Don't Doubt Thomas?
Life after Easter, a sermon series on living the new life after Easter, preached Apr 16, 2023 at the 9:30am Worship service
This Easter season, Brobbey, Caitlan and I are preaching from John, the stories after Jesus’ resurrection. For John, Easter isn’t just about seeing and believing in life after death. We are comforted and challenged by a risen Lord to live new and different lives NOW. Its like John is saying don’t let our faith only be in life after death someday, but put our faith in life after Easter, today.
Last week, Jesus came through the shut and locked doors where the disciples, except Thomas, were hiding away in fear. Jesus offered them peace, and sent them into the dangerous world to forgive. Life after Easter is out there, forgiving. Today, we continue the story with Thomas.
Let’s pray and listen for the words of the Lord from…
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture John 20:24-31
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came (earlier). 25 So the other disciples told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand on his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it on my side. Do not doubt, just believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God” 29 Jesus said to him, “You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you all may continue[e] to believe that Jesus is the Messiah,[f] the Son of God, and that through believing, you may have life in his name.
This too is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
Sermon Don't Doubt Thomas
It's only been a few days in all. It wasn’t that long ago really, when the disciples walked into Jerusalem with their Lord riding on the humblest, borrowed animal they could find. On that day, the crowds laid palm branches and cloaks on the road, while they shouted, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
Just a few days ago, that same crowd yelled, “Crucify him! Give us Barrabas instead! We have no king except Caesar!” Jesus was nailed to a cross, crucified between two criminals, died, and buried.
Just a few days ago, some of the disciples, men and women, went and saw an empty tomb where Jesus’ body should have been. The stone was rolled to the side, and the clothes and face cloth were there, but the body was gone. The men left. Mary stayed, and then she brought a story from the tomb that she had seen Jesus. He stood before her and spoke to her. He said he had not yet ascended, but he was going to his God, to our God. She had told the disciples everything. All that just a few days ago.
Then Jesus came through the doors they had closed and locked in fear, fear of the world, fear of being crucified, dead, and buried themselves. Jesus breathed on them peace, his peace, and told them “do not be afraid.” Jesus told them to open the doors, open their minds and hearts. Believe! Then go and forgive.
Thomas wasn’t there. He didn’t have the advantage of that first engagement with the risen Jesus. They tell Thomas what happened, and he says he won’t believe it until he sees it for himself.
We pick on Thomas for that, for doubting. I’ve heard some people go after Thomas before, as if he’s the one without faith, or at best, the one who is most immature in his faith, poor ol’ doubting Thomas. Something like, “Come on Thomas… You got to walk with Jesus, see the signs. You were there. How can you not believe when the other disciples tell you? Why did you have to see to believe?”
It’s even a phrase in our culture, doubting Thomas. There are books, poems, songs all about “Doubting Thomas” as if Thomas was the only one. My favorite is a Nickel Creek song, Doubting Thomas. Peter denied, and Judas betrayed, but Thomas, he doubted.
The way I read this story, the other disciples didn’t believe or trust any better than Thomas. They saw the empty tomb and all they believed was that someone stole his body. Not long after that first Easter, when Mary tells them she has seen the risen Lord, they are in a house, locked up in fear and doubt. Jesus appears directly to them and says, “Peace be with you,” and they wonder, “Who are you, how did you get in here, and what do you want?” Its like if a stranger showed up to a funeral and wanted to speak. I’ve led enough funerals now to know saying “Peace be with you” lands like a lead balloon. People let me say it at funerals and understand why I say it, but at funerals, we offer peace because its hard to find. People at funerals, like the disciples, are trying to believe and get to peace, but they are not there yet.
Only after Jesus shows the locked away disciples his hands and his side, do they begin to believe something, to rejoice. Thomas wasn’t there, and that’s all he’s asking for. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand on his side, just like you all got to do, I will not believe.” Thomas wanted the same luxury that the rest of the disciples received when he wasn’t there. They didn’t rejoice when Mary told them SHE had seen their risen Lord. They didn’t rejoice when they heard for themselves their Lord say, “Peace be with you.” Their doubt was too strong for those words from Mary and from Jesus. They rejoiced, “when they saw it really was the Lord.”
That’s when they finally have enough something, belief, trust, courage to open the doors and go tell someone. They go tell Thomas. We don’t hear about them risking and telling anyone else. We don’t have them boldly couragouesly picking up where Jesus left off without fear. Here we are, next week, Jesus comes back and finds them all where? Yeah, again, doors shut, probably sitting in the same pew.
Jesus just appeared to them a week ago, and they went out and told one person, a safe person, Thomas. Now this week, they are back in here, and the doors are shut again. At least it doesn’t say they are locked. At least it doesn’t talk directly about how afraid they are. But they aren’t yet talking and acting in the world as if they really believe it.
Thomas is not the only doubter. It happens to all disciples. I mean, here we are, at church, which means we believe something. But according to a 2020 study on Americans, only about 2/3rds believe Jesus rose from the dead. Men are less likely to believe it than women. The most likely to say they do not believe in the resurrection is anyone who makes over $100,000 a year. Young adults are the age demographic least likely to believe Jesus’ resurrection. Only about 70% of mainline protestants and Catholics believe Jesus rose from the dead. Thomas is not alone. There are bits of doubti that lurk through every disciples and influence our belief, our courage to speak and act. Thomas should not be picked on for his doubt.
If the other disciples had truly let go of fear and doubt and fully believed, they would have headed out into the world as champions of Christ’s teachings and ministry, but the only person they talked to was Thomas, and the next week they were still huddled together behind shut doors. If today’s church, this church, was full of believers, with no fear or doubt, we would sound something like, “We learned from him and walked beside him. We denied and betrayed him and saw him crucified, dead, and buried. We were so afraid. Then, he talked to us, and we believed! Now we aren’t the least bit afraid! We carry the torch of Holy Spirit. We tell His story everywhere we go, to everyone we meet. We gather everything we own and share it in common with anyone who has need. We welcome the immigrant, and the stranger as special among us. We sell our extra possession and give the monies to the poor. We work to have fewer and fewer people in prisons. We seek to treat and cure everyone of their demons of mental and emotional illness. We make sure everyone has free healthcare. We feed anyone who is hungry. We end every war. We turn in every weapon. We share our spaces and our houses with anyone who is without a home.” If we truly believed, with no fear, no doubt, that’s who we, the risen body of Christ, the church, would be.
But, that’s not quite where we, the church, are yet, is it? As our confession this morning claims, we still need forgiveness for controlling or dominating others rather than loving and serving them, for seeking our way rather than God’s, for wanting to have more and keep it safe rather than share it, for hating our enemies rather than loving, for prioritizing our comfort or success rather than faithfully risking and sacrificing. If Thomas was the only doubter, we wouldn’t need to confess that stuff anymore.
All, all of Christ’s first disciples, every disciple and believer throughout time, everyone of us doubt. We all carry some measure of fear. We all retreat behind closed doors. We all pause rather than follow. But we pretend its just poor Thomas who doubted.
But friends, Thomas was not alone in his doubt, and neither are we. After all, as believers Paul Tillich and Anne Lamotte have both written, “The opposite of doubt is not faith (or belief) but certainty.” We do not come here to be certain, or erase our doubt. We need our doubt. Our doubt gives us room to speak and act in courageous faith. If our doubt was gone, faith would mean nothing. But because of the presence of our doubt, faith is a bold step into the risky unknown, an action of radical trust. We might always wonder or even doubt life after death, but because of faith, we just might have the courage to begin today living and sharing a new life after easter.
That’s why these things were written, so that (we all) may come (together with our doubts and fears) and believe (anyway) Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing, have life, new life, life after death someday and life after Easter today, in his name.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever, amen? Amen.
Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow, be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.