April 27th 2014, John 20: 19, 24-29
By Pastor Tim Woodard
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” What a night that must have been! The respected theologian: Kate Huey reflects on this moment for us. “That same night, after Mary Magdalene claimed to have seen the risen Jesus and to have talked with him, the frightened disciples were hiding out behind a locked door. No one could get in, not the authorities who feared the way the crowds loved Jesus, the authorities who had executed that troublesome prophet and teacher, and might want to come after his disciples, too. The disciples were grieving at the death of Jesus and perhaps at their own failure to stand with him to the end, but now this woman was making the most incredible claim that could reverse their sense of failure and inadequacy, their turmoil, their loss of hope. All might be made right after all; all might be healed. Could it really be true?” Clearly, these disciples of Jesus, they were in hiding at the time of the Easter event. They were afraid. Their Lord Jesus had been executed by the Romans at the insistence of his enemies, the religious leaders of the Jewish Community in Jerusalem; commonly referred to as the Sadducees and Pharisees. It was a confusing time for them. The news from Mary about seeing the Risen Jesus was encouraging but difficult to believe.
It is reasonable to speculate that many of us probably can kind of identify with the disciples. If you are like me, most likely, we would have been afraid and in hiding also. Of course, most of us have never had our boss or leader, executed after three glorious years of rewarding and exciting work together! Of course, for me as a pastor, a disciple, and like your selves also as disciples, we, much like the early disciples do consider Jesus our leader, however, in a practical sense, Jesus died two thousand years ago. We live in the Twenty-First Century and our real life experiences have been more in the nature of having our boss fired or transferred, leaving us wondering or concerned for our own journey in any given situation. Even with this said, for me and you, we can and we must truthfully say: we can hardly count the numerous times in our lives when we just wanted to pull the covers over our heads instead of getting out of bed in the morning – simply because of the daunting tasks and situations in front of us!
Trying to imagine the pain of having had our leader, our hero, suddenly executed is virtually too painful for most of us to grasp. Sadly, having now said this we know, all too well, that there are thousands of people in our modern world who would not be able to say the same. Many have tragically and suddenly seen or been thrown into situations where someone close to them has been executed by terrorists, criminals and yes, even governments. Sons and daughters murdered in a drug sale gone bad. Or coming home and encountering a robber in their home they are killed, murdered, by them as they flee. Leaders, pastors even, have been executed, assassinated and killed in the very presence of those they serve.
[In 1980, the soon-to-be-assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero promised history that life, not death, would have the last word. “I do not believe in death without resurrection,” he said. “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.” Oscar Romero gave his last homily on March 24, 1980. Moments before a sharpshooter felled him, reflecting on scripture, he said, “One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives.” The homily, however, that sealed his fate took place the day before when he took the terrifying step of publicly confronting the military.] /By Renny Golden in his Article “Hispanic Catholics War and Peace, Bishop of the Poor” published in U.S. Catholic/
Yes, these things really happen. How about the mother who sees her son or daughter put into jail for a crime we later learn they did not do. Historically, we know that some of these innocent ones have been executed by our system of justice. Surely, the family and friends of these – they would understand ‘fully’ how the disciples felt and why they hid in the upper room with the doors locked.
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Wow… if only we could have been in that room to have experienced such an event. Surely, you and I, or anyone who might have been present would never have trouble believing in the Risen Jesus! The problem is, of course, that very few were actually there that day. By then Judas (who betrayed Jesus was gone) so one can assume there were eleven disciples there. Oh, that’s not correct either for we know that Thomas, Doubting Thomas as he has become known, thanks to this passage, was not there. After all, that is what the whole passage is about.
It is easy to stand here and say, you and I, we are not, I am not a Doubting Thomas – but then again – would a true believer, in the presence of a Living and Loving God in one’s life, ever get so depressed as to pull the covers over their head instead of joyfully greeting everyday with joy and excitement? No, I think that the whole reason this passage is in the gospels is because so many Christians and non-Christians alike find themselves going through periods of doubt simply because human life can be really, really hard at times. Yes, the whole reason the gospel accounts were written in the first place was for our benefit! In John’s gospel account chapter 20 verses 30 and 31, just following this morning’s reading we find these words: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
In modern times it has been said this way: “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” /Stuart Chase, 20th century/
Paul Tillich, a highly respected theologian once said: “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” /Paul Tillich, 20th century/
Robert Browning a British poet and playwright put it this way: “I show you doubt, to prove that faith exists.” / Robert Browning, 19th century/
Madeleine L’Engle, an American writer responded when asked, “Do you believe in God without any doubts?” “I believe in God with all my doubts. Sometimes I fear we as Christians believe it is not ok to have doubts. Doubt is not an enemy of God. I remember once, about 8 years ago, having dinner with a friend and he asked me what I would do if I had a child one day who didn’t believe in God. I thought about that for a while and said it would indeed make me very sad because my relationship with God is what gives me the strength I need to make it through all of life’s moments; BUT I believe in a God whose existence, thankfully, is not dependent on the belief of my child.” /Madeleine L’Engle, 20th century/
Thanks to Doubting Thomas, and others who have shared their doubts, we can rest easy tonight, knowing that we are not the first to have doubts when things get tough. And things always get tough from time to time, that’s the way life is. The question is not will we have times of weakened faith; the question is are we willing to hold on long enough to allow the grace of God to once again enter into our hearts and souls and lift us up and perhaps, like Doubting Thomas, offer us some visible proof. I know, I know, all the scholars tell us that God no longer does these types of things. “The time of miracles and sightings of the Risen Christ’ have ceased.” Yes, I have heard the quotes. All I can tell you is I am grateful those scholars and theologians are not members of our church!
I have only been an ordained minister since November the sixth 1994. Not a very long time really, but most certainly, my journey as an ordained clergy person has been during modern times, not ancient biblical times. With this in mind – I must now tell you – that more than once, more than twice, numerous times actually, I have been told of sightings by sane and respected people I might add; regulars at many a church services I have attended, who tell me they have seen Jesus or felt his presence or heard his voice. Ridiculous I know, but these good folks have testified, acted as witnesses to these events as truths in their personal lives.
Personally, I have not seen Jesus, as the disciples and Thomas did, nor have I heard his voice. Yet, on a number of occasions I have had God talk to me through others, through visions and through my dreams as people like Joseph, Simon Peter, like the Apostle Paul and many others who have experienced God’s living presence. On a number of occasions I have felt the Living God, the Living Spirit of God – pass through me – through the words of a prayer I offered up and I have witnessed true miracles! So have a number of past and present members of this and other congregations I have served. I know because you and they have told me this!
I am grateful for the story of Thomas and his doubts because the gospels tell us of the many miracles that he and the other disciples witnessed Jesus perform. I am grateful because, despite all the signs that God has given me, despite all the opportunities I have had to feel the hand of God touch me, all the times I have felt the breath of God upon my face… I still have a doubt or two from time to time! Sometimes I want visible proof, yet I do not get one, at least not one like the one I ask for. Very seldom does God respond to demands as Jesus responded to Thomas’ that day!
Jesus says to the disciples whom were hiding behind locked doors; Jesus says to them after he miraculous appears with them in that room, “Peace be with you.” That’s what Jesus does. [When doubts churn in our heads or in our guts – God comes to us, in one form or another and says to us, perhaps not in voice but in spirit or touches us in some way, and we feel God’s gentle caress as God expresses to us that simple but most holy thought: “Peace be with you.”] /Kate Huey/
John 20: 19, 24-29
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he 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 in his side, I will not believe.” 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.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”