This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on April 26, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As God has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in Jesus’ name.
Remember being a kid, maybe playing on a playground, or in your neighborhood with fellow kids. And you’d make a claim about what you could do. Perhaps you were running a race and told your friends you were the fastest, or that you could make a basket by throwing it backwards, or that you could do a super cool backflip on a trampoline.
I remember in middle school, having a series of these moments when I played volleyball. I was decent at the sport, but serving was my strong area of the game. It came easy to me, and I prided myself on being somewhat untouchable when it came to my serve. I started doing this serve where I’d stand super far back behind the line, and the arc of the ball going over the net was so small that when it reached the other side, the ball would just drop, making it really hard to volley. Whenever we were in practice, I’d brag to my friends, saying something like “I can make it over the net from waaaay back here”.
Chances are, making a big claim like that, or a backflip on a trampoline, or backwards baskets, or being the fastest, it would yield a similar two words in response: Prove it.
We like proof. We like knowing that something is what it is. We like that sense of certainty, especially when so much in our life feels uncertain. This isn’t a new thing. In fact, our friend Thomas had similar feelings in our scripture today.
This story comes to us today from John’s account of the gospel, as Jesus reveals himself to the disciples in their home. The disciples were in this locked house, because they were afraid. It’s a gloomy time I’d imagine. And then suddenly, Jesus enters the scene.
If you’ve seen the Harry Potter movies, I picture it looking like when Hagrid burst through the door in the abandoned cabin to pick up Harry for Hogwarts in the first movie.
So Jesus enters, and he says to the disciples, ‘Peace be with you’. He greets them. And then obviously recognizing the shock they were f
eeling, like ‘this guy looks familiar, but he died three days ago’, Jesus shows the disciples his side, where a soldier had placed the spear to make sure he was dead, and his hands, where the nails were placed as he went on the cross. Jesus offered proof to the disciples. And upon receiving that proof, they celebrated together.
Thomas wasn’t with the others that day, but of course his friends told him about it later on. Thomas is known sometimes as doubting Thomas, because when the disciples told him what they had seen, Thomas said “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”. In other words, “prove it”.
What is one thing you would like absolute proof about, like Thomas?
People call Thomas a doubter, using it as a way to say he doesn’t have a strong faith. But like, how would you be feeling, if three-ish days after Jesus died, your friends come up to you and tell you they saw him? Perhaps you might be a little skeptical too, like Thomas was. The question at stake here really, is how Jesus feels about Thomas, when Thomas needed proof to believe that Jesus was right in front of his eyes. Faith had nothing to do with Thomas’ skepticism.
In the next scene, we read that Jesus shows up again to their home, this time Thomas being among the disciples. He repeats the same process from the first time he visited. He greets them, and then he offers proof, showing Thomas this time his scars in his hands and side. He says to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe”. While many argue that this statement spoke to Thomas’ sense of doubt, an irrational kind of doubt that had no room being in place when discussing the risen Christ, I would argue differently.
Because Jesus knew. He always knew that what he was doing, what happened to him, it would affect the world in big ways. He knew that this had never been done before, and would probably never happen again. He knew that if he were in the disciples’ place, he probably would have trouble wrapping his head around it too.
It says that not only did Jesus allow Thomas to look at his wounds, he offered them to him. He said to Thomas, “I get it. I would be doubting this actually happened too, that this is actually me. So here, feel my hands and my side. I want you to believe. And I’m going to help you to get there.”
I want you all to know, that doubt is not a bad thing. In fact, doubt is holy. Because doubt is a kind of curiosity, and it springs forth from those who care enough to want proof. We doubt because we care, because we want to dive deeper into that question. Thomas wanted so badly to believe that Jesus was alive, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it just didn’t make sense.
We are called by God to show our faith in many ways. In the Wesleyan tradition, our faith comes from four equal parts: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. So Thomas, in expressing doubt, was using reason, because it’s not like some person, even Jesus, can just come back from the dead. And he also used experience, being that he saw him die.
Which of these four (scripture, tradition, reason, experience) would you say informs your faith the most?
Thomas, like many of us, crave answers, crave a sense of certainty in our lives. Sometimes, we get told to have faith, and that doubt and faith are incompatible. But if that was true, Jesus would have put his hands behind his back when he went to see Thomas and the disciples, telling Thomas that if he really believed, he wouldn’t need proof.
When we make faith about certainty, we don’t allow God to show up and offer us small moments of ‘proof’, God revealing God’s self to us. When we make faith about certainty, any ounce of question suddenly becomes a lacking or a feeling of not being good enough as a Christ follower.
When we make faith about certainty, we lose the complexity of the gospel.
So I offer this as our prayer.
May your faith allow for doubt, and even more, may your faith welcome doubt, as an opportunity for God to show up in the midst of your questions.
May you be okay wrestling with your faith, and see it as a sign of strength, not weakness.
And may you believe that God invites us, all of us, to show up as we are, everyday, to encounter this faith story through scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Amen.