Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Perfect Belief, Never-Wanting Faith
Audio for this sermon is available here.
In the collect for the penultimate Sunday after Pentecost, we ask God, "who has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning," to "grant that we may in such wise hear them..." In other words, we pray that God would help us see that the stories of the Bible were written so that we might learn something from them. And every once in a while God answers that prayer in a way that makes me absolutely certain that a particular bible passage was written just for me.
Since the second Sunday of Easter is often an opportunity for the curate to preach, it was early in my ordained career when I tackled John 20:24-29 for the first time, and I remember discovering what you have probably known for your whole lives--that Doubting Thomas was written so that you and me would understand that it is perfectly reasonable for a person to doubt that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and that there's still good reason to believe it anyway.
On the first day of the week, the same day that he was raised from the dead, Jesus appeared to his disciples and said, "Peace be with you." He came and met them where they were--hiding behind locked doors out of fear. In the execution of Jesus, they thought that everything they had hoped for had been taken from them. Just when it seemed certain that God's anointed would take the throne of his ancestor David and lead a victorious rebellion against the evil Roman oppressors, that same anointed one accepted betrayal, arrest, torture, and death. Death, of course, was the end--the end of Jesus' life and the end of his followers' hopes that finally God was doing something new and different and lasting.
But, of course, death wasn't the end. Jesus was raised on the third day and came back to his disciples and said, "Peace be with you." But Thomas wasn't with them. I don't know where he was--maybe hiding in a different attic, maybe stuck at a nephew's birthday party--but he wasn't there. And, when his companions found him and told him the good news, Thomas said exactly what any of us would say, "Until I see it for myself, until I feel it for myself, I will not believe."
We're so used to "on the third day, he rose again" that we forget how preposterous that is. Thomas reminds us that anyone and everyone would say, "No way. Didn't happen. Not possible." Because it wasn't possible. Things like that never happened. Until they did. Thomas is us. His objections are history's objections. He allows us to say to the first disciples, "How are we supposed to believe that unless we get to see him for ourselves and touch him for ourselves?" Thomas is the one who invites us to believe because, like him, we discover that in Christ even our doubts are defeated by the resurrection. Jesus did not wait for Thomas to accept the truth of the empty tomb before finding him, meeting him, speaking to him, and offering him hope. And that is what Jesus does for each of us.
Jesus meets us where we are. He comes and sits in our hand and runs across our lips as we receive him in the bread and wine. He joins us when we gather in his name. He meets us in the dark when we sit alone with only him. He does not wait for us to put our hand in his side. He does not insist that we believe before he will reveal himself to us. Instead, we believe because he reveals himself to us. When we hear him say, "Peace be with you." When we hear him say, "I forgive you." When we hear him say, "I am with you always." When we hear him say, "I will love you no matter what." Like Thomas, we experience the resurrected Christ even before we are able to believe it because Jesus doesn't wait for us.
In the collect for the Feast of St. Thomas, we pray, "Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight." We ask for faith. We ask God to give us that which we seek--perfect faith. We do not bring that with us when we pray. We seek it through Jesus Christ. We ask that our faith may never be found wanting in Jesus--that, in his eyes, our faith will be complete. May that be our prayer and our life's focus. May we look to the risen one and see that he is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith--that, in him and through him and because of him, we, too, can believe.