My Lord and My God – 2017/04/23

Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Sermon:

Let me tell you about some things I trust.  I trust my electronics – probably too much.  I trust that they’re going to turn on, that they’re going to do what they’re supposed to – and when they don’t, it is so frustrating.  I trust people around Marion.  I mean, let’s face it – I run into places with my keys in the car sometimes, which is not something I did when I lived anywhere else.

But I also trust many, many things – I trust the sun to rise, I trust the post office to deliver the mail I send, I trust that my phone calls aren’t actually being monitored by a shadowy government organization, I trust that the beef I order in a restaurant is not actually dog meat, I trust that when I meet someone and ask their name that they’re not lying to me, I trust that when someone says, “Your kid is cute,” they’re being honest and not just polite, I trust my family when they say they love me.  The fact of the matter is, you literally can’t survive if you don’t trust something.  There aren’t enough hours in the day to be suspicious of everything.

But of course, what defines us as people more than anything else is what we choose to trust in.  We certainly have choices in that regard.  In the things I listed, I listed some mundane things – like how I expect that restaurants are serving what they say they’re serving – but I listed serious things, too.  For example, when people in your life tell you they love you, you can trust them, or you can’t.  You really can’t know, but you choose to trust them or not.

The thing about a person telling you that they love you is that it’s not just something people say.  It’s something you show, too.  So you have more evidence than just something someone says.  Their actions also inform whether or not we believe them.

So of course, on this second Sunday of Easter, we get the traditional Second Sunday of Easter passage – good ol’ Doubting Thomas in the locked room with the disciples.  It’s, on some level, a passage all about trust.  Last week, we read about how Jesus appeared to women at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, but he had yet to appear to his male disciples.  In today’s passage, we see a continuation of that story.  Just as Jesus appeared to the women, he shows up in the room where the disciples are gathered.

Now, this was a locked room.  The disciples were, as the Gospel of John tells us, “locked for fear of the Jews.”  Of course, they weren’t afraid of all the Jews – they were Jews, too!  They were afraid, though, of some of the people who had been hostile to Jesus; they were surely afraid that the same people who arranged Jesus’ trial could be coming for them next.  So they locked themselves away and hid in fear.

This is, unfortunately, an example of doing what our human nature does so often, and shows a complete misunderstanding of what Jesus had taught them.  After all, when Jesus was accused in the Garden, he boldly stood up and said who he was.  When Pilate accused him of being the Christ, he did not pretend not to be just to avoid punishment.  But we can give the disciples a break here, just a little bit.  They’ve just lost their friend.  Instead of living as he taught them to, they’re retreating into what feels “safe.”

But suddenly, in this locked room, Jesus appears.  When he appears, though, one of the disciples is missing.  It’s Thomas.  I like to imagine that Thomas was out getting some food.  After all, the disciples ate on Thursday night, and then Jesus got arrested, crucified on Friday, Saturday was the Sabbath so they would’ve scrounged what was left where they were staying.  Surely, by Sunday, they needed some food, and we know from our reading that this story takes place on Easter Sunday night.

Anyway, Thomas isn’t there when Jesus appears.  Yet, Jesus shows up and delivers messages of hope and Good News to the disciples.  So when Thomas returns, the disciples tell him that they saw Jesus, and Thomas doesn’t believe it.

You know, I find Thomas immensely sympathetic in this passage.  Why would he believe the disciples?  I mean, he trusts them.  But think of people you trust.  If they told you that someone you saw died and buried had been in your house an hour ago, I’m pretty sure you’d believe what you had seen, rather than what they said.

We sometimes have a habit of thinking ourselves above characters in the Bible.  We think, “They see all these miracles all the time, and still they don’t trust when things are coming straight from God!”  Well, first of all, people haven’t changed that much in 2000 years.  We’re a little taller, we live a little longer, but we aren’t any smarter.  It was just as hard to tell back then as it is now which messages were from God and which ones weren’t.  I mean, if a message like this comes straight from the mouth of Jesus, perhaps there’s an argument that Thomas is just being stubborn – but this isn’t that.  This is just his friends telling him something he doesn’t know is true.

In short, Thomas doesn’t believe them.  He doesn’t trust in what they say.  And you know what?  I think that’s the right call.  I think it’s how I would feel and what I would do in that situation, too.  Thomas doesn’t have absolute faith in his friends, because they’re flawed people.  They make mistakes.  They make bad judgments.  They make stupid decisions.  They’re just like the rest of us.  What the story of Thomas teaches us is not that the disciples are always right about everything.  What the story of Thomas teaches us is that the only thing we can trust with absolute certainty is Jesus.

When we say we have faith in Jesus, that’s not just a claim that we believe that Jesus existed a long time ago.  It means we trust him.  And we can trust him, not just because he says he loves us, but because he’s shown us that we’re loved.  That is, to me, what the Easter story and its continuation in this story today are all about.  Faith is not just about mere belief – it’s not only about an intellectual acknowledgement that something is true.  It’s also about who we trust, and what that trust means.

One of the things that comes with trust is doubt.  Perhaps this is why I have a little sympathy for Thomas here.  You don’t doubt someone unless you have a reason to trust them first.  Doubt only comes when you have a relationship.  It’s also a necessary part of a relationship.  It’s understandable that Thomas would doubt here, because what he’s being asked to believe is completely incredible.  Similarly, it’s okay for us to sometimes have doubts, because God asks incredible things of us, too.  We don’t just trust anything and everything someone says – we must have some amount of doubt in our lives to survive.  What we see from Thomas here is just the “usual” amount that we show every day.

In the end, though, we read this passage, not because it should make us feel good about the occasional doubt that crosses our minds, but because it’s a reminder of how strong our faith can and should be.  It’s not a story about how it’s good to doubt – it’s a story about how, in spite of our questioning and doubting God, God comes through for us in the end.

Invariably, everything in our lives will let us down sooner or later.  Friends, family, business, technology, you name it.  Sooner or later, it will fail to live up to the hopes we put in it.  But God is different, because God never lets us down.  That’s not to say that our lives are perfect; but then, God never promises us a perfect life.  What God promises is life eternal and love forever.  Only God can be trusted completely.

Probably the best example in human history of someone trusting something else more than God is Germany in the 1930s and ‘40s.  The whole project of Nazism was about putting your trust in something other than God.  They believed that their Germanness was the most important thing in the world, even more important than their identity in Christ.  The story of Nazism is not a story about how everyone alive in Germany in the ‘40s was evil – they weren’t.  But when they put their trust in something that wasn’t God – that was evil.  They believed that their politics and their racial identity were as important as God (Actually, more important – I wrote a 30-page paper about it once, and could literally talk your ears off if you want to hear about it sometime).

And that’s where we remember the great insight of the Presbyterian and Reformed branch of theology – that all sins are idolatry.  We think of “idols” as statues that people used to pray to instead of the one true God.  We think we’re not guilty of idolatry because we’re not building a statue of a golden calf to pray to.  Unfortunately, whenever we sin, we’re committing idolatry, because sin is when we trust something ahead of God.  When we put something else ahead of what God is doing, we commit idolatry; we commit sin.

Now I’ve gotten pretty far afield from Thomas, but I’m going to bring it back home.  Thomas  came to believe only once he saw.  We aren’t so lucky; we weren’t there in that locked room, either.  Nonetheless, Jesus calls us blessed for believing without seeing.  Our faith in Christ is built on a foundation of knowledge; we know that Christ has been raised, and in that, we know that we are cared for and forgiven.  We know that we are loved.  Christ’s resurrection for us is the proof – the proof that God does care, even when things are dire; the proof that God does love us, even when it seems that no one does; the proof that God is on our side, even when we look around and see no one else.

Thomas’ doubt about Jesus was probably justified.  It’s understandable, at least.  But from our perspective, now that we know he has been raised, how can we fail to trust in God?  We know that, come what may, the creator of the universe is on our side.  Whenever things don’t work out, we can rest secure in the knowledge that God is there with us.  No matter what locked room we feel trapped in, Jesus can break into that room to say, “I am here.  I have been raised.  I love you.”  Let us always remember that, wherever our lives take us, God is faithful.  After all, Christ is risen.  Amen.