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The Second Sunday of Easter
April 7, 2013
The Gospel: John 20: 19-31
Sermon: "Redoubtable Thomas"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But 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."
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he 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."
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.
John 20: 19-31
Some people have difficulty with the miraculous. This morning we meet just such a person in our Gospel lesson; a disciple who had a hard time accepting Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We all know his name as it has come down to us in tradition; doubting Thomas, our patron saint.
Actually, though, he was not known as doubting Thomas to his friends. He was called Thomas the twin, and I’m going to suggest that we call him Redoubtable Thomas this morning. He was not the dreary skeptic many have made him out to be. Actually, he is redoubtable, that is, worthy of respect, because we can learn some important things from his example. But before we look at where he is redoubtable, let’s look at where he is doubtable, that is, where he went wrong. This is really important for us to see.
Here it is. Thomas was missing and he missed out: He was missing from the fellowship of faith, and thus, doubt came more easily. That can so easily happen to us. People start missing worship. Only a Sunday or two at first, then worship becomes the exception, not the rule. Finally, they wind up missing from the fellowship altogether. Like the proverbial ember removed from the fire, they cool, lose their ardor, and are very difficult to rekindle.
That had not yet happened to Thomas. He was simply missing when Jesus made his first dramatic resurrection appearance to his disciples. Thus he was still in his doubt and despair. It is a good warning to us. I’ve known people to miss a very special event in the life of the church and they never are able to understand the significance that event has for others in the fellowship. It might be a choir anthem or a Lenten service, or it might simply be a regular Sunday morning service that somehow God uses in a very special way to touch hearts. But they weren’t there, and it is very difficult to describe to them the wonder of it all.
Those of you who take seriously your commitment to support the fellowship of this congregation with your attendance are giving a very real gift in yourselves. People who attend infrequently miss so much! I say this with a great deal of sympathy and empathy. Most of you know that I was a Presbyterian pastor for twenty years, and that I have been an Episcopal priest for the past seven years. For the eight years in between, however, I was a 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. school teacher complete with all the evening grading, planning, and occasional weekend commitments that went with such a regular job. In other words, I got the chance to live and observe life and the Church as a layperson for that time.
Some odd things happened to me. For instance, I found that I have a favorite location where I prefer to sit in when I am simply a visiting worshiper at a church. I want to have it open and waiting for me when I arrive on Sundays, and I’ve had to learn to be “Christian” when someone has beaten me to it. Something else is the discovery of just how warm and comfy bed is on Sunday mornings. It’s an even greater comfort than on a Monday morning. I can’t explain why; it’s just so. It can be genuinely hard to get up, especially if it’s been a hard week. I can understand rationalizing how God would want me to sleep-in, because he would want me to be rested and well so that I could be a good witness for him to my associates during the week ahead. I confess, before you, my brothers and sisters, that there were Sundays when I surrendered to it all. I really do understand that desire, even sense of need to give in.
Just one thought kept me from giving in altogether; the lover of my soul, the savior of my life was there waiting for me. He asks only for this time of worship, and gives his own body and blood to feed our hearts, and the warmth of friendships among you to strengthen our spirits. He gives, and you give, how can we not come and take part in and be a part of that gift?
Thomas was missing and he missed out. That’s the first thing to see this morning.
Here’s the second: Just here, we see something that is truly redoubtable in Thomas. Thomas wanted to believe. There are at least three approaches to doubt. One is the skeptic who says he or she is a doubter and proud of it. That is a very convenient approach to life. In the name of skepticism, one can avoid having to really think about the claims of the Gospel, and skirt around making any kind of a commitment. In fact there’s no end to things one can avoid thinking honestly about in the name of skepticism.
The second approach is that of a person afraid to doubt at all. A voice inside the head suggests that we will fry in Hell if we entertain even the slightest doubt that anything we’ve been taught is true. This voice usually sounds very much like a parent’s voice, or some preacher’s.
The third group is made up of people more like Thomas, and I suspect more like you and me. This is the group of people who say with the man who encountered Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).
Thomas knew that his Lord had been crucified. He knew that he had been pronounced dead and laid in a borrowed tomb. It was just too much to ask him to believe that this same Lord was now alive and appearing to his disciples and friends. It would take more than their wishful assurances to heal Thomas’ broken heart.
Woody Allen once asked, “If God does exist, why doesn’t He give me some sign; like depositing a million dollars in my name in a Swiss bank?” Why does God not give us just a little more evidence of His existence? Why doesn’t He grant just a few more of our prayer requests: Why does He seem to keep Himself just a little beyond our full grasp?
Dr. H.H. Farmer once wrote, “If only God would, so to say, sign some of His gifts. If only, like the artist, He would put His signature at the foot of some masterpiece of coloring in the sky.”
Many of us have had the same wish. Why doesn’t God reveal Himself to us in such a way that never again would we have to live with any doubt? God doesn’t dispel every reason for doubt on purpose. In order to bring us to spiritual maturity, it is necessary for God to make faith a challenge.
Consider prayer. What if God granted every prayer request we prayed? In retrospect, most of us here are pretty thankful that at least some of those prayers we prayed went unfilled. Aside from the mess that some of our prayers would have made, if God did answer every prayer with a “Yes”, would we not become overly-dependant children? Would not God be reduced to our mere servant, or at least our indulgent parent? We would develop an unhealthy dependence on Him rather than a healthy reliance on the gifts and abilities he has given us. We would never take initiative in anything. Like a child never allowed to fall, we would never learn to walk, to cope, to conquer. We would never reach full adulthood in Christ. Besides, faith that comes too easily is not faith for the long haul of life.
Thomas wanted to believe. He was open despite the voice of his doubts. The fact that he was back in the fellowship of his friends a week later proves that. That’s the second thing to see in Redoubtable Thomas this morning.
Here’s the third. In Thomas we see again that if we will seek God, we will find God. That is the promise of Scripture. God will not keep himself from us. As the prophet Jeremiah spoke for God, “If with all your heart you truly seek me, you shall surely find me. Thus says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
Thomas did. Eight days later he was in a room with the other disciples. The doors and windows were shut, when suddenly Christ appeared to them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he turned to Thomas and said, “Put your fingers here and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God.” This time Thomas was not missing. Note this: our passage doesn’t actually have Thomas touching the wounds. Thomas doesn’t need to have the physical proof of the wounds that he had demanded before. He simply responds to Jesus’ call in faith. He was back with the others. He was ready to believe.
There are times in our lives when we go through seasons of doubt, and even despair and feelings of spiritual defeat. Anyone whose Christian faith is worth anything has had or will have such times. But God’s promises are sure. In our hour of need, God will reveal Himself just as much as we really need him to do. It may be through a passage of Scripture. It may be through the encouragement of a friend or the singing of a favorite hymn or song, or it may come in a moment of very deep, impassioned prayer. But it will come.
It is no sin to doubt. But if you wish for your doubts to be answered, be regularly present in the fellowship of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t try to go it alone. We find faith more readily with each other rather than apart. Then, have the courage, even in the midst of your doubts, to stay open and wanting to believe. It is within the will of God that we should struggle with our faith. That is how we mature. Finally, always continue to seek God out. He is not avoiding you. Like Redoubtable Thomas, if you seek him, you shall surely find him.