Saturday, April 05, 2008

Your Middle Name is Thomas.

John 20: 19-31

March 30 was the 5th Sunday of the month, and I have seen other churches use this occasion, which happens 4 times a year, to do something special in worship. At Center Moreland, the two layspeakers spoke a messages of testimony, what God has done for them, either when they came to be with Christ, or how God had been in their lives lately. The music was much more praise oriented.

This sermon was preached at Dymond Hollow.

When you go to seminary, at least to the one I went to, it’s a common phrase you hear when studying the Gospel of John; Thomas isn’t treated by the church fairly. Folks really tend to identify with him. Here is a disciple that was with Jesus for his entire ministry, giving a day or two in the beginning. Here’s a guy that walked the dusty roads, fed a crowd of five thousand with just 5 loaves of bread and two fish, saw a lot of things that no one had ever seen before, and while he wasn’t one of the big three, Peter, James, and John, he had seen enough to know who Jesus was. He sat at the table with Jesus when he heard that one of them would betray him. He saw who it was, and saw that it wasn’t him, which had to be a relief. He ran away from Jesus just like every other disciple did.

So, it’s a week later. Mary Magdalene came running back from his dead Rabbi’s tomb, saying not only that the body has been taken, but that there were two angels there, and Jesus was too, though she didn’t know it was him first. He told her to tell them that he would be ascending to the Father, just like Elijah did.

The next day, the other disciples had met at a house and Jesus had appeared to them as well, coming through a locked door and showing them his wounds, and “breathing on them”, giving them the Holy Spirit.

OK, there are two stories circulating now, both of seeing the dead rabbi alive. Not just a ghost, either, but the flesh and blood, still scarred, guy.

Thomas, of course, is wondering what the deal is. Is there some story that the Big Three and Mary have concocted up to keep sticking it to the Romans? Have they gone insane? It’s too much to ask, to think that Jesus, his rabbi, is actually alive. It’s really too much to ask. He’s got to have proof. He’s from Missouri, here; “show me” is his attitude.

So, the next week, they’re all in the same room, again, with the same locked door, and Jesus does. He does show up, and show him.

“Thomas, come see. It’s really me. Now can you believe?” And of course, he does.

I think the reason Thomas has the reputation he does is the next few words in the John passage: Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”.

The inference here is that somehow those who haven’t seen and believed anyway are more blessed. But we forget. Thomas was the only one of the twelve not in the room in the first place. The others don’t have to worry about having proof. They only had to wait a day after Mary’s amazing story to get their proof, and the Scriptures are silent on what their attitude was during the time between the Sunday morning and the Monday night.

If the disciples are anything like Thomas, if they are anything like us, then I think they might have been a little skeptical, too.

I think those few words “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”, aren’t even meant as a rebuke for Thomas. I think it is an aside to the audience of the Bible—like how Ferris Bueller addressed the movie audience periodically. Stage actors call it “breaking down the fourth wall.” Jesus was only on earth after his crucifixion and resurrection for a short time. The church celebrates it as about 40 days. It’s now two thousand years later.

We don’t get the physical Jesus, who can only be in one place at a time. We get the Holy Spirit, that can be everywhere all at the same time. But to trade infinite access, apparently, we must give up tangible proof. We have to believe, and have faith that the proof will be “in the pudding.”

When one becomes a Christian now, it is generally an incremental process. Sure, there are people who believe wholeheartedly right from the start, but that isn’t the way for most. It certainly wasn’t for me. I do not have the faith experience of a lifetime of incremental steps toward faith throughout my childhood, with small realizations at camp, in Sunday school, and life experience, culminating in an active belief, but neither do I have a sudden, all or nothing, zero-to-sixty-in-two-seconds kind of faith.
When I asked Jesus into my heart, I was alone in a bedroom, and I actually asked three times, because I didn’t feel any change after asking. I knew, however, that Jesus’ coming into my heart was a story that many people had insisted was reliable, all I had to do was ask. So I thought that we’ll just watch and wait, some kind of event or incidence that would show me that something had changed. It took three weeks before I realized that I wasn’t getting angry at idiot drivers. Just that small little thing, that small change in attitude, that tiny resemblance to Christ, was what I needed to give God a little more trust. And so it has grown ever since.

Thomas is my middle name. It probably is yours, too. Don’t think that Thomas is such a bad guy, or that “doubting Thomas” is a negative phrase. It’s just what we all are. But don’t cherish doubt, either, as an intellectual badge. Life is a lot harder when you define yourself and your world by what you don’t believe, or don’t see. It’s much richer when you affirm what you do believe and are open to what you don’t know about.

We are blessed because we believe in what we can’t see. Jesus’ words are true. But really, in the end, when we believe, we do see. Jesus does show up.

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