Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and
Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen
Thomas. I can relate to him.
First of all,
because Thomas was one to state the obvious.
For example, when
Jesus was speaking about going to prepare a place for the disciples, he says to
“You know the way to the place where I am
responds, stating what was probably on everyone’s mind: "Lord,
we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"
Then there is the
sarcastic side to Thomas.
After Jesus had
narrowly escaped being arrested in Jerusalem, and had gone over beyond the
Jordan, he heard that Lazarus was sick and dying.
Hearing that he
decided he would go right back to Jerusalem, in spite of the risk. The disciples warned Jesus that the Jews had
nearly stoned him to death the last time he was there, still Jesus persisted.
response, offered in a biting tongue is:
"Let us also go, that we may
die with him."
And then, of
course, there is this scene following the resurrection.
"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."
That’s the old
Jesus says: "Have
you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and
yet have come to believe."
Actually, I think
that the struggle for Thomas was not what he hadn’t seen, but what he had seen.
because he had seen the nails driven into Jesus hands, he had seen the spear
thrust into Jesus side, he had seen Jesus breathe his last, he had seen him
It’s what he had
seen, that was the problem.
I think that
faith often requires us to believe, in spite of what we have seen.
Would it be
easier to believe in Jesus if we could see him face to face?
I think that most
of us would absolutely love to have seen Jesus.
Wouldn’t we? I have to admit that
I’m a bit envious of those who had the rare opportunity to live at the time of
Jesus, and to know him on a personal basis.
There’s a part of
me that says it would be so much easier to believe if I had been there with
him, if I had witnessed the miracles, sat at his feet as he taught, and followed
him wherever he went.
But I think the
truth is that were we given that opportunity, we would struggle to believe.
Most of the
people who did witness Jesus’ life and ministry, DID NOT believe in him.
It is actually
easier for us to believe in a Jesus of our own imagination, than it is to
believe in a Jesus that is a specific person.
It is easier to
imagine Jesus, than to see a human being, and believe that this one, in all his
particularity is the Son of God and our Lord.
It was hard for
the people in Nazareth to believe in Jesus, because they knew him. They knew his mom and dad, and his brothers
and sisters. They had seen him grow up. Some of them may have even changed his
“Son of God?” No, that’s just Jesus.
Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his
mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and
Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all
Those who knew
him the most, throughout his life, had a hard time believing.
first heard of Jesus, his response was "Can anything good come out of
What if Jesus
came to us today, and was in fact a farmer’s boy from Endicott?
that make it easier to believe in him, or harder?
And then there is this matter of the authority
with which he taught and ministered.
He was not part
of the institutional Church.
This is a hard
one for pastors, I think.
“As a called and
ordained pastor. . .”
authority. That’s what sets pastors
apart from their congregations.
I went to
seminary. I passed the tests. I was called by the Church to this
ministry. I was ordained.
authority do I do what I do?” By the
authority given to me by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and
currently, a call issued by the Synod of our Church.
But Jesus wasn’t
He was not a
priest. And though he was often called a
“Rabbi”, or a “teacher”, he had no official status within the religious hierarchy
of his day.
He wasn’t “ordained”
in any sense our modern use of the word.
we believe in such a person, a self appointed prophet that was not part of the
institutional hierarchy of the Church?
And then there is
the problem of Jesus being a specific person.
It’s easier to imagine Jesus, perhaps like so many of the paintings we
have seen. But most of the paintings
that have portrayed Jesus, have not portrayed him as a Palestinian Jew.
Glen Funk was an
elderly gentleman in my first parish. He
was an accomplished artist. And one of
the things he did was to paint for our congregation a portrait of Jesus. He actually used the face of a local logger
that he had sketched. Most of the
members of the congregation did not like his portrait of Jesus. “Not my Jesus.” Was the response.
What if Jesus
came to us today as a real human being?
What if he were
black? Or Hispanic? Or, ugly? Could we believe in such a Jesus?
that matter, what if Jesus came to us today, and his name was not Jesus, but
This young woman,
a survivor of the Parkland Florida school shooting, has emerged onto the
American scene in a big way.
crew cut. Her youth. Her standing against the predominant culture
and politics of the day. Her speaking ‘truth
to power’, and saying more with six minutes and twenty seconds of silence than
many say with all sorts of political rhetoric—what if Jesus was like her?
And then there is
another problem about Jesus.
“This man eats
with tax collectors and sinners.”
coming to us today, and instead of being found in the Church, he was
associating with the undocumented migrant workers in our country.
Or what if he
spent much of his time with the Gay Community?
Or what if he
spent more time with drug addicts and prostitutes than with religious people?
we believe in such a Jesus?
And finally, what
if Jesus was lying in a pool of his own blood on a hotel balcony, like Martin
Luther King, Jr did that day in Memphis fifty years ago?
it be easy to believe in a dead Jesus?
Now Jesus did many other signs in the
presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.
believes in spite of what you see.
One of my
favorite lines from “Jesus Christ Superstar” is “You'd have managed better
If you'd had it planned
Now why'd you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?
If you'd come today
You could have reached the whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”
If seeing was
believing, and God wanted us to believe in his Son, Jesus, it might have helped
to wait until we had video cameras. Then
on Sunday mornings we could all sit around and watch Jesus ‘do his thing’.
Instead what we
have is a Word. Written in a book.
It’s an unlikely
tale about an unlikely Savior.
Yes, he came from
a village like Endicott, the son of a carpenter.
He had no
earthly, institutional authority whatsoever.
He probably didn’t
look the way we imagine he looked.
He was in many
ways, more like Emma Gonzalez than we dare to admit, speaking an uncomfortable
word to those in power, and captivating a nation.
He offended the
religious leaders of his day by associating with all manner of sinners.
And most of all,
He hung from a
cross covered in blood, his side pierced by a sword.
But over and
against all of this we have a Word, a spoken Word that declares that this one
particular person was God’s Son.
Seeing may not be
Hearing is what
brings us to faith.
As we have heard
the Word, the Spirit gives us faith to believe.
I believe that I cannot by my own
reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy
Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified
and kept me in the true faith.
These are the
words of Martin Luther in his Small Catechism.
We do not believe
because we have seen.
because we have been called by the Spirit.
because we have been enlightened with the Spiritual gifts God offers.
because we have been set apart for God.
because God has kept us in the one true faith.
We believe, not
because we know who Jesus is, but because he has known us, and claimed us as
Thanks be to God.