19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘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.’ 26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written 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. (John 20:19-31, NRSV)
“Mom, are you sure God is real? ̶ Her question muffled a bit by the thick glass shower door. My six-year-old daughter thinks her deepest thoughts in the shower so it seems. This has been our morning ritual the last several weeks. As she showers, she shouts out some of the most daunting theological questions, demanding answers from her theologically trained mother. My answers vary depending on the clock and the amount of time that I am convinced she is wasting in an intentional act to frustrate me. “Charlotte, of course God is real. If not, my job wouldn’t exist now would it?! Now, go get dressed. We’re running late.” I confess that I have said this to her on occasion hoping to move her beyond her theological pontificating and on to getting dressed and brushing her teeth. But then there are days when this answer simply doesn’t sit well with her. The questions multiply. They come from a place of honest thought out reasoning. “Mom, but how do you know God is real? Have you seen God? Where is God? We talk to God, but why can’t God talk to us?” You say God is in us, but where? I don’t feel God in me.” Perhaps there is no greater faith builder or doubt inducer than trying to explain to a child the theological concepts that you have come to believe. Sometimes in our explaining we feel even more assured of our belief. Yet sometimes in our explanation we doubt the words we are saying, even as they are coming out of our mouths. We pivot from faith and doubt, sometimes even within the same breath. If we are truly honest, doubt is a very present part of our faith.
My honest answers attempt to address her valid six- year-old concerns. “Well, Charlotte I know God is real because I have known love in my life. When I get a hug from you, or when we spend time together, I know God is real. God is love. When you have seen love in the world – people helping others and doing kind things – that is God. You know how sometimes you’ll have a voice inside you that tells you to do something nice for someone? That’s God inside us. Or sometimes when you feel tempted to do something that you know is wrong and you have a feeling that you shouldn’t. That’s God too. God helps us to make good choices and to take care of each other. God helps us to not be afraid to do what’s right and loving. God is both inside us and all around us.” Pleased with my extemporaneous answers I am certain that I have responded to her liking. “Mom, but how do you really know?”
In our New Testament story this morning we encounter one in need of evidence – proof that God is real. Jesus’ resurrection becomes a reality. Word is getting around. He is not in the tomb. He is risen indeed. The week following the crucifixion Jesus appears to his closest loved ones. The disciples continue to hide in distant shadows, fearful and locked behind inconspicuous doors. They lay low and silent in their hiding place hoping to escape ridicule and perhaps death. Jesus miraculously appears to them despite deadbolts and secretive spots. Jesus reveals his scars for positive proof that he is in fact, who he says he is. Overjoyed, the disciples celebrate the good news of the risen Christ. They are filled with joy and rejoice at this unprecedented revelation. The disciple Thomas however is not among his friends during the great reveal. The text does not indicate his whereabouts.
Thomas meets his friends a week later after Jesus’ first appearing. His friends share with him the good news of the resurrection. They tell him, “We have seen the Lord!” But Thomas does not take this news at face value. He remembers too well the crucified Christ and the rugged cross. Thomas responds saying, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hands into his side, I will not believe it.”
Today’s story is woven with threads of fear and doubt. Throughout history theologians have given Thomas the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” But maybe parts of today’s story have more to do with honesty rather than doubt. I have always felt that perhaps Thomas gets a bad reputation. Had we been presented with second hand information regarding a miracle, wouldn’t we be filled with more questions than certainty? Simply having another’s word would most definitely not be enough. Wouldn’t we too want to touch him? Hold him? See him in the flesh? I know I would. Like my daughter needing her own proof, perhaps we would too. Perhaps Thomas represents all of us as we seek evidences of God in our midst.
Like the disciples hiding deep in their fears, perhaps we see ourselves in their story too today. We are locked deep within our own paralyzing fear every day. We know fear far too well in our lives. The world teaches us to be fearful and to hide within the safety of our own comfort. We fear terrorists and we fear war. We are taught to fear immigrants and we are taught to fear those we do not know. We are taught to fear wealth and taught to fear poverty. We are taught to fear those who look different than we do and taught to fear those who worship differently than we might. We are fearful of sickness and disease. We fear living a life without purpose and we fear death. We fear loneliness, but by the same token we fear vulnerability. We are fearful of our past and we are afraid of the future. Yes, we know what it’s like to live in fear.
Rev. Michael Palmer, pastor of Living Vine Church expands on this notion of fear and doubt as he writes, “Locked in a prison of their own making, the disciples have completely lost themselves and forgotten their mission. They are not living in their identity. As we all know too well, fear does this. It turns us inward, and as we succumb to this fear, the call to an outward life of Christ-likeness turns inward. It no longer is self-sacrificial, instead it becomes self-preserving. It’s into this self-preservation and self-imposed prison that Jesus steps, and into the darkness, into the fear, he proclaims his peace. Peace. The Greek word Jesus speaks here, twice, is “εἰρήνη” (eirēnē). It’s the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word “Shalom.” Words meaning peace, wholeness. Fullness. Harmony. Wholeness. Fullness. Living in the way and living out of the life and identity we were created for. How were we created to live? Tim Keller says it beautifully. He says, “"God created the world to be a fabric, for everything to be woven together and interdependent." What Keller is getting at here is the truth that it’s the desire of God to restore justice, harmony and peace in our world…We were created to be together, living in community with one another, sharing life together, forgiving one another, and inviting each other into the Kingdom of God. Fear short-circuits this calling. We stop seeking justice, fighting for reconciliation, and advancing the Kingdom of God.”
Growing up in the south, good manners were superior to everything. Good manners certainly trump honesty. There isn’t much room for doubt. Being honest is often seen as being rude, especially if your confession or insight goes against the natural order of things. When it comes to matters of faith, one certainly should not be honest, should they notice an obvious contradiction. Things are the way that they are for a reason. Asking questions and being honest is the fastest way to find yourself on the outside looking in. What if we were to speak more honestly like Thomas? How might our lives become more whole? More full? What if we were to be more honest in our relationships? What if we finally stop masking how we feel and be honest about what we really need from each other? How might we become more fully alive by speaking our truth in love to those who need to hear it? What if we were to be more honest about the injustices happening around us? How would people’s lives change if we spoke up, spoke out and spoke the honest truth about where God’s Kingdom on earth falls desperately short in our world? We need to be more like Thomas, speaking our honest truth – saying what we need. We need to be more like my six-year-old, asking the difficult questions so that our faith might be worked out and claimed as our truth.
Creative writer Andrew King in his poem “What Thomas Wants” describes beautifully our struggle for wholeness in the midst of truth. He writes,
“Thomas knows all about crucifixion.
Knows the nails driven into the victim
really tear the flesh,
damage the bones.
And he knows that this
is a crucifying world,
with all its violence,
greed and oppression
still hammering nails into the hands of justice,
still thrusting spears through the ribs of love,
still hanging mercy and kindness to die
and sealing up the tomb.
Thomas knows all about it.
So he knows that any real resurrection
will have to come out of ruin,
will have to come out of suffering,
will have to come out still bearing the scars
inflicted by the unjust world.
Ask him not
if he believes in
merely a God
who is greater than suffering or death;
any God worth the name
would surely prove immortal,
who may be able to pretend our pain
but could never share it in truth.
No, what Thomas wants to see
is the Lord who rises from
death by crucifixion,
from the worst that our world can do:
from hells of corruption and cruelty,
from violence and terror and hate,
from rape and torture and war,
from hunger and disease and squalor,
torn and terribly scarred
yet walking among us still,
who will touch us in
who will hold us in
who sees in us
the prints left by the nails,
who will put his own hurt hand upon
our heartache, fear and despair
and breathe his healing peace
into our souls.
This is who Thomas wants to see – the only
Lord he wants to believe in.
Thomas just wants to see; Jesus.”
Let us go now to walk the honest way of faith. May we ask the difficult questions. Might we speak our truth. And may God’s shalom meet us in the midst of our fears and give us courage to live abundant lives. AMEN.
God of surprises, In the evening when the disciples meet
Frightened behind locked doors You come to them with words of peace.
For wicked plots have failed, And the cruelty of the world has come to nothing, And the betrayal and the denial of friends have not prevailed.
Life-giving God, We give you thanks For Jesus has risen.
He comes to us with words of peace.
Come to us today. In government rooms where politicians meet. In city board rooms where executives plan, In court rooms where lawyers debate, Come with words of peace.
In hospital rooms where people are waiting, In prison cells where people are afraid, In homes where people struggle to make ends meet, Come with words of peace.
Come to us whenever we are afraid. Whenever we are grieving
Come to us now we pray in silence. For those we care for and are worried about…Despite the strong and solid doors we lock To protect ourselves
To shut out the world, Come to us with words of peace.
We ask these things in the name of Christ, who came so that we might have life,
Adapted from a prayer by Susan Miller (alt), and posted on the Church of Scotland’s Starters for Sunday website.
 Palmer, Rev. Michael; Living Vine Church of the Nazarene, www.textweek.com.
 King, Andrew; www.textweek.com