‘We of little faith’, April 19th 2020.
Second Sunday of Easter.
By Peter Gillies
Father, This is your day, and we shall praise you!
This is your day, and we shall declare your name!
This is your day, and we shall worship a risen Savior and our King.
All honor and glory are Yours and we thank you through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
We of Little Faith
There is an old Irish parable of an older and younger priest going to speak to one of the congregation that had done a terrible thing – committed a terrible sin.
The older one said to the younger: “Could you ever imagine committing such a sin? Can you imagine what would possess a person to do such a thing?”
The young priest replied immediately, “Me? That!? No, not a chance. Never!”
Then the older one said, “Then you turn around and go back home; I’ll carry on alone…”
The first moral of the story is that we must be able to empathize with others.
The second moral is: you are more than capable of doing any sin you have ever heard of. If you don’t think so, then you are naïve, like the young priest.
So let it be with Thomas, the Twin, the Doubter and you, too, could doubt in face of Christ’s miracles & majesty. We know from the reading that he did doubt: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not (NEVER) believe.” (ou mé)
That ou mé is a fascinating bit of Greek. It is the most emphatic negative, like our ‘never’ and it is a study in itself:
- Used five times in the Gospels by men – usually Peter (x3) – and never made good: Peter (Matt 16:22) “This shall not be unto Thee!” or “thou shalt never wash my feet!”
- Use by our Lord 46 times and always made good. (note: 46 times absolutely that is, eliminating duplicates in stories common across other gospels) For example: John 4:14 “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never (ou mé) thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
But who is this Thomas who was with Jesus from the beginning? Who is this man who would use such emphatic language to express his lack of faith?
Until the Gospel of John, he just appears in the lists of Apostles: in Matt 10 & Mark 3
But in Luke 6 we see more of this man’s character. Jesus is now ready to go and raise Lazarus. Jesus is a wanted man and traveling with him is a risky business, but Thomas speaks up and says “Let us also go, that we may die with him (Jesus).” (John 11:16)
He is no coward and has seen the miracles performed by Jesus; miracles that would prove he was the Messiah, for Messiah would do all the healings that scripture predicted:
- Heal a Jewish leper (Luke 5:12-16)
- Exorcise a mute demon (Mark 3:19-30)
- Heal a man blind since birth (John 9:1-41)
Thomas had seen everything, had been sent out and had performed miracles through the Holy Spirit himself.
It was Thomas’ question “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” and Jesus answered: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, but by me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:5-7)
In the next chapter in John, he goes out with Peter, Nathanael, James & John, and two others. He’s back to being one of many in a list.
In Acts we see Thomas for the last time and for the fourth time, he is – again – just in a list of Apostles in the Upper Room – but what a list as the Holy Spirit was being poured out on them!
We don’t really know what happened to Thomas: persistent legends suggest that he went to India: Kerala and Tamil Nadu – and, indeed, most Christians are in the South of India, but as well in the area that sort of wraps around Bangladesh.
Yes, but I want evidence, too!
Today, we do not have the luxury of demanding what Thomas demanded.
Imagine Donald Trump said: “Fellow Christians, listen to this: I have a vaccine for coronavirus that has been tested in Germany and shown to be safe and effective, but it is not yet approved by the Food & Drug Administration. There is a deliberate indifference to getting these sorts of miracle drugs out to those who need it most, but I, Donald J. Trump, will provide it free of cost.”
Do you know anyone who would sign up to take it?
I do. But based on what evidence?
Sometimes we hold the evidence for Christianity to amazingly high levels, – like Thomas did – but for other things – even those things that have to do with our health and safety, we just go with what sounds good.
Here we come to the meat of this talk: we cannot see the risen Christ. We cannot put our fingers in his damaged hands or our hands in his opened side, but we do have reliable historical claims:
“Just a minute! – Claims?”, you might say. A ‘claim’ isn’t proof! How does that help? (Australia example, Pilot example, Kid pushed at school example)
Historical claims are strong when supported by multiple, independent sources (Check!), enemies agree with the facts (Check!), the details are embarrassing to the protagonist (Check!), and these details are chronologically very close to the events themselves (Check!).
So, we do have proof (bewijs) of the most important parts of our faith:
- We have the claims of multiple eyewitnesses – you can see this easily in the slight variations of how the common stories in the Gospels are related to us. No contradictions, just understandable and believable variations that lend credibility. (Dr. Peter Williams)
- We have 1st Century non-Christian historians telling us of the life of Jesus, the events of the crucifixion, resurrection, and the behavior of the early Christians.
- We have a dirty and embarrassing little story about the guards at the tomb and their hush money.
- We have the 1st century story of profound embarrassment regarding the dedication of the women, the awe of the gentile Roman guards (Surely this was the Son of God), and the bravery of the Jewish authorities (Joseph of Arimathea & Nicodemus, John 19:39 “He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds” ) contrasted with the cowardice of the Apostles. One would never write the Gospels that way if it were not true.
- All parties agreed that the tomb was empty, they just have different explanations as to why.
We see much of this recorded in 1 Corinthians: Paul recounts what biblical scholars recognize as the earliest Christian creed (A.D. 30-33) with all the stuff that many skeptics say came hundreds of years later:
1 Cor. 15:3-8
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, in which also you stand,
that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures, and
that He was buried, and
that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures, and
that He appeared to Cephas,
then to the twelve.
After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time,
most of whom remain until now,
but some have fallen asleep;
then He appeared to James,
then to all the apostles;
and last of all, as to one untimely born,
He appeared to me also.”
We had the Gospel then as we have it today, consistently and right from the start!
Thomas was right to not be gullible – you are, too
This is the reason that John wrote his Gospel: “…But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
You and I are capable of great doubt, inattention, and general nastiness. Thomas’ doubt isn’t strange – nor are our doubts and questions strange. We need answers and we do need faith, but only a “mustard seed” of faith.
Nevertheless, if you want evidence there is plenty and it is good evidence, solid evidence, evidence that you have heard today, evidence that you can access in scripture and with the help of the Holy Spirit it will strengthen and shore up your faith.
Let your faith grow so it can help you have a strong witness, help you be a good “runner” for Christ, and help you reap the blessings of faith without ever having seen or touched the Risen Christ.
Let me end with this short poem. It shows that the ‘facts’ and the ‘evidence’ are not necessarily enough and that in the darkest moments, our faith is the thing that will sustain us:
Jeremiah A. Denton, wrote this while imprisoned in Vietnam. As near as they could reckon it was just around Easter time 1969 and looks at the crucifixion through Mary’s eyes:
The soldiers stare, then drift away,
Young John finds nothing he can say,
The veil is rent; the deed is done;
And Mary holds her only son.
His limbs grow stiff; the night grows cold,
But naught can loose that mother’s hold.
Her gentle, anguished eyes seem blind,
Who knows what thoughts run through her mind?
Perhaps she thinks of last week’s palms,
With cheering thousands off’ring alms
Or dreams of Cana on the day
She nagged him till she got her way.
Her face shows grief but not despair,
Her head, though bowed, has faith to spare,
For even now she could suppose
His thorns might somehow yield a rose.
Her life with Him was full of signs
That God writes straight with crooked lines.
Dark clouds can hide the rising sun,
And all seem lost, when all is won!
And – hallelujah! – all has been won; Let us pray:
Lord, we believe! – Oh, help our unbelief.
Father, you do write straight with the crooked lines of humanity. Help us to strengthen our faith – to engage more with your Word, rest in the facts that surround your Son’s death and resurrection, and grow in sanctification as we understand the height, and depth, and length, and width of Your Love for us.
In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.