This morning’s gospel lesson from John retells the story of when Jesus first appeared to the disciples after his resurrection.
His first words, Peace Be With You continue to echo through Christianity in our worship, in our mission, and in our faith lives.
His second words, Receive the Holy Spirit tend to get lost in our attempts to pass the peace of Christ, and his third words, If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained seem hardly an afterthought after the first two.
That this passage is traditionally called the Doubting Thomas story means that most of us focus on the doubting part. But I don’t believe that the doubting is the most important part. I mean, clearly it has a role in the lesson Jesus was trying to teach, it has a place in Christianity as an illustration, but if we take a small step back, and get a little distance from the story, the lesson is profound.
First of all, we know very little about Thomas. Scripture tells us very little about his call to discipleship, or how he came to follow Jesus, but it does give us a feel for the kind of human being he was.
Thomas was a loyal, inquisitive, skeptical, and faithful disciple.
When Jesus was preparing to go see Lazarus, after he had been told that Lazarus had died, Thomas said to the other disciples “Let us also go, that we may die with him”
When Jesus was trying to explain what was to come in his death and resurrection, Thomas said “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how do we know the way?”
When told that Jesus had appeared among the disciples gathered in the upper room, Thomas said “ Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
And finally, after doing just that, after seeing the mark of the nails, and putting his and into Jesus’ side, Thomas made good on his promise: “My Lord and my God”, he said.
This is such a compelling story! Far too often, though, we get caught up, or bogged down, on Thomas, and his doubting, when the larger narrative gives us an amazing path to follow as faithful children of God.
Let the Peace of Christ be with us, receive the Holy Spirit, use our power to forgive, have a healthy skepticism, and if possible, believe where we have not seen.
For too long, the general message that Thomas was somehow an inferior disciple because he insisted on seeing and touching the risen Christ has informed our approach to our faith lives and practices.
But Thomas was already a believer in Jesus, was already loyal, and faithful. Today’s gospel lesson gives us a powerful template upon which we can base our own faith journeys.
If we can share the peace of Christ, be open to receiving the Holy Spirit, use our power of forgiveness, utilize our critical thinking skills, and after all that, believe though we have not yet seen, we will be living the faith life Jesus intends for all of us.
Of course, I say that like this is an easy thing! It’s not. Not at all.
Many of us will pass the peace of Christ on Sunday, and catch ourselves being less than peaceful in the week to follow.
Many of us will find moments where we’re touched by the Holy Spirit, and then promptly forget what it feels like to be in those sacred moments, or what we should do about it after it happens.
Many of us will recognize that we are in a position to forgive, but hold a grudge anyway.
Many of us will fail to use our critical thinking skills in relation to our faith, choosing instead to just go along with the crowd without giving it much thought.
Many of us spend far too much time feeling guilty that we have doubts, when, in fact, having doubts doesn’t get in the way of Jesus loving us, or forgiving us, or giving us his peace…or acting on our faith.
Just as there is very little known about Thomas before his appearance in the gospels, there isn’t a lot known about him after the disciples set out to spread the good news.
Thomas is generally thought to have journeyed to India, where his mission was to spread the good news to people in South Asia. And in keeping with what we know about him, some stories indicate that he was reluctant, skeptical if you will, about traveling there.
But he faithfully established a Christian church in India, one that endures to this day. His efforts ended when he was stabbed in the side and killed, an eerie echo of what we heard in today’s scripture.
I would suggest that instead of viewing Thomas’ doubts as a failing, or a flaw, we should instead consider healthy skepticism as part and parcel of our faith journey.
Will our faith, and our faith lives always seem logical? Of course not. Will there always be a clear reason, or outcome of our faith lives? I don’t believe so.
But a healthy reflection that includes thinking beyond what is right in front of us, a healthy skepticism that sharpens and hones our faith, critical thinking skills that can put our beliefs into perspective, these things can and will bear much fruit in our lives.
If, as faithful children of God, all we ever did the rest of our faith lives was share the peace of Christ, seek and be open to the Holy Spirit, forgive others and ourselves, and practice a healthy skepticism, we would be living our faith, we would in fact, be believers even though we have not yet seen.
Not one disciple was perfect. Not one of them embodied or demonstrated all the characteristics or skills that support a heathy and mature faith. Every single one of them need to grow, needed to learn, needed to make mistakes, and then learn from their mistakes. Just like us.
In a world where the Peace of Christ is dashed by war and violence, where the Holy Spirit is drowned out by culture wars, where forgiveness is seen as weakness, and where healthy skepticism is considered blasphemy, is it any wonder that chaos seems to reign?
We can reverse this. We can make a difference. If we can be like Thomas, loyal, inquisitive, skeptical, and faithful, we can shift the balance in the world from the pursuit of power to the passing of the peace. From a sea of suffering to a celebration of the Holy Spirit. From fault finding to a focus on forgiveness, from blasphemy to belief.
The way is clear, the path is set before us, as individuals, as congregants, as citizens, and as human beings. Jesus showed us the way, even as he was showing his disciples the first time he appeared to them after his resurrection.
We each can now reflect on where we are on our faith journey, and how we are doing in the sharing of the peace of Christ, in the receiving of the Holy Spirit, in using our power of forgiveness, in practicing our critical thinking skills, and in believing where we have not yet seen.
And some days are going to be better than others.
And some days aren’t going to be good at all.
But even those of us with the most doubts can be instruments of peace, spirit, forgiveness and faith.
How will you do it? What steps will you take to follow this sacred path Jesus has set before us?
For too long, the critical nature of humanity has characterized Thomas as falling short, as being less than the other disciples, because he needed to see for himself. But God is big enough to handle Thomas’ doubts, and our own doubts, and Jesus is powerful enough to teach Thomas and us, how to go out and spread the good news of the resurrection to those most in need.
And it all starts with the Peace of Christ. Amen.
ROBINSON ELMWOOD UNITED CHURCH
126 South Terry Road, Syracuse, NY 13219
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