There is a lot going on in this story today. Layers upon layers and infinite ideas. Our entry point character is Thomas. We call him Doubter. And often historically or maybe just modern historically, being called the doubter is a negative thing. There are folks who pray away doubt, that they might only have certainty. And it probably at least in part comes from this story, the part where Jesus told Thomas to stop doubting and believe. But if you’ve been following along with us through John’s gospel, belief is less of a doctrinal statement that you affirm and really about abiding with Jesus and in community. Speaking of the community, Thomas’s community and the gospel writer’s community had a different name for Thomas than Doubter, they called him the twin. Which seems to say to me and some of us from Bible study, which says to me that Thomas’s twin was known to the community.
If we think about twins in pop-culture there are a lot to choose from, some of them even exist in scripture. There is Jacob and Isaac but Jacob was kind of a wily trickster and Isaac was written as kind of a big dumb oaf, so maybe not that pair. Not to use all of my relatively recent pop cultures references in a two weeks in a row but, as an elder Millenial, I kind of like to think of Thomas and his twin… Domas? as George and Fred Weasley From the Harry Potter series. They were jokesters who always knew the importance of a good laugh, they were also compassionate and knew the right way to support a friend. They were also deeply committed to their friendships and to their family and to their practical jokes and for all or any of those they would throw caution to the wind fearlessly.
And I know what you’re thinking doubting Thomas? fearless? that doesn’t sound like the story we normally hear but This isn’t the 1st time we have met Thomas in this gospel. The 1st time we met Thomas Jesus and the disciples were on the other side of the Jordan receiving news that their friend Lazarus was dying. Jesus’ life had just been threatened and they were sure if they went back to Jerusalem, which Bethany was only 2 miles away, that Jesus would be killed. Clearly they weren’t wrong. But when Jesus says that it was time to go back and the disciples questioned about this decision, it was Thomas who fearlessly said well let’s go with him so that we might die with Jesus, too.
Our story starts today that the disciples were locked behind a door for fear of the religious leaders. ?But you know who’s not locked behind a door for fear of the religious leaders? Thomas. And we don’t know why he was on the other side of the door. Maybe he worked in retail and he couldn’t get the day off of Passover off work. Maybe they had run out of kugel from the Passover meal and they needed some food. Maybe he was out there working his contacts, trying to figure out what had happened to Jesus and where he, or his body, was. Regardless what we do know is that Thomas was not hiding behind a locked door in fear.
We call Thomas the doubter but it seems that all he really wanted was to share in the same experience that everyone else around him had. Jesus had walked in, or materialized in, and showed his wounds and spoken to the disciples and breathed peace over them and for them and Thomas just wanted what had happened a few hours earlier, it wasn’t generations later, it wasn’t even weeks after, he wanted what the rest of the people he had traveled with had. Didn’t he deserve that? Otherwise, maybe these disciples were the ones just telling stories.
Jesus said happy are those whose who’s believe and have not seen. Jesus didn’t say happier are those, didn’t say more happy–Jesus just that there’ll be happy, too. This seems like the part of the gospel that’s written directly For us. Like these verses the gospel writer breaks in the 4th wall of the story and turns and looks at us and says “I see you future believer, you who may not see Jesus and will still believe–you will be blessed too.”
And the gospel writer continues to say that this isn’t all there is to the story of Jesus imagine the volumes of stories that we could put together, But that these stories should be enough to help you understand who Jesus is.
To help us understand if it truly comes from God if it truly represents Jesus or it doesn’t. The United Church of Christ talks about the still speaking God. We might call it a continuing Testament, they are the stories and thoughts, the reflections and the experiences of the people who have met God on their journey, who have met God in the face of another.
God is still speaking and moving and bringing to life even when things are confusing or uncertain. But here’s the thing even in the week between the time when Jesus showed up with the disciples and the time Jesus showed up again among the disciples when Thomas was there all this was there Jesus was just gonna wait a week he was probably their every day. Maybe he came in when like he always had been maybe he stayed put hope date put hope. Regardless He stayed in community. He was you are still among the other disciples even if you didn’t believe what the disciples were saying. He was still joining them for meals even if he wasn’t sure what the next steps were going to be. He was still welcomed and he was still in community and the disciples believed for him until he was able to trust in them and their story and in the God who was bringing life abundant through Jesus Christ. They believed for Thomas until Thomas could trust and believe for himself.
And so we have these continuing testaments come all these stories of the leaders throughout time Who tells of their experiences whether with the divine or their experiences among believers or the renewed life that they received.
Rachel Held Evens, in her last book Wholehearted Faith wrote about belief “On the days when I believe, a prayer feels as if it’s just another beautiful beat in a long-running conversation. Nothing is withheld. Everything finds its place, whether lament or hallelujah. I’m convinced it is all heard, because it’s a whisper into the ear of an attentive God who loves me and whom I love.”
Years and years ago when I was in college one of my assigned reading was called the varieties of religious experience by William James by William James. And he was a psychologist who documented experiences let’s just experience it’s, the esthetic experiences the And counters individuals have with the divine. But William James never had any of those experiences themselves. Envy those experiences he longed for those experiences and yet They just never happened.
A few years later still years ago when I was teaching confirmation in the United Methodist Church, It became clear to us very close to the end of the whole process that 1 of our students hadn’t been baptized. Was a smart clever er and the thoughtful person is thoughtful person For whom his church experience and learning was really important to him. But he was waiting for a religious experience and interaction with the divine to be baptized.
And I think it’s always made me a little sad to think that maybe this Was the maker brake for this young man. I mean The Bible is full of people who had interactions with God or Jesus but the world was full of people who didn’t. Most people don’t have an experience with the divine that is dramatic but maybe have seen a glimpse of the divine in the face of a neighbor or a friend or a family or stranger.
Here’s the thing about having a whole hearted faith, it is one that doesn’t deny those times when we are hurting or struggling or not believing. Most of the time, we believe the propaganda–the biographies of saints are called hagiographies and rarely do they mention that the saint doubted, that they struggled, because that’s not the narrative. Even Mother Teresa wanted her journals destroyed because what would people say if they knew how much she struggled? about these years when she didn’t feel God near her? Instead, Jesus entered the room with the closed doors and lead with peace and his wounds. He didn’t hide them, he didn’t deny them, he didn’t appear “perfected,” but was perfect in the wounds of his struggles. It was shocking for many who read Mother Teresa’s diaries and letters, to read the years of the dark night of the soul, and the seeming silence from God. “in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael Van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. “Jesus has a very special love for you,” she assured Van der Peet. “[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,–Listen and do not hear–the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me–that I let Him have [a] free hand.”” She wanted all her writing destroyed, so no one would know these things about her. I’m torn because, if someone had read my diaries… from middle school… I decided to burn them a few years ago. But what a gift to us that even the “perfect” saints, struggle in the same human experiences.
Rachel Held Evans wrote about the days that she believes, but she went on to write about other days. “For better or for worse, there are seasons when we hold our faith, and then there are seasons when our faith holds us. In those latter instances, I am more thankful than ever for all the saints, past and present, who said yes and whose faith sustains mine. They believe for me when I’m not sure I believe. They hold on to hope for me when I’ve run out of hope. They are the old lady next to me in the pew and the little kid behind me who recite the entirety of the Apostles’ Creed on my behalf on those Sundays when I cannot bring myself to say all those ancient words wholeheartedly—Is this what I really believe? They pray for me when the only words I have to say to God are words that I refuse to allow to be printed on this page, because they would make even my most foulmouthed friend blush.”
Sometimes we believe for each other when it is hard to believe. Because sometimes it’s hard to believe. Sometimes we doubt each other’s experiences, sometimes we doubt God, and sometimes we’re not even certain. Even Jesus felt the absence of God on the cross in Matthew’s Gospel.
Doubt isn’t an ending. it isn’t a reason to leave or distance yourself. it isn’t a reason to feel shame. It is an invitation to question, to fall deeper into community to lean on each other, and believe for each other until we find the words ourselves.
Not everyone is going to have an aesthetic experience, not everyone is going to angel choirs or prophetic visions–most of us just live our days. Some days we believe, and some days we don’t.
And Jesus still show us, loving us in our doubt and uncertainty of God, loving us in our doubt and uncertainty of each other, loving us in our doubt and uncertainty of ourselves. Maybe we can be like Thomas and keep showing up through our questions. And maybe we can be like the other disciples, keep loving each other through the questions–even if we don’t have answers either. And maybe we can be the Christ in the world for each other–showing up and loving each other. Jesus lead with wounds, so maybe we are able to, for even just a moment, show a glimpse of our own. Because healing happens when wounds touch air. And healing happens when we stop pretending and denying and name the truth and find yourself not alone.
And maybe today is one of the other days, when you need to be held by the faith and held by community, when you need others to believe for you. That’s ok. Today we’re going say the UCC’s Statement of Faith. No, it isn’t one of the ancient creeds, but does speak to our ancient faith, traditions, and communities. After, we will stand as you are able and sing our next hymn, during which, I’ll collect any prayer request pages.
United Church of Christ Statement of Faith—adapted by Robert V. Moss
We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, who is made known to us in Jesus our brother, and to whose deeds we testify:
God calls the worlds into being, creates humankind in the divine image, and sets before us the ways of life and death.
God seeks in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.
God judges all humanity and all nations by that will of righteousness declared through prophets and apostles.
In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord, God has come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the whole creation to its Creator.
God bestows upon us the Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.
God calls us into the church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be servants in the service of the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.
God promises to all who trust in the gospel forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, the presence of the Holy Spirit in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in that kingdom which has no end.
Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto God.