Sunday, 3 July 2016

Thomas

Thomas the Apostle – Sunday 3 July at Stewkley

Gospel John 20

Jesus appears to Thomas

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.’

Sermon

Put Jesus’ appearance to Thomas in context — opens with Empty tomb — discovered by Mary Magdalene, runs to tell Simon Peter — Peter and “other disciple” run to tomb — find it empty — go home.

Jesus appears in Garden to Mary M — takes him for gardener — is persuaded it is the Lord — tells disciples — no mention of whether or not believed.

Jesus appears in Upper Room — breathes on them Holy Spirit — Thomas not present. Disciples told Thomas — did not positively disbelieve — wanted physical evidence — to see what other disciples had seen.

Week later — all in Upper Room together. Jesus targets Thomas (twin Aramaic; Didymus Greek) — sees and believes.

John ends with purpose of gospel
30 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.
Most scholars agree chapter 21 later addition. Does this increase importance of Thomas encounter?

Angela Merkel Chancellor of Germany — “fear has never been a good advisor” — growing up in DDR she knew about fear. Fear led Mary M, Simon Peter, the “other disciple” to draw no particular conclusion — only reported what they had seen with own eyes.

Our modern scientific way of thinking is based upon physical evidence — scientists propose hypotheses, test against physical evidence, see which best fit the data. Before our Easter services — Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!! — how many of us say this with absolute conviction? Want facts — we are not stating our absolute conviction but our faith that sustains belief. This is how Thomas thinks.

Look closer at Thomas. Many people inclined not to be too hard on him — bad press. We associate with Thomas and the way he acted — would do the same ourselves. We want to call him believing Thomas rather than branding him a doubter for all time. They feel the message of Thomas is that we are like him.

Thomas, people say, represents us — we would have done the same — the words Jesus spoke to Thomas are effectively spoken to us — Christians and non-believers for all time. But are we being too soft? Do we excuse Thomas too readily — mainly to gloss over our own wavering faith?

At this point, let’s recall Thomas’s words:

‘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.’

Look again at events — empty tomb reported by Mary M — verified by Peter and ‘other disciple’ — Mary M then says she has seen the Lord — this time, she proclaims her encounter to the disciples.

Jesus appears to 10 disciples in Upper Room — Jesus does not just appear, but in a Pentecost moment he bestows the Holy Spirit of God on them:

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.

So when Thomas arrives, there is the witness of 10 manifestly changed people — plus Mary M the first to discover the truth. Perhaps we should be harder on Thomas — it’s not surprising we associate with him, but Jesus did not let Thomas off too easily does he?

29 Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

To Thomas’s eternal credit, let’s remember he was the one who made one of the most positive and insightful statements of belief in the whole gospels:

27 Then [Jesus] 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!’

We don’t know the end of the story, but oral tradition has it that Thomas the Apostle travelled to India. Wikipedia says:

Traditionally, he is said to have travelled outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel, travelling as far as Tamilakam in present-day India in AD 52 and baptized several people, founding what today are known as Saint Thomas Christians.

What is not in doubt is that the words spoken by Jesus to Thomas are also addressed to us — clear from words spoken to Thomas — those who have not seen yet have believed are particularly blessed compared to those who had the benefit of sight.

But that carries its own sting in the tail — Jesus chided Thomas for his doubt — that’s why he called him doubting Thomas. Of course we will continue to associate with Thomas — we are failing human beings — but the words of encouragement are tempered with disappointment — that applies to us too, not just Thomas.

‘Stop doubting and believe.’ Jesus said to Thomas. He says the same words to us today. Amen

2 comments:

Camille de Fleurville said...

Cardinal Martini - archbishop of Milan I think - wrote a small book for Passion time many years ago, that I find extremely relevant and encouraging. He wrote that we could "identify" (for lack of better word in English) with all the people mentioned in the Passion whether we find them "bad", like Peter the traitor, or good like the Roman centurion who was the first to proclaim that "this man was truly the Son of God".
I like my facts and, being French, I like rationality. I cannot build my faith upon any rationality. When I was a child I was so sure that I would have recognized Jesus as being the Son of God. Nowadays, my faith comes and goes. In the abstract, I know who Jesus is: I have been taught and convinced since a baby that He is God, one of the three Persons of the Trinity. So, I do not think about this anymore. Perhaps a pinch of doubt may show that we do not live with a faith that is not questioned anymore and therefore is somewhat dead.
Of course, it is best when we come back from doubt with a jolt and "Mon Seigneur et mon Dieu" like Thomas! The absolute creed.
But I often feel that I am not even all these passionate actors of the Passion. I go numb with routine. Neither believer nor disbeliever nor unbeliever. Lukewarm. I do not know how it is said in the Bible in English - something like : "I will vomit out of my mouth the lukewarm"? Anyway, this is even worse than Thomas and even more frightening.

Robert said...

I'm not sure Peter was "bad" He was fallible and human, and he deserted Jesus at his time of need, but so did all the other disciples. Judas was "bad" in a much more real sense. Thomas also was not "bad" He only wanted to have the benefit of physical evidence that was accorded to the other disciples. As I argue in the sermon, maybe with our modern eyes we are too soft on him. Jesus used harsh words about his unbelief, and those words can be applied to us, the more we associate with him and say we would have done the same think in his shoes.

Surely none of this is lukewarm, and you are not lukewarm. Lukewarm is when tea goes cold. It must be drunk hot. Lukewarm is when food is cool and tasteless. Our faith might waver, as it does, but lukewarm means lacking in faith altogether - a cannot care attitude. Believing strongly is not lukewarm, and worrying about not having as strong a faith as we would like is not lukewarm either.

Robert