John 20:19-31

April 12, 2015 by Ken Dale

So ? have you caught your breath from Easter yet? Our wonderful minister of music was suffering midweek from Widoritis ? a shoulder pain caused by playing a piece of music that has about 50 notes a measure and is 10 pages long ? written by someone named Widor. Choirs are to be continually thanked for all their wonderful offerings. We really do pull out the stops and celebrate a joyful and victorious faith. Easter Sunday is the first day of a 50 day season in the church year called Easter. Funny that just one week into it ? the second Sunday of Easter is known as low Sunday. Attendance takes an almost intentional drop and our lesson has the disciples together in a room behind locked doors the evening of that first Easter day. Jesus came and stood among them and greeted them with peace. In this story from John?s gospel the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to them.

As we read on we hear that Thomas was not there and Thomas is now immediately associated with this first Sunday after Easter. Just like Anna and Simeon are with the Sunday after Christmas. I?ve long believed that Thomas has gotten a bum rap. ?Doubting Thomas? ? he wasn?t there to share the same experience as the others. He?s too often spoken of in a negative way.?? How sad, because if we are honest with ourselves and each other doubts are real, and a normal part of being human. And by faith doubts can actually be building blocks. Jesus had his doubts. Think back to Gethsemane where he brings those doubts and struggles to God in prayer. Peter had his doubts when Jesus invited him to walk on the water. Wasn?t it when he began to doubt that he began to sink? Doubts are real and I agree with Buechner who says ?If you don?t have doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep.? He also calls them ?the ants in the pants of faith.?

There are times when we question God because of the ways things are, especially when God seems either absent or just not paying attention. We, at least see it that God isn?t doing what we think God should be doing. When we cry out to God in pain, ask why, – sometimes we doubt. There are times in life?s journey when it is all we can do to keep going at all, when just hope would be enough. But there are times when it all seems to be missing somehow. Jesus speaks of mustard seed faith moving mountains but there are times in life when what we desire to move is far short of mountainous ? and we doubt. There are the Thomas moments in our lives ? the Thomas moments in our journey of life and faith. In such moments, like Thomas, we take on that attitude that when we see for ourselves we?ll believe. And that?s what Thomas wanted ? the same experience the other disciples had a week before.

As some of you know I had a stretch of doubt that lasted about 15 years. It began in seminary when I was taking an introduction to CPE at EMMC. Part of the learning opportunities was to get in touch with your feelings about death. This was done by watching an autopsy. To keep it short I didn?t stay long ? a number of us flew out the door on the second incision. That night I was talking with the theology professor looking for an explanation of ?this resurrection stuff.? She grinned and said, ?dead men don?t rise.? For the rest of time at seminary I wrote as much as I could on the topic ? Paul?s understanding, the gospel of John, – 20 pages each! I wrote on the historicist perspective and the existential perspective and wrote my Master of Divinity thesis on it. This young whippersnapper wrote a sermon on it driving home that point ?dead men don?t rise? and the sermon was critiqued by a dear family friend who was a devote Christian Scientist who took issue with just about everything I said. From her perspective death was just folding up your tent and moving on to something better. With her wisdom of age perhaps she remained a friend knowing that I just had to get there.

When I finished seminary fear of doing a funeral kept me from taking a church. Something down deep was still so unsettled. Urged to look into possibilities of getting a start in the Carmel UCC by a friend I checked with the student serving the church. He had 5 funerals the one year he served as pastor. So I decided it would be a good place to get my feet wet. Due to their not having a quorum to vote to call me, I had to candidate a second time and in between those two sermons I did my first funeral ? for the 21 year old brother of some close friends. I was called to the church and I had 18 funerals the first year I was there. My first Easter sermon was intentionally non-traditional and I later learned that I had failed miserably as a preaching pastor to an elderly woman who had lost her husband about a week before Easter.

Still struggling with it all I became involved in hospice and my experience, and watching and listening I found my faith deepening ? I was getting more and more settled somehow and then in 1988 my Dad died unexpectedly on Easter morning. It took 15 years but I finally did get to a very convicted ?yes? to that resurrection stuff I struggled with. What a building block that doubt was leading to my conviction, my belief, my hope, my faith.

Ah Thomas! What a gift doubts can be ? he only wanted what the others had the benefit of. In the end he confessed that Risen Christ as ?my Lord and my God.? Jesus gave Thomas what he needed to believe, and it gave it to me, and he gives it to us all ? and it?s ok to struggle and take the time to get there, however long it takes ? and yes ? blessed are those who believe and have not seen! All along the way the church held on to me ? fellow believers, even those who disagreed with me, held on to me ? and God?s grace worked in my life as it did with Thomas ? until I got there.

We as a church, as the community of God?s people need to hold on to one another in our times of doubt ? struggle ? transition ? as we continue on the journey of life and faith. The disciples did that for Thomas. Just as God holds onto us.

The Canada geese are back ? have you seen or heard them? I heard them the other night and it brought to mind those wonderful facts about them that teach us about community. In closing I share them with you:

  1. As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the birds that follow. By flying in a V formation the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

    Lesson ? people who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they?re going quicker and easier because they travel on the thrust of one another.

  1. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone and quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of that uplifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

    Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose, we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go ? we need to accept their help and give our help to others.

  1. When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into formation and another goose flies to the point position.

    Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other?s skills, capabilities, and unique gifts and talents.

  1. The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

    Lesson: We need to make sure our honking is encouraging!

  1. When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then they launch out to fly with another formation or catch up with the flock.

    Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

So may it be for us all.