19When 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,
be with you.
20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
21 Jesus said to them again,
Peace be with you. As the Father has
sent me, so I send you.
22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
Receive the Holy Spirit.
23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 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.
26 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.
27 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
28 Thomas answered him,
My Lord and my God!
29 Jesus said to him,
Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
31 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.
Wednesday this week marked the 62nd anniversary of the day
Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. For those of you
who don't know who Jackie Robinson is, he played second base for the
Dodgers for ten years. He'll always be remembered because he was one
of the great baseball players of his day. He won the rookie of the
year and a couple of years later he was voted the most valuable player
of the league. He led his team to six world series, he made six all
star teams. His baseball career was topped off when he was inducted
into the hall of fame the first year he was eligible. But more than
anything he did on the field, he's remembered simply for the fact that
he was there. As many of you know Jackie was the first non-white
person to play in the major leagues. They talk about him as the one
who broke the color barrier and every year, Pro baseball celebrates
Jackie Robinson Day … Apparently, just about everyone who knew
him thought he was a world class baseball player and an even better
human being, so the other thing that inevitably happens on Jackie
Robinson day is that stories get told. I heard one of those stories
this week on ESPN … It was October 14, 1972 … Jackie had
long since retired from baseball and it was obvious to people who saw
him that he was weak. He was losing the battle with heart disease and
diabetes. In fact he had already gone blind from diabetes related
complications. But that night he went to a function where he was to
be the honored guest. People were coming up to him all night long
congratulating him for his life's work, wanting to shake his hand, to
get his autograph, to have a conversation. Toward the end of the
night an old friend approached, this was someone who had been with
Jackie all along on his journey … he'd been there through the
awards and accolades … and also through the slurs, the racism
and the death threats that came with being one of the first and also
one of the most visible civil rights pioneers. As they hugged, Jackie
whispered in his ear … I wish I could see you just one more time
old friend. That friend smiled and replied,
No Jackie, we all wish
we could see you again. That night ended up his last public
appearance and ten days later Jackie Robinson passed away.
I heard that story … that phrase, we all wish we could see you again,
and thought about Christians throughout the ages … Early that first
Easter morning when Mary Magdalene came running in and said to the
disciples … I've seen the Lord. And the thought flashed through
their minds …
I wish we could see him again. Even today, imagine
what that would do for our faith. We believe Jesus Christ is Risen,
but in some regards Easter is already a distant memory. I'll be
quite surprised if I see an Easter Bunny running around today like
there was last week. There aren't any decorated eggs left in our
fridge. The chocolate is disappearing from the only basket that
survived last weekend. The good pile of Jelly beans is gone and the
other pile has migrated to the bottom of the basket … As far as
commercial luster goes, it's hardly a remote comparison between
Christmas and Easter, but even the little bit of fervor that Easter
did claim has faded away. Outside the church, we're only a week
later and it's as if Easter didn't even happen at all … But inside
these walls and a million other churches like us; there's still
excitement and that excitement is still building … We're just
getting started because even today we still want to see Jesus again.
This whole chapter of the gospel of John is about people seeing the mystery of the resurrection and it highlights how many different ways faith seems to emerge for people. The beloved disciple saw the empty tomb and believed … Mary Magdalene saw the stone rolled away and she was there at the empty tomb, but she wasn't ready to believe until the moment Jesus called her name … The rest of the disciples heard the reports of those two, but they weren't convinced until later that night. Even though the door was locked, Jesus came and stood in their midst … offering peace, sending them out into the world and empowering them with the Holy Spirit. That was enough for the other disciples … they believed … but then we get to Thomas who for one reason or another missed Jesus in the locked room on the first Easter evening.
When I heard this story growing up, they called him doubting Thomas.
He said he needed to put his finger in the holes where the nails went
in to Jesus' hands … he needed to put his hand in Jesus' side before
he would be able to believe. So he got labeled as the doubter and he'
s been disparaged in the church ever since. — One writer says:
Thomas' demand to see the mark of the nails and to put his hand in
Jesus' side is outrageous. Earlier [in the gospel] Jesus condemned
those who demanded signs and wonders before they would believe (4:48).
But Thomas goes even further. He is only prepared to lay aside his
unfaith if the risen Jesus meets his criteria. It is sheer arrogance.
— Another writer says:
Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus made his first appearance
to them. As a result, he refused to believe. It is difficult to
believe when do not trust the fellowship of other believers. This
should serve as a lesson and a warning for us.
But the way I see it, it's a good thing
that Thomas doubted and in fact, he wasn't the only one who doubted,
he's just the one who held out the longest.
Personally, I'm glad they call one of the disciples the doubter … it
makes him more approachable, more real … there are plenty of times
that I have doubt … and I'd venture a guess that I'm not the only
one. In fact, I'm convinced that we all have first-hand knowledge of
doubt. We doubt the presence of God. We doubt the sincerity of other
people and when it comes right down to it there are lots of times when
we even doubt ourselves. But according to Paul Tillich, who was one
of the most influential theologians of the last century, doubt is not
a bad thing. He said that
Doubt isn't the opposite of faith …Doubt
is a part of faith. The confusion of the post-resurrection
appearances is part of the same journey as the hope of the empty tomb.
Skepticism and commitment to following the way of Jesus are part of
the same journey … they're just on opposite sides of an experience
that enables belief.
This week's scripture is a wonderful affirmation of the journey of faith. Earlier in John's gospel, when the disciples were talking about how dangerous it would be for Jesus to go to Jerusalem, Thomas was the one who stood up and said if he goes, let's all go too so that we may die with him … His fears were recognized in the crucifixion … and now he's slow to believe what, presumably, he hopes to be true … (we all wish we could see you again) Thomas refused to have a second-hand faith. He refused to pretend to believe what he didn't actually believe. And we just read the story … we know what Jesus did. He didn't rebuke Thomas for his doubt. He didn't condemn Thomas for his lack of belief. He offered his hands … Stick your fingers in the holes; see what that does for your faith. Put your hand in my side; see what that does for your belief. Feel the resurrection. Let my new life become your new life. I think that God would prefer that we're honest with our doubts … Not only because God' s big enough to handle our doubts, but because when we're honest with our doubts, we can also be honest with our actions.
Thomas immediately went on to give the clearest and most powerful statement of faith in the whole gospel of John. And, according to tradition it wasn't an empty statement. To this day, the Syrian orthodox church claims Thomas as their founder. And tradition holds that he went east starting churches all along the way. He made it as far as the east coast of India where he was eventually killed as a martyr for his faith.
It would appear that Thomas's journey went from commitment and fearlessness, to doubt and uncertainty to profound statement of faith to action … Not everyone's journey takes the same path, but nonetheless everyone is on a journey. And that's the way it has to be, because we're dealing with someone who isn't easy to define, someone who isn't easy to quantify, someone who breaks all the rules of our understanding … After all, He challenged taxes and he beat death. It's the living God we're talking about …
One part of the story today seems above all to be addressed to us as
the hearers of the gospel more even than to the people in the
story. And it's what happens after the affirmation of faith. Thomas
My Lord and My God and Jesus responds,
believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not
seen and yet have come to believe.
To my knowledge there hasn't been anyone alive who's actually seen Christ bodily for more than 1900 years. We can't see Jesus, at least not the way Thomas did. We can't put our fingers in the nail holes in his hands, we can't put our hands in his side. We can't actually see the one who is the embodiment of love … but we can see the results of love.
In every baseball stadium, wherever they hang the retired numbers of the great players who wore the uniform, Jackie Robinson's number … #42 is there. It's the only number that's retired by all of major league baseball … If anyone wears that number, it's in honor of what Jackie did. You may not be able to see Jackie again, but on Wednesday, every player on every team in the majors wore number 42 to honor him … you can look at any major league team and see the results of his work.
We may never see Jesus while we walk this earth, but by being part of the community that is this church family, we can see the results of his love. When we show up at the hospital to support someone who's recovering from surgery there is evidence of his love; when we come together to care for someone who's lost a loved one there's evidence of his love. When we give up a long sunny Saturday to work together to make this church the best that it can possibly be we see evidence of his love. As I've gotten to know people here at the united parish and listened to their stories over the last few months, what I hear most often is that the times our faith grows are the times when we see the evidence of love flowing out from the community. That's the kind of experience that enables belief.
We're in this journey together. Doubt, fear, confusion, uncertainty … it's all part of the equation when we start talking about the journey of faith. But thank God, we're in this journey together … Through it all there is the community that is the amazing evidence of the love of Christ. So look around … you wanted to see Jesus one more time. We are the Body of Christ. Amen.
The foregoing sermon was given on April 19, 2009, by Rev. Dan Holland at the United Parish of Bowie.
© 2009 Daniel Holland