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.
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
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
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.
What's the Good
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'
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
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
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
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
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
And he said, "I'm a
I said, "That's
interesting. Where do you meet?"
He said, "We don't
I said, "What are you
He said, "We're seeking
I said, "Well, what have
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
"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
The accountants agree that
this is a rather clever idea so after the conference, they decide to duplicate
the engineers' feat...