April 12, 2015: Should he be called Doubting Thomas?


Sermon
Deacon Sheila M. Scott
Second Sunday of Easter

You most likely grew up hearing about “Doubting Thomas” and were told that if you doubt, you lack faith.  If any of you are like me, this caused a lot of anguish growing up.  Doubting meant that somehow you were not good enough, you did not pray hard enough or often enough to God to give you unquestioning faith.

It took me a while to understand that doubt is actually needed in order to grow in faith. Doubt moves us forward in constructing a mature understanding of faith, just as long as we doubt out of love of the truth. If a person was not allowed to doubt, faced with a crises, he would reject everything that he thought he knew, including God; or he would suppress his feelings and retreat into a rigid faith where everything is accepted as certain and questions are not allowed. Both of these options are unappealing to me.

The opposite of faith is not doubt, the opposite of faith is certainty. Doubt is not lack of faith, doubt is willingness to take risks, despite uncertainty. And I believe, Thomas was a risk taker.

We do not know much about Thomas, in fact the synoptic gospels do not mention anything, except that he was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. He is mentioned in the Gospel of John only three times, but what is clear from these encounters is that he truly loved Jesus.

Let us look at these three encounters.

When Jesus tells his disciples that his friend Lazarus died and he is returning to Judea, the other disciples try to dissuade Jesus from returning by reminding him, that last time he was there the Jews tried to stone him. Thomas tells the other disciples “let us also go that we may die with him” (John 11:16b).  If this statement is not an affirmation of love for and belief in Jesus, nothing is.

If we profess to love Jesus, we are called to be risk takers also. We are called to take risks by welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, standing up for injustice, being the voice for the voiceless, showing compassion and mercy to those less fortunate, being accepting of others’ faiths, and being peacemakers in a world where conflict is omnipresent.

Throughout history, there were countless risk takers: from Paul, who preached in the Roman Empire; Martin Luther, who stood up to the Roman Catholic Church and posted his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral; Dietrich Bonhoeffer who tried to stop Adolf Hitler and his genocide, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the civil rights leader of the 1960’s, who’s peaceful protests managed to change American history; to Mother Teresa who devoted her entire life to the outcasts in India, and the list goes on and on… What all these saints had in common is that they all faced doubts, but they continued their faith journeys, continued to serve the Lord, despite the risks involved.

Next time we hear from Thomas in the Gospel of John, is on the night of the Last Supper, where Jesus is telling the disciples he is preparing a place for them…Thomas said to him: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John: 14:5) Thomas did not pretend to have all the answers, he wanted to know more.

We need to be more like Thomas, to have an inquiring mind, to want to know more about Jesus!

So we come to that first Easter Sunday. Thomas is not with the other disciples when Jesus appears to them. The disciples are excited, and later tell Thomas that they saw the risen Lord. Thomas has a hard time believing without actually seeing Jesus and touching his wounds. So is Thomas’s reaction so unusual? I do not think so. I think Thomas was brave and honest enough to say out loud what others were afraid to utter…it is hard to wrap your mind around Jesus’ resurrection. Instead of calling Thomas a doubter, we need to call him courageous, he followed Jesus wherever He went, despite the risks. Thomas is the first to acknowledge Jesus as God, when he proclaimed: “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28).

He needs to be an example to us to follow Jesus despite our doubts, despite uncertainty.

Jesus tells Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20: 29)

This is meant as a word of encouragement for us, because we don’t get to see Jesus, at least not with our own eyes. But if we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, we will be blessed not because we are worthy, or great, but because God has chosen to pour out his goodness upon us, be gracious to us, and to reveal his Son to us. The good news is, God meets every one of us right where we are on our faith journey, and if we are open to accept Jesus in our hearts he will walk with us every day of our lives.

Let the Apostle Thomas be an example to us, who despite his questions and doubts, loved Jesus deeply and ultimately managed to do great things by spreading Christianity to India, where he is revered to this day.

In the spirit of the Apostle Thomas, let me close with a verse from Eliza Hewitt’s hymn “More about Jesus would I know”

More about Jesus let me learn
More of His holy will discern
Spirit of God, my teacher be
Showing the things of Christ to me.  AMEN


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