Sermon for April 24th

First Reading Acts 5:27-32

Second Reading Revelation 1:4-8

Gospel Reading John 20:19-31

Sermon “Evidence”

“Doubting Thomas” is what we call him. Not a great way to be remembered is it. I would like to offer ol’ Thomas a bit of support this morning. Thomas was what we call a skeptic; One who needs to see the evidence right before him to be convinced. I was raised that way too. My Grandfather was a bit infamous for some of his various sayings and one of them was – “don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see”. We have tried to raise our own kids that way too so that they learned to think independently and critically about all the things that came their way.

It’s scriptural too. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

And John wrote in his epistle “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Matter of fact, I tell you now that you are not allowed to simply accept everything that comes from me or any other preacher, just because they say so. You have the responsibility to test and evaluate what you hear; to compare it to the standard of Scripture and to accept only what is good and right and useful. Of course there is still the problem that Jesus had told the disciples at least three times what was going to happen: that he would be arrested, killed and rise on the third day. That should have made the women’s testimony more credible, but not for Thomas.

Thomas was skeptical, but really, little more so than the other disciples. They too rejected the words of the women Easter morning when they came back from the tomb saying that Jesus was risen. It was not until Christ stood before them, as we read this morning, that they finally believed – but Thomas missed out. He was not there and resurrection is a hard thing to believe. Particularly with this bit about just appearing inside a room with the doors locked. Thomas needed more and I for one am grateful to Thomas. Because of his skepticism and demand for evidence, I can believe all the more. There is a hymn in our hymnals that says it pretty well, if a bit graphically: Hymn #256

“These Things Did Thomas Count As Real” by THOMAS H. TROEGER

These things did Thomas count as real:the warmth of blood, the chill of steel, the grain of wood, the heft of stone, the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.

The vision of his skeptic mind was keen enough to make him blind to any unexpected act too large for his small world of fact.

His reasoned certainties denied that one could live when one had died, until his fingers read like braille the markings of the spear and nail.

May we, O God, by grace believe and thus the risen Christ receive, whose raw imprinted palms reached out and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.

We can be grateful to Thomas on another score as well. It happened in the Upper room on the night of Jesus’ arrest. Jesus was trying to reassure the disciple and said: John 14:1-7 NLT [1] “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. [2] There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? [3] When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. [4] And you know the way to where I am going.” [5] “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” [6] Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. [7] If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

You see, Ol’ Thomas is not so bad – He just needed his questions answered; He just had to see for himself. So, wonderfully, graciously and lovingly, Jesus honored his tough minded approach, he answered his question and came back especially for Thomas. It was important to him that Thomas have his standard of proof. He offered his eternal resurrection body for inspection – still bearing the marks of his crucifixion. Thomas saw and was convinced. He had to wait a week for his personal experience, but what an experience it was.

He was so convinced, that he gave the most profound of all the confessions recorded from the disciples – Thomas declared of Jesus – “My Lord and my God!” That declaration is the essential confession of faith for all of Christendom. Jesus is God and we follow him as Lord. He is risen indeed as proof of who he is and what he has done for us. It was verified by skeptical ol’ Thomas and many other faithful witnesses over 40 days following his resurrection. Because of Thomas we can have confidence in what we believe as well.

For us, our resurrection experience must be different from Thomas, separated by the years as we are. It is us, in part, who Jesus was referring to when he told Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The witnesses to the resurrection are important because it is as we have said before: it is God’s own stamp of approval and authority on the person of Jesus Christ. But few of us if any will have an experience so dramatic. Speaking of dramatic, Next week, we will hear of Paul’s experience with the Risen Christ, but again, our experience with Jesus is different from his as well.

Think with me for a moment about why and how you came to call Jesus “My Lord and my God”. I strongly suspect none of us has had an experience like Thomas or Paul. And yet, each of us has somehow come to know him through experiences as unique as each of us. Perhaps like Paul’s colleague Timothy, you were nurtured in the faith by parents and/or grandparents. Perhaps it was a faithful Sunday school teacher. Maybe for you it was later in life through the witness of a friend that you were introduced to Jesus. The possible starting points are many, but the outcome is the same. At some point all must answer the call of our Savior to “stop doubting and believe”. This is the point where possibility becomes reality for us.

You see, doubt is not the opposite of faith, apathy or not caring is the true opposite. Doubt can be a normal, natural stepping stone to initial faith or a deeper faith. Think of it as a sort of divine discontent with a current belief – waiting and struggling to be resolved. A place where questions swirl – Could it be? Is it possible? Is that right? All of us have doubts and questions about many things in life – about our careers, our family relationships and certainly about our faith from time to time. Faith is a life long progression with new insights and new depths all along the way. As new challenges and new understandings arise there may be times when the old does not fit easily with the new, when we must take a step back before we can move forward again. A time of uncertainty and doubt. Praise God that we are not left alone. After his resurrection appearances, Jesus ascended to his Father in heaven, but sent the Holy Spirit in his place. So from now until the day that Christ returns to this earth in power and glory, we live in the strength of the witness of the Holy Spirit: God’s continuing and ongoing presence with us.

The gift of the Spirit that Jesus previewed with those first disciples in that locked room would cause them to burst out of those close quarters and transform the world. Tradition records that Thomas himself was compelled to go the India and spread Christianity there. Even today, there are Christian churches in India that trace their origins all the way back to good ol’ faithful, believing Thomas. His moment of doubt passed in the presence of his Lord and Savior and he went on to greater things in the strength of renewed faith.

The Church today is still evidence of the resurrected Christ – whose continuing ministry is also empowered by the Holy Spirit. Even so doubts and difficulties have and do plague us still. The message of resurrection attested to and spread by our friend Thomas has had a checkered past. Sometimes the church has bravely withstood trials and persecution as it yet must do in several parts of the world. Other times the church has faltered and erred, and even fought within itself.

Thankfully, many times, most times, it lovingly serves its Lord and its God and shares Gods love and forgiveness with faithfulness and Grace. That is our divine calling – to be as the passage from Revelation describes us – Those whom Jesus loves, those whom he has redeemed by his blood and has made into a kingdom for himself on this earth to serve as Priests until he comes again. In that passage we get all three tenses of what Easter is all about. John is shown a wondrous vision of the resurrected Christ – Who was, and is, and who is to come. The resurrection was the beginning point for God’s redemption of the world. It is ongoing still and though difficult and bumpy at times, it will be brought to completion by the very one whom Thomas proclaimed as his Lord and his God.