Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: belief, Evangelism, faith, Third Article of the Creed, thomas
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
We continue the Easter season with a reading that picks up that first Easter evening. Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, and the beloved disciple have each encountered the empty tomb. But after the sun set, disciples have locked themselves away in a room. They are afraid the Jewish authorities who brought Jesus to his death will do the same to them. They seem either to have not heard or not believed the good news Mary, Peter, and the other disciple ought to have shared: that the tomb is empty and Jesus is risen.
In this Easter night story, I see our story. We might follow some of the same patterns the disciples find themselves in. This story is the “what’s next” or the “so what” of the encounter with the empty tomb. This recounting of the empty tomb, disciples behind locked doors, and Thomas’ demand for proof, make me ask: where does Easter evening find you?
By Sunday night, I’m ready for an early bedtime while I’m also too hyped up on sugar to fall asleep.
So maybe the better question is: what follows from your encounter with the good news?
Does the proclamation that Jesus is risen change anything in your life?
When we first meet them, the group of disciples are hiding behind locked doors. They have removed themselves from the world. They are bound by fear.
Jesus comes to them, not repelled by the locked door. Jesus breaks down their fear with his words, “peace be with you.” Jesus comes to the disciples in living flesh so they can be sure he really died and rose to new life. Those who have this experience are able to be solid in their belief. But the disciple Thomas wasn’t there.
When the disciples tell Thomas what they have seen, he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” He needs to experience Jesus for himself.
A week later, Jesus appears to the disciples, and Thomas is there. Jesus is sure to let him touch the wounds he said he would need to touch, and so, Thomas is encouraged into faith.
Reading this text, how do we understand Thomas? What tone do his words take? What do his words and Jesus’ response have to teach us about our own story and God’s faithfulness to us?
I’m very familiar with two year old’s tantrums. Sometimes as I read Thomas’ words, I see my two year old, throwing herself down on her butt, crossing arms across her chest, shouting “no!” and “I want!”
My strategy in dealing with this behavior is first to not respond, and most importantly to never give in.
Thomas’ “No! I won’t believe- not unless I touch and see for myself” is met with Jesus’ response of giving in to what he wants.
I wonder how many of us have asked God for proof. Have challenged God, “if you’re really there, then show me by doing this…” Or have bargained our faith pleading with God, “I’ll believe more fully, I’ll come to church more often, I’ll dedicate my life, I’ll give away my money, if only you…fix this, heal this, forgive this, give me this…”
In some ways, this part of the gospel of John isn’t very fair to us. Why does Thomas get his demands answered? Why does he get exactly what he needs for a proven foundation to his faith? Are we supposed to be satisfied with Jesus patting us on the back with his words, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (20:29b)?
Maybe I’m not being fair to Thomas. We could read him as the petulant two-year old. We could also see him in his own context. As a disciple, the way he learned from Jesus was as a student to the rabbi. This involved asking questions. It’s about seeking the truth. He’s doing exactly what he’s been trained to do- looking for the teacher to show him the truth, to show him how God is working.
Or perhaps Thomas is a character meant to help us see our own struggle to believe Jesus’ resurrection, and need for God to act to create faith in us.
Thomas is called the twin. As I met with other pastors to study this text, we tried to figure out why this little detail is included in the text. I’ve always figured it’s because he had a twin, maybe something that made him different from another Thomas among the disciples. The text doesn’t say anything about why he’s called the twin. Maybe we’re told he’s Thomas the twin right at the beginning of this story because Thomas is very much like someone else. Maybe he’s very much like many of us.
What Thomas is really after is an authentic experience of Jesus. This isn’t him being needy, demanding, or faithless. Maybe his words, “unless I see Jesus, unless I put my hands on the deathly wounds of this now living Jesus, I will not believe” are a prayer for a real encounter with the living God. Isn’t that what so many of us are longing for today? I think that longing for authentic experience is a good thing. It’s what draws us into a community of faith, and into a vibrant life of prayer, worship, and study. That longing to know God’s presence is what makes us disciples rather than people who simply come to worship out of duty or habit.
I love verses 30 and 31, where the author steps back from narrating and talks directly to us who would read generations later: “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.” These verses, especially following Thomas’ encounter, make me wonder what it takes for each one of us to get to a place where we believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
We don’t believe just for our own sake. Our mission as disciples is to disciple others. We’re called to not only be in a relationships with the living and loving God, but to help guide others into the experiences that will help them to come to a place in life where they join Thomas in recognizing God. God calls us to play a part in nurturing the faith of others, so that they can turn to God and declare, “my Lord and my God.”
We invite others into discipleship as we model and support them in a life of faith. The liturgy we use for baptism includes promises to nurture young ones, or to be an active newly baptized adult by doing certain things. These promises include sharing the Lord’s supper, being in community with other Christians, reading the holy scriptures, learning the Lord’s prayer, sharing God’s love with the world, and striving for justice and peace. These are not so much a checklist as they are a way to be in the places where faith is nurtured and grown. They are places and activities through which we are most open to God planting and growing faith in us.
Prayer, worship, Bible study, justice work, and unconditionally loving all sorts of people are all things God calls us to do to not only for ourselves, but in order to become people who attract others to God. Not in some sort of gimicky or coercive way. But because when we are grounded in God’s love and grace we live differently. We live in a way that makes other curious. What exactly that looks like for each of you is unique. Some might show their a sense of joy, others be able to forgive, some have priorities or life choices that inspire people to ask why. Being a faithful inspiration doesn’t mean you have to have it all together, it may be that in your times of deepest struggle, what inspires others is the way the community of faith holds on to you and supports you through crises.
Seekers, those who are beginning to be ready to enter a life of faith, will be brought to faith, in part, by you. By the way you life out your own faith. By the way your life is a reaction to the good news of Jesus’ empty tomb.
It’s not easy to be a discipling disciple. Even those most faithful can find themselves stuck, unable to move forward into faithful living, much less be an inspiration to others. These verses from John aren’t only about Thomas. They are also about the struggle the others disciples faced. Those disciples are locked in a room, because they are afraid of the consequences for following Jesus. Then Jesus comes to them, giving them his peace and his spirit. Later, after Jesus has left, those disciples tell Thomas they have seen Jesus.
They seem to be off to a good start, sharing the good news with Thomas. Certainly they have been so affected by proof of Jesus’ resurrection that they are eager to go out into the world to continue Jesus’ work-
No, even a whole week later, all the disciples are still locked in the room. Nothing has changed. Their encounter with the risen Lord, their receiving his peace and his spirit, hasn’t broken through their fear. Why would Thomas believe they’ve witnessed the miraculous living presence of the one who died? It hasn’t seemed to change them at all. They are still concerned for their safety. Jesus’ resurrection hasn’t propelled them into faithful living, and so it’s no wonder they haven’t been persuasive evangelists.
Some of you, maybe especially the Sunday school teachers, might be feeling the pressure of responsibility. While we are all called to help nurture others in faith, it’s important to remember we do not work alone. It’s not primarily up to us to create faith.
It’s God who creates faith within us. Our faith, our ability to trust in God, is based solely on the work of God’s Holy Spirit, and at its center, is something totally out of our control to create in our selves and to create in others. In Luther’s Small Catechism, the explanation to the third article of the Apostles’ Creed states, “by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus my Lord, or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith…” God breaks into our lives, just as Jesus broke into that locked room, so that we can recognize and trust in God.
Through the proclamation that Jesus is risen, God is working to change your life: and to change the whole world. God invites us into practices and places where we might grow in faith, and God calls us to share our faith. You may have been blessed with an experience of God that solidified your faith. Or you may be among those who believe and long for more. God is faithful to you. God will continue to nurture your faith, and one day will bring you into God’s presence so that your faith is confirmed.
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