“A Doubter Who Refused to Surrender to Fear”                           April 27, 2014

I Peter 1:3-9 & John 20:19-31                                                           Stephens City UMC

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I.                   The Rev. Susan Russell begins her article Doubting or Courageous Thomas? by pointing out that we are very good at “doing Easter.” (p. 1)

A.    After all, on Easter I brought out my white stole that I got in 1986 at a shop on the Via Delarosa in Jerusalem and David arranged for the guest musicians plus we closed worship with the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

1.     People had placed lilies in the church and the cross was draped in white to signify that “the Lord is Risen: The Lord is Risen, indeed.”

B.     But now the lilies are beginning to brown around the edges, the Easter dresses are at the cleaners, and very few chocolate Easter Bunnies have their ears left.               

1.     So we are good at special events but now it’s back to business as usual.

2.     Yawn! And that causes Rev. Russell to ask, “How are we at Easter as a way of life?” (p. 1)

3.     Her remedy is to quote her favorite Easter card, “The great Easter truth is not that we are going to live newly after death, but that we are new here and now by the power of the resurrection.”

C.     Living new “Here and now” is indeed much easier said than done.

1.     So how do we avoid becoming like the Easter lilies that brown around the edges and fade over time?

2.     How can we prevent treating Easter like it is limited to one day and make it a life-long experience of ever becoming new?

D.    This is not unusual because the very first disciples had this problem.

1.     Remember how the women at the tomb seem to have forgotten the “punch-line” to the story (Russell, p. 1) because Jesus had told them that after three days he would rise again.

2.     The angels had to show up to remind them of those very words.

3.     After that the women ran back to tell the disciples yet the men wouldn’t accept their report, for as Luke states, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:11)

4.     Dudes! When it comes to the resurrection the motor is not idling, it is in overdrive and the pedal is to the metal and you’d do well to believe it.

II.                 This morning we read of Jesus appearing to the disciples the evening of Easter in what seems to be an upper room.

A.    And what are these strong, valiant men doing? They are hiding behind locked doors because they are afraid that they too may be arrested and crucified.

1.     That’s when Jesus appeared to them and “breathed on them” for in John’s theology to encounter the risen Christ is to have the Holy Spirit breathed into you making you new.

2.     That is solid theology.

3.     Because of what Jesus did for those disciples long ago, John wants you to understand that like them when the Spirit comes to you, you can be filled with faith instead of fear.

4.     Moreover, the Spirit empowers you to do ministry on earth as it is done in heaven.

5.     Understand that God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the heavenly host and the saints have got heaven covered.

6.     You don’t need to worry yourself about the ministry being done in heaven.

7.     Where Christ can use you is here on earth and the fact is that you are here on earth so be willing and available and accept the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to do what needs to be done.

8.     It is quite an experience; it is like the wakening of life from the dead. (Russell, p. 1)

B.     Now just because you have come to new life here on earth doesn’t mean that you are beyond the reach of sin.

1.     Not a one of us has advanced in faith so far that we are beyond making a misstep, yet the good news is that “we never journey so far from God that the life giving breath of that Spirit is beyond our reach; even when it is impossible to believe.” (Russell, p. 1)

III.              And that brings us to Thomas.

A.    Thomas who back in the Lazarus story had said, “Let us also go, that we might die with him” (John 11:16) which was a brave statement, is primarily remembered as “Doubting Thomas” because he said that unless he saw the nail prints in Jesus’ hands and feet himself he wouldn’t believe.

1.     The good side of this statement is that Thomas wasn’t going to be satisfied with the testimony of others.

2.     He wanted a first-hand experience with Jesus; a personal encounter; like face to face, up close and real.

3.     Thomas was in this situation because he had not been present in the upper room the first time Jesus appeared.

4.     Was he out shopping for groceries or was he picking up his robe at the cleaners?    

5.     Had he gotten into an argument with the others about who had gotten closest to Jesus while he was dying on the cross?

6.     Perhaps he had withdrawn because he thought that was the best way for him to get himself back together after all he had seen and experienced.

7.     Who knows and Thomas like us didn’t always get it right concerning Jesus or what it meant to live the faith.

B.     So imagine you had missed last Sunday and today as the usher handed you a bulletin said, “Guess who showed up when you weren’t here?”

1.     Would you believe it, given that the Friday before last Sunday you saw with your own two eyes people lay the body of Jesus in a grave and seal the tomb with a very large and heavy stone?

2.     Might you have responded with “Stop pulling my leg.

3.     Maybe we shouldn’t be hard on Thomas and soft on ourselves about faithless doubt.

4.     And not just Thomas and you and me, but the women and the other disciples didn’t exactly camp out in front of the tomb because they remembered what Jesus had said about rising on the third day which made them confident that that was going to happen so they wanted to be there to welcome Jesus back to life.

5.     No, John tells us they were in an upper room behind locked doors.

6.     But what I find a bit amazing is that Thomas came back to that room and the others.

7.     Something had taken him away from the community, but he came back.

8.     And it was when Thomas was in community that Jesus came to him.

9.     Jesus didn’t demand an explanation or a confession of Thomas.

10.             He didn’t run him down for whatever had happened.

11.             Instead, Jesus offered Thomas what he needed to believe: “Touch me and do not be faithless, but believing.”

C.     Would you like for that to happen for you – that sort of personal encounter with Jesus?

1.     For some of us one reason that doesn’t happen more often in our lives is that we fail to fully give ourselves to being in community.

2.     We go off to do our own thing rather than be part of the group and think about the blessing we miss.

D.    Thomas eventually comes to understand that and that may have become a virtue in his life.

1.     For me there is also a bit of a virtue in his life in that he was unwilling to say that he understood when he didn’t understand, or that he believed what at that point he couldn’t bring himself to believe.

2.     Thomas had an uncompromising honesty and in the end his doubts actually led him to an incredible encounter with the Risen Lord.

3.     On this matter the Anglican theologian, Verna Dozier writes:

 

 Doubt is not the opposite of faith: fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move today by the light that is given me, knowing it is only finite and partial, I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.

 

4.     The wonderful thing here is that while Thomas had doubts he refused to surrender to the same fear that kept the disciples shut up in that locked room. (Russell, p. 2)

5.     Thomas both ventured out and then had the courage to return. (Russell, p. 2)

6.     He had the courage to face a community which had had an experience with Jesus that he had missed but Thomas held fast to his need to have his own personal experience. (Russell, p. 2)

E.     So I would offer you today the positive aspect of Thomas’ faith journey and perhaps there are portions of his story that you can incorporate into your story.

1.     Like Thomas may you come to trust that there are no doubts so profound that God cannot provide an answer. (Russell, p. 2)

2.     Like Thomas may you believe that Jesus cares enough about you to show up a second time or a third time for a fourth time or even an umpteenth time. (Russell, p. 2)

3.     Like Thomas may you know the experience of having Jesus both His Spirit into you so that you have faith and life.

4.     Like Thomas may you hear Jesus say to you “Peace be with you” so that you are no longer regretting the past or fearing the future.

5.     And if that blessing happens for you then Easter will not be just one day on the calendar but your way of life.