The texts for this sermon, in particular the Gospel passage from John can be found here.
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.
Now before you go calling Thomas names, like “Doubting,” put yourself in his shoes for a moment.
He and the rest of the disciples have been through a lot lately- have seen their rabbi, their teacher, their friend, the leader of their movement arrested, tried and convicted and brutally killed as a common criminal. To say the least it’s been a traumatic week.
And now the others are saying that they’ve seen Jesus.
That he’s back – that he appeared to them while they were hiding away in the locked upper room.
That yes, he has died, but he’s not dead.
You can almost hear the gears turning in Thomas’ head.
You can’t uncrucify the crucified. They must be mistaken.
What if it wasn’t really him? What if the stress and fear of these last few days has turned them all delusional?
Or harder and scarier yet…what if they are telling the truth?
What if he did appear to them and I missed it? What if he really is alive again?
What does that mean? What have we gotten ourselves into if he has somehow risen from the dead?
These must have been the kind of questions racing through Thomas’s weary head when his friends came to him with this unbelievable news.
Doubt has become a dirty word in the Christian Culture of our University. Most of you, I’m willing to bet, have heard in some form or fashion, from other students or from pastors or preachers in and around College Station, that our job as followers of Jesus is to just have faith or to just accept the Truths (capital T) of the Bible – that questioning these things is a sign of faithlessness, that doubts about Jesus mean you’re not a true follower or that becoming more mature in your faith means stomping out those doubts.
I remember hearing those same messages from other Christians here 12 years ago.
And they are just as mistaken today as they were then.
Brené Brown, who is a brilliant scholar and story teller (and an Episcopalian in Houston to boot) talks about this tendency in her research work on vulnerability. Watch Brené’s Ted Talk here. She’s found that we Americans, particularly when we feel afraid or vulnerable, try to make everything that’s uncertain certain and that religion has gone from a belief in mystery to a list of certainties to ascribe to: I’m right, you’re wrong, there is only one way to be a real Christian and it’s our way not your way, in order to really be a disciple of Jesus you have to believe this and this and this and you can’t ask any questions about it because it’s a certainty whether you like it or not. There’s no discourse, no conversation.
Here’s what you’re supposed to believe. Now believe it. And that’s it.
Well, my friends, I don’t know what that is, but it’s not Christianity. It’s not the faith that’s been handed down to us over the last 2000+ years. It’s not what Jesus taught and did at all. If it were, he never would have reappeared a week later when Thomas was actually there.
Thomas missed it the first time, then he didn’t believe when he was told about it, so that’s it. He’s out. No room for doubt in our religion, you have to be certain. Sorry. Sucks to be you Tommy. No.
What happens instead? Jesus shows back up when Thomas is around and offers him exactly what he’s asked for – Here, Thomas. Put your hands in the hole in my side. Touch the places where my hands have been pierced. It’s me. It’s really me – I’m here.
Jesus doesn’t tell Thomas that his questions are keeping him from being a true follower.
He shows him that there is plenty of room for his questions by offering to give him the evidence he needs.
The Episcopal Church, you and I, have something unique to offer our fellow followers across the street over there. We are a community, this is a place, where questions and doubts are welcomed.
Not because we think we have all the answers but because we trust that God can handle our questions. Not because we want to nay-say the mega churches in town but because we want to be the kind of community that wrestles through hard questions together.
Dr. Tiner told a few of us on Monday night about a sign that one of the former priests here put up on campus to advertise the Episcopal Student Center (and I totally think we should bring it back). It read: “Jesus died to take away your sins not your brains.” If you want a simple checklist of things you have to accept and believe in and that makes you a member of the community, then you are in the wrong place.
In this community, we engage God fully- physically, spiritually, and intellectually. Questioning the Scriptures is exactly the work we are supposed to be doing. Wondering whether all this resurrection stuff is true or not is one of the reasons we are here. Talking and discussing and dialoguing about different interpretations and possible solutions to the problems that we have with Jesus’ way of life is the very stuff we are supposed to be about because, if Thomas’ story has anything to teach us, it’s that in those places of questioning and wondering and wrestling, the Risen Jesus himself shows up and says, “Here I am.”
You have reached the moment in your lives when it’s time to stop believing stuff just because your parents believe it…or because someone told you this is what you should be doing…or because being a Christian is a cool thing to be in Aggieland. It’s time to grow up and make your faith journey your own. It’s time to start asking the hard questions because you’re not sure or because you see something in the church that doesn’t look like Christ or because you see something in the world that doesn’t jive with a God who is all-loving and all-powerful.
What if we were a community who did that together?
What if we were the band of Jesus followers in CS who invite questions rather than shutting them up?
What if we were the place where all of us voiced our doubts and wrestled and prayed through them together?
Being a follower of the Risen Jesus is not an idea to be grasped or a case to be proved. It is a life to be lived. It’s messy. It ebbs and flows. It’s a process of becoming. It has to be yours and not someone else’s. It requires you to engage the world, one another, and your own lives with all that you are.
Tonight’s story of Thomas isn’t a story about a doubter.
It’s a story about a believer who came to believe because he asked some hard questions.
May we be so courageous as our brother Thomas, and in living our questions may we touch the Risen Jesus.