Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Where do you go with your fears?

Sermon preached for St. Thomas, December 21, 2011.

Today we remember the Apostle Thomas .  Thomas (Hebrew or Aramaic for “twin”) was also called Didymus (Greek for “twin”); either his parents gave him a very weird name, or he might have had a brother by the same name, or, perhaps, this was a nickname. He was absent when the Risen Lord appeared to the other apostles on the evening of Easter Day.  Miffed at their account, he refused to believe that Christ had indeed risen until he had seen him for himself. I imagine that the other disciples went after him and when he saw Him the following week, he said to Jesus, “My Lord and My God.”

Because of this, he has been known ever since as “Doubting Thomas,” “Disbelieving Thomas” or even “Faithless Thomas.” We all have preached this one to death on the second Sunday of Easter so I am going to look at him from another perspective.

We find stories circulated in the Mediterranean world that he went to preach in India; a community in the Kerala district claims descent from Christians converted by the preaching of Thomas. Among Indian Christians, tradition claims that Thomas was speared to death near Madras, and accordingly is often pictured holding a spear.  Since he was credited with the building up of the Church through his missionary journeys, a carpenter’s square also is a regular symbol of the apostle.

You might remember his earlier words with Jesus, when Jesus announced His intention of going to Jerusalem, even though His life was in danger there: Thomas said to the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:7-16) Thus, we see that Thomas was sturdily loyal -- if also a bit foolish for such bravado is what often got Peter in trouble.

You may also remember when Jesus said: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas was the one who responded, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”   To this Jesus answered: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:1-6)”

John 21 records Thomas as one of the seven disciples fishing on the Sea of Galilee when the Lord appeared to them. Aside from these Biblical accounts, he appears only as a name on lists of the Apostles.  And that is about all we know of him except, of course, his famous doubts.

Perhaps Thomas might better be known as honest Thomas, who did not hide his fears under a veneer of piety but put them out into the open for all – even God – to see.  I laud Thomas for being honest enough to speak out loud his fears because I think that too often we do not address those fears.  We bury our fears and our doubt under a thin veneer of piety -- hoping that will make them go away.  But the only way to overcome fears and doubts is to confront them. 

What do we do with our fears?  Where do we go with them?  Pastors have doubts and fears, too.  Some of them about our families, some about our parishes, and many about ourselves. We who are called to speak the word of Christ to the people of God.  We who are given responsibility for saying to God’s people “Thus saith the Lord.  We who must loan our faith to those whose wounds and sorrows have weakened their own.  Where do we go?  We all go to the very same place.  We bring them to Jesus.  Or, someone from among the fellowship of believers goes after us so that we might bring them to Jesus.

Thomas’ mistake was to walk away – to be gone when everyone else was there.  If we run from them, we too will surely miss God’s revelation of Himself.  But if we bring them to Jesus, He will answer them.  Thomas's sin was in missing Church -- a lesson I do not forget to remind folks of on the Second Sunday of Easter.  We cannot overcome our doubts by avoiding the Lord's House, by ignoring His Word, or by absenting ourselves from His Supper.  Just the opposite.  If there is ever to be a chance for us to exclaim with confidence, "My Lord and my God!" it will be because we were near the Lord who comes to us through His Word and is present with us through His Sacraments.

Doubts and fears are part of the way of Christian life -- life lived in the tension between the old Adam still in us and the new person created in baptism.  Life lived in the tension of being in but not of the world.  Life lived in the tension of belonging to Christ in a world that crucified Him.  It is less important that you have doubts and fears, than you know what to do with them.  Today we bring them to Jesus.  Just before Christmas.  When our busy lives become even busier, the failures of the world seem compounded, and our own limitations and failings are even more obvious.  We bring them to Jesus and He bids us meet Him here in His Word and Sacrament.

Interesting, Thomas is never recorded to have actually placed the finger in Jesus' hand or his hand in the wound of Jesus' side.  It was not necessary.  Where Jesus is, our doubts and fears melt away and all we are left with is the joyful confidence that screams out amid a world unfriendly to His cause and our own failed righteousness, "My Lord and my God."  Amen

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

On more than one occasion I have commented here and elsewhere about the fact that we Lutherans seem to ignore the Holy Spirit. I suspect that this may also be reflected in how we view the matter of the Apostle Thomas’ doubt about our Lord’s resurrection. This in spite of the fact that we are all familiar with the beautiful words explaining the Third Article of the Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.” Presumably, this is sentence expresses a universal truth; one which is true of all of the Apostles, including Thomas. As we know, but tend to ignore, because we haven’t figured out how all this meshes with Pentecost, when our Lord first came to His Apostles on the day of His resurrection, this is what happened according to John 20:22, “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” But Thomas hadn’t been there. We don’t know where he was, so it isn’t fair to blame him for some kind of malfeasance in being absent. Most likely, he was away so that future generations could read this story and understand that Thomas, just as each and every one of us, could not believe in the Lord’s resurrection, because he had not received the Holy Spirit. Presumably he received the Holy Spirit at some later time, because, as St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:9, “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart