THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER Acts 4:32–35
ST. PETER’S – NEFFSVILLE 1 John 1:1—2:2
12 APRIL 2015 John 20:19–31
What are the big questions in your life? Better yet … what are the big FAITH questions in your life? Think for a moment … have you ever offered any of these requests into the heavens? Why does God allow evil? Why do good people suffer? Why are there natural disasters, like the tornado that left two people dead and dozens of homes destroyed on Thursday in central Illinois? Why do children sometimes die? Why do people sometimes hurt those they love the most? Why is believing in a loving God so hard sometimes?
Maybe these are not the exact questions you lift up in your morning or evening prayers … but I bet they are close. Now the question for today … do you think you are the only person who wrestles with your BIG questions in life? I won’t ask you to raise your hand, because I think sometimes we are embarrassed by our questions. But know that you have company today … his name is the Apostle Thomas. Now don’t get all hot and bothered. I’m going to suggest that Thomas gets a bum rap, with his nickname “Doubting Thomas.” Truth in advertising – I will admit to being a huge Thomas fan – he is my favorite disciple by far – so you may decide that I am simply not objective.’
Thomas is like that kid in school that used to make you crazy. You know the one – the guy you were sure was going to grow to be a physicist or the guy you knew would end up as an engineer. You had one in every class you attended and every discussion forum you were a part of. The girl who just couldn’t let anything rest. The guy who didn’t know when to shut his mouth. The person who seemed bent on always tormenting you with one more question. No matter how many questions the teacher or TA answered, this person always had just one more. The Thomas’s of the world.
Yes, Thomas most certainly shares the questions you may have about life and faith, even though he may use different words to frame them. And like you, his questions really boil down to one question that strikes at the heart of what makes faith tick. And that question is this one … Is Jesus really alive? Is Easter more than just a nice holiday in the Church that recounts for us something that happened 2000 years ago? Is the tomb really empty … is Jesus really alive?
If you are honest with yourself on those dark days of faith, then you will admit that this is the question that hides behind all of our other questions. If you ask “Why is there evil in the world?” … what you are really asking is, “If my God is real, why does evil still exist?” If you ask “Why do children sometimes die?” … what you are really asking is “How can a living and loving God not protect children at all costs?” If you ask “Why is believing in a loving God so hard sometimes?” … what you are really asking is “If God is all about love, how can God be alive in a world that doesn’t seem to show much love?” Folks … Thomas did not die more than 1900 years ago, in India where tradition says he spent the last two decades of his life. He is alive and well and worshipping with us today … heck, he leading worship and preaching here today. And I would say to you … that is a good thing. Because, Thomas is the one disciple who seemed never to be afraid to ask the questions that no one else had the courage to ask. In John’s Gospel, Chapter 11, after Lazarus had died and Jesus told the disciples that he was going to see Lazarus and challenge that death, Thomas was the one who asked his fellow disciples, “Shouldn’t we go too, so that we can die also?” Maybe he misunderstood what Jesus was going to do, but he did not misunderstand that his very life was tied up in this carpenter from Nazareth.
And three chapters later in John’s Gospel, when in that familiar verse that is so popular at funerals about Jesus going to his Father’s house, Thomas is the only one who has the courage to be “THAT GUY in the classroom who asks, “Ah Jesus … we haven’t got a clue where you are going. How can we possibly know how to follow you?” And Jesus rewards Thomas’ honesty in asking with the verse that every Christian knows when they hear it, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Yes, I would suggest to you that Thomas, may in fact, have been one of the most faithful disciples. The one who was not afraid to name the elephant in the room, when it came to understanding the teachings of Jesus. Let’s turn the clock back for just a moment …. to Easter Day. Now if you were here last week, you heard Mark’s version of Easter Day, which ends in fear. The women come to the tomb, hear the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, and flee in terror and amazement, saying nothing to anyone. That story fits pretty well with John’s story today, because we pick up the tale on Easter evening, where we find the disciples hiding in fear for their lives, apparently unaware of the good news from the empty tomb. I can believe that the women have yet to tell them what they heard from the angel, because they seem to have no clue that Jesus is risen, and their real work is just beginning. Then Jesus takes things into his own hands (TOUCH PALMS) pardon the pun … and greets them with a word of peace … shows them his hands and side, so that they know it is really him … breathes into their lives the gift of the Holy Spirit … and commissions them with the power of the Church to forgive and retain sin. John offers us the establishment of the Christian Church in all its fullness and grace, in this one evening visit of Jesus to his disciples. John tells us that the disciples rejoice … but I wonder if they really believed. Because a week later, where do we find them? … running through the streets of Jerusalem casting out demons? … challenging the people at the temple to turn from their sins? … baptizing and laying hands upon those who have come to experience this gift of the Holy Spirit? … NAH … a week later, they are still hiding behind closed doors. And while they tell Thomas that they have seen the Lord … Thomas asks the question “Are ya sure it was him?” Seeing the disciples sitting around like scared rabbits in their nest … MAYBE … Maybe, Thomas was the only one who had the guts to ask the question behind the question … that question that still haunts the world today … OUR question … my question, at the very least … “Is Jesus really alive? … cause if he is, why are you sitting around this room when there is work to do in his name?”
Jesus’ response to Thomas, is the exact same one that he offered to the rest of the disciples on Easter night. He showed Thomas his hands and his feet and he commissioned him to go out and share the news with the rest of the world. John tells the story far better than I can:
Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Friends, Thomas was no different than the rest of the disciples, and he is no different than you and me. Thomas’ story reminds us that it takes a personal encounter with Jesus, to catch the Spirit of the risen Lord, and to have even a chance of sharing that news with others that you meet.
And in a world in which has not known the earthly Jesus of Nazareth for almost 2000 years, someone has to be willing to BE JESUS for all those who need to know him … all those who want to know him … whether they realize what they crave in their life or not. Jesus is no longer around to show us and others his hands and his side. He needs new disciples to help him do that in this time after the resurrection and the empty tomb … this time of the Church. And he needs disciples who will not need to see the holes in his hands and the wound in his side – because we will have met Jesus in those who speak Jesus’ Word to us … those who breathe the Holy Spirit into our lives, as they share this Word of their Risen Lord.
Like Marks’ Gospel, which we spoke about last week, many scholars think that John’s Gospel also has an appendix added on to it. They believe that John’s Gospel originally concluded with the end of this chapter in the book, chapter 20, and that Chapter 21 is a later addition to the Gospel. Which means the last word of John’s proclamation to are these: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. The focus on the Word of God revealed in John’s Gospel is a perfect close to a story that began with this verse: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. It is all about the Word, folks. And if we don’t tell it, no one will So don’t be afraid of the Thomas who lives inside of you, and is not afraid to ask the difficult questions. Because when you are close to the Word of God, you are close to Jesus … and as Thomas shows us, Jesus can handle any question we might ever come up with. Amen.