Preached from the pulpit of Good Shepherd Church, April 6, 2013:
40 years ago if you had asked me about my beliefs, I would have told you that we eventually would see an end to war in my life time because I believed, as modern people, we could solve our differences rationally; I believed would be directing a movie from one of my own scripts; I’d be a bestselling author on the New York Times list; I’d never have my heart broken into a million pieces by a certain man, and the Cubs would have a shot at the World Series and take it in four games.
Guess for which I still have hope?
That’s right. The Cubs.
Now, if you’d told me that from doubt comes belief and from belief comes faith, I would have asked what you were smoking and asked for a hit. This was a period where I’d left all of my childhood theology and faith by the road, years of wanting to be holy, and struck out on my own. What had God and religion done for me? I kept getting asked if I found Jesus – didn’t know he went missing. I knew, I absolutely knew, he wasn’t in my life, because if he was, things would have been different. Right? I was one of the spiritual people who didn’t need religion. It took me a decade to go back and sort through my baggage and leave what remained. What brought me around were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Acts. The life and work of Jesus. This is the Greatest Story Ever Told.
It is a wonderful gift to us.
It is history and it is life. It is Good News.
It doesn’t end with a shadow on the beach, or a close up of a shroud lying on a bier in an empty tomb as Hollywood would offer and thank goodness for that! The news spreads, the imperial government and its Temple collaborators get nervous, the excitement and joy builds. The followers of Jesus are still reeling from the crucifixion, hiding out in the Upper Room, no doubt wondering where do they go from there, what to do next. They are visited by Jesus and as we will learn, the story with the work of the apostles and the growing community in the Book of Acts, Paul’s letters, the anonymous writings of first century Christians and not-so-anonymous persons, and in the lives of everyone who has ever heard the Good News and proclaimed it, and those who for a moment doubted and then said, “Yes! This is real.”
This story has an epilogue, and we are it.
We, you and I, are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Jesus’ blessing on those who come to faith without the necessity of sight or touch is not a chiding of Thomas for his lack of faith at that moment, but an affirmation of the generations who have relied on the Word and, believe it or not, Thomas’ actions, for their faith.
I bet you’d like to know why I think that last bit is an affirmation of faith.
Thomas is called the Doubter. He was bold to have stood before his friends and fellow disciples to say, “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.”
Where did this come from?
Was it that Thomas still didn’t get it, or was it grief, fear or shame taking up space in his heart and mind? His teacher and leader had been executed as a criminal, after all; perhaps he didn’t want to believe for fear of what it meant – failure, like so-many would-be prophets and messiahs before Jesus, and perhaps a death by crucifixion for himself. Or, it was grief at the loss of someone he loved taking hold and putting him into denial.
We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t with the others when Jesus first appeared to them – there’s no clue – but it begs the imagination, doesn’t it? He might have been going out for food for the rest, but what if he engaged in the work Jesus called him to, in full sight of Jesus’ persecutors. Imagine Thomas saying, “Yes, you killed him! But it doesn’t kill the message or the meaning! Here I am, doing exactly what he was doing! What are you going to do about it?”
He is called Doubting Thomas and that nickname has become an appellation for those of us who steadfastly refuse to believe or take at face value what we cannot see.
Haven’t we all at one time, questioned what we’ve been taught or told, or seen, especially when the hour and the day are dark and feel without promise? When those moments come, God puts into play or reveals something that turns one from being faithless to faithful, something like the Resurrection.
Remember Paul’s words to the Hebrews: “now faith is a well-grounded assurance of that for which we hope, and a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see.”
Faith requires that we who have not seen, believe. Belief that the Kingdom is here and now, belief that God is always with us.
God came to us in the form and blessing of Jesus. So many prophets came before Jesus claiming to be the Christ but they slipped away into obscurity, suffered ignominious deaths like Jesus.
What made him so different?
He was who he said he was. He did what he said he was going to do. The resurrection of Christ gave new life to humanity, to those who believed. What was promised by Jesus in his teaching was and is being lived out. The apostles, the first followers of Jesus, proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom – what Jesus promised in his teachings and ministry was made true. The followers of Jesus live out the new commandment – that they love one another as Jesus loved them, and in attending to the needs of one another – what Jesus commanded was made tangible and real.
The apostles became the leaders of the movement and strove to live as they were taught, showing that “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a great family of different people, living together, loving one another and all living in equality.” What Jesus demonstrated in his ministry was kept alive by the faith, belief and right action.
And this is where we come in.
We are the disciples, called to keep the Good News in play, to keep the Word in our hearts and minds, and to keep it alive. How you and I do this depends on the gifts God has given each one of us, and how the Spirit moves within us.
We’re always looking for new ways to proclaim the Gospel, to tell the story, to keep it fresh and alive. Jesus walks with us every step of the way – sometimes we have to open our hearts and minds a bit wider to see him, get past our own wounds so that we can see his. No, we haven’t seen the five wounds except what is depicted in artwork and written of in scripture, but we know they are real.
Every time we say ‘peace be with you,’ Christ says it to us. And when I send people out at the end of the service to go in peace to love and serve God, I mean it. Again, how you follow through is dependent on what you called to do.
It’s time for us to pick up our pens and continue the story. What will you write on the page? Perhaps it will be to say that you and I can see Jesus working in our lives and we are continually blessed by that grace – sight unseen.
Let’s show the world in thought, word and deed, that Christ is our Lord and our God – show the world that we believe.