Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

04/07/13 Sermon

 
 
John 20:19-31
 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen

 
 
I want to begin today with a couple of Bible trivia questions------First question:
 

In John chapter 11, when Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem and was on his way to raise Lazarus from the dead and then begin his journey to the cross, there was one disciple who said to the rest of the disciples: “Then let us go with Jesus so that we may die with him

Which disciple was that??
Also there was only one individual in all of the scriptures who actually named Jesus as being God himself?
Who was that individual?
The answer to both questions is Thomas.
Such faith----And yet the church for centuries has equated Thomas with one word: DOUBT----------
Of course that’s grossly unfair.
After all, the truth of the matter is that Thomas, unlike everyone else in our scripture today, didn’t have the luxury that the rest of them had.
I mean each one of them all had the kinds of evidence that we like to have in order to not doubt and believe:
The travelers on the road to Emmaus who broke bread with Jesus, Mary Magdalene at the tomb and all the other disciples including Peter and John who were in the room behind locked doors all had the luxury of either seeing or hearing or touching Jesus.
They all had the empirical evidence that we scientific minded people, all like to have today.
Still in many pulpits today there will be messages about doubting Thomas and his failure to believe in the resurrected Christ.
But I want to take a different approach to this scripture today.
You see I think there’s another lesson in Thomas’ reaction of skepticism and doubt that might get overlooked.
As I said, it’s not just that Thomas doubted in a physically risen Christ----I mean, who wouldn’t?

Instead, I think the real focal point of this story is more about who he doubted and how he doubted and why.

That’s at the heart of the issue here.
I mean if you really think about it, Thomas’ reaction of skepticism is not centered in the resurrection itself.
Instead it’s a mistrust, a suspiciousness and doubt in his fellow brothers and sisters; the other disciples.

Theologian, Nancy Claire Pittman makes the valid point that Thomas’s response to the disciples in the Greek actually carried a very powerful stinging rebuke.

In verse 25, after the disciples tell Thomas that Jesus is risen, his rejection of what they say is actually very personal---- he’s not simply saying “I don’t believe you (in a skeptical sense)”; what he’s saying is “There’s no way I’m believing in you guys”.
Thomas shuts down the conversation with them---he ends it abruptly.
What we see here is a complete distrust and suspiciousness of his so-called friends.
These same friends that Thomas had been with for so long; who he shared a common bond in dropping everything to follow Jesus with; who he had broke bread together with, witnessed miracles with and worked, played, learned together----but to Thomas, they couldn’t be trusted.

You see, it’s Thomas’ mistrust and suspiciousness of his friends’ witness to him that’s at the heart of today’s message.

Thomas heard the truth from those he could trust; but he refused to believe………….
Now with this mistrust in those who could be trusted being at the heart of today’s message, there are 2 points I want to make today to 2 different audiences:
**The first is going to be directed toward mistrusting individuals who do not yet believe in the resurrected Christ.
**And the second will be directed toward those who are already believers of the risen Christ but who also struggle mistrusting others.
Now in addressing the first group of individuals (who do not yet believe in the risen Christ), I want to bring up a story out of John Irving’s novel titled “A Prayer for Owen Meany”.

In this story, the narrator who is John has a number of conversations with his very close friend Owen Meany about the importance of belief.

Owen is a believer while John is a skeptic and Owen is desperately trying to get his dear friend to understand.
And there’s one scene at the schoolyard where Owen is trying to illustrate his faith in God to John.

And so he directs John to see a gray, granite statue of Mary Magdalene just in front of them right before it was starting to get dark outside.

And as they sit there, the sun sets and it began to get so dark that the statue was no longer visible.
And once it gets to that point, Owen asks John, “John, do you believe the statue is still there”.

John says, “Well of course I know it’s there”.

But Owen keeps pushing: “YOU HAVE NO DOUBT SHE’S THERE?”
“Of course I have no doubt!” John said.
And Owen says, “BUT YOU CAN’T SEE HER—YOU COULD BE WRONG,” he said.
“No, I’m not wrong—she’s there, I know she’s there!” John yelled at him.
YOU ABSOLUTELY KNOW SHE’S THERE—EVEN THOUGH YOU CAN’T SEE HER?” Owen asked.
“Yes,” John screamed becoming increasingly annoyed.
Then Owen passionately says ----“WELL, NOW YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT GOD---I CAN’T SEE HIM—BUT I ABSOLUTELY KNOW HE IS THERE!” ……………………………
Now in this story, Owen Meany is an example of those first disciples when they are telling their dear friend Thomas that they had witnessed the risen Christ. They knew it as fact.
But Thomas doesn’t believe these close friends who cared for him, who knew the truth and who could be trusted.
Now, today for any who are here who may be like Thomas or like John in the Owen Meany story---for any who are skeptics of believing in a risen Jesus; you may be able to relate to this story yourself.
Perhaps you’ve had someone close to you, maybe a spouse or another family member or a very dear friend who has been inviting you for a long time to believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
If I’m speaking to you today, I want you to understand that when they are talking to you about Jesus, they are not doing so in order to annoy you.
And as they tell you about Jesus they’re not some ignorant, silly idealist or gullible weak person of no intellect.
Instead they are like Owen Meany or one those disciples----they are people who know something that you don’t know yet.
They know like the statue in the dark, that Jesus is there. They know because they have experienced him for themselves.
Ask yourself, if these people who are telling you about Christ are people who can be trusted. Are they reasonable and truthful people?
You know so many skeptics and atheists or agnostics today don’t believe because of intellectual reasons; to them it is not rational or logical to believe.
And yet to not believe the people you can trust (like Thomas did) is actually the most illogical thing you could do.

I’m reminded of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe written by former atheist CS Lewis.

In the story, a little girl Lucy is playing hide and seek with her older siblings when she finds a room with a large wardrobe cabinet. She enters the cabinet and moves to the back when she discovers that the wardrobe cabinet is actually a portal which leads to the magical land of Narnia.
After a visit in Narnia she returns and tries to convince the other siblings of what she knew.
They of course were skeptical and doubted Lucy which caused friction and ill feelings.
Bothered with the seriousness of the situation the older siblings go to the professor who owns the house and the cabinet to get his insight.

The old wise professor proceeds to ask them why they should not trust what Lucy had told them.

He asked them if Lucy was known to be crazy or irrational? (They say no)
He then asked if she was known to be a liar?----- (Again, no)
So the professor concludes, “Well if she doesn’t tell lies and she's obviously not crazy, then logically you have to assume that she's telling you the truth.
He then adds what are they teaching these kids these days?
The siblings of course later discover for themselves the truth as they trust in what Lucy (who could be trusted) told them.
The point here is that believing in the risen Christ is not un-intellectual or illogical thing to do especially when those you respect and who you know tell the truth are believers themselves.  
To believe in Jesus is an act of trust; it’s believing in those who can be trusted, who have believed for themselves and have experienced Christ themselves.
Jesus told Thomas “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

They are blessed because they have reliable trustworthy loved ones who know the risen Christ and who want them to know him as well……….

Now the second point I want to make about Thomas’ mistrust and suspiciousness toward those who could be trusted is directed toward those who already are believers.
You see this scripture has a message for us too.

It is relevant to us because even believers can sometimes fail to trust and believe other believers who can be trusted.

And this has become especially prevalent in our churches today.
Congregations everywhere are being threatened by suspicion and mistrust of other fellow Christians; especially a mistrust of Christian leaders.
Many churches have been negatively affected by doubting critics who don’t trust their church leaders?
There are those who don’t trust the deacons or the church Council as they give their time and talent and gifts to try to make decisions that are in best interest of the church.
So often these mistrusting detractors, who live with suspiciousness and pessimism in their hearts like Thomas, end up causing dissension and conflict in a church.
Another area you see suspiciousness and mistrust that causes destruction is when one group of people see another group as being non-Christian because of theological differences.
Their mistrust of other believers creates a divide leading to conflict and destruction……..
All of this mistrust; this close-minded suspiciousness of thinking the worst of other believers, is plaguing our churches.
And yet, before Jesus was crucified he was teaching the disciples about true community and love for one another.
Jesus gave his life to bring forth a new kind of community where we would be different in that we love each other and trust each other.
But Thomas’s suspicious doubting was a challenge right out of the gate to this kind of community that Jesus was binging about.
And it is a challenge for many churches today.
But Jesus invites us to place our hands in his nail scarred hands, to trust and believe in him that he might fill us with trust and belief in our fellow Christians.
For when we do we are changed into a growing, humble, holy and selfless community that actually resembles the risen Christ and his coming kingdom.

In closing this morning we are being asked to reflect on where we are struggling with doubt and mistrust of others on our spiritual journeys.
Is it in our doubt and close mindedness of letting go and believing in the risen Christ despite the witness of believers who can be trusted?
Or are you already a believer but you mistrust and doubt other believers who can be trusted?

Whichever it might be, Jesus calls you to let go of your mistrust that you might then experience his resurrection and follow him into a community of believers who resemble the kingdom of God.

Today Jesus’ nail scarred hand is reaching out. -----Take it from this believer, Jesus is there--- and he is inviting you to put your hand in his nail scarred hand and follow him--- into life eternal.
 
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen