Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter, April 7, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: John 20:19-31
Sermon Theme: “Post-Resurrection Faith and Doubting”
(Sources: Emphasis Commentary online; Emphasis Illustrations online; original ideas; Brokhoff, Series C, Wkbk; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 23, Part 2, Series C)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today’s sermon text is obviously about “doubt.” Because Jesus says in the text, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” many folks see doubting as a sin. Not necessarily so.
We can only imagine the astonishment and surprise that came over the apostle Thomas when he realized the risen Christ really was, in fact, the Christ who arose from the dead! Christ was who He actually was! An incident from the life of the famous American playwright Arthur Miller parallels this moment.
A well dressed, refined, gentleman came up to Miller in a bar and said to the playwright, “Aren’t you Arthur Miller?”
“Well, yes I am.”
“Don’t you remember me?” the gentleman asked.
“Hmmm, well, your face does seem familiar,” Miller muttered.
“Why, Art, I’m your old buddy Sam! We went to high school together. We went out on double dates. Remember?”
“I’m afraid I don’t.”
“I guess you can see I’ve done all right. Own a string of Department Stores. What do YOU do, Art?”
Taken aback, Miller replied, “Well, I … uh….write.”
“What do you write?”
“Plays, mostly.” Miller said modestly.
“Ever get any produced?” the gent named Sam asked.
“Would I know any of them?”
“Well, … perhaps you’ve heard of Death of a Salesman?”
Sam’s jaw dropped. His face went white. For a moment he was speechless. Then he cried out, “Why, you are ARTHUR MILLER!”
This was somewhat the way Thomas reacted in our text. Thomas’ reaction to the truth should keep us from criticizing his doubting. I don’t know why Bible students have always picked on Thomas. After all, the Gospels are brutally honest about the doubt the other disciples had on that first Easter morning. Only the women went out to the tomb – and they went only to wash the dead body and wrap it with spices. Their doubts accepted Jesus as dead.
Who wouldn’t doubt? If you saw your dearest friend die tragically, would you jump out of bed the next morning expecting and hoping to see the friend alive? Any sightings of your friend would be ridiculed as impossible! All of the disciples were in hiding because they were sure Jesus was dead and done for, for good! Thomas was absent when Jesus appeared to them behind locked doors, but the others were present to see first hand, and they saw what Thomas didn’t get to see.
So it wasn’t just Thomas who believed because he saw, but the other disciples, too, though at different times.
People come to worship with different attitudes in different frames of mind. Some come in doubt, some in certainty, most somewhere in between. Because of the way Christ handled doubting Thomas, we as a ministering Church must welcome all comers.
If any pastor asked his congregation how many of you have a least some doubts about your faith, most would probably answer that they are certain in their faith, and have no doubts. But their answer could be due to fear that if they admitted to any doubts, that would be a sign they had no faith. In addition, most people feel guilty about their doubts, and so would probably never talk about them.
You know Jesus said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains, — now that tiny amount of faith would certainly imply a lot of doubt, wouldn’t it? The modern theologian Paul Tillich states that doubt is not the opposite of faith but an integral part of faith. Thomas’ doubts grew out his fear, the same fear the other disciples had experienced, and look how Jesus reacted to Thomas.
Jesus responded to Thomas with love and understanding. The rebuke He gave Thomas was mild compared to other rebukes given by the Lord. Jesus says to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” He understood how human Thomas was, and how much he needed this hands on evidence. Jesus accepts OUR doubts in the same way, with love and touching tenderness.
I can’t help but think about a Christian Metalcore band from Rosenberg, called “From Doubt to Belief.” At least one of the players in that band is from Brazos High School. It consists of drums, guitars, bass, and vocals, and they say on their website, “God is the reason we continue on a Mission to spread the love of God to reach the lost and the heartbroken to show people that there is hope in this world.” The name of their band says it all, “From Doubt to Belief,” and I think that is the point of today’s sermon text.
This is a very 21st Century metalcore band; most of us older folks would think it was much too strident and shrill in sound and emotional energy. We’ve all noticed and commented on how the younger generation in the 21st century is more critical, more searching, more bold in shaking things up, and more analytical and doubting. And I think that is OK, because if we refuse to allow any discussion of doubt in the Church, we are turning away an enormous number of sinners in need of a Savior, and they will have no chance for salvation.
I could cite to you countless true stories of testimonies of people who went from the heaviest doubts to strong faith. You might be surprised to learn that one of them was me.
To be sure, Thomas needed to see evidence of Jesus’ crucifixion in order to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. But what about us, you and me? You and I can’t see the wounds in Christ’s hands and side in order to see and believe in the risen Christ. So what are we to do? Martin Luther taught that we are to be like Christ to each other. We can’t show the marks of the crucifixion, but we can talk about the pain in our lives in an effort to show how our risen Lord and Savior walks beside us.
One pastor recently learned from his elderly mother, who startled him by saying, “You know, Christ crucified Himself so that He can walk beside us and help us through our pain.” Noticing how startled her son was, she continued, “Christ did crucify Himself! He was God, and He was man, and He did it for us. That’s why we can see the risen Christ when we share our pain.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.