04/08/18 – Thomas’ Journey in Faith

THOMAS’ JOURNEY IN FAITH

April 8, 2018
Jazz Vespers
Homily: John 20:19-31
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

In John’s gospel, the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost all happen in one day. These ancient writers weren’t concerned about the concrete details of time and space. It was the meaning of the event that the gospel writers attempted to convey to their audience. When Jesus told his disciples in his first appearance:  “Receive the Holy Spirit. (20:12) John reminds his audience of the Genesis story to explain the significance of the resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost. As God created the world by breathing across the waters, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples to give made them new creations.

But, one disciple missed out on seeing the Risen Christ and being given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Doubting Thomas, as he has been identified through the ages, has really gotten a bad rap. The usual interpretation of Thomas’ doubts creates the character who could be the patron saint of agnostics. But, Thomas wasn’t any different from the rest of the disciples before they had seen the risen Christ.

Thomas was disappointed that Jesus hadn’t been the savior he thought he was going to be; so, he went back to taking care of that job himself. Thomas is a lot like those that grew up in a church then became disillusioned by the church or lost confidence in God’s promises and left to take care of themselves in the world they can see – a world created in humanity’s own image that operates on rules it reinforces daily.

To give Thomas his due, he appears to me to be the most pragmatic of the lot. He missed seeing Jesus when the all the others did because he was going about his business in the world. Now that the disciple job seemed not to pan out, Thomas didn’t waste time wringing his hands and feeling sorry for himself. Thomas picked himself up and went on to Plan B. He knew he had to get on with living and doing what he had to do to put food on his table and a roof over his head.

Quite frankly, Thomas appears to have been much braver than the other disciples. He didn’t hide out in a locked room for protection. Although churches have been used as sanctuaries from evils of the world, they were never intended to become our permanent homes. No matter how much you like the people you’re in there with, no matter how full the church coffers are, or how pretty those stained-glass windows are that hide you from those looking in from the outside, you can’t stay inside and be a disciple.

I also like Thomas for his honesty. He admitted his problem with believing the other disciples’ report; yet, he did not walk away. He was open-minded and accepted the invitation back to have fellowship with these disciples who now believed that Christ had been resurrected. Thomas knew he could not come to believe in the same way as the other disciples but was willing to try and find a way to believe.

When Thomas joined them in their usual gathering place the door may not have been locked, but it was still closed. Some of the ways we hide behind closed doors are judgment, anger, fear, and resentment. Jesus is willing to break into the room with the door closed, but he won’t stay there. You either follow him out or stay in there by yourself.  I think Jesus coming back for Thomas opened Thomas’ heart, so he didn’t need to touch Jesus’ wounds or put a hand on his side.

The Risen Christ comes to us to assure us that accepting God’s forgiveness and forgiving others opens the locked door that separates us from God, blocks our view of Christ’s presence, and restricts the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit. Jesus comes to us to give us the peace that can withstand the trials and tribulations of the world.

We can’t live alone in God’s kingdom. There is no ‘just me and Jesus’ in the kingdom of God. Those who think they have faith sitting safely and comfortably in their locked rooms don’t believe in the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The Jesus that stays with us in a locked room is merely an image created by our own self-serving desires. The risen Jesus met his disciples in their comfort zone, but he then sent them out to be his body in the world: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

In John’s gospel, Thomas is the last living disciple of the original twelve to see the risen Christ. But, he who was last was the first to deliver the most powerful line in the whole New Testament. Thomas responded to Jesus: My Lord and my God!” Jesus did for Thomas what had to be done to resurrect his hope. In his time on earth, Jesus gave people what they needed to believe. Sometimes it was being fed, sometimes it was being healed, and sometimes it was challenging their false beliefs or hypocritical self-justifications. That is what Jesus calls his disciples to do, that is what the church exists to do.

Faith is a process, a way of life, not a fixed destination point. There is something of Thomas in all of us; and, that is not such a bad thing. We need to be open and honest when our faith falters and seek encouragement and guidance. We need to keep coming back to our gathering place to support one another; yet not allow ourselves to stay there as protected but useless disciples We need to ask questions, particularly the ones Jesus asked. Jesus challenged his both his followers and his detractors with questions. Our faith grows when we ask questions and wrestle with them. Jesus did not chastise Thomas for wanting visible proof. He just said, “Peace be with you” and blew his breath of Holy Spirit over Thomas to make him a new creation.

In his resurrection appearances, Jesus modeled the Great Commission for his disciples – Jesus meets us at our point of need to equip us to meet others at their point of need. It’s a scary place, an exciting place, a holy place. In the words of Frederick Buechner: “The place to which God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” It is there we find “the peace that passes all understanding.”

Amen

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois