Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Faithful Thomas - John 20:19-31

New Testament Lesson                                                                  John 20:19-31

19 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.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 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.”
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 in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 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.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah,[c] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Sermon                                   The Faithful Thomas              Maynard Pittendreigh

I received a great email the other day about Lee Marvin. 

This actor apparently had a great military career. 

According to this email, Lee Marvin was in the Marines during World War II, was in the battle of Iwo Jima, received the Medal of Honor, and is now buried at Arlington Cemetery.

What’s really amazing about this email is that the actor, Lee Marvin, served under a sargeant named Bob Keeshan – and if you are part of my generation, you may remember that Bob Keeshan was the man who played Captain Kangeroo.

The email goes onto talk about Mr. Rogers, another television celebrity who worked with children’s programming.  Apparently he was a Navy Seal, has over 20 confirmed kills of the enemy during the Vietnam War, and the reason he always wore those sweeters on television is because he had obsene tattoos on his arm.  He was so deeply effected by war that before going into television he became an ordained Presbyterian minister.

Who would have thought?

This is a great story.  Very inspiring.

However, if  you check the record this is 50% true.

Lee Marvin did enlist in the U.S. Marines and was in combat in the Pacific during World War II.  However, he was not in the Battle for Iwo Jima.  He did receive the Purple Heart but not the Medal of Honor, but he is buried at Arlington.

As for his sargeant, Captain Kangaroo was also a Marine, but did not serve with Lee Marvin.  In fact, he never saw combat because by the time he was old enough to enlist, the war was just weeks away from coming to an end.

And Mr. Rogers?  He is NOT a former Navy Seal, but an ordained Presbyterian minister.

I get all sorts of interesting email.  Madilyn Murry O’Haire, who by the way is dead, is still trying to get Touched by an Angel off television – which by the way has been off television for years, having had a good run until it fell victim of low ratings.

Some widow in Nigeria wants to split 200 million dollars with me and all I have to do is give her access to my bank account.

The there is an email that says I can lose 20 pounds in 3 days by eating pizza and chocolate – well, we can only hope that one IS true.

You can’t be gullible.  You have to question what you see and hear.

          Which brings us to Thomas in our New Testament lesson.
          Historians and biblical scholars have not been kind to Thomas.  In fact, they have traditionally been very severe in their treatment of this member of the twelve Disciples of Christ.  Many call him “Doubting Thomas,” as if that was a spiritual weakness.

          Unlike some of the other disciples and followers of Christ, Thomas was not around on Easter morning to see the empty tomb, or to speak to a radiant angel, or to recognize the return of his teacher from the dead.

          When those who had seen the evidence told Thomas that Christ was alive again, there is not a hint of saintly wonder and acceptance of the miracle.  Instead there is the human response of the skeptic:  “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my fingers on those scars, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

          We can almost see Thomas shifting his eyes and folding his arms and raising his eyebrows and saying, “Peter, how gullible can you be?  Peter, you poor man, you are in denial.  Jesus is dead.  We saw it ourselves and nothing can change that!”

          Thomas flatly and openly dismissed the story as false, responding to it in much the same way that we respond to those outlandish emails we often receive.

          The news of the Resurrection was easy news to dismiss.  The first reports of the Resurrection took place in the dark cold early morning hours.  The first witnesses were women who had been emotionally and mentally strained and overwrought by what they had seen during the confusion of Thursday’s arrest and trials, and during the horror of Friday’s crucifixion. 
          With their eyes full of tears, their hearts full of sorrow, and their minds full of confusion, how could one possibly expect them to see and to think clearly?

“They must have found the body stolen and imagined the rest,” thought Thomas.  “Or perhaps they had imagined it ALL.”

“Even the later, alleged appearance to the other ten disciples could be explained away,” or so Thomas must have thought.  He must have believed it to have been nothing more than a sheer hallucination born of frayed nerves, or of the intense longing for what could have been.

And so, when approached by his friends with this fantastic, unprecedented news that their dead master is alive again.  Thomas replies with honest doubt:  “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars, I will not believe.”

Because of this overwhelming doubt, nearly everyone has been rather harsh in his or her evaluation of old Thomas.  We look at him with the disappointed look that a teacher might give to a bright student who has failed the test.  “Come on Thomas, surely you could have done better than that.  Surely you could have mustered up enough faith.”

We are not kind in our treatment of Thomas.  We look at him as a failure in faith.

And yet, whether we admit it or not, in many of us who are so faithful, there exists a bit of doubting Thomas.

For many of us are more like Thomas than we would like to believe, or admit.

We, too, have our doubts.

So let’s think about some of those doubts.

Was the resurrection real?

There are basically two ways you can respond to the possibility of the resurrection. 
It is either true, or it is false.

Why do people find it hard to believe in the Resurrection?

Many would insist they need evidence.

And yet, the resurrection of Christ has more historical evidence than any other event of the ancient world.

You have the eyewitness accounts of disciples who had already gone back to fishing and to their former ways of life.  These disciples had nothing to prove.  They were hurt and grieving, but they were ready to accept the death of Jesus.  In John’s Gospel, Peter begins to return to his previous life as a fisherman. (John 21). 

St. Paul was a devout Jewish rabbi who strongly opposed Christianity – that is until he met Christ personally and became one of the greatest theologians of the church.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, he lists some of the eyewitnesses.

(1 Cor 15:3-8)
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also.”
That’s a list of 513 people, and Paul, single man who is a typical first century male chauvinist, doesn’t list the women who were the very first to see the risen Lord.

You put 513 eyewitnesses in a courtroom and ask, “What did you see?”  And when they all see the same thing, your doubts begin to disappear.

In Matthew’s Gospel have the accounts of the Roman soldiers who were there to guard the tomb, and saw the resurrection.

Matthew records in chapter 28:  “As the women were on their way into the city, some of the men who had been guarding the tomb went to the leading priests and told them what had happened. A meeting of all the religious leaders was called, and they decided to bribe the soldiers. They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you and everything will be all right.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say.”

SO you have 513 witnesses in favor of the resurrection, and a couple of soldiers who were bribed saying the resurrection is a hoax.

Well, we tend to believe military people and law enforcement people.  Their testimony carries a lot of weight.  Maybe they outbalance the 513?

Take a look at the apostles.  Interesting group of people.  Judas betrays Christ and he commits suicide.  The rest die horrible deaths – except for John.  He dies of old age.  But the others die deaths we can only imagine.  The death of James is recorded in the Book of Acts, and is the only one recorded in the Bible.  The rest come from history and tradition.

Bartholomew is skinned alive and then put to death slowly.

Peter was crucified on an X-shaped cross.

Andrew was crucified upside down.

Thomas was killed by a spear.

It would have taken only one to have said, “It was a lie.”  But not one of them did.  Between a lie and a truth, they held onto the truth and declared their faith in the resurrection – and then they died for their faith.

And finally you have the testimony of Paul.  When Christ rose from the dead, he did not believe it.  Not for a minute.  He was involved in the persecution and killing of Christians.  However, he himself encountered the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus, and he was never the same after that.

We all have doubts -- At one time or another, about one matter or another, and the way most of us deal with doubt is to suppress it.  We ignore it and refuse to admit it to ourselves and we certainly refuse to admit our doubts to others.

But we make a mistake by dealing with doubt by suppressing and ignoring it.  But PRETENDING to be faithful and PRETENDING to have no doubts will not cure the problem.  Sooner or later, the old doubts resurface.

Denial and suppression is not the way to deal with our doubts.

If we are hard on Thomas, if we look down on him, maybe it is NOT because he, like us, felt the pain of doubt.

Maybe we look down on him because he, UNLIKE so many of us, had the courage to face his doubts head on.

Thomas was indeed a man of courage.

When Jesus announced his intention to go to Jerusalem and die, the reaction of Thomas was “Let’s ALL go and die with him.”     

And it was with courage that Thomas faced his doubts.

He knew that ignoring these doubts would not make them go away.  If anything would resolve them, it would be by facing them head on.

“Unless I see the scars of the nails on his hands, and put my fingers on those scars, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

One week after Thomas expressed that doubt, Jesus appeared to him and told the disciple, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands, reach out and put your hand in my side.  Stop your doubting and believe.”

And Thomas believed.  All his doubts were resolved. And not only that, but he was able to go beyond and make a giant step of faith beyond what most of the other disciples had made.  Others had described the Risen Jesus as Rabbi, prophet, Messiah, King.  But it took Thomas, who having expressed and faced his doubts was able to say with great faith, “My Lord, and my God.”

Having faced his doubts Thomas was able to resolve the questions of faith and come out with a STRONGER faith that ever before.

It is good if we are free from doubt.  Jesus himself said, “Happy are those who believe without seeing me!”

But IF we have those doubts, and many of us do, it is good that we face them and search for an answer, rather than ignore those doubts and hope they simply disappear. 

For only then will our faith grow and be nurtured to be a stronger, more realistic faith.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.