The Shadow Side of Faith
It had been a terribly upsetting time. Jesus was arrested in the garden, all the disciples fled except Peter and when he was asked in the Garden of the High Priest if he was a disciple, he denied even knowing Jesus.
But that was only the beginning. Word had gotten to them that Judas had committed suicide.
Then on Sunday morning Mary Magdalene reported she had seen the risen Lord. Peter and John went to the tomb. John left believing that indeed wonder of wonders had happened – Jesus had been raised from the dead. Peter left wondering.
Now they are back in the room where they received the Passover from Jesus and they experienced him making it into communion, which they would later realize every time they celebrated the meal Jesus would be with them, giving life, forgiveness, and salvation.
So, there they are frightened, not knowing what to believe, hiding behind locked doors, and the last person they wanted to see appeared. “Peace be with you.” You bet they needed to hear those words. He then gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and told them whatever sins they forgive, they are forgiven, and whatever sins they retain, they are retained.
But Thomas is not with them. Knowing the down to earth nature of the man, I like to think he was alone trying to figure out what was next. He had given his all to Jesus. He was honest with Jesus about his questions. He was even ready to die with Jesus when he discovered they were going back to Jerusalem. But to watch Jesus be captured in the Garden and his giving up without a fight, was more than he could bear. His Lord was dead from hanging on a Cross and the movement was over. What now? Is it time to go back to Galilee with grief and warm memories of what had been and promised to become?
Later when he is with the remaining ten disciples, they tell him of the wonder they have experienced. Jesus has risen from the dead. He proclaimed peace amid our fear, and he breathed on us the new life of the Holy Spirit. Then he gave us the gift of forgiving sins in his name.
Thomas does not believe their witness. Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the spear mark on his side I will not believe.
The next Sunday the disciples with Thomas present gather in the Upper Room and Jesus reappears. After saying; “Peace be with you”; he turns to Thomas. Put your hand in my wounds; do not be doubting but believe.
We don’t know if Thomas put his hand in Jesus’ side or not. I don’t think he did. But the very presence of Jesus gave him faith.
I have always admired Thomas. He was loyal to Jesus until he was arrested in the garden. He had earlier said he would even die with Jesus if necessary. When Jesus was talking about where he was going in the Upper Room, Thomas was the only one honest enough to ask him where he was going. He was a realist. He needed down to earth proof.
After Jesus sent off the disciples to make and grow disciples, Thomas went to India and proclaimed the Good News, establishing the church there. We don’t hear much about the effort, but in India Thomas is revered for his efforts to share the good news of Christ and plant the church there.
Are you here today, Thomas? You remember when there were almost 100 people at worship on a Sunday. You remember when you had a full-time pastor. You remember when one of your pastors stood at the end of the drive and invited people to worship. You say those were great days, but they are gone.
Certainly, over the years this congregation has experienced several Good Fridays, but what about now? I am about to proclaim a wonder. Even amid the pandemic the risen Christ is with us. He has promised: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there also.
In many ways we are like Thomas. I have seen the glory years of this parish. They are over. Let’s get adjusted to just holding on.
You know that I served as a hospice chaplain for three years helping people deal with their impending death. I did not come here to be your hospice chaplain. I came because I could sense and feel your love for the Lord and your excitement at being part of this parish.
I am here because I believe that Good Friday is over. I am watching the construction on Skeet Club Road coming this way. I am expecting to see some new housing because we have new people moving into our area daily. New housing being built partly because interest rates on home mortgages are at new lows, and by next fall the pandemic will be over if all of us get the vaccine shot.
Christ, through the Lutheran Church, planted this congregation here. It is time for us not only to trust the risen Christ is with us, and through our baptism has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is now asking each of us to look outward. What do we see? Are there people coming that need a church? Are there families looking for a place to worship. What is it like in your neighborhood? Those who study church growth say people tend to come to a church from neighborhoods that already have members coming.
In front of our home is a beautiful flower bed. Last fall everything died and there were only dead stems. This week I have watched new growth coming up right between these dead stems. I feel that same feeling in this church. You have a beautiful building. You have some committed Christians. Look outside. Good Friday is over. What do you see near this building, and what do you see near your home? Christ has given us the Holy Spirit to live and share the good news. He has given us the power to forgive sins in his name – even our own. Thomas, the risen Lord is here. It is Easter. He has risen. He has risen indeed. Let’s look outside with new eyes. Amen.