Living Christ, we give praise and thanks that You live so we all may live. We give thanks and praise for our faith journey, through times of doubts and struggles and questions. Give us hope in times of unbelief. Give us peace in times of struggle. Give us hope in times of doubt. Continue to guide us when we find ourselves bogged down, and lead us out of darkness into light. Loving Savior, we follow You, we love You, and we believe in You. Amen.
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Blessed are you, O God of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we receive the legacy of a living hope, born again not only from his death but also from his resurrection. May we who have received forgiveness of sins through the Holy Spirit live to set others free, until, at length, we enter the inheritance that is imperishable and unfading, where Christ lives and reigns with you and the same Spirit. Amen.
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
“A story is based on what people think is important, so when we live a story, we are telling people around us what we think is important.” – Donald Miller
Stories are important. It’s how we pass on family history. It’s how we reflect upon the past and prepare for the future. It’s how we connect with other human beings. Do you have a favorite story? Is it from classic literature? Is it from a modern writer? Do your favorite stories come from a specific genre? Are your stories from family events? Are you struck by national occurrences or specific historical events? Stories are essential to who we are as humans and specifically to who we are as disciples of Jesus. We have the story of Thomas before us today. Of course, it’s not just a story about Thomas. It’s also a story about frightened disciples. So scared, in fact, that, they hid behind locked doors. And who can blame them? They had just witnessed the one they confessed to be the Messiah betrayed by one of his own, tried and convicted by both religious and civil authorities, and then brutally executed. Little wonder they were afraid, assuming that the next step would be to round up Jesus’ followers. But when Jesus comes on the scene, their fear falls away and is replaced by joy.
This, I think, is the way we assume faith should work. Yes, perhaps you’ve got doubts and questions and fears, but then God arrives and those all fall away, replaced by joy and wonder and, of course, unshakeable faith.
But that’s not the story 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. In fact, he might have already started getting on with his life – why else, I wonder, is he out and about when the rest of the disciples are hiding behind locked doors.
So, here’s what I’m wondering on this second Sunday of Eastertide: do we make room for the Thomases in our world? Is doubt an acceptable part of our story? Because I suspect that their number is legion, even among those who worshipped with us on Sunday and certainly among those with little or no familiarity with our congregation or faith.
Thomas’ story is that he does come to believe. He sees Jesus for himself. And after that experience he not only assents or consents to the witness of his comrades but makes the most profound confession of faith about Jesus contained in the New Testament, calling Jesus “my Lord and my God,” bookending the confession in John 1 where the eternal word that becomes flesh is not only with God but is God.
But all of that comes after he has a chance to voice his doubt. And sometimes faith is like that – it needs the freedom of questions and doubt to really spring forth and take hold. Otherwise, faith might simply be confused with a repetition of creedal formulas, or giving your verbal consent to the faith statements of others. But true, vigorous, vibrant faith comes, I think, from the freedom to question, wonder, and doubt.
Not for everyone, of course. For some, faith comes more easily. Maybe many of the other disciples were like that (although let’s not forget that they got to see what Thomas asked for!). But for others it’s harder.
To tell you the truth, I have no idea what the other disciples thought of Thomas’ initial skepticism. Maybe they were scandalized. Or maybe they sympathized. Further, I suspect that John’s whole point in including this story in his Gospel is to affirm the faith of his community, a group of people who “had not seen yet believed.” The story needed to include doubt.
Indeed, I think that if we don’t have any doubts we’re probably not taking the story seriously enough. I mean, really – think about what we confess when we come together on Sundays: that the Creator of the vast cosmos not only knows we exist but cares deeply and passionately about our ups and downs, our hopes and dreams, and all the rest. This confession is, quite literally, in-credible. And yet we come together and in hearing the Word and partaking of the Sacraments and by being joined to those around us through prayer and song, we come to believe.
And when we come to believe, we are given a job. We are invited to share our faith with other people, that is sharing our STORY of what God is doing in our life. How do you share your story? Maybe it like this worship service in a church in Texas.
A number of years ago, Homiletics Professor Cleo LaRue and his friend Rev. Scott Johnston—traveled to Cleo’s home church in Austin, Texas at Cleo’s invitation. It was Mt. Zion Baptist Church, and Scott was excited.
Scott Johnston and Cleo LaRue had gotten their doctorates together, they had been classmates and became fast friends—but Scott had never heard Cleo preach outside the academic setting, never heard him preach in the African- American church that helped shape his ministry.
When they arrived that Sunday morning, a couple of BURLY DEACONS met them at the door, and they were immediately escorted to the office of the pastor, the Rev. G.V. Clark. Cleo introduced the two of them, and then the Rev. Clark left, saying that he had to take care of a couple things before worship. Cleo and Scott sat in the Rev. Clark’s office, telling stories, catching up— but after a while, Scott got a little nervous. The service was supposed to start at 11am. And he could hear the choir singing in the sanctuary. And he looked at his watch—it was 5 MINUTES AFTER 11:00!!
Why were they still in the pastor’s office if worship was already beginning??
Cleo saw his friend look at his watch, and he said, “Scott, you know what G.V.’s up to, right?”
“NO, I’ve got no idea.”
The service has already begun,” Cleo explained, “but he’s waiting until there’s a good size congregation out there, until the CROWD is big enough—then he’ll bring us in.” Then he said, “RELAX, SCOTT. We’re on Holy Spirit time now.” In Scott’s words, he relaxed…he relaxed as much as a “Type A, we’re on a schedule, Presbyterian like himself” could relax. About 30 minutes into the service, they went into the sanctuary.
Scott was about to sit in one of the front pews to get a good view of his friend preaching, but the Rev. Clark proceeded to SEMI-ESCORT, SEMI-PULL Scott up to the pulpit area with Cleo. After they sat down, Cleo leaned over to his friend and whispered, “Don’t be surprised if G.V. asks you to bring a word.” “What?!!” Scott gasped, not really in a whisper. “Holy Spirit time,” mouthed Cleo, back to his friend.
Sure enough, G.V. invited Scott into the pulpit. With nothing prepared, Scott says he rambled on for a couple minutes, with no idea whatsoever what he was saying, and then he sat down, relieved that FINALLY, he’d get to hear his friend preach. But that’s not what happened next.
What happened next was that the Rev. Clark invited anyone else present there to bring a word.
A woman in the choir stood up and gave thanks for the birth of a healthy granddaughter.
A young man approached the microphone to give thanks to the Lord for helping him get a job that week.
Then one of the burly deacons came to the microphone. “I believe I’ll testify,” he said. And he went on to tell the story of his son’s struggle with drug addiction, and how grateful he was that God gave his son the resolve, the determination to get clean.”
By the time the deacon was done, everyone—including Scott—was dabbing their eyes. Cleo looked over at his friend and raised an eyebrow at him—and he didn’t need to say it, because Scott already knew: “Holy Spirit time…”
Leaving the sanctuary later that afternoon, Scott says he was AMAZED at how quickly the THREE-HOUR WORSHIP SERVICE flew by!
In Professor LaRue’s tradition, EVERYONE was invited to testify about God’s activity in their lives –EVERYONE was invited to share their story about God’s activity in their lives —to PAY ATTENTION to ways that the risen Christ was at work, and then let other people know. Yes, we may have doubts like Thomas, but we are still invited to testify about what the risen Christ is doing in our life. I hope that you will pay attention to the moving of God in your life and share that Good News. My prayer is that you will continue to proclaim as Thomas did “My Lord and My God!”
Commentary provided by Samuel Cruz, Scott Hoezee, Jamie Clark-Soles, Scott Black Johnston, David Lose, and Danny Quanstrom.