The Missouri of Disciples

John 20:19-31

 

Happy Holy Humor Sunday! This is an old tradition that seems to be picking up again as Christians celebrate the second Sunday of Easter by telling jokes. The idea is that on Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, Jesus played a huge joke on death, sin, the devil, and evil. Maybe next year we can dedicate an entire sermon to joke telling.

As I mentioned, today is the second Sunday of Easter. According to the Liturgical Church Year, Easter is not just a single day, but a season that lasts 50 days, bringing us right up to Pentecost. I think this is actually a better and more helpful way to think about Easter as well. We know the story of Easter: Jesus was raised from the dead, the women found the empty tomb and told the disciples. Some disciples ran to see for themselves, others waited back at their rented room. We don’t know what they believed or how much they understood. It seems to have been an ongoing process of understanding.

To look at Easter as the period from Easter Sunday through Pentecost is a way of recognizing that for the disciples and other followers of Jesus, there wasn’t an instance on that first Sunday were everyone just kind of looked at each other and said collectively, “Ahh, now I get it!” No, this was a process, and it took something as significant as Pentecost for them to wrap their minds around what had just happened.

So if it took the disciples 50 days to understand the resurrection, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves if it takes us a little bit longer to wrap our minds around this difficult subject!

Our scripture for today picks up right were last week’s left off, on the evening of that first Easter Sunday. The disciples have enjoyed a big Easter supper, they’ve sang “Up From the Grave He Arose,” and they have hid and found all of their Easter Eggs. No, most of them are together in a room, possibly still the same upper room that they rented to celebrate the Passover meal, and they have the door barricaded. They are trying to keep safe from a very intimidating group of people: the Jewish leaders.

The disciples are afraid of the Jewish leaders because they know that they may be next. They had Jesus killed on Friday, Saturday was their Sabbath—because, you know, we try to keep the religious killings to a minimum on the Sabbath—and now it is Sunday. The disciples are jumping at every noise in the alley, every knock at the door.

Maybe this is why Jesus shows up in the middle of the room, rather than trying to get in the front door. The disciples aren’t going to open the door for anyone, and do you really think they are going to fall for the whole, “But it’s me, Jesus!” trick? But it is Jesus, and he just shows up in the middle of the group and says, “Peace be with you!”

We are told that Jesus shows them the scars on his hands and the hole in his side where he was pierced by the spear. At this, we are told the disciples are overjoyed. This isn’t some lookalike, or even some spirit returning to them from the other side. This is Jesus standing before them in the flesh and blood. He is the living, breathing Messiah that they have been following for the last three years.

And we know that he is breathing, because John tells us that Jesus breathed on them. And Jesus said, “Tell me the truth, does my breath stink? I have been dead awhile.” No, he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

All of that is great! These disciples have seen the Lord and they are starting to put it all together. Except for one thing: Thomas wasn’t home. He stepped out for some reason, and he missed Jesus’ visit! Thomas thinks they are pulling his leg, they are misleading him, just joshing around. And Thomas says in verse 25, “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 believe.”

So Thomas gets a nickname: we call him “Doubting Thomas.” I feel bad for Thomas, one mistake and he is labeled for the rest of his life. If you think about it, we don’t call Peter Denying Peter; Judas isn’t called Betraying Judas. So why do we almost always think of Thomas as Doubting Thomas?

I think we like to emphasize Thomas’ failures because it makes us feel like less of a failure when we doubt. I’ll probably never betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver or deny even knowing Jesus to save my own skin. But do I doubt? Absolutely. And it turns out that I’m in good company.

Notice that even before Thomas was given the nickname “Doubting Thomas,” he had another nickname. Verse 24 tells us that Thomas is also called “Didymus,” which is a way cooler nickname that Doubting Thomas. Didymus is Greek for “twin.” There are a lot of guesses out there as to why Thomas was called “The Twin.” Some say that Thomas and Jesus looked a lot alike, which is why Judas had to point out which one was Jesus to the Roman guards. Others suggest that maybe he just was a twin and had a doppelganger running around town.

I like a different approach (though I also admit that it is less likely). When John refers to Thomas as the twin, John is calling Thomas his twin. Not in appearance, but his twin in the faith. I think that when John calls Thomas the twin, he does so because Thomas is his twin in that he too has his doubts.

There are surely people out there who do not have their doubts, and I say God bless you. Perhaps you have grown up hearing about Jesus and it just always made sense to you. If that’s the case, I’m a little jealous because I’m more in line with Thomas, I’m his theological twin.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt the resurrection, and I don’t doubt God’s existence. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my fair share of questions.

NT scholar David Lose suggests that we take the time here to pass out 3×5 cards and invite you to write on them your questions, your doubts, and collect these and read them. Everyone can take a card, and write on it your questions about the Christian faith. You might not quite call it a doubt, but questions about life and why the world is the way it is are appropriate. David warned us to expect everything from “Why did God create mosquitos?” to “Why did God let my wife die from cancer?” Whatever question or questions you have, whatever doubts you are dealing with, are fair game. If you don’t want to have them shared aloud, please either don’t put the card back in the basket or draw an X across the face of the card. The point isn’t to criticize you for your doubts, because most of us have doubts or questions. The point is to give you space to ask the difficult questions that you are dealing with and I will respect those questions by not giving an easy answer.

Some of you may be asking why I am lifting Thomas, Doubting Thomas, up as an example for us all today. Consider where our text goes after Thomas reveals his initial doubt. We fast forward one week, and we find the disciples, including Thomas, gathered in the same house. The door is still locked, Jesus appears again, and Jesus says the same thing, “Peace be with you!” But then Jesus turns to Thomas and he says to him, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

First of all, does Jesus seem upset that Thomas had his doubts? No, we have no reason to think that Jesus was upset at all. Jesus gets it, he had suffered from a condition that few people come back from: death. And the one person that Thomas had seen bring someone back from the dead was now dead himself. So no, Jesus understands why Thomas would doubt.

Second, Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds and even put his hand inside of Jesus’ cut side. This suggests and intimacy between Jesus and Thomas. I think of when we cut our fingers or scrape our knees, we don’t just let anyone look at our wounds or touch our ouchies. My children will sometimes hurt their selves and refuse to let me take a look at them. They want their mother. So not only is Jesus not mad at Thomas, he shows trust and confidence in Thomas.

But the most important thing that I can find in this entire story is Thomas’ response. In verse 28 Thomas proclaims that Jesus is, “My Lord and my God!” There are other times in the New Testament where professions of faith in Jesus are made, but it is Thomas, Doubting Thomas, who first proclaims that Jesus is not only Lord, but also God.

Thomas, Doubting Thomas, seems to have a clearer understanding of who Jesus is than any of the other disciples.

Let’s take some time here to read a few of the doubts that you have written down on your note cards. And rather than criticizing people for their doubts, and rather than trying to answer these challenging questions, when I finish reading a card, I just want you all to treat the person like they sneezed and say, “Bless you.”

I’ve called Thomas the “Missouri of Disciples.” Missouri is known as the “Show Me State,” though the origins of that name are debated. Some claim that it came from a member of the House of Representatives from Missouri that gave a speech where he claimed that “frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” Others have said that the phrase comes from a coal miners’ strike where workers were brought in from other states, and when the foreman was explaining the work that needed to be done, he told one of his workers, “This one’s from Missouri, so you can’t just explain it to him. You’ll have to show him how to do it.”

Either way, I think that it is okay to be a Missouri Christian. When we have our doubts, when we have our questions, we cry out to God, “Show me!”

How many of us have ever gone to a pastor, a teacher, or another person who we respected in the church, shared with them our struggles, and had them say something like, “Oh, you can’t ask those questions!” For some people, that’s enough reason to stop believing in God altogether!

No, for those who question why does God allow bad things to happen, I encourage you to be like Thomas, and say, “Show me, God!” For those who don’t understand the Trinity, pray, “Show me, God!” For those who don’t understand why terrorism and wars seem to be so prevalent in our world today, don’t stop believing in God, pray that God shows you more.

But don’t stop there, because it requires something of you as well. God will show you more, but you may need to read a book, study your Bible, and spend some time in prayer. Our High School Sunday School class is digging through the Bible and looking at violent images of God in the Old Testament and asking how this aligns with the “love your enemies” Jesus of the New Testament. That’s hard work, and this process may not be pleasant. You may have to adjust the way that you understand God and your relationship to the rest of the world. I’ve had to change my understanding of God from a genie in a lamp to something a little less Aladdin-y. But in my search, I’ve found a loving, just, righteous God, who may not look like previous versions of God, but is still Biblical and fits much better with my reality.

And I’m not done asking questions. I’m not done crying out, “Show me, God!” I’m not done being a Missouri Christian.

Remember that doubt is not the opposite of faith. In fact, I would say that asking those difficult questions that we have been keeping to ourselves will cause us to dig deeper. Jesus didn’t criticize Thomas for asking for some more evidence, and Thomas seemed to understand Jesus’ role and identity better than anyone else.

In moments of doubt, in moments of questioning, be a Missouri Christian. Dig deeper, get closer, and cry out, “Show me, God!”

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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