John 20, 19-31 11 April 1999
Reverend Craig Wagner
Christ Lutheran Church, Palatine, IL
"I WANT TO SEE!"
Just this past week while watching a television program, I decided to go into the kitchen and make a snack. Watching television somehow makes me hungry! I waited for a commercial break and then headed toward the kitchen. I don't remember what the snack was but it took a little time to prepare and by the time I returned to the living room the program was underway and I had missed a significant part of the scene. Of course, Lorna could have attempted to describe what I missed, but that usually results a different response than if I had seen the part myself.
Since I was not taping this show, I couldn't simply rewind the tape and view the missed action. On the other hand, it certainly doesn't take long for a new program to go into syndication and the reruns to start popping up all over. I'll just WAIT!
Interesting that this reminded of Thomas in our reading this morning. Because as much as Lorna could describe the action, it wasn't the same as seeing it myself. I was away from the TV for a short period of time, but I missed it! I kind of believed her explanation, but the experience wasn't the same!
I. THOMAS MISSED IT
Poor Thomas missed it. On the night of the resurrection as the disciples were gathered together in a house. The doors were closed and locked. The disciples were fearful of what might happen to them at the hands of those who crucified Jesus. While they were together, Jesus came into the locked and closed house. He appeared to them, spoke with them, showed them his hands and his side, gave them the power of the Holy Spirit and even instilled in them the ability to forgive or retain sins. The disciples were overjoyed at this miracle of Jesus not simply the resurrection but his appearance in their midst. They were assured that Jesus was alive. Their hope was renewed and the fear gripping them would give way to celebration!
But then there was Thomas, whom they called the Twin. He was not with them. We're not sure where Thomas was or what he was doing out at night. We do know that when he returned and found the other disciples filled with great excitement and sharing an incredible message. Thomas, you just won't believe what happened. We have seen the Lord. He was right here! Too bad you went into town and missed the whole episode. Thomas began to raise some questions.
One can hear the skepticism of this person: Unless I see for myself and unless I feel the marks I will not believe. No matter what you tell me, I am skeptical and am doubtful. I need to experience the Lord just as you did. Then I will believe. He was very skeptical about what had happened. He didn't want to be the brunt of some terrible cruel joke and so he expressed his doubt. I think he still believed in Jesus for he had been with Jesus. The doubt I think was related to the appearance of Jesus. Thomas was still in fear and sorrow and grief over the loss of his Christ.
Yet, I think there may be something more going on in this story. I have a little different perception on Thomas' reaction. I think there could have been a bit of jealousy or envy on Thomas's part. Just imagine if you are Thomas and your closest friends tell you that Jesus, the one whose disciple you were, is no longer dead but now lives and that he has appeared to them while you were gone, how would you feel? If Thomas found their story sufficiently credible to merit his famous statement and to react in the manner he did, I would think he was envious of their experience and obviously wanted it for himself. Why did Jesus appear only to you? Why didn't he wait until I got home? I will discount your experience and the joy you have because it hasn't happened to me! "I want to see!"
II. OUR OWN DOUBTS AND JEALOUSIES
We are much like Thomas in a variety of ways. Often we tend to doubt God and miss the life-giving power of Jesus. We doubt and remain skeptical because we want to have Jesus react to our own specific wants. We want to see Jesus at work for us then we will believe even more deeply. Jesus, I will believe and be a better Christian person if only you will do this for me. Show me your power, we tempt Jesus. Cure my illness. Bless me with success and wealth. Let me experience your presence and power as many others seem to and then I will believe! Our skepticism floats to the surface often in times of difficulty or problems in life.
It can also manifest itself in terms of jealousy and envy. As we encounter others who appear to have succeeded in areas of life where we have fallen short - whether it be the blessing of wealth or worldly influence and power, or great family life, or a social life that is glamorous, or extremely good and vibrant health - we think to ourselves, "How come they have this and I don't?" Jesus if you are truly God and Lord and savior bless me. If you do, then surely I will believe even more. And we become jealous of those who appear to be blessed beyond our experience.
This happens in the area of faith, too. Someone may have an experience of the closeness of God in his or her life. They may experience the presence of God in a different way than we do. We wonder about the experience. We think - Why them? Why not me? We become envious and jealous and the outcome is that we tend to discount their experience. Perhaps make fun of it but the bottom line is we are jealous of them.
Rather than being glad for their experience and their faith, we jealously tear them down. Rather than rejoicing that God has touched their lives in a way that helps them in their faith, we discount them and suggest that if it hasn't happened in our life, it is not real. Shades of Thomas, skeptical, doubting and jealous Thomas!
This happens in congregations, too. Groups become jealous of one another. Hostility occurs and one group does not want the other to succeed or to become a vibrant ministry. This has happened in many congregations. Infighting occurs because of jealousy that God would bless one group differently than another. This is the devil at work. Rather than being happy and excited for the benefit and blessing of the entire congregation we become like Thomas. I want to be blessed in the same way or else I won't believe.
It reminds me of the old story about a man walking his dog along the beach when they passed another walker. Eager to impress the stranger, the man picked up a piece of driftwood and tossed it into the surf. His dog ran out on top of the water, fetched the stick, and returned it to his master without getting wet. The stranger shook his head in disbelief. The dog's owner said, "Did you notice anything unusual?" The stranger replied, "Your dog can't swim, can he?" Instead of rejoicing in the marvel and wonder and sharing the in the joy of an incredible event, the stranger responded in the negative. So often we have difficulty being happy and rejoicing in the blessing and the gifts others have We need to confess those areas of jealousy and envy and allow God to help us live in a spirit of love, grace and encouragement for others.
III. THE PRESENCE OF JESUS
Ultimately Thomas was granted the same experience as the rest of the disciples. He saw Jesus, put his hands into Jesus hands and wounds and then believed. He was privileged to receive the same experience. However, Jesus said, "Have you seen because you believe? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Not everyone needs the same experience in order to believe. We can see and rejoice in God's presence in the lives of the disciples, in the lives of other people of faith and allow their experiences to inform our own.
For the good news of life and resurrection is for all people. Jesus is Lord of all. The experience of his presence in our life may be different for different people but are valuable to that person. And as the experiences build up the body of Christ we rejoice and are glad and supportive. For the most important thing in the world is to believe in Jesus the Christ of the world. This is why there are many events and stories concerning Jesus in the gospel- these are recorded so that we may believe and through believing have abundant and everlasting life.
By God's grace and spirit we affirm, rejoice and are glad for the faith of others. In faith we understand that all have been given gifts, talents and abilities for use in building up the body of Christ. We use the blessings and gifts of God without jealousy for the primary motive is living for and as God desires. Thomas' doubting, skepticism and jealousy are very much our story, too. Jesus overcame Thomas' difficulty by appearing to him in bodily form. Jesus overcomes our difficulties in believing and living our faith by his loving presence today. Allow the resurrected Lord Jesus to touch your heart and to be a presence in your life - your whole life. Be an affirming and caring loving disciples lifting up others and reflecting the unity of faith in Jesus Christ.
Frederick Buechner in his book, The Magnificent Defeat has us imagine what might happen if God decided one night to spell out in the stars, "I really exist." Skeptics would be silenced, unbelievers converted, and the faithful affirmed. The impact would be phenomenal. Each night the message would be there. God would change it occasionally by adding color or music, or a different language. Ultimately everyone would realize and admit that God truly exists. Then suppose a child would ask, "So what if God exists? What difference does it make?" The stars might fade or burn for centuries, so what. The fact of God's existence would have little power in our lives. It is not the objective proof that we want, but is the experience of God's presence. That's the miracle we're after. Ultimately, that was the miracle Thomas was after. May the real presence of the risen Christ fill us to overflowing with faith and love toward one another as we seek to share Christ in the world. Amen.