Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Honest Thomas and the Lord of Peace....

Sermon for Easter 2A, preached on Sunday, May 1, 2011.

    Some would say that the Scriptures of Christians speaks of fairy tales and dream worlds that cannot be real.  In reality, our Bible tells us the truth -- including the dark details and scandals that any human writer would have kept out of the story. We see in the Scriptures real people with real flaws and real failings, real doubts and real fears. 
     Today we encounter one of them, the infamous doubter called Thomas.  He was one of the twelve disciples who was with Jesus from the beginning and he was there when Jesus raised up Lazarus from the dead, so he seems an unlikely character to succumb to his doubts now after Easter.  But that is the way of real life and real people – even real Christians.
    Thomas is not some rock solid believer – the kind we all wish we were but are not. Like us, Thomas is more like a pile of stones, crushed by his doubts and fears, crying out in the midst of his unbelief “Lord, help me.”  I think we are more like Thomas than we know or care to admit.  Every day is a struggle of faith.  Do we believe?  Why do we believe?  Are we sure we believe?  What do we believe? If we believe, why do we fall, why do we sin, why do our lives seem in such disrepair, and why are we so broken?
    Thomas is the patron saint for people who have real doubts and real fears, who wrestle each day to believe, to hold on to their hope in Christ.  We do not want to admit it but doubt and fear are the constant companions of Christian life. Some of them well up from within our own old Adam or sinful nature; some spring from the world and its challenges to the faith; some are seeds the devil himself has planted – seeking our destruction.  There is no place to hide from them so the real question is what do we do with them?  To whom do we bring our doubts and fears?
    It is foolishness to ignore them.  If we cannot live this mortal life avoiding them, then the real task before us is not where to run to hide from them but how to face them. There is a war going on inside of us between the drowning but not yet fully dead old sinful nature and the new person created in Christ Jesus.  This battle will not end until we depart this mortal life for the blessed peace of eternity with Jesus.
    Perhaps Thomas tried to run from his doubts and fears as we often do.  After all, Thomas was missing when Jesus first appeared to His disciples on Easter. Where was he?  What could have been more important that to stay together with the believers, waiting for Jesus to fulfill His promise?  Running from them or avoiding them does not release you from the destructive power of doubt and fear; it only confirmed Thomas in his refusal to believe Jesus was raised.
    Perhaps Thomas felt that his doubts and fears made him unworthy to be a disciple.  That is what often happens to us.  Our doubts and fears isolate us with the sense of unworthiness and so we stay away from Christ and His family, the Church.  But our doubts and fears are not what make us unworthy – our sins have done a pretty good job of that.  So when Jesus died and rose to forgive those sins, our unworthiness disappeared before God's declaration of forgiveness.  Jesus sacrificial death and life giving resurrection have dealt with sin’s guilt and its stain upon us.
    So if you cannot run or hide from your doubts and fears and if Christ has cleansed us by His blood so that we are declared justified and restored, then the only question left is what do you do with them? Here is where we learn something from Thomas.  Running away from Jesus does not work.  Running to Jesus is the key.  When Thomas finally swallowed his pride and showed his face among the faithful, Jesus was there.  Jesus confronts what Thomas had tried to run from.  Doubts and fears are only disarmed by honesty.  When Thomas was finally honest about them, Jesus could deal with them.  But as long as Thomas hid them away, they ruled his soul and robbed him of every peace he sought to know.
    Once those doubts and fears were brought out into the open, Jesus was able to calm them.  Put your finger here... put your hand here, said Jesus. Yet there is no record of Thomas actually extending his finger to touch the wounds on Jesus' hand or putting his hand in Jesus side.  Jesus did not give Thomas some sort of indelible proof but disarmed those doubts and fears by bringing them out in to the open and responding to them with grace.
             We come here on Sunday morning to confront the dark secrets of our hearts, to lay aside our sins through Christ’s forgiveness, and to lay our doubts and fears at the feet of Jesus.  We come to hear His voice point to the wounds in which we find healing, to His suffering that has paid sin's awful debt, and to His resurrection that holds forth our eternal future.  We come like Thomas of old to confess them and then to lay them all at the feet of Jesus.  There is the only place where they find answer and our hearts are reborn to hope.
    No one ever finds their way back to faith or the Church by running away.  Absence does not make the heart grow fonder.  No one ever finds their confidence restored by hiding among their doubts.  No one ever finds strength from running away from their fears.  No one is ever made stronger by being alone to face their doubts and fears.  Today is honest Thomas Sunday – the day we come to where Jesus is, where His Spirit works in the means of grace – to be honest with God.  In that honesty we confess our sins, our doubts, and our fears that we might find the peace that passes understanding and be reborn to joy by His grace.
    Don’t lie to God or try to hide behind some false front of piety.  Do you have doubts?  Do you have fears?  I do!  Nearly every day is a struggle to hold on to Christ’s promise amid the pressing weight of fear, failure, and frustrations.  But nothing is resolved by hiding them or running from them.  We find confidence, faith, and courage only by laying our doubts and fears at the feet of Jesus.  We are made strong by being where Christ is, here, together in His House, around His Word and Table.  Here we cry out in faith, “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.” Here we come to lay claim to the grace of His promise.  Here is where He gives peace to our fearful and troubled hearts.  Here is where our doubts meet the certain truth of His Word.  Here the Spirit works to bestow Christ’s peace on our fearful and troubled hearts – not as the world gives but as only the Lord of life and death can give.  Here we grasp hold of grace by faith and grace grasps hold of us, that when we walk out those doors and into the callings and circumstances of our daily lives, His gracious peace may continue to hold off guilt through forgiveness, doubt through conviction, and fear through His presence and protection.
    Thomas lived a lifetime in that week, tossing and turning on the sea of His doubts and fears, until he knew with the rest of the disciples the blessed peace that only our crucified and risen Savior can bestow.  How many weeks of our lives are lost because we allow our doubts and fears to rule our hearts, drive us far from His means of grace, and hold us captive to their destructive power?  No, friends, come here and bring your doubts and fears to Him for His grace is sufficient and His mercy surrounds us with blessed peace for our souls.  Amen.

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