Sermon for April 28, 2019

Gospel: John 20:19-31

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.” (Jn 20:29)

This verse, toward the end of our reading today, is for us. We are those who have not seen, and yet we have come to believe. It has been said that this is Jesus’ nod to us – the future believers. That he knew this would be a reality into the future, so he blesses us. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.”

What does it mean to believe? What is it that John says we have come to believe in? A little further on, he says what he means, “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31) That is, afterall, the core of our reason for existence as Christians, and even our reason for gathering together on Sunday for worship. We are believers. And yet, I am confident that I am not the only one in this room who has doubts, either from time to time, or every day.

Thomas is often nicknamed Doubting Thomas. He is the one who didn’t believe Jesus had been raised because he wasn’t there when Jesus came to the disciples on the day of his resurrection. Because of his role, Thomas is our ‘in’ to the text. Thomas is how we can jump ourselves into the narrative. We are Thomas. Thomas may have even been called the Twin because he is our twin. None of us had seen Jesus after his resurrection.

That changes for Thomas, and we get his statement of faith when he finally sees Jesus. “My Lord and My God!” It seems like a compassionate thing for Jesus to return and invite Thomas specifically to touch him, even to touch his wounds to know that he is for real. Some of you may have seen the famous painting by Caravaggio where Thomas is putting his finger into Jesus’ side. I wonder if that was just as powerful for Jesus as it was for Thomas, to show off his scars.

It must be a human thing to do, wanting others to give validation to what we’ve been through by having people see and even touch our scars. Pastors and deacons and those who visit people in hospitals know that people who have been through surgeries and other procedures like to show off their scars. It helps validate what they’ve just been through, what they’ve just survived.

Doubting Thomas gets to see the risen Jesus, touch him, and know for sure that he is the Lord – that he had been raised, like he said. We are not so lucky. We don’t get to see Jesus in the flesh. We are still left in that doubting place. Though I would wager that into the future, the disciples had their own doubts that would pop up when Jesus had been gone for so long. Sometimes the past feels so far away, and it can be hard to remember and believe that it really happened.

We tend to speak negatively about having doubts when it comes to faith. But really doubt is part of faith. Faith is not about having answers. Sometimes it more importantly is about asking questions.There’s a great quote from Frederick Buechner that says,

“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep.”

originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

It is okay to wonder if this is all true. It is okay to struggle to believe, even. Afterall, in the Gospel of John, the one we are reading from today, belief is not about intellectual assent. Belief is not about what you believe with your head. It’s not being able to say some certain words to prove that you believe, when in your heart you just aren’t quite sure or quite that confident.

Belief in the Gospel of John is about action. It would be better to translate the word “believing” in John’s Gospel as “faithing.” Belief is putting faith into action. It is living as if these things are true. It is living as a follower of Jesus, as one who sees life where others see death, as one who practices love and compassion even on those the world tosses aside.

At the end of the Gospel reading today, John tells us there are many other signs Jesus did in the presence of the disciples that are not recorded in his book. “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that through believing – [through faithing – ] you may have life in his name.”

The result of belief or faith in John is what? Life. “That through believing you may have life in his name.” He doesn’t say, so that you may have all your questions answered, or so that you may have absolute certainty. So that you may have life, and have it abundantly.

Doubts are going to be part of bringing faith to life. So don’t be afraid of them. Even lean into them. Often belief and life lie just around the corner. Sometimes it’s the hardest parts of life when God feels closest to us. Often when we’ve had the courage to voice our doubts, we are met with a word of peace like Thomas and the disciples. Peace be with you, into your doubt and fear and questions and uncertainty. Do not doubt but believe. Trust. Trust and know that God is bigger than your doubts and questions. Trust that God is with you even in the midst of hard and challenging things, waiting to grant new life again and again.

No matter how much doubt you carry, you are a child of God, and the promise of life is for you.