Isaiah 41:1-10, John 20:19-31
April 3, 2016
As I said last week, if you’ve heard me long enough, you know my feelings about this story. And I say this with “fear and trembling,” but I believe this is not what a lot of people have made it. This story is not a personality profile of Thomas – “the doubter.” This is a story about the unbelievable nature of our Lord’s Resurrection, and how people reacted to it when it first happened.
Once again, I don’t believe Thomas was any more a “doubter” than any of the others! I don’t believe he was the “skeptic” of the group. I don’t believe he was the “realist” who had to have things proven to him. The problem with Thomas was not skepticism. It was location! Thomas was not with the others when Jesus appeared. Let me ask you, can we even begin to imagine what it was like when the others went and told Thomas that Jesus had appeared to them? I don’t think so!
Again, we the readers see the whole picture. We can’t imagine what this was like to hear it for the first time! In fact, as we’re reading it, we’re thinking, “Hey Thomas, wait till you hear what they’re about to tell you!” Because we know what happened. And again, it was not about Thomas. It was about what happened! If it had been one of the others who was not there that first time, we would have been calling people “Doubting Matthews” or “Doubting Johns” – for the last 2,000 years!
That’s how I feel about this story. Well, this year, as we look at this story, I want us to go a little further. What I’d like us to do is to see ourselves in it. And I want us to see, is that, when Thomas was not present, he missed seeing the glory – the glory of the resurrected Christ! And I want to make a comparison with us. I’m asking us today, to think about what we might be missing when we’re not present. I want you to think about that.
Last week I reminded you that the old liturgy books listed the Sunday after Christmas, and the Sunday after Easter, as “Low Sundays.” And I asked you this year, to think about making this Sunday – today – a “Not-so-low Sunday.” I asked you to “come back” – the Sunday after Easter! And today I want you to think about what you might be missing if you weren’t here.
Now, I know we can sometimes “butt heads” in the Church, can’t we? Sometimes we can “get on each other’s nerves,” right? Hey, we’re human! It happens! But, I want you to think of the positive. What benefit do we get when we come to Church? What benefit might we be missing out on when we’re not here? That’s what I want you to think about.
As a church, we are a “community of faith.” As a church, we are people who support one another, and who share the joys and sorrows of this life. As a Church we are people who share together the life we have in God’s kingdom. At least that’s what I believe we should be. As I said, we can “butt heads.” But in the end, we also encourage one another. We upbuild one another. We edify one another. …and all those other good “New Testament words!” That’s what we’re here for!
It is my hope that we can grow in doing those things. It is my hope that we can think more seriously about that in the days ahead. It is my hope that we can focus more sharply on that vision for our church lives, and remember that, and build on that! As we think about all that, I hope we will keep in mind this lesson about Thomas, which is about his “missing the glory” when he wasn’t there.
As we do that, I also want you to see the contrast in him, in these two halves of this story. When Thomas was not there that first time, and he was told about Jesus, what was his attitude? Think about that. Do you hear a measure of Cynicism in his answer? Was there anger in his voice? I think there was a certain amount of exaggeration in what he said. Wasn’t there? He never really had to put his fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hands, did he? That was just an expression of the anger he must have been feeling. “How dare you talk that way about our Master?!” “How dare you say such things, knowing what happened to him, knowing what we’ve all been through?!”
So, think about yourselves in relation to this story. When we miss this fellowship, which we miss this time on a Sunday morning, or when we miss other times of fellowship, does that affect our attitude? Does that affect our outlook on life in general? (Or does it simply fail to help that attitude?) Or do we miss the opportunity to help each other’s outlook on life? Think about that. Church is not just about what we “get.” It’s also about what we “give.”
So think about the attitude Thomas had when he missed the glory. And then look at his attitude when he was there, when he saw the resurrected Jesus, when experienced the glory! You know how different it was! He burst out, saying to Jesus “My Lord and my God!” Do we ever know that moment? Now, I’m not saying Church is always glorious. But I believe it is that place where we can seek to experience God’s glory together, and where we can encourage each other in seeing that glory.
That doesn’t happen when we’re not here! And when we are here, that doesn’t happen by default. We need to be sure we are working on that while we are here. We need to be careful that we seek and we encourage that glory. Because we can easily do the opposite, can’t we? We can have a bad day. And we can let that hurt our attitude and others’ attitudes while we’re here. We need to be careful about that. We need to be careful with each other!
It’s been said about people outside of the church that we might be the only Jesus that person ever sees. Well the same can be true inside of the church, too! We need to be intentional about knowing the value of this community, and we need to guard it carefully! We need to uphold it, to encourage it, to edify it, …and all those great New Testament words!
I’ve told you how I’ve heard a lot of people ask over the years if they can be a Christian without going to church. And what I suspect is that a lot of the times they’ve asked that, they’ve asked because they don’t want to go to church! Oh they use others’ hypocrisy as their excuse, or they don’t feel uplifted when they’re in church. (And maybe that’s when a church is not working well!) But I say that they’re missing out on the uplifting community of faith that the Church can be! And they’re not uplifting anyone themselves!
The Apostle Paul knew the value of all that. He who once “tore down” spiritual community, came to know the value of building it up! Listen again to these words he wrote to the Hebrews. He said, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” (10:24-25)
That’s what I hope we seek to do here! “Stir one another up to love and good works.” That’s what I “encourage” you to work on here! Church isn’t just about coming here to hear somebody speak, or to hear good music. Those things are great! But being here is about promoting and living in an uplifting community of faith. It’s about seeking to see the Glory of God together.
One more thing. Sometimes people have said to me, “I didn’t come to church because I was hurting, or I was in a bad place emotionally,” or simply “I wasn’t feeling very ‘spiritual,’ or my faith was lacking.” And I try to tell them, “That’s when you need to come to church!” “it’s at times just like that, when you need the encouragement and uplifting of your faith community!
Friends, when that happens, that’s when Church works the best! That’s glory right there! So as we move forward, in this “season” of Easter, I want you to think in terms of “seeking the glory.” And I want you to see that, if we aren’t in community together, we might just be “missing the glory!”
Eternal God, help us to seek and to see your glory here in this place, and in our community together. Help us to be your hands, and your feet, and your voice, and your heart. Help us indeed to have the mind that was and is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. For these things we pray in his name, and for the sake of his kingdom in our midst, Amen!