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04.08.18

“BELIEVE?”

“BELIEVE?”

Category: Sunday Morning Sermon

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin

 

“BELIEVE?”

John 20:19-31

Easter 2 B

April 8, 2018

 

Christ Lutheran Church

Zionsville, Indiana

Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin

 

 

 

 

            He only asked one thing of Thomas: Believe.

 

            He only asks one thing of us:  Believe.

 

Last Sunday after an Easter worship service charged with joy, hope and . . .  certainty, such believing may have been easy. But then, Monday arrives along with a life and a world that seems to be untouched by such good news.

 

To believe is easier said than done.

 

A family gathers around the coffin of a loved one who died too young. Teenagers are hammered by the shocking announcement that one of their friends with a whole life ahead of him took his life. A young computer programmer in his 20’s, recently married, expecting his first child, admired and respected by all who knew him, is senselessly gunned down while taking his morning walk. Her dreams for a career for which she had planned for her whole life are smashed by another rejection: “Thanks for applying but we are moving in a different direction.” 

 

The Easter announcement that “death is swallowed up in victory” seems hollow and farfetched.

 

            The resurrection accounts of all four of the Gospels tell us of people who had similar doubts.  The New Testament Gospel writers use subdued colors to paint their portraits of frightened and doubt-filled witnesses.

 

            According to Matthew, the women left the empty tomb not only with joy but fear (28:8). 

 

            In Luke, the women run from what they have seen and heard at the tomb and go tell the apostles.  However, Luke reports that “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (24:11) Then, two disciples, Cleopas and his friend, walking to Emmaus and drowning in their grief and disappointment are overtaken by a third man whom they do not recognize as Jesus. Later, they join the other disciples and tell them that Jesus is alive. Jesus suddenly stands among them. Do they believe?  Do they fall down and worship him? Jump for joy? Not at all. “They were startled and frightened,” says Luke, “and supposed that they saw a spirit.” (24:36-37) 

 

            Mark’s ending, which we heard last week, does not sound like a party either. A young man greets the women who come to the tomb and tells them of the resurrection. However, they “said nothing to anyone, they were afraid for . . .” (16:8) The Gospel ends in the middle of a sentence with a dangling preposition and no appearance of the risen Jesus.

 

            Then there is Thomas at the center of today’s Gospel. We just saw a video of his story. It was not easy for Thomas to believe.

 

Many use this story to indict doubters and those who think they need to see the evidence to believe. However, the truth of the matter is that Thomas’ story tells us the best news that a doubters like us could ever hear. Jesus will not give up on doubters.  Jesus comes to us as we continue to question and doubt with the assurance that even though we are uncertain and weak, God will not turn on us. Believing may be easier said than done. Nevertheless, Jesus is here to make it happen.

 

            This is not just the story of doubting Thomas.  To the contrary, it is the story of believing Thomas. The Gospel of John comes to a dramatic climax with a powerful confession of faith coming from the lips of one who also deeply doubted . . .  just like us!

 

            This story would have certainly hooked the doubters among its first readers.  Doubt troubled many Christians at the end of the first century, the probable time of the writing of the Gospel of John. Roman persecution, tension between the church and the synagogue, the final passing of those witnesses who had actually walked and talked with Jesus, and the delay of Jesus’ long-expected return . . . were powerful factors contributing to the spread of doubt.  However, rather than chiding or criticizing the doubters, the writer of the Gospel of John sought to build faith in the midst of darkness.

 

            We get to look over the shoulders of those early Christians and see that the story is also good news for us. The doubts can lead to faith bolder and stronger than we ever dreamed was possible. 

 

            During Holy Week, as we walked with our Lord once again to the cross, we saw how even Jesus was not immune to questioning and doubt.  In fact, through questioning and doubt God strengthened Jesus’ faith in His Father’s promise and Jesus’ resolve to go to the cross. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the night of his betrayal and arrest, three times Jesus doubts the promise of his Father.  His faith is on the edge of crumbling. He asks that His Father remove the “cup of suffering” and He be spared His fate on the cross.  Nevertheless, God strengthens His doubting faith. Jesus prays “not my will but thy will be done.”

 

            Later the next day, as Jesus hangs there on the cross, His doubt reaches its darkest moment. Has His trust in goodness of His Father been a waste? He cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Nevertheless, in the midst of doubt God strengthens His faith. Jesus prays, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus believes.

 

            We have been there.  Our lives may be crumbling. An addiction may have cost us our job, our family and now maybe our life. A child has so disappointed us and led to family conflict and bitterness. A marriage has gone sour. A career has evaporated. We can no longer ignore the lump in our body. Lies have destroyed a friendship. What we thought we could count on in life has trickled away. We wonder how we could ever have gotten to this point. Where is God? Does God care?  Does God even exist?

 

            Such doubts seem to be the enemy of faith. Yet, it is precisely in such dark moments, when we are standing on the brink, that the risen Jesus speaks to us. Sometimes it takes the desert to appreciate a cool drink of water. Sometimes it takes the darkness of the night to treasure the flicker of a light. Sometimes it takes being stripped naked to value simple clothing.

 

            Thomas is our “twin.” Like us he knows all about doubt. Stuck in his doubt, drowning in his confusion, Jesus meets him assuring him that God is not going to let those doubts destroy his relationship with God. God can be trusted. His life is not wasted.  There is no sin, no hurt, no shame, no embarrassment, no weakness, no death . . .  and not even God’s own disappointment with Thomas’ cowardly skepticism, which can separate Thomas from God’s love. Jesus shows him the scars in his hands and the hole in his side to prove it.   Jesus too has been there. Look what happened to him. He lives!

 

            From the anvil of doubt, Jesus creates faith.

 

            A family was wakened by the piercing blare of their smoke detector to discover that their house was on fire.  The father ran into the kids’ room and carried the 18 month-old baby out in his arms, dragging his four-year-old in tow by the hand.  They were halfway down the stairs when the little boy realized that he had left his teddy bear in his room. He broke away from his father to run back to get it.  In the furor and confusion, Dad didn’t notice that his son wasn’t with him until he got outside.  By now the boy was trapped by the fire and smoke in his second-floor bedroom. Smoke swirled round him as he coughed and cried out the window, “Daddy! Daddy! Help me!”

 

            His Dad yelled from below, “Jump out the window, Andy! I’ll catch you!”

 

             “But I can’t see you, Daddy! There’s too much smoke!”

 

                        Daddy shouted back, “That’s OK, son. I can see you! Jump!”[1]

 

            Isn’t that the issue?  We cannot see Jesus.  In the midst of the blinding smoke, searing heat and confusion of our troubles, we are afraid that God has left us behind and abandoned us to our foolishness. We chased after a teddy bear when we should have held tight to His hand. However, in the midst of it all, Jesus speaks His promise. Even though we cannot see Him, He says, “Peace be with you. Do you see the scars and wounds? Do you see this Body broken and given for you? Do you see this blood shed and poured out for you . . . Thomas, . . . people of Christ Church? Trust me. You can believe. Jump!”

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Waiting by Ben Patterson, Intervarsity Press, 1989.

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