Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter, April 12, 2015
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: John 20:19-31
Sermon Theme: “Show Me!”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; personal ideas and examples; Brokhoff’s Series B Preaching Workbook; Anderson’s Cycle B Preaching Workbook; Online quotes about doubting; Online Cartoons about Doubting Thomas; Online Humor about Doubting)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
As human beings, many of us, if not most of us, tend to identify with the disciple whom history calls, “Doubting Thomas.” Many would say, ‘That’s our weakness as flawed homo sapiens, — to doubt.’ Some, however, especially those from the “Show Me” State of Missouri, would say, ‘We are people who want to know the facts, because we don’t want to be duped.’ Maybe Thomas was from Missouri. After all, Thomas was not at the crucifixion to see Jesus die, nor was he at the empty tomb, nor was he present when Jesus made His first post-resurrection appearance to the other disciples. For his Master to have arisen from the dead defies reason.
Most of you know the origin of the “Show-Me State”-label, when Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver declared, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” Thomas had to be shown.
Even though all of us LCMS Lutherans are from Missouri, — our Synod had its beginnings in Missouri, — we name our churches St. Paul and St. John, never St. Thomas (I don’t know one LCMS church anywhere named St. Thomas). Perhaps that’s an over-reaction to “Doubting Thomas.”
There’s a cartoon by Shelly Duffer that pretty much says it. The cartoon shows Thomas speaking with great fervor to the other disciples, including Mark and Peter. Thomas is exclaiming, “All I’m saying is we don’t call Peter ‘Denying Peter’ or Mark ‘Ran Away Naked Mark.’ Why should I be saddled with this title?” To which Peter responds, “I see your point, Thomas, but really, it’s time to move on!”
It is time to move on. When we see Jesus’ willingness to accommodate Thomas’ unbelief, we can be assured that God can handle our doubts. Of course, we don’t need to see, touch, or run a lab test in order to believe in the resurrected Christ. In our sermon text, Jesus told Thomas, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” This is not a plea to accept what goes against reason, but it is an invitation to discover a faith that goes beyond it, says David D. Flowers.
It is so easy to demonize Thomas, but, in fact, Thomas’ doubts, like our own, may be signs of a vibrant walk with Jesus, for doubts come when you care and spend a lot of time thinking about your faith.
The famous Roman orator Cicero declared that “by doubting we come to truth.” Modern theologian Paul Tillich affirmed, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” Novelist Hermann Hesse wrote, “Faith and doubt belong together, in that they govern each other like inhaling and exhaling.” When the other disciple with Peter enters the empty tomb and sees the empty burial cloth, John 20:8 says, “He saw and believed.” That would indicate he, like Thomas, didn’t believe until he saw.
I don’t want to belabor the point, but let me make one last comment about not demonizing the doubter or doubting. If you go back in time before the crucifixion, after Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and predicts His betrayal, you notice how He teaches all of them, including Thomas, an important doctrinal truth. He says in John 14:11, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”
The bottom line is that once Thomas was able to see Jesus and touch His wounds, He cried, “My Lord and my God!,” which is another way of saying, “You are my all in all!”
Jesus understood from the beginning that many of His followers were from the “Show-Me” State! Since Thomas was the only disciple not in hiding in that locked room, it could suggest perhaps that he was not feeling the fear, worry, and anxiety the others were experiencing. They were afraid of those same zealous religious leaders who murdered Jesus. In locking others out, they were locking themselves in. They had become prisoners of their own fear, worry and despair. We, too, are often prisoners of our own fear, worry and despair.
Troubled and worried about their future, the men were in need of the peace of God which passes all understanding, just as you and I are often in need of that peace. Jesus never disappoints us. The minute the Savior walked into that room, He said, “Peace be with you.” And He repeated it. Shalom. Shalom, He said again, and He says it eight days later when Thomas is present. Peace be with you.
This was no casual greeting like “Hello” spoken to the disciples; He brought them that peace they needed. Think about it. Anybody but Jesus would have been filled with anger and vindictiveness, saying, “Where were you when I needed you?” We have an awesome Savior who pursues not revenge, but forgiveness. The risen Christ offers you and me, as well as the disciples, not anger but peace, forgiveness, not punishment even though we, like the disciples, are wobble-kneed sinners!
No doubt this peace renewed and strengthened the disciples, just as it does us, making them ready for what lay ahead. Then, according to John’s account, Jesus took it one step farther. As God breathed into Adam, and he became a living soul, Jesus breathed upon the disciples, and they received the Holy Spirit. Both the Hebrew word and the Greek word for “breath” mean “spirit.”
Just as before the Crucifixion, Jesus said to the disciples, “Believe me when I say I am in the Father and the Father is in me,” now, after the resurrection, the Holy Spirit dwells in the disciples, — and in all true believers.
It’s interesting that when Jesus appeared to His disciples behind locked doors, He did not give them a lengthy explanation of all that happened. No, He simply showed them His nail holes. He doesn’t use words to convince them that He is real and alive, He shows them His scars.
We need to ask ourselves: what are the distinguishing marks of a true Christian? In other words, how does a Christian show that he or she is a Christian? The answer, of course, is, One, Christ is in us as an abiding presence, and Two, Christ is ahead of us as a model for imitation. If that is the case, you can be sure there is abiding faith.
You can also be sure, as Jesus suggests at the beginning of our sermon text, that you will be a part of the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. The Christian does not hide his light in a locked room.
There is a contemporary American painting called “Intrusion” by Henry Cherry. It hangs in the Worcester (woost’ r) Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts and is worthy of its name. The presence of dazzling pinks among greens and rust is an intrusion upon classical sensibilities. Then, too, the bands of color against the forest green background are reminiscent of giant fingers intruding into empty space. Most interesting, though, the fingers are outlined in black with the ink and rust filling in the outlines. Only they don’t exactly fill in. Sometimes they spill over and the colors intrude into places where they don’t seem to belong.
A similar bursting vitality characterized the early Christian Church. It intruded into the world and refused to accommodate itself to the black lines made by Roman standards and values. It broke through those lines with its distinctive message about the grace of God and turned the world upside down.
So, too, today, the church (that’s us, we are the church) is called to be an intruder in a world of hate, envy and murder. God intruded into the world through the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, to be in the world the way that God was in Christ. We cannot afford, as could Voltaire’s Candide, merely to cultivate our own garden.
As true Christians, Christ is in us as an abiding presence, and Christ is ahead of us as a model for imitation. Because of that, our attitude is no longer “Show me!,” but “You are my all in all!” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.