Easter 2 A -Doubting Thomas

 

John 20:19-31 - "Thomas"
John 20:19-31 - "Touched" by Leonard Sweet
If I were to mention the names of certain disciples to you and ask you to write down the first word that comes into your mind, it is unlikely you would come up with the same words. If I were to mention the name of Judas many of you would write down the word "betray" but not all of you. If I were to mention Simon Peter, some of you would write down the word "faith," but not all of you. If I were to mention the names of James and John, some of you would write down the phrase "Sons of Thunder," but not all of you. But when I mention the word Thomas, there is little question about the word most everyone would write down. It would be the word doubt. Indeed, so closely have we associated Thomas with this word, that we have coined a phrase to describe him: "Doubting Thomas."

You may be interested to know that in the first three gospels we are told absolutely nothing at all about Thomas. It is in John's Gospel that he emerges as a distinct personality, but even then there are only 155 words about him. There is not a lot about this disciple in the Bible but there is more than one description.

When Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem the disciples thought that it would be certain death for all of them. Surprisingly, it was Thomas who said: Then let us go so that we may die with him. It was a courageous statement, yet we don't remember him for that. We also fail to point out that in this story of Thomas' doubt we have the one place in the all the Gospels where the Divinity of Christ is bluntly and unequivocally stated. It is interesting, is it not, that the story that gives Thomas his infamous nickname, is the same story that has Thomas making an earth shattering confession of faith? Look at his confession, "My Lord, and my God." Not teacher. Not Lord. Not Messiah. But God! It is the only place where Jesus is called God without qualification of any kind. It is uttered with conviction as if Thomas was simply recognizing a fact, just as 2 + 2 = 4, and the sun is in the sky. You are my Lord and my God! These are certainly not the words of a doubter.

Unfortunately history has remembered him for this scene where the resurrected Christ made an appearance to the disciples in a home in Jerusalem. Thomas was not present and when he heard about the event he refused to believe it. Maybe he was the forerunner of modern day cynicism. Maybe the news simply sounded too good to be true. Thomas said: Unless I feel the nail prints in his hands I will not believe.

Now I cannot help but notice that Thomas has separated himself from the disciples and therefore, in his solitude, missed the resurrection appearance. I think that john is suggesting to us that Christ appears most often within the community of believers that we call the church, and when we separate ourselves from the church we take a chance on missing his unique presence.

But the story doesn't end here. The second time Jesus made his appearance Thomas was present with the disciples and this time he too witnessed the event. This time he believed. What can we learn from the life of Thomas?

1. Jesus did not blame him.
2. The most endearing things in life can never be proven.
3. We must move beyond doubt to faith.
_______________________

We now live in a "virtual" world. A TGiF world where T=Twitter, G=Google, i=iPads/iPhones (and all the other i-devices), and F=Facebook. In the next couple of months, Facebook will be going public. The only questions are a) whether Facebook's IPO be the biggest IPO in American history; b) how soon this summer will Facebook reach 1 billion users (that's 1/7 of the planet's population); and c) whether or not Facebook is really worth 100 billion dollars?
Regardless of how you answer those questions, all of life now happens "online" in some way or fashion, according to some view or on some venue.
There is good and bad about this TGIF world.
A bad? We leave our kids to fend and to fashion an identity for themselves out of mass-mediated images. At least three things are wrong with this: 1) mass (not personalized and customized); 2) mediated (not parented or purposed); 3) images (not real life).
A good? Distance is dead. Social media can bring us into relationships with people we have physically never met, and can build bonds between cultures and causes that are separated by half the world's geography. Every revolution, every conflict, now happens in our own "virtual" backyard or village commons. We are touched by people and events we will never ever physically encounter. Yet they are up-close and personal to us because of online connections.
It is a connected world. Every one now can be an island, since even islands are no longer isolated. No one with a computer or cell lives alone.
It was so not so in the first century. As Jesus was being tortured and crucified, taken off the cross and buried, almost all his followers fled. The few remaining witnesses were (luckily for them) considered inconsequential--women, hangers-on, etc.. But Jesus' followers fled for a reason. They knew it was likely they would be considered traitors, conspiratorial enemies of Rome. They knew it was likely they were already on Rome's "Most Wanted" list. Can you really blame Jesus' disciples for fleeing from Golgotha and locking down in anonymous hired rooms in Jerusalem? Out of sight, out of mind, was not a bad game plan as far as Jesus' followers were concerned...
_______________________
We Know Where We Are Going
The story is told about Albert Einstein, the brilliant physicist of Princeton University in the early 20th century. Einstein was traveling from Princeton on a train, and when the conductor came down the aisle to punch the passengers' tickets, Einstein couldn't find his. He looked in his vest pocket, he looked in his pants pocket, he looked in his briefcase, but there was no ticket. The conductor was gracious; "Not to worry, Dr. Einstein, I know who you are, we all know who you are, and I'm sure you bought a ticket."
As the conductor moved down the aisle, he looked back and noticed Einstein on his hands and knees, searching under the seat for his ticket. The conductor returned to Einstein; "Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don't worry. I know who you are. You don't need a ticket, I'm sure you bought one." Einstein arose and said "Young man, I too know who I am; what I don't know is where I am going."
And that is the good news of Easter; that we know where we are going. We have been told by the Savior that his life and death has promised us life eternal. And Low Sundays don't change that promise. And unemployment doesn't change that promise. Neither does divorce, or bankruptcy, or cancer, or depression, or felony, or failure. Through elation and deflation and every emotion in between, this truth remains; we know whose we are and we know where we are going, because the Son of God has promised. And this, my friends, is faith.
Steven Molin, Elated....Deflated
________________________________
What's the Good Word?
A student from Korea was complaining about how difficult it is to learn the English language. He felt that American idioms were particularly difficult to comprehend. He said that he had studied English for nine years in preparation for attending the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. On his first day at the school, as he was walking across the campus, an American student casually greeted him with, "Hi, What's the good word?" The Korean boy stopped dead in his tracks. He thought to himself: "I don't know the good word! You would have thought that after nine years of studying English, someone would have told me what "˜the good word' was!"

Later, trying to solve this puzzle, he decided to turn the tables and ask an American, "What's the good word?" and listen to his reply. So, approaching a fellow student, he repeated, "Hi! What's the good word?" The quick response was, "Oh, not much. How about you?"
It was obvious that neither of these students knew what the good word was. It's a rather plastic greeting. But I can tell you the good word for today: Christ the Lord is risen. That's the Good Word. And because it is; it says a great deal about our lives.
Brett Blair and King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
_______________________
The Greatest Scar Story
I can think of no better modern-day illustration of the sacrifice Jesus made for us than a recent scar story I heard from a tennis friend of mine. As we were waiting for another match to finish, she was relating how badly her knees hurt. This friend is the most fit 30-something-year-old I know. Yet she sat beside me with a brace on each knee. I pointed to the open hole of her knee brace and asked if her scar was from knee surgery. She told me, "No, it's from my son, and I actually have an identical scar on my other knee."
You see, several years ago she scooped up her toddler son from the swimming pool and began to walk towards a lounge chair. As she stepped onto the tiled patio, her foot slipped on the wet slick surface. She was also seven months pregnant, and it was one of those moments where you feel like you're moving in slow motion but there's nothing you can do to stop the fall. Within a split second, she knew her momentum was toppling her forward, and she could either face-plant and land on top of both her son and her unborn child, or she could fall on her knees.
Of course, as any loving parent would do, she chose to fall on her knees directly onto the unforgiving concrete. Her knees immediately burst open and blood went everywhere. She ended up needing stitches, which resulted in scars, but her son and unborn child were both unscathed. It is hard for me to tell this story without tearing up, because to me, it serves as a miniscule example of the immense sacrifice and love of Jesus Christ for us. You see, we are the beloved children of God for whom Jesus took the fall. Christ suffered on the cross and endured unimaginable pain for us. His is the greatest scar story ever told.
Christi O. Brown, Scars of Hope
_________________________
A New Shalom
When Jesus appeared to the disciples, his greeting was, "Peace be unto you." The Hebrew word shalom, for "peace," is a most comprehensive word, covering the full realm of relationships in daily life and expressing an ideal state of life. The word suggests the fullness of well-being and harmony untouched by ill fortune. The word as a blessing is a prayer for the best that God can give to enable a person to complete one's life with happiness and a natural death. If the concept of shalom became all too casual and light-hearted with no more significance than a passing greeting, Jesus came to give it new meaning. At Bethlehem God announced that peace would come through the gift of God's unique Son. The mission and ministry of our Lord made it quite clear that Jesus had come to introduce the rule of God and to order peace for the world.
Harry N. Huxhold, Which Way To Jesus?, CSS Publishing
____________________________

The Prelude to Faith
Several years ago I spoke on a university campus, and when I finished speaking, a young man accosted me in the hall. He said, "I don't like what you had to say in there." I asked him to tell me which part he didn't like.
"He replied, "Actually, I didn't hear you. I just don't like preachers." I agreed that I have some trouble with preachers too.
I said, "Well, what are you?"
And he said, "I'm a seeker."
I said, "That's interesting. Where do you meet?"
He said, "We don't meet."
I said, "What are you seeking?"
He said, "We're seeking truth."
I said, "Well, what have you read?"
He said, "I haven't read anything in particular."
We went on with the conversation for a short while. Finally, I looked at him and said, "I don't think you are a seeker. I think you are a runner. I think you are hiding. For you see, not to decide is to decide. You have decided that you want to hide in unbelief."
The disbelief and the doubting for Thomas was not something that was rooted in fact. It was something that was inside of Thomas.
Doubt is like a front porch. All of us go through it before we get into the house of faith.
William L. Self, The Prelude to Faith
_____________________
Peace Be With You...It Already Is!
Theologian Karl Barth once remarked that to say the old line from the creed, "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church" does not mean that we believe in the church. It means rather to believe that God is present and at work in the church, that "in this assembly, the work of the Holy Spirit takes place. ... We do not believe in the Church: but we do believe that in this congregation the work of the Holy Spirit becomes an event."
Barth's words rang true for me some years ago, when I was invited by a church in a nearby town to be the worship leader at a special evening communion service. The church staff had planned this service to be educational as well as worshipful. The idea was that, first, the congregation would gather in the sanctuary and I would give a brief talk about the meanings of the Lord's Supper. Then, we would go into the fellowship hall and be seated around tables for the service itself.
At each table there would be the flour and other ingredients to form the dough for the communion loaves. The plan called for each table to prepare a loaf and, while the loaves baked in the ovens of the church kitchen, the people at each table were to engage in various exercises designed to get them talking about their experiences in the faith.
It was a good idea, but like many well-planned events, things looked better on the drawing board than they turned out in reality. There were problems. Children at many tables began to play in the baking ingredients, and white clouds of flour floated around the room coating everybody and everything. There were delays in the kitchen, and the communion bread baked with agonizing slowness. Some of the tables ran out of things to say; children grew weary and fussy; the room was filled with commotion and restlessness. The planners had dreamed of an event of excitement, innovation, peak learning, and moving worship. What happened was noise, exhaustion, and people making the best of a difficult situation. In other words, despite the rosy plans, it was the real church worshipping down there in the church basement.
Finally, the service ended, and, with no little relief, I was able to pronounce the benediction. "The peace of Christ be with you all," I said, and just as I did, a child's voice from somewhere in the room called out strong and true, "It already is."
Just that -- "It already is" -- but with those words the service was transformed into an event of joy and holy mystery. That small voice captured what the Gospel of John is trying to say. In the midst of a church that can claim nothing for itself, a church of noise, confusion, weariness, and even fear, the risen Christ comes to give peace. The peace of Christ be with you? Because the risen Christ comes to inhabit our empty places, then, as the child said, "It already is," and the church with nothing becomes the church with everything.
Thomas G. Long, Whispering the Lyrics, CSS Publishing
_________________________

We Want Proof
There is a reason why many Christians around the world have latched so quickly and tenaciously onto the discovery of what may be the ossuary or burial box for James, the brother of Jesus. There's a reason why every time archaeologists discover some inscription referring to King David, Pontius Pilate, or some other biblical figure that this news immediately makes a splash in the pages of Christianity Today. Here, we are told, is further "proof" that the stuff in the Bible really did happen! There's a reason why there is now a huge enterprise that is literally scouring the universe for evidence that the formation of the cosmos required the hand of a Creator God. It's not just that we want to meet evolutionary and atheist scientists on their own turf--most folks also quietly hanker for something tangible that can bolster the confidence they have in their faith.
Over and again we find ourselves wanting more.
Jesus himself knows that faith is both a blessing and a miracle. That's why he says in verse 29 that while it was one thing for Thomas to believe with Jesus standing right in front of him, it would one day be quite another thing to believe without such undeniable physical proof standing in the same room.
Scott Hoezee, Wanting More
__________________________

Honey...It's Me
Perhaps you've heard the story of the Yugoslavian judge who was electrocuted when he reached up to turn on the light while standing in the bathtub. No, I'm not cruel or weird, let me tell you the rest of the story. This guy's poor wife found his body sprawled on the bathroom floor. He was pronounced dead and was placed in a preparation room under a crypt in the town cemetery for twenty-four hours before burial.
Well, and this is the part I love, in the middle of the night, the judge came to. The judge looked around at his surroundings and suddenly realized where he was. He got pretty excited and rushed over to alert the guard. But instead of being any help, the guard was terrified and promptly ran off.
Fortunately, though, the guard returned with a friend, and they released the newly-revived judge. The judge's first thought was to phone his wife and reassure her that he really wasn't dead. Unfortunately, he got no farther than, "Honey... it's me," when his wife screamed and fainted.
So, he decided that the best course of action was to enlist some friends. He went to the houses of several friends; but because they all had heard the news from his distraught wife, they all doubted that he was really alive. They were all convinced he was a ghost.
Finally, in a last desperate effort, he contacted a friend in another city who hadn't heard about his death. And that person was able to convince his family and friends that the judge really was alive.
That story almost sounds like one of the Gospel writers could have written it, doesn't it? It sure sounds like the passage from John this morning.
Traditional Story. We have not been able to verify the veracity of this story.
____________________

Watch and You'll See
This story is about three accountants who doubted their three engineer friends. They were traveling by train to a conference. The accountants bought three tickets, but the engineers only bought one. "How are three people going to travel on only one ticket?" an accountant asked.
"Watch and you'll see," said an engineer.
They all boarded the train. The accountants took their seats, but the three engineers crammed into a restroom and closed the door behind them. The train departed the station and soon the conductor came through the car asking for tickets. He knocked on the restroom door and said, "Ticket, please." The door opened a crack and a single arm emerges with a ticket in hand. The conductor took it and moved on.
The accountants agree that this is a rather clever idea so after the conference, they decide to duplicate the engineers' feat...