The text for this sermon is John 20:19-31.
We don’t like Doubting Thomas. Thomas makes us all anxious. The only thing worse than being a Doubting Thomas is to be a Judas. I hadn’t really thought about that until this week. Somehow, in the bucket of failed disciples, Thomas has landed in the same bucket as Judas. This hardly seems fair. Judas betrayed our Lord for thirty pieces of silver, Thomas simply wanted what the other ten had received, a chance to see the resurrected Jesus. Yet, Thomas’ unbelief has become a warning sign for true believers.
Doubting Thomas’s make us anxious. I have a lot of friends who are not Christian. Most are not adamant atheists like Richard Dawkins, but rather casual agnostics, as in, if there is a god I can’t imagine that my small uneventful life is going to register on that god’s radar. What these friends tell me, is what Thomas says, I can’t really believe Jesus is God unless you give me some physical proof.
It is frustrating for us to hear these questions and not be able to give some physical proof. This is why so many Christians are obsessed with “proving” the bible is historically accurate. Discoveries of a ship in Turkey that could have been Noah’s ark, a tomb in Jerusalem that could have been Joseph, Mary’s husband, make the news because maybe then we can say to the Doubting Thomas’ in our lives, you see here, right here is the physical proof you need.
Underneath this wish to find a secret video tape of the resurrection though is a gnawing question we ask ourselves, what proof do I really have that any of this is true? The Doubting Thomas’ in our lives bug us because we can’t answer their questions satisfactorily for them or for ourselves. Thomas ends up in the same bucket as Judas because if his question is taken seriously, the whole church/religion/industrial complex will fall apart. Think about it if no one joined our churches unless they put their hand in Jesus’ side and physically touched his wounds, our pews would be even more sparse than they are this week after Easter. Thomas makes us anxious.
In our anxiousness we resort to answers that are nonsensical or even angry. You just have to take it on faith. What does that mean? You just have to believe. Okay…You just have to trust God. Yeah, but if I don’t think there is a god, why/how do I trust that God. God wrote the bible, I believe what it says, and that’s all. Wow, so much for conversation. For many of us, our faith feels so fragile that we fear the Doubting Thomas around us might poke just enough so that all our faith crumbles around us. Doubting Thomas makes us anxious because his insistence on proof might open a chest of questions within us, and who knows where that might lead.
Let’s admit our anxiousness and let Thomas off the hook. He isn’t so bad. Thomas wanted what the other disciples had received, a real and physical experience of Jesus. Thomas wanted what my friends without belief demand, a real and physical experience of Jesus. Thomas wanted what all of us really want, a real and physical experience of Jesus. And, when Thomas got it, he exclaimed his faith, his belief clearly, Jesus is God.
This simple declaration is the foundation of our faith that we build the rest of our faithful lives upon. One thing that might make us less anxious is to narrow what we feel called to defend. I believe Jesus is God. I don’t believe the bible is God. I don’t believe the church is God. I believe Jesus is God. In order for me to believe Jesus is God, I don’t need every detail in the bible to be historically accurate. In order for me to believe Jesus is God, I don’t need every Christian or pastor or congregation to be completely Godly. In order for me to believe Jesus is God, I do need what Thomas needed, to experience Jesus in a real and a physical way.
Thomas got to touch the wounds of Jesus. I don’t think this is as unique as it might seem. Many people testify that they are given this gift of a clear, palpable vision of Jesus. In this congregation, people have told me stories of Jesus appearing to them when their mother died. Waking up in the middle of the night with Jesus at the end of the bed telling you it would be all right. Too cool. That has never happened to me.There are many stories of people floating above the operating table and meeting Jesus, before he tells them it isn’t time, while the doctors frantically work to revive their patient. Too cool. That has never happened to me.
I believe these stories are wonderful gifts, just like the gift that Thomas received when Jesus came back a week after the first Easter Sunday. Why did Thomas get this return engagement and not twenty other people that were just as worthy? I don’t know. Why did you have a vision of Jesus in the midst of your grief and I did not? I don’t know. Yet, the good gifts that others receive do not take away the good gifts that I have received.
I believe Jesus is God because I live in a community of people that are constantly convincing me this is true. In you, I experience the risen Christ. In our office a few weeks ago, Linda and I were helping a young woman who had come to us in need. We were giving her vouchers for food and gas at the Krogers and Sunoco on Main. We do this several times a week. Your offering allows us to do this.
The woman asked me whether we knew where she could get furniture because she has none right now. Mary Deffenbaugh just happened to be in the office so I naturally asked Mary if she could answer her questions. Mary Deffenbaugh is a volunteer at Joseph’s Coat, a large furniture and clothing ministry for people in need that Messiah created and support. Mary began to help this woman in a way that nearly brought tears to my eyes. Linda and I treated her okay. Mary treated her like she was the most precious, important person she had ever met. Mary asked loving questions about her needs. Listened intently then cried with her when she told her story. Mary gave her hope that there was someone who cared and someway forward. Mary was Jesus to her.
I am not saying Mary is Jesus. I am saying that in that moment, I saw Jesus, as clear as day. Like Jesus, Mary was upset with the brokenness of this world. Like Jesus, Mary showed compassion and love to a stranger. Like Jesus, Mary was willing to sacrifice in order for her to be healed. In Mary, in that moment, I saw Jesus and I believed.
I believe Jesus is God. This belief is a gift God has given to me in my baptism. Do I have questions about what this means? Sure. Every day. Do I have doubts? Yes, but I have surrounded myself with all sorts of people like Mary that constantly reassure me. Have I ever had a powerful vision of the physical Jesus like Thomas or some of you? No, that has never been my gift, but as Jesus said, blessed are those, too, who believe without such visions. This was not Jesus yelling at Thomas for not believing without this vision, this was Jesus reassuring me and likely many of you, that we all need to experience Jesus to come to believe Jesus is God, but there are many ways to experience Jesus.
Thomas makes us anxious, but it is not about Thomas. It is us. Our doubts scare us. Don’t let them. Embrace them as part of the intellectual curiosity that surely delights God. However, don’t let those doubts get in the way of what is plain to see. Jesus is God with us, here and now and if our eyes are open, and we surround ourselves by people of faith, we will see proof daily. Amen
The text for this sermon is John 20:19-31.