3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith — being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
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,Peace be with you.20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again,Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.
26A 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.27Then 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.28Thomas answered him,My Lord and my God!29Jesus said to him,Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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.
In John's gospel, after the account of Easter Morning when the disciples run to the tomb and Mary has her famous conversation with the gardener, who was actually the risen Christ; Mary runs off to tell the disciples that she had seen the Lord. That's where our story left off last week on Easter morning.
This week we pick up the story on Easter evening with Jesus appearing
to the disciples, at least ten of the disciples… Judas was gone
and Thomas had apparently stepped out. The room was closed and
locked, and the disciples were afraid of what was going to happen to
them. There's no word of how he got in there, but it sure is a
beautiful point in the story when Jesus stands among them and
Peace be with you. Not once but twice he says to
Peace be with you. As the father has sent me, so I send
you. For John, the commissioning of the disciples happens at the
very same moment they experience the resurrection. They see the risen
Christ, they believe and they are sent out into the world. And then
in the very next verse Jesus breathes on them and says to
Receive the Holy Spirit. And for John, this is Pentecost.
There are no tongues of fire, there are no miracles of everyone
hearing things in their own language… there's just a community
of scared people looking for some sign of hope. For John, the moment
you believe is the moment you receive the spirit.
Out of everything that happens in John's gospel, the most important is belief. The purpose of the gospel itself is laid out in verse 31… These things were written so that you might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that through believing you may have life in his name. And in this part of the story it's clear that experiencing the resurrection, receiving the Holy Spirit and being sent out into the world… It all happens at the same time… it's all wrapped up together… And it all happens because the disciples believe. Throughout the gospel, the pattern has been established… see then believe… you see and then you believe… the old saying that seeing is believing… I don't know if it comes directly out of John's gospel, but it easily could. And perhaps the most obvious example is Thomas.
When Thomas comes back into the picture, the other disciples give him
the same report that Mary had given them…
We have seen the
Lord. We don't get the disciples' response to Mary's
proclamation, but the way I tend to read the story it could have very
easily been just like Thomas'… I can't believe it, I won't
believe it unless I see his hands and side, unless I touch him and
know that it's truly him… When Jesus came into the room the
first time and Thomas wasn't there, the text says he showed his hands
and side… just like he eventually did for Thomas. And to be
fair, we understand the
Show me mindset. We live that
mindset… Part of what it is to be human is to try to make sense
of our surroundings, to try to understand our lives in the context of
the experience we've had… and resurrection just doesn't happen
so of course it was hard for Thomas to believe.
But far from being chastised for his unbelief, in a sense Thomas was
rewarded for his questioning. Jesus came back. A week later; this
time it was when Thomas was there, and Jesus invited Thomas to see
what he needed to see in order to believe. It was the same evidence
that the others had been given and upon seeing the hands and side of
Jesus with his own eyes, Thomas declared my Lord and my God! Now to
get the full effect of his statement, you have to realize that this is
the only place in the gospel of John… in fact it's the only
place in all four of the gospels that anyone directly refers to Jesus
as God. In other places he's the son of God, the Holy one of God, the
one who was sent by God, and there may even be a place or two where
the narrator of the gospels refer to Jesus as God but it's never
direct and it's never as clear… It's Thomas, the one we most
often know as the doubter, who is the first person in the gospel
accounts to specifically call the risen Christ
When Thomas sees he believes, wholeheartedly… And then to me,
the next words out of Jesus mouth seem like they might not have been
directed at Thomas at all:
Have you believed because you have seen
me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to
believe. Most scholars think that, by the time John's gospel was
written down, there would have been very few people who actually saw
the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth… and there would have been
even fewer people who ever heard him teach or preach or saw him heal
the sick or cure the lame. There were many, at least relatively many
who knew stories of him… there were many who would testify to
what he had done, but almost all of the believers who heard or read
the gospel would be among the category of those who had not seen and
yet have come to believe. Just like us and nearly everyone else who's
believed throughout the ages.
And I can't help but think that the statement,
Blessed are those
who have not seen and yet have come to believe is part of the
gospel message because God knows how hard it is for us to believe.
I've heard it said before that we are an Easter people living in a
Good Friday world. We remember and celebrate the new life made
possible by the resurrection of Christ, and at our best, we're aware
that we have experienced only a small bit of it and we look forward to
more… and yet at the same time when we look around (at least
when I look around) I often struggle to see how things are getting
better. How could we not have doubts when what we see is a 24 hour
news cycle of death and destruction of war and violence? How can we
not have doubts when we all know someone who's been through heartache
and pain or loss that's torn them or their family apart? Some of us
have been there. How can we not have doubts when we realize the scope
of the universe and how incredibly small we are by comparison? It's
hard for me to imagine following Christ without having some sort of
doubt… at least sometimes.
This week, I went back through my theology textbook from seminary (Faith Seeking Understanding by Daniel Migliore) as I was preparing for the adult education course I'm teaching the next few weeks before church… and the first chapter spoke eloquently about questioning. According to Migliore (p.3) questions are normal as we live the incongruity that sometimes happens between faith and the reality of life… we believe in a God who is present, yet more often than not we experience God's absence. We believe in the transforming power of the Spirit and yet we see how hard it is to change ourselves or our church or our community. We want to follow God's will but it's hard to know what God's will is… We want to understand God, we want to know how God works and so we question. We want to understand ourselves and how the world works and so we question… Isn't it ironic that both faith and doubt are all about questioning?
And perhaps faith is what happens when we trust that God will meet us in the midst of our doubt… and even in the midst of the reasons we doubt in the first place. The gospel accounts tell us that Christ is in the business of meeting people exactly where they are… questioning out of faith or questioning out of doubt… you, me, the disciples, Thomas… each of us in our own particular situations with our own particular life experiences, looking for and hoping for and expecting different things… According to John, Jesus saw Thomas' doubt and gave him what he needed in order to believe. We read the story of Thomas and we already know that in the end Jesus comes to meet him… And I can't help but wonder if we also see the ways Jesus comes to meet us in the midst of our questions and doubt as well.
We haven't seen with our own eyes… we haven't touched with our own hands, but somewhere along the line, Jesus came to meet us as well. Someone told us the story of the life of Jesus Christ… something caught our attention: maybe it was in a sermon or a friend's helping hand, perhaps in prayer or in the pages of our scriptures, or maybe it was in the face of someone we were serving… but Jesus came to meet us… we saw him - that's why we're here… that's why we're able to believe to the extent we do… because Jesus came to meet us, right where we were.
And I can't help but notice that what I've seen in my own faith journey and also what I've seen in at least a few people I've accompanied along the way, is that belief grows… as we recognize the ways Jesus meets us, it allows us to see more ways that Jesus meets us. We believe because we see and then we also see because we believe. And as we go out, wherever we go we expect to meet and to be met by God's goodness and grace… And the very fact that you're here this morning, when you could be at home or on the golf course or the tennis court or anywhere else that might have called out to you on this sunny Sunday morning, the very fact that we're here together tells me that at least some of us are looking… some of us are expecting or at the very least hoping to be met by God this morning as we gather and sing, as we share the bread and the cup and as we remember that the risen Christ still has the power to give us what we need in order to see and in order to believe.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
The foregoing sermon was given by Rev. Dan Holland at the United Parish of Bowie on the Second Sunday in Easter, May 1, 2011.
© 2011 Daniel Holland