From Pastor Kenny's Desk
April 8, 2018
"In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were locked in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Temple authorities. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Having said this, the savior showed them the marks of crucifixion.
The disciples were filled with joy when they saw Jesus, who said to them again, “Peace be with you. As Abba God sent me, so I’m sending you.” After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”
It happened that one of the Twelve, Thomas – nicknamed Didymus, or “Twin” – was absent when Jesus came. The other disciples kept telling him, “We’ve seen Jesus!” Thomas’ answer was, “I’ll never believe it without putting my finger in the nail marks and my hand into the spear wound.”
On the eighth day, the disciples were once more in the room, and this time Thomas was with them. Despite the locked doors, Jesus came and stood before them, saying, “Peace be with you.” Then, to Thomas, Jesus said, “Take your finger and examine my hands. Put your hand into my side. Don’t persist in your unbelief, but believe!” Thomas said in response, “My Savior and my God!” Jesus then said, “You’ve become a believer because you saw me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus performed many other signs as well – signs not recorded here – in the presence of the disciples. But these have been recorded to help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Only Begotten, so that by believing you may have life in Jesus’ Name." John 20:19-31
The story of Thomas has always been one of my favorites. Of course, it’s not just a story about Thomas. It’s also a story about frightened disciples. So scared, they hid behind locked doors. And who can blame them? They had just witnessed the one they confessed to be the Messiah betrayed by one of his own, tried and convicted by both religious and
civil authorities, and then brutally executed. No wonder they were afraid, assuming that the next step would be to round up Jesus’ followers. But when Jesus comes on the scene, their fear falls away and is replaced by joy.
I think this is the way we assume faith should work. Yes, perhaps you’ve got doubts, questions and fears, but then God arrives and those all fall away, replaced by joy and wonder and, of course, unshakeable faith.
But that’s not the way it works with Thomas. He doubts. He questions. He disbelieves. He’s not satisfied with second-hand reports and wants to see for himself. And again I would say, who can blame him? After all he was one of those who saw his Savior and friend mistreated, beaten, and then crucified. He has probably spent the last few days pulling the broken pieces of his life back together … trying to figure out what to do next. In fact, he might have already started getting on with his life … why else is he out and about when the rest of the disciples are hiding behind locked doors.
In many ways I am captivated by Thomas’ disbelief because it validates my own. I am thankful for his so-called need for proof of the resurrection because, on some level, it justifies my own deepest desire for evidence of an empty tomb. I admire Thomas’ willingness to speak up for what he needs in order to believe because, if we are honest there are times when we simply have a difficult time trusting our faith.
So many of us don’t speak up. We don’t speak up for the things we need. The things owed us, the things that matter, the things promised to us, the things about which we think we can’t or won’t speak up for because who will listen? Will anything change? So we stay silent. For ourselves ... for others … in shame … in guilt ... someone else will say something, right? Surely someone else will speak up. Someone else will stand up for injustice, for discrimination, for false claims about religious freedom. For those abused. For those who are hungry or those who need medical care. For those who suffer the effects marginalization based on race, gender identity, sexism, ableism and all the rest. Someone else will give voice to what I feel and know and want. Someone else will speak up for me.
Thomas does come to believe. He sees Jesus for himself. And after that experience he not only consents to the witness of his comrades but makes the most profound confession of faith about Jesus contained in the New Testament, saying to Jesus my Savior and my God.
But all of that comes after he has a chance to voice his doubt. And sometimes faith is like that … it needs the freedom of questions and doubt to really spring forth and take hold. Otherwise, faith might simply be confused with a repetition of what we do on Sunday morning in worship by simply agreeing with the faith statements of others. But true, vigorous, vibrant faith comes, I think, from the freedom to question, wonder, and doubt.
Not for everyone, of course. For some, faith comes more easily. Maybe many of the other disciples were like that … although let’s not forget that they got to see what Thomas asked for! But for others it’s harder.
To tell you the truth, I have no idea what the other disciples thought of Thomas’ initial skepticism. Maybe they were scandalized or maybe they sympathized. I suspect that John’s whole point in including this story in his Gospel is to affirm the faith of his community, a group of people who had not seen yet have believed. All in all, I think it’s important to make room for a little doubt.
I also think that if we don’t have any doubts we’re probably not taking the story seriously enough. Think about what we confess when we come together on Sundays: that the Creator of the vast cosmos not only knows we exist but cares deeply and passionately about our ups and downs, our hopes and dreams, and all the rest. This confession is, quite literally, in-credible … that is, not believable. And yet we come together and in hearing the Word, partaking of Holy Communion and by being joined to those around us through prayer and song, we come to believe.
For some it’s easy. For others, more difficult. For some, hearing the testimony of Scripture is enough. For others, they need something more personal and direct. At MCC Richmond it is important to know it’s okay to have questions and doubts. As your pastor I welcome your questions about God, faith and welcome honesty of your struggles and disappointments. Because questions, wonder, doubt and even skepticism are signs of interest and curiosity and these, quite often, are the soil in which vibrant faith is born. No matter what the question, simply by making room for it you are creating space for an authentic encounter with God.
Thomas comes to faith because he first has the chance to voice his doubt and questions and then experiences Jesus for himself. My hunch is there are many Thomases waiting to ask questions about their doubts and fear. May they know God is waiting to listen while we support and love them!