Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
This Easter season – we return to the lectionary for our sermon series.
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Today we meet Thomas, most often known by the passage we are reflecting on today from John 20:19-31.
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 Temple authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Abba God has sent me, so I send you.”
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
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.”
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 Only Begotten, and that through believing you may have life in Jesus’ name.
<M> Have you heard someone say we shouldn’t be a doubting Thomas?
I don’t think that is what this passage is trying to say.
So today, I am inviting you to meet Thomas.
Now, I want to invite you to put yourself in this situation – You are one of the other disciples – and this is after you have told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” And he says to you, “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.”
<M>The Bible doesn’t say how they reacted, but if you are one of the other disciples, how would you react?
Disappointed? Angry? Frustrated? Try to continue to convince him?
Will you empathise with Thomas?
Will you be able to come to the realisation – that’s exactly what I did to Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them – I did not believe them?
One thing we can confirm is this – the other disciples didn’t kick Thomas out even though he didn’t believe them, they continued to include him.
Who are the Thomases in our midst?
Is it someone who asks a lot of questions? Someone who doubts? Someone who disagrees with you? Someone who irritates you?
In our membership liturgy – which we went through on Easter Sunday – we asked “Will you welcome these new members into our family, embrace their gifts, their needs, and their dreams? Will you recognize that their presence and participation will change the shape of the body and help it grow in new ways?”
Each person brings something to this community, and changes the community.
That’s in our DNA.
On Maundy Thursday, after the foot washing, Lynnette pointed out, “you know, in some churches, when they wash feet, it is just splashing of water. Here at FCC, you go all the way, you will go into the crevices in between the toes, and you will really wash.”
Well – we started out just splashing water back in 2004, in a function room of a condo. But somewhere along the way, someone poured out their all, perhaps from their experience at a spa, or their experience having their feet washed by their loved ones, and washed someone’s feet with love. And the person whose feet was washed, and those around who witnessed that, cannot help but be changed. Once we have seen, experienced, witnessed love, then we know how to love. It was amazing watching Emmet and Sofia standing by watching, learning how to wash feet.
We express love in the manner we have been loved. In other words, if we have not experienced love in a certain way, we won’t know how to love in that way.
I don’t know who that person who introduced this really dedicated way of washing feet was, but they changed how we did things here.
The disciples were changed by Thomas’ presence. The one who was willing to ask questions. The one who was willing to express doubt.
I came across this on facebook
Make sure your circle includes people who will tell you – No. Are you sure? Have you thought about it this way? That was inappropriate
We have to have people in our circles who will push back, challenge, and therein make us better. All from a place of love.
We need Thomases here, and Thomases in our lives.
So who is this Thomas?
When Jesus told the disciples “Let us go back to Judea,” the disciples were concerned and said to Jesus “But Rabbi, a short while ago the Religious authorities there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” Jesus explained “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him,” Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)
Thomas was also the first to speak up after Jesus told them “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith in me as well. In God’s house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you? I am indeed going to prepare a place for you, and then I will come back to take you with me, that where I am there you may be as well. You know the way that leads to where I am going.” (John 14:1-4 Inclusive Bible)
Thomas then asks Jesus (John 14:5) – “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
So from what Thomas has said
“Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5)
“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.” (John 20:25)
“My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
<M> From what Thomas has said, what impression do you have of him?
When Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” I think Thomas was willing to die with Jesus. But when confronted with the reality of certain death, he fell short. The male disciples, Thomas included, scattered when Jesus was arrested and crucified. This is not to belittle them – but rather – show us how human they were. This is an important reminder for all of us – we can declare with our lips how we are willing to do this or do that for Christ, but when the occasion comes, we may just fall short, just like the disciples.
Thomas was honest about his doubts. He spoke from his mind and heart. In doing so, he demonstrated vulnerability.
He is like the classmate who is willing to ask questions and look stupid in front of everyone. Sometimes, those of us who already understood what the teacher is saying may find him annoying for slowing all of us down, but very often, the reality is that we all don’t understand what the teacher is saying, but we are too afraid to show that we don’t understand so we keep quiet.
It takes a lot of courage and willingness to be vulnerable to ask questions.
These questions lead us to deeper understanding – not just for the one raising the questions, but for everyone else in the room.
They all didn’t get Jesus when Jesus talked where he was going, and that they know the way to where he is going. Thomas misunderstood “the way” to be an actual path leading to somewhere – “we don’t know where you are going” – but Jesus talks about “the way” in a metaphorical manner – because Jesus is the way.
If everyone remained silent and was too embarrassed to show that they didn’t understand and just pretended that they got it, then they will remain in that state of not understanding.
And, to call him Doubting Thomas is really unfair to him.
Because the other male disciples were also doubters! They didn’t believe when the women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them – told them what happened at the tomb. Luke 24:11 “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
Thomas, to me, is one of the first progressive Christian.
He was honest – about his thoughts, and his doubts
He was willing to question
He was willing to be vulnerable.
He was open minded and willing to change his mind when presented with new evidence.
His doubt led him to deeper faith.
Doubt can be healthy – because we do not get overconfident and become so certain about something and sticking to it when in fact we are wrong. This doubt helps us ask the question “Could I be wrong? Could I have made a mistake?”
There were so many times I was so absolutely certain I was right that I got angry when people suggested that I was wrong. There were at least 3 occasions when I was travelling with someone, and I was absolutely sure that we were heading the right direction, and I reacted angrily when I was asked “Are you sure?”
I have since learned that it is ok to be doubted. When my friend doubted my sense of direction, it wasn’t an attack on my character, so why should I react as though it was? It was just checking because we are human – and we can be wrong.
The late Rachel Held Evans said “My point is: Doubt is the mechanism by which faith evolves and matures. It’s the only way we can slough away false fundamentals that obscure (and sometimes poison) the gospel. If embracing that means I “celebrate doubt,” then let me be the first to offer a toast.”
It is through questioning and doubt that we grow in faith – and arrive with the exclamation “My Lord and my God!”
Doubt helps us gain clarity as we investigate and dig deeper.
It is hard work.
But there is something else – because if you do this hard work – you arrive at a faith you arrived at, and not something passed on to you, forced on you. “Work through your salvation with fear and trembling.”
Faith is not repeating what you have been taught
You need to own it. To believe it, you need to experience it yourself – it is not just intellectual.
Some people think faith means that you don’t doubt. You cannot question (you cannot question the pastor!) But if you look at the passage – that’s not true! Jesus appeared to the disciples, minus Thomas, and yet they were still gathering behind closed doors a week later. They too, only believed when they saw for themselves!
After Jesus appeared to the disciples a second time, what did they do next? Go back to what they know – fishing. Even after Jesus told them quite explicitly “As the Abba God has sent me, so I send you.”
They had witnessed, seen Jesus in the flesh, and still lacked faith.
But Jesus met them where they were, just like how Jesus met Thomas where he was. 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.” He met Thomas’ need to see to believe.
Jesus will meet us where we are – in our unbelief, in our doubts, in our questioning. And then there comes a point we take a leap of faith to trust, and surrender, to walk on water. Because we cannot be absolutely certain – because then we no longer need faith.
I talked about the death penalty on Palm Sunday.
During Palm Sunday’s sermon, i said –
“I wasn’t aware of the protest against the death penalty in Hong Lim Park last Sunday. If I was, I wonder if I would have gone down to support. Would I have told myself “I am tired – I want to rest” or “it is raining” or, if I was maybe more honest “I don’t want to get into trouble, and I don’t want to “get FCC into trouble.”
In my silence, I have joined the crowd that shouts “crucify him!” In my silence, I have supported the death penalty.”
Well, this time i am aware. And i am going down.
Perhaps you are ambivalent about the death penalty. Perhaps you think it isn’t important.
But during this season when we celebrate resurrection, and that love is stronger than death, then we need to think about what it means to take away a life.
Put away all the arguments for and against the death penalty and just remember one word.
What is required of us? But do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Micah 6:8
“Pray for me,” are the last words Nagen said to Kokila Annamalai, the co-founder of Transformative Justice Collective
i hope that many people show up. Even if you don’t know what to say. Even if it rains cats and dogs. Even if you think it will not change the outcome. Even if you are afraid. Jesus tells us visit those who are in prison.
Whosoever does this for the least of these, is doing for me. We cannot visit Nagen, but we can show up.
Show up to pray for Nagen, and all those on death row.
They will know we are Christians by our love. And we show our love not by singing worship songs in airplanes, but by standing up for the least among us.
May our actions show who we are, and who we say we follow.