Acts 4:32-35 Ps.133
I John 1:1-2:2
2 Easter B (RCL)
10:00 HE 2A
WILLING TO BELIEVE (on Doubting Thomas) .
Prev.preached Chelsea 4/26/92; Holliston 4/6/97 (B); Grace, Newton 4/19/98(C); Grace,Norwood 4/22/01 (C); St.John's, Charlestown 4/27/03 (B) ; Danvers 4/15/07 (C)
REF: Pulpit Resource 4/26/92; Biblical Preaching Jour 5/2 (Spring '92) p.8
When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and sent back televised pictures of our earthly globe, the British Flat-Earth Society continued to stick steadfastly to its horizontal view of the world - still believing that the earth is flat. It was not willing to believe that the earth is a sphere, even when presented with hard evidence.
The disciple Thomas, in this week's Gospel lesson, seems like one of those Flat-Earth people. While the other disciples readily believed that Jesus was alive, Thomas was skeptical; he wanted tangible proof. "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side,I will not believe." (John 20: 25).
With Thomas, however, the difference between him and the closed-mindedness of the Flat-Earth people, is that he was willing to believe. The tag attached to Thomas over the years - doubting Thomas - is inaccurate and really unfair. To work one's way from uncertainty to certainty is no sin, if you are willing to believe. In fact, it is being intellectually honest. If Thomas, in the face of evidence of the risen Christ - if Thomas had still said, "I don't believe it" - then that would have been wrong, and foolish. But Thomas looked at the proof he demanded - the nail-scarred hands - and cried, "My Lord and my God". That was an exclamation of belief from a man willing to believe.
A newspaper editorial in the Los Angeles Times a few Christmases ago was entitled "I cannot will myself to believe". It was a thoughtful piece which laid out the writer's struggle with the Christian faith. He was caught up in the spirit of the Christmas season - he wanted so much to believe, but could not. It was a moving confession, and refreshingly honest. But in the end, the writer admitted that he "could not will himself to believe."
How true. One cannot will oneself to believe. Thomas couldn't, try as he might. And no other serious thinker can will himself or herself to believe either. But one can be willing to believe, and that makes all the difference in whether or not one finds faith.
A week ago churches overflowed with Easter worshipers. Many doubting Thomases were among them - people yet unconvinced of the resurrection faith. Our Easter worshipers were not, are not, atheists; unbelievers do not attend church except perhaps out of curiosity once in a while. Easter worshipers are people like Thomas, who cannot will themselves to believe, but are willing to believe - and someday - if they are at the right place and the right time, like Thomas, they will find their Lord and their God.
The right place and the right time. The place and the time when Thomas was faced with the risen Lord, with the wounded hands and side. Thomases are everywhere, searching, willing to believe, given the right evidence.
Thomas, you are the one who searches to find the print of the nails in our hands as signs of the wounds we have suffered and the sacrifices we have made in following the crucified and risen Christ. And seeing none, or perhaps only a bare scratch, you remain skeptical.
Thomas, you are the one who has been sorely tested by life and bled pale by tragedy, and who has all but despaired of a God Who allows the innocent to die or allows other tragedies.
Thomas, you are the one in this very church today, perhaps, who is searching, struggling to find God for the first time, or to re-find God for the umpteenth time.
Thomas, you are the teenager who looks around at your parents and other adults in the church and sees people who seem to believe, and yet their life-style in and out of the church doesn't fit the creed that they say. And young Thomas, God help us, you are already making up your mind, perhaps, that the Church is just one more mob of hypocrites in society.
Thomas, you are all around us. In our family, in the next pew. Thomas, there is a little of you in ourselves. Thomas, you are our son or daughter who grew up in church and who now never darkens its doors. Thomas, you are our wife or husband who is on the fringe of faith, at best lukewarm to it all. Thomas, you are our parents, who have seemingly lost what faith they once had.
Thomas, Thomas - you worry us, you confuse us, you anger us. You even make us doubt our own faith. We do no know what to do with you, Thomas. How do we present the Gospel of this risen Christ to you, Thomas, so that you will believe? Do we coax you? Do we debate with you? Do we argue with you? Do we threaten you with hell? Do we nag you? Or do we leave you alone?
That's what the disciples must have asked themselves that first Easter Day. And they probably tried it all. But it didn't work. Thomas wasn't ready yet. The time was not fulfilled for Thomas to give himself to Jesus and His Church. But eight days later...Jesus, so to speak, came down Thomas's street. He showed His hands and His side. Thomas was there, and before he knew it, Thomas was in the Resurrection faith head-first: "My Lord and my God!" This is to say that when the Thomases near to us do say their "yes" to Christ, it will be according to God's time-table and not ours.
So, Thomas, what do we do with you when we tell you what we have seen, and you (politely or not so politely) dismiss our words? What is that you say, Thomas? Tell you the story of the Cross and the Empty Tomb and then show you our hands as proof that we believe it? What is that you say, Thomas? You will perhaps believe in our Redeemer on the day that we look and sound redeemed? Perhaps then, Thomas - perhaps in some way your salvation is tied to ours.
Perhaps you will not be brought to faith until I realize that I am not yet faith-full, not yet full of faith, and that I may be just as dead in God's sight as I sometimes think you are!
Thomas, you did not pretend to believe. I and my sisters and brothers here say that we do, but often live as if we don't. Now I understand, Thomas.
The best thing that we can do for you. Thomas, is to repent ourselves. Confess to God how arrogant we have been. to presume to be right with God and that you alone were not right with God.
Thomas, perhaps we had best get on our knees together and then quietly wait for the living Christ to come again and meet us all. Then perhaps. you will be willing to believe. when we are truly willing to believe, - and when it shows in our lives. And in our scars and wounds as we have tried to be faithful.
LET US PRAY:
Come. Holy Spirit. come!
Come as the fire. and burn.
Come as the wind. and cleanse.
Come. light. reveal. convince. convict us. convert us.
Till we are wholly thine. through Christ our Lord. Amen.