Three Cheers for Thomas!

Peace Presbyterian Church

John 20: 19 -31                                                                      Second Sunday of Easter

L. Shannon Jung                                           April 23, 2017

We have a son who says he is not a believer.  In fact, I think he would say that he is a confirmed non-believer; clearly he is at leastagnostic. This is a matter of some pain for his mother and me.  I know that this is the case for some of you as well.

Our son’s thinking is that he sees no evidence for God.  Unless there is clear, irrefutable,  tangible evidence, he cannot accept a proposition as true. It is not much use to argue with him There is just not  irrefutable proof of God. While we  invite him to have faith or trust in God,he does not much use for mystery or the intangible.  And while he recognizes the methods of scientific inquiryhave their own limitations, he is deeply wary of the bias against reason in our culture.  

Of course it is not just those with no religious affiliation-- the nones --- that cause us concern. Those of us gathered here may still struggle with doubt at times.  Ironically we may find ourselves praying that God will help us in our doubts.  We may even be afraid to say:  I am not sure what it means to say that he is risen!  I want to believe but I struggle.

Maybe Thomas can speak to us, to our son, and to all people.

What word do you associate with the disciple Thomas?

Of course, it is “doubt.” He will be known across the ages as Doubting Thomas.

But I want to suggest to you this morning that Thomas could be  something of a model for us, rather thansomeone to incriminate.

The case looks pretty bad.  We have all grown up with a negative image of Thomas.  And , believe it or not, on the first  Sunday after Easter --, a Sunday that pastors regularly ask their interns or out-of-town pastors to preach --, the text is always about Thomas.  .

The lectionary repeatedly asks us – when thesmell ofEaster lilies still fills the sanctuary – to consider Thomas. I want to suggest to you this morning that there is wisdom in that tradition. Listen for it. Hear the word of the Lord!

TEXT.

The Word of the Lord

Thanks be to God~!

Thanks be to God! Thanks be  for Thomas and for all those who thought this story should be preserved and told – again and again-- .

First, the word for doubt in Greek is “unbelieving”.  So, unbelieving Thomas.  Not much of an improvement, huh?  For John believing is a matter of abiding with  or trusting in God.  It is not a matter of getting your ideas about the nature of God –doctrines – right. Believing for John is a steadfast clinging to God. It is about our relationship withJesusIt is faith, trust, abiding. Thomas is desperately seeking such a profound relationship of trust and he wants to be sure that his faith is well place. He wants an experience of the risen Lord.

Second, let us realize that Thomas (unlike some of the other disciples) had not already encountered the Risen Lord.  We do not know why.  For some reason Thomas simply was not at the first appearance.(Maybe he was busy taking out the garbage). What might have distracted Thomas from seeing Jesus?  Was it that he was attending to other things?  Maybe he was not looking for God; did not expect to see Jesus.  Whatever the case, Thomas had not seen Jesus.  He was still living in a Holy Saturday world, having not seen or sensed the resurrection, even though all those around him had.  He was not willing to take their word for it.  He needed to see, to feel, to experience the resurrection for himself.  Was Christ Risen?  It was still up in the air for Thomas. Maybe it still is to some degree for some of us gathered here…some of us may come praying for help in our unbelief. Some maycome praying for our loved ones – siblings, children, friends --  who do not yet believe.

My sense is that Thomas longed for the experience of trust, not a second-hand trust, but an experience of Jesus, an experience of faith, of trusting, of fully committing himself to his Lord.

And then there is that extraordinary confession of faith.  Thomas’s  seemingly simple words are not simple at all.  The confession of Jesus’s Lordship and Divinity area summary of the Gospel itself.  My Lord and my God –Thomas said.  Jesus is both Lord, our Lord,and also God, the dwelling of God in the flesh, as his wounds show.  And then there is that pronoun MY Lord and My God, not just the Lord and the God.  This very personal confession is a claim about relationship. 

The key to Thomas’ new found or renewed faith resides inhis request to see the wounds. This takes us back to the very beginning – to the claim that the Word is made Flesh. God is with us.   Where does the Word become flesh for you and me?  Where do we see God?  what leads to our confession?

Remember last week that Mary did not recognize Jesus at first.  She went to the tomb looking for a dead man.  Jesus’s question – What are you looking for? is not just for her. It is for Thomas!  For us!   What are we looking for? We will not find God among the dead. God is with us. The Word is made flesh and dwells among us. In whose face and wounds do you encounter God?   Sometimes one of the people close to us recovers, then we can see God the Healer working there.  When things are going well for us, we have a clue here about where we might encounter God in the glories of creation, and beauty, and grace- filled moments of life.  BUT it may be in the wounds as well

There are still those wounds in Jesus’s side into which Thomas put his fingers. The resurrected Christ shows Thomas the wounds, and the wounds still remain there. You may have, as I have, missed the significance of the wounds themselves. Our lives are inevitably marked by suffering if we love deeply. What are you looking for?  Could it be that the wounds into which Thomas puts his fingers and which lead to his confession are part of John’s message. Those wounds lead to Thomas’s falling on his knees.  “My Lord and My God.  

 

The last verse of our text sounds very much like the conclusion of the Gospel.   These words are written for a purpose, so thateven those who “have not seen “ (like our son, and perhaps at times like you and I) may “come to believethat Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

What are we looking for?

Maybe those wounds lead us to resurrection, to the assuranceway below our heads that the final word is resurrection.  The wounds may show the way.

Jesus Christ is risen today!!!