(Creative Commons Image by Victor Bezrukov on Flickr)
Dear Working Preachers,
I am preaching on this text in Luther Seminary’s chapel on April 15, 2015, so I thought that for my column this week I would share with you some of my initial sermon thoughts. It may very well be that much of what follows ends up being in my sermon and sounds like a sermon. As you all know, context is everything. The day I am preaching happens to fall during the week of Luther Seminary’s Sexual Violence Awareness Week. And, as I noted elsewhere, contextualization is an act of reincarnating the Word. I would love to have you watch the sermon on Luther’s website and let me know what you think. And let me know how Thomas turned out for you!
Ah Thomas. Every Second Sunday of Easter. Forever called “the Doubter.”
And even when we recall that the word “doubt” never appears in your story, that Jesus says to you “do not be unbelieving but believing,” that believing in the Gospel of John has nothing to do with an assent to claims and creeds of faith but is rather a synonym for relationship with Jesus, you are still given a name you didn’t deserve. That happens a lot with name-calling, doesn’t it?
And I wonder if anyone remembers that this is not the first time you’ve requested something of Jesus. I imagine most of us don’t.
Why? I suspect that it’s because we are so captivated by your disbelief in that it validates our own. So thankful for your so-called need for proof because it justifies our deepest desires for evidence of an empty tomb. So admiring of your willingness to speak up for what you need in order to believe because, if we are honest, for the most part we are all too comfortable in our allegiance to and acceptance of doctrine and dogma and a determined faith that, in the end, means nothing to us.
So many of us don’t speak up. We don’t speak up for the things we need, the things owed us, the things that matter, the things promised to us, the things about which we think we can’t or won’t speak up because who will listen? Will anything change? So we stay silent. For ourselves. For others. In shame. In guilt. Someone else will say something, right? Surely someone else will speak up. Someone else will stand up for injustice, for discrimination, for false claims about religious freedom. For those abused. For those who have no voice. Someone else will give voice to what I feel and know and want. Someone else will speak up for me.
No wonder we can hardly remember, or try not to anyway, your first request of Jesus.
This is what I like about you, what I admire about you, Thomas. You ask for what you need. For what’s owed to you, yes. For what you deserve, yes. But more so, for what Jesus had already promised you. For what Jesus promises every believer. You have a good memory, Thomas.
Back in John 14 to be exact: “‘And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’”
Show us the way! We don’t know the way! I wonder what Thomas thought after that. Maybe he took Jesus seriously. Maybe he thought he could.
So when the disciples say to Thomas, “Guess what? We saw the Lord!” (the same thing that Mary Magdalene says to the disciples, by the way) Thomas is thinking to himself, “Well, that’s just great! Jesus did say he was the way. I remember that. And when we were talking about the way, well, that meant Jesus was preparing an abiding place for me. And how can I know an abiding place with him without being with him?
"I mean, wait a minute. Mary saw the Lord. The other disciples saw the Lord. It’s not that I need proof. I just need to be with him. Because that’s what it means that he’s the way, right? Jesus’ way is not that which discriminates. Jesus’ way is not that which disregards. Jesus’ way is not that which discards. Jesus’ way does not mean I’m left out. That’s not how I heard it anyway. I didn’t know where he was going and I didn’t know the way. And then, he said he was the way. I need to feel that abiding place again. Because that’s what the way is.
"I just need to be with you Jesus. To touch you, feel you, see you, hear you, taste you. One more time. I need to feel that abiding place again, I need to feel the way, again. One more time."
It seems you found the way, Thomas, but really, you knew it all along.
You knew the way was not a roadmap.
You knew the way was not a claim meant to exclude others.
You knew the way was not that which you could use to reject others.
Instead you knew the way was being in the presence of your Lord and God -- and that’s all you wanted. You wanted what Jesus said you know. You asked for what Jesus said you should. You needed what Jesus said is yours -- always.
And in that moment you saw Jesus as your Lord and as your God. Wow. Thank you, Thomas, for your courage to ask.