Posts Tagged ‘Doubting Thomas’

Peace in the Midst of Life 4-23-17

This morning’s sermon is based on John 20:19-31. This story is commonly known as Doubting Thomas, but yet makes up 2 separate examples of Post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I’ve got quite a few pictures that decorate my office. Some are pretty new…others quite a bit older…they were taken in a wide variety of different situations and places…but a couple of them were taken in one of my favorite places in the world. Rainbow Trail Lutheran Bible camp in the mountains of southern Colorado.

Most of you have probably heard me talk about Rainbow Trail before. Once a year, my family packs up the car and road trips out west for a week of family camp. We drive and we drive…and finally after winding our way around countless mountain peaks, we turn off the main highway, and drive about 3 miles up a bumpy gravel road to camp.

Its usually the highlight of our year. We are refreshed and rejuvenated. We enjoy the company of wonderful people that we’ve gotten to know over the course of the past 11 years. We spend every waking moment taking in glorious views, with the constant programming we are going from morning till night…and perhaps most wonderful of all, up in the mountains there is zero cell reception…so there are no interruptions from the outside world.

But inevitably…the end of the week rolls around…and we pack ourselves back in the car…and the tiredness of the week catches up…and the cramped feeling of being in the car at the beginning of more than 11 hours’ worth of driving sets in…and as we drive back down that bumpy gravel road…back into the presence of cell service…the phone starts beeping with all the missed calls and texts…and usually before we’ve even driven 5 miles, we’ve started bickering.  And when that happens, one of us, usually my wife makes the statement “Welcome back to real life.” (pause)
I can’t help but think that same sort of situation has been our reality in our very recent history. Just 1 week ago…we all experienced the mountaintop that is Easter Sunday…and it was glorious.  Here at the church, Easter kicked off with our Confirmation Students leading the worship for our Sunrise Service…This led into a wonderful time of fellowship downstairs for breakfast…a couple hours later the sanctuary was packed to the rafters for our regular Easter service…and after that everyone scattered out in their own directions for various family dinners and gathers and celebrations…and it seemed…for that brief moment anyway…that everything was perfect…and nothing could mess up that feeling. (pause)
But I find myself wondering…just how long that feeling lasted for everyone? How long did it take for real life to take hold again…how soon did the craziness of life push that mountaintop experience of Easter to the back burner? (pause) THE TOMB IS EMPTY…HE HAS RISEN…HALLEJAH!!!!!! Oh, but guess what, welcome back to real life. (pause)

As true as that seems to be for us today…I can’t help but think that the earliest followers of Jesus must have been experiencing the very same thing…and I wonder just how quickly real life…how quickly reality…got in the way for them. (pause)

Over the course of the next several weeks…we’ll continue to encounter the various stories that occurred when Jesus made post-resurrection appearances…times when various individuals would encounter the risen Lord. And as we begin to take a look at those different stories…those different encounters…we begin to see some similarities between them…but we also see some pretty major differences for the individuals who have these experiences.

Now interestingly enough…our story today…commonly known as the Doubting Thomas story…it begins on Easter…so as we pick things up today, we almost need to backtrack a week…almost like the beginning of most tv shows anymore that give you a quick reminder of “previously on our show.” (pause)
Well previously on this show was Easter Sunday…when the tomb is empty and as we hear in John’s gospel…Mary Magdalene is the first one to encounter the risen Lord…but at first she doesn’t recognize him…and its only through their ongoing encounter that she does…but when she does, she goes off and tells the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” (pause)
Well now, we jump ahead a few hours…to the evening of Easter Sunday…and we find 10 of the disciples, no Judas, no Thomas…but the rest of them…huddled in a locked room out of fear. They’ve heard Mary’s report, but it doesn’t seem that its made much difference for them…and they are stuck in the reality of fear…afraid for their lives…afraid that their association with Jesus might just land them in the same boat with the Religious leaders…and they might be arrested or killed just like Jesus had been.

Suddenly…out of nowhere…Jesus is standing among them. We don’t know quite how he manages this…but he does…and he says to them, not once but twice. Peace to you…and he shows them his wounds so that they know its really him…and then he strengthens them by breathing out the very spirit of God…the Holy Spirit into each one of them. (pause)

Amazing right? Now, here in the midst of their fear…the resurrected Jesus has appeared, defying all logic…and for these men, everything is different for they have encountered the Risen Lord…all except Thomas. Poor guy.

When he hears the news he can only think that he’s missed out…that he’s missed his opportunity…but since he’s heard the reports…it seems that he hopes to have the same experience.  Mary encountered the Risen Jesus and reported “I have seen the Lord.”  Then the other disciples encountered the Risen Jesus and gave the same report “We have seen the Lord.”

So don’t sell Thomas short here…even though history remembers him for doubting…it seems to me that he’s simply expressing his hope…his desire…to physically encounter the Risen Jesus just as the rest of them had….and low and behold…a week goes by…and the situation is still pretty similar….they’re all still locked away…and so it seems that the fear is still hanging around…and this time Thomas is there…and once more Jesus is among them with the same message…Peace to you…and then he turns to Thomas, who gets his personal encounter with the Risen Jesus…and once he does, Thomas makes the ultimate confession…My Lord and My God. (pause)
Now these are just a few of the different stories we have of the Risen Jesus and the encounters that different have with him.  We also hear of the road to Emmaeus when two disciples encounter him…and walk along side him for 7 miles…talking…and they don’t recognize him…being to consumed by grief.  (pause) We hear of the disciples encountering Jesus on a mountain, and they worship him…but we hear that they doubted.   We hear that Jesus appears on the seashore after Peter and handful of the others decide to go fishing.

And interestingly enough…John tells us that there are others stories that we haven’t been told…that he did many other signs in the presences of his followers that are not recorded…but we hear about these ones so that we might come to believe…and even Jesus himself reminds us that blessed is the one who has not SEEN…and yet comes to believe. (pause)

Now I bring all of this up…all of these stories…to remind us that countless people encountered the Risen Jesus in many different circumstances…and it would seem that none of those individuals was in an overly happy mode when it happened.

Likewise…I think its safe to say that as wonderful as our Easter mountaintop experience was last Sunday, real life came crashing back in pretty quickly didn’t it…because real life is still happening at the same time as our celebration of the Risen Christ.

This craziness of life comes at us in many different ways. Different for each of us. I discovered it first hand as I tried to deal with a malfunctioning air conditioner and lack of internet connection in the office. Granted these are minor problems, but they added up to create a couple of crazy days this week. But there are others out there who have experienced a whole lot more “real life” than this. Some are dealing with the last days of a loved ones life.  Some are dealing with surgeries and sickness. Others with unease in their employment and finances…others experiencing broken relationships…and the list goes on and on.

Every single one of us is experiencing the ups and downs of life…the roller coaster…with wonderful things happening in one instant…and devastating things happening in the next…and that’s life.  But here’s the thing…that is where we encounter the risen Lord.  Remember that from last week…no one encountered Jesus in the tomb…they encountered him in the midst of the pain and the anguish of life…and so do we.

But if there’s one thing we can take away from today’s story…and the encounter of Jesus with the disciples in the locked room, both the first time around as well as a week later when Thomas was around…its this…the first words of Jesus to us in the midst of the craziness of life…the first words uttered by the Risen Lord are this. Peace be with you. (pause)
He doesn’t tell them not to be afraid…he doesn’t tell them hi or anything else so trivial as that…in the midst of whatever anguish and pain that life had dealt them in that instant he offers them peace.

This is what our Lord can do…this is what our Lord has already done.  He has come into our broken existence…and through his life, death, and resurrection has somehow, some way made it possible for us to find a sense of peace right in the middle of all of it…he has given us something to cling to when things are darkest…he has given us hope…and we receive this hope through the power of the Holy Spirit that he has given us. (pause)

I can’t tell you just how you have encountered the Risen Lord…because as we see in the scripture, that’s different for everyone…and its especially important to note that our experience is very different from his first followers…for they were actually able to see him…and like Thomas they were able to see the marks in his hands and feet…they were able to physically encounter the Risen Lord…but our reality is a little different…and our encounter with the Risen Lord comes through the proclamation of others…through their stories of ways that they have encountered the power of God at work…through their stories of what the Holy Spirit has done….and yet Christ reminds us that we are blessed because we have not seen and yet we come to believe. (pause)

Whatever craziness of life you are facing in this moment…whatever storms are raging in the back of your mind…because they are the reality of your life…remember this…the Risen Lord grants you peace in the midst of it….a peace which passes all human understanding…a peace that we cling…just as we cling to one another for support…and as we look around this room today, may we see one another as a gathering of people who are willing to offering this to one another…for this is why we gather together today, to get through this thing called life…knowing that with the peace of God given to us by Christ, and the strength that we find in the united body of Christ here on earth…that somehow, some way, we will find God’s peace in the midst of the craziness of this life. Amen.

Its Okay to Doubt 4-27-14

In this sermon, based on the story of Doubting Thomas in John 20, I explore the tension of living with doubt. Thomas felt this for a week before Jesus appeared to him. Likewise, we experience it as well.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

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

One year ago…to the exact day…I woke up in Sioux City. As the single seminary graduate to be assigned to the Western Iowa Synod, I was present at synod assembly as a guest to be introduced. In addition, I was invited to sit in on assembly business in the plenary sessions for the duration of the assembly.

As the morning passed, we all walked into a ball room at the Sioux City convention center for lunch, and I was invited to sit at a table along with the synods other “first call pastors.” As we sat there conversing, we were joined by the ELCA’s big cheese. You may remember that a year ago, Western Iowa elected a new bishop, and as is the custom, the presiding Bishop of the ELCA is on hand for these elections…and so, in his wisdom, our former Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, a man I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few times…chose to sit with us.

Following lunch, the plan was for Emily and I to jump in the car and head south…because my interview with the call committee of Underwood Lutheran was scheduled for late that afternoon. Upon hearing this in conversation, Bishop Hanson made the joke “Oh, first call interview huh? Let’s grill him folks…get him ready for it.” (pause) What better way to prepare…while at the same time getting extraordinarily nervy…than to have the Presiding Bishop of the largest Lutheran church body in the United States give you a mock interview.

Be that as it may, Emily and I followed our plan for the day, and after lunch we headed this way…and we spent the next 2 hours in the car going back and forth, discussing various things…but both of us clearly exhibiting nervous energy. (pause) And perhaps this is not unexpected…after all, it was my first call interview…not just with Underwood, but anywhere. This was the only congregation that I was in conversation with…but it was in a relatively unknown corner of an area, that while I’m familiar with, I was completely foreign to this particular small town…might as well have been on the moon…because other than a destination on mapquest, and a final location on the gps, the only other exposure I’d had to Underwood Lutheran was a blurry picture on Google Earth…and a couple of phone conversations with Gary Leaders…not a lot to go on.

As the time passed in the car, its safe to say that we were both getting more and more nervous…and it escalated when we pulled off 680 up by Neola, and drove south the 6 or 7 miles on Railroad highway…the tension was palpable as we rounded the curve about a mile or so north of town…it got even worse as we caught the first glimpse of the church from about half a mile away…and peaked as we pulled into the parking lot.

We sat there for a brief moment, looking around…and surveying the cars in the parking lot…no doubt members of the call committee…and just as we were taking a deep breath before reaching for the door handles, I noticed…and joked that there was car on the south side of the church that supports Iowa State…Joyce Tiarks I’m guessing…while on the north side was Nancy Dose’s car…clearly a Hawkeye fan…and we saw that Underwood is a “community divided.” (pause) You never know what will break the tension do you? After that, we walked up the sidewalk, through the front doors where Gary Leader’s greeted us, and we headed down into the fellowship hall for my interview…the rest, as they say, is history.

But for a long time, both on that particular day as well as quite a bit of time leading up to it…we were living in the tension…the tension of unknowns…the tension of questions to which there were not yet answers. And it is in remembering this tension that I found a connection to today’s Gospel story.

Now in a bit of an odd situation, today’s Gospel story includes the passage of time. Typically, our daily lesson includes one particular story, which marks a single action in the story of Jesus…but today…time passes…did anyone catch that?

We start off on Easter Sunday…the day that Jesus has risen from the dead. Now directly before this passage, Jesus has appeared to Mary Magdalene, conversed with her for short amount of time, and then she has found the disciples to report what happened…that was in the morning…and now we pick up that evening…so if you would…imagine that we are a week ago…and the disciples…minus Judas who is gone by this point…and Thomas who is simply absent for reasons that we don’t know…They are gathered in a room behind locked doors out of fear…fear that they would share Jesus’ fate…and perhaps, due to Mary’s confession of the risen Lord, afraid that Jesus might not be overly happy with them…having abandoned him to his fate a few days prior.

And yet…Jesus is able to pass the locked doors, and is suddenly standing among them…quieting their fears…Peace be with you…you do not need to be afraid of me…I am neither angry with you, nor am I a ghost…look, see my hands and my side…I was dead…but I am dead longer…and with this he breathes upon them…and the Spirit of God…the Holy Spirit itself comes upon them.

But Thomas…dear old Thomas…missed the party…and though he hears about it…seemingly later that evening after Jesus has departed again…he falls short in believing the testimony given to him. And so Thomas gets saddled with the nickname that has stuck with him for 2000 years…Doubting Thomas. (pause)

Its almost funny for us now…2000 years later, knowing the story…knowing what we know…believing what we believe…its almost laughable to think that one of Jesus’ own disciples would fail to believe the testimony of both Mary Magdalene and the other disciples…and yet we hear his famous words…Unless I see the marks of the nails, put my finger in them, and put my hand in his side…I…WILL…NOT…BELIEVE.

And Thomas lives in that tension…that lack of knowledge…that lack of belief…with all the questions that come with it…for an entire week…and so, now, in the second half of today’s story, we’ve finally caught up with the timeline. The first part happened a week ago…but the second part…happens today…right now…because as we hear…a week later the disciples were again in the house…and Thomas was with them…when once again, Jesus passes through the locked doors with the same greeting. Peace be with you…don’t be afraid. (pause)

And then…Jesus…turns his eyes towards Thomas. (pause) Now think about Thomas for a moment…think about the tension that he’s been living in for the past week…perhaps you can relate to it. A week ago we gathered together and heard the proclamation…even shared in the proclamation that JESUS IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD! But…has anyone physically seen him? (pause)

Interesting…and in that my friends, you share something with Thomas the proverbial doubter…because Thomas had not yet seen Jesus, only heard that he was alive…what on earth must have been going through his head during those 7 days? (pause)

Maybe I missed my only chance to see the Lord…Maybe he’s unhappy with me which is why he appeared when I wasn’t there…Maybe I’m not worthy of him…or maybe…just maybe, the thought went through his mind that Jesus…didn’t really…rise from the dead after all.

Ever had that thought? Even for a brief moment? Ever experienced the doubt that…since you haven’t physically seen him…maybe, just maybe the stories aren’t really true? (pause) If you answer those questions with a no…then I’m jealous…because the tension of the unknowns…the questions of “is it all real or just a nice story,” I think they catch of us at one time or another.

Doubt happens…and if you deny that…I’m calling you out on it…because its in our natures to want proof…we want physical evidence…just like Thomas…and you know what…I’m going on record right here and right now as saying…that’s not a bad thing. (pause)

Because it’s a human thing…and especially when we are looking at matters of faith…we all experience the occasional crisis of doubt…the experience of questions…we all do…and its not a bad thing to admit it…it doesn’t make you a bad person…it doesn’t make you less of a Christian…and it doesn’t make you unworthy to walk through these doors and come into worship with fellow believers. (pause)

Because in today’s lesson Jesus himself puts this to rest…In what may, at first glance, seem like a rebuke for Thomas, Jesus says these words “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (pause) And Jesus makes this statement in response to Thomas’ expression of faith…Thomas calls Jesus “My Lord and My God.” And he does so without actually touching him…Thomas doesn’t place his fingers in the holes or his hand in Jesus’ side…he merely experiences Jesus and declares him Lord, which you may recall from a few weeks ago is the name God gives Christ, the name above all other names…Lord.

Thomas…though he has lived in the tension and doubt for the last week, has come to faith and Jesus acknowledges it…just as Jesus acknowledges everyone else who comes to faith…calling them blessed…blessed are those who have come to believe…having not seen.

What I believe Jesus is really saying here is that there are a multitude of ways to come to faith in Christ as Lord. For some, its by seeing him…Thomas wasn’t the only one…the disciples and Mary all saw him before expressing their faith in him. Others believed because of what they heard proclaimed to them. (pause) Jesus isn’t rebuking Thomas here…he’s just acknowledging the blessing that we receive when we come to faith through hearing the proclamation…and that faith meets us in the midst of our doubts and questions.

And let me also go on record to say that faith doesn’t erase these questions…they still occur and I believe that God himself desires for us to ask them…he desires that we ask them of each other and that we ask them of him…and we are not condemned for this…we are only encouraged to believe that Jesus is Lord…and in that belief, even with the presence of questions, our sin is no more.

And so, we share in the mission given to the disciples when Jesus says that if you retain the sins of any they are retained. But make no mistake, Jesus isn’t placing the judgment of sins in our laps, because we aren’t worthy of that…rather, Jesus is instructing us to go out and proclaim that Jesus has risen from the dead, and because of his sacrifice our sin is no more…people can’t believe it if they don’t hear it…and Jesus is telling us that by failing to proclaim this amazing truth, we are holding them in sin.

And so today…a year after I walked into Underwood Lutheran for the first time…it is my hope and prayer that this is a place where we do not condemn questions…it is my hope and prayer that this is a place where together we can live in the tension and the questions and the doubt that is a life of faith in what we have heard, but what we have not ourselves…seen.

Thomas may have been a doubter…and you know what…I’ll claim that too…I’ll claim my doubts and my questions and my fears…and I’ll acknowledge yours…but I darn sure won’t condemn you for them…and it is my hope and prayer that you take the same stance…acknowledging your own doubts and questions…while at the same time rejoicing in your own belief in our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.