Monday, June 6, 2011

Thomas-From Doubt to Devotion

sermon i gave when guest-preaching at Rochester, WI

Thomas: From Doubt to Devotion

John 20
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."
28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Some Questions
Why do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are going dead?

When the French swear do they say pardon my English?

Why doesn’t glue stick to the bottle?

Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?

We do check the wet paint don't we? I know I do! And isn't that almost what Thomas wanted to do? He just wanted tangible proof. Sure he had been with the disciples for 3 years, sure he knew they were reliable..or well maybe knowing them for 3 years is precisely why Thomas wanted tangible proof for himself!

Can you imagine this scene? The disciples were locked in the house. They had seen Jesus arrested, knew he had been beaten and killed, they were convinced they were next! They were terrified of the authorities. And suddenly Jesus appears in their midst, saying Peace be with you!

Thomas was not with the disciples at this first appearance. We are not told why. We are told that Thomas was also called the Twin. But whose twin?! We do not know. He could have been a twin or a look-alike sibling of one of the other disciples or someone else close to Jesus. There is some belief that Thomas may have been one of Jesus' brothers, or rather half brother. We just do not know.

Thomas was not present at the first appearance of Jesus. We are not told where he was, why he was not there. But we do know that a week later when Thomas was with the others, Jesus again appeared! And again just turned up in their midst in the locked house! Saying “peace be with you” and Jesus said specifically to Thomas, put your finger here..see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Jesus is not condemning Thomas, he is saying go ahead, touch the scars, see for yourself! Maybe Jesus recognized that needing hard proof was just the way Thomas was. Only after that did He say, “stop doubting and believe”

the words used here for doubt and belief have more than one meaning. Or perhaps I should say there are layers of meaning here. Remember that the languages of the Bible, Primarily Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New, have many fewer words than English does. So one word in these languages may have more than one meaning, or shades of meaning. These shades of meaning would be more apparent in context, with vocal inflection. So we lose a little bit in translation. What strikes me about the word for “Believe” is that the meanings of it include faith and belief, having confidence in, and trust. Trust is a key component of faith. And yet that can be one of the hardest things we manage. Perhaps Thomas believed in Jesus, but did not quite trust the words of the others. Could Jesus be saying, just have trust!!!

Author Brennan Manning writes in “The Ragamuffin Gospel” In earlier times it did not take faith to believe that God existed--almost everybody took that for granted. Rather, faith had to do with one's relationship to God--whether one trusted in God. The difference between faith as "belief in something that may or may not exist" and faith as "trusting in God" is enormous. The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart. The first can leave us unchanged, the second intrinsically brings change.”

we live in a time and a society in which we tend to have to 'See it to believe it” and to have proof. We want documentation, facts and figures. We may find it hard to believe—to trust, without hard proof. So faith can be a real challenge for us. When we want proof & documentation of everything else, why should we believe in a resurrected Jesus! I must admit, if I had been in that room, I might have had to touch the nail-scars myself.

Actually when I was much younger, I had been “born again”,and yet I did not act on my belief. In fact most of the time, I did not act like a Christian at all. I knew someone with a profound faith, my Aunt, and I envied her faith. Her faith and trust in the Lord saw her thru some hard times and illness, and gave her hope, no matter what. I never thought that I was capable of that depth of belief and trust in an invisible Saviour. One of my 'issues' is that i am a person who needs to see feel, touch, to experience something in order to believe. So I see a bit of myself in Thomas...doubting Thomas. But fortunately, faith is not something static, it can change. Our faith life is a progression..that is why we refer to our “walk of faith' we may not always “walk” in faith....some of us stumble, and maybe even crawl rather than walk. I finally understood that I can pray for more faith. That is a prayer that I believe God LOVES to answer!

At some point in our journey thru life, we need to experience the Living Christ for ourselves, just as Thomas and the other disciples did. Maybe that is a scar that we all bear...needing proof. And we all do have our own issues or scars, do we not!? Some of them big, some not so big. We may have issues in a relationship, with a temper, addictions or illness. Maybe we obsess over appearances, or maybe we just don't care! These are our scars, the invisible scars that we carry every day. Scars that may keep us from realizing the truth of Jesus, as Thomas' lack of faith and trust did until he saw and felt and heard for himself.

The scars of anger and bitterness can keep us from forgiving one another. This is what Jesus told the disciples; “If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." Jesus first breathed the Holy Spirit on the disciples, then spoke to them of forgiveness. It is through the Spirit that we can comprehend the love of Jesus, and begin the process of forgiveness. If we begin to understand ourselves as the Lord understands, we will learn.

Author Brennan Manning again;”Faith is a code to accept that Jesus knows my whole life story, every skeleton in my closet, every moment of sin, shame, dishonesty, degradedness darkening my past. Right now he knows my shallow faith, my feeble prayer life, my inconsistent discipleship, and he comes beside me and he says, I dare you to trust. I dare you to trust that I love you, just as you are and not as you should be, because you're never going to be as you should be.”

Through this trust and love, we realize that each of us has acted out of the pain of our own scars and wounded others, and through the Spirit we learn that those who hurt us acted out of their own pain. When we recognize our own flaws, issues, wounded-ness, then we realize that others are acting out of theirs. Again through prayer, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we learn compassion and thru compassion, we learn to forgive. This is a part of our faith journey- We are forgiven as we forgive. When we forgive another, we are more fully accepting the Lord's forgiveness of us!

So while we, like Thomas, may wish we had tangible proof of Christ, if not for ourselves but for those near us who have doubts, we can accept on faith that Jesus is real, that Jesus did rise, even tho we can not touch the scars on his hands and his side.

The end of our Gospel lesson today is this:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.--that we may have in Jesus and for eternity with him in Heaven.

...the other day I was reading an article that says that the vast majority of people do not believe in heaven. But there are those who have seen heaven and come bck to tell us about it! There is a book that is on the best seller lists right now about a little boy who saw heaven when he was 3 years old.. and told his parents about it as he got older and was able to talk about it.

there is a book titled 90 minutes in Heaven, by Don Piper.

He was in a horrible car accident-pronounced dead at the scene, and revived 90 min. later, by a man praying for him.

Don told about being at the gates of heaven. And the incredible, beautiful music there,...and seeing diseased loved ones. He said he was met by his great grandmother. And that as he knew her through his life, she had wrinkles and trouble with her teeth. When she met him at the gates of heaven, she had no lines at all in her face, and when she smiled at him her teeth sparkled!

Heaven is real...the bible says so! And we will have a renewed, perfect body, with no wrinkles, sparkly teeth, and no aches and pains..Hallelujah! We will not have any of that, because Jesus has the scars in his hands and his side. He, who was perfect, without sin, and became sin for us....for each of us, has the scars so we won't have to!!

The scriptures, all the Word of God are given that we may believe! We may want more-we have deep questions borne of life struggles. Jesus validated Thomas' struggle to believe by showing him the scars, and you deserve to have your struggles validated as well. If you are struggling with doubts, unforgiveness or just struggling with faith, it is ok. It has happened to me, and to most believers. Even Mother Teresa had struggles. Jesus Loves YOU without reservation. Let's celebrate this love together.

Let us pray, Our Lord and God, you know our doubts, our questions and struggles and still you love us. Today we pray for each of us who has a doubt, and we pray for compassion to help us forgive. thank you for the love and forgiveness shown through Jesus Christ.

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