conversations with those who question us, with those we disagree–if the first thing we said to them was, Peace be with you

 

Now, back to Thomas ….

 

Thomas seeks the truth.

Because he knows it is only the truth that will give him freedom.

Freedom to be whom God has created him to be.

Freedom to do God’s work in the world.

Freedom to face himself in the mirror.

 

Easter is not one day in our church.

Easter is a season.

Easter is the season of resurrection, of transformation

 

Not just the transformation of Jesus, but the opportunity for our own transformation, our own resurrection. Easter is the season when we are invited to seek the truth:

Put your finger here and see my hands

Reach out your hand and put it in my side.

 

Easter is the season we are invited to celebrate the truth, to leave the dark realm of secrets and shames and to stand in the light of Christ.

The joy of the resurrection is, understandably, mixed with paralyzing fear, and the gospel of John portrays the ongoing struggle among Jesus’ followers to understand exactly what happened and what it meant for this community of believers. Doubt, confusion, and disbelief raised more questions than answers, which is why John focuses on the physical details of Jesus’ resurrected body. Jesus was not a disembodied spirit floating among them, but a tangible being whose wounds were still present: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27). Without believing in the resurrection, the disciples could not live it, and if they could not live the resurrection, neither could they “reach out” and bear the new life of Christ to the world.

But they did believe. In the following months, the community’s faith in the resurrection was so strong that, in Acts, Luke testifies that it bore the truest mark of the new reign of God, for “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32). To be Christian was to participate in a unique community in which all were of “one heart and soul,” sharing both social and material equality.

Theologian María Pilar Aquino insists that the liberation wrought from the resurrection means that we who believe in it are called to “reach out” and touch the wounds of Jesus in the world. There we must repair inequalities in every aspect of human relationships, building community and healing where oppression and exclusion exist.

We, too, live this Easter faith in a dead and dying world. Thanks be to God, Jesus lives and breathes in the midst of our doubts, bearing the scars, and yet overflowing with life.

Jesus, you lived and died and live again, feeling in your own body how hard life can be. Help me see your love and grace in the midst of the entire world’s, and my own scars. Be patient with me, and accept my doubts even as you give me faith. Amen.

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