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Tuesday, April 17 2012

John 20:19-31

          I’m sure you’re all aware that this is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  You know that, right?  It’s kind of hard to miss.  It’s in the news – there’s been a whole mess of TV documentaries – analyzing what went wrong – and where the ship is now – talking about who was on board – and who managed to survive.  Even the TV game show Jeopardy had a Titanic category on Friday.  And by the way, I want you to know that I knew the name of the ship that was the first to come to the rescue.  The correct Jeopardy question was, “What is the … Carpathian?”  Right.  Some of you know that too.

           And did you know that in a well-known area restaurant – right over on Transit Road –you can enjoy a Titanic 8-course dinner at a local restaurant – created from the original Titanic menu – for just $135 per person?  And then of course, there is also the tour ship that left the same port just a few days ago that the Titanic set sail from.  You hear about this?  Folks are in period costumes as a sort of reenactment of the Titanic’s journey – attempting to reenact the same voyage that the Titanic took – with one BIG exception – yeah – the actual sinking of the Titanic.  They are, however, hoping to have a memorial service at the spot where the Titanic went down – at the time that the Titanic sank.

           So yes – it’s difficult to escape hearing and reading about – or seeing TV documentaries – and movies about the sinking of the Titanic this week.  Our fascination with this epic disaster I find interesting.  100 years after her sinking – we are still fascinated with the Titanic.  However – I don’t think any of us would ever say, “If only I had been there.”

           Well let me tell you something.  We’re going to be examining another event today – an event that took place some 2000 years ago – and I suspect that most of us just might be willing to say, “If only I had been there.”  It’s a literal, historical event that we are still fascinated with – 2000 years after it happened.    

          I’m talking of course about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Although we didn’t dress in period costumes to reenact the event – we did move through the events of Holy Week – you know – the Palm Sunday triumphal entry – the Last Supper between Jesus and his disciples – the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane – his trial – his crucifixion – his death and burial – and finally – with shouts of “He is risen! – “He is risen indeed!” – we celebrated Christ’s victory over sin, death and the power of the devil.  If you were here for any of that – then you remember how we reenacted and retold that story. 

           And we have returned here today because we heard that Good News – the same Good News that the disciples heard on that first Easter day.  And if you’re like me – well then – you want to hear more.  So today – that story continues.  And we read about the disciples – those first disciples who were there.  Man – that must have been something!  After all, they were there, right?  They were all there.  Peter and John.  They saw the empty tomb.   Mary Magdalene.  She actually saw the risen Lord.  She was the first to see the risen Lord – the first person to proclaim Jesus risen from the dead is a woman!       

          There’s just one problem.  No one believed her.  Peter and John run to the tomb so they can see for themselves.  And yet – that night – the night of the day of resurrection those first disciples are huddled together in fear.  They are shocked.  They are stunned.   Even though they were there when everything happened – still the whole thing has caught them completely off guard.  As I’m sure it would have caught us off guard had we been there.                                                               

          So this is where we find these disciples today in our Gospel lesson – these champions – these fearless heroes of the faith.   Well – not quite yet.  Scared.  Cowering together behind locked doors.  After all, what happened to Jesus could happen to them, right?  Every time they hear a noise, they think someone is coming to get them to haul them away.

          But suddenly – out of nowhere – Jesus appears.  He doesn’t use the door – he doesn’t climb in through a window – he simply appears to them – in his solid – physical – resurrection body.  And he shows them his hands.  He shows them his side.  The wonderful thing here is that Jesus comes to them when they are confused – when they are bewildered – when they are frightened.  He greets them with  familiar words, “Shalom, ”which means, “Peace be with you.”                                                                       

          Can you imagine?  Can you imagine their reaction when they see Jesus?  Can you imagine their surprise?  Do you think joy might fit the bill? Joy?  Yes, joy!  Here is Jesus – Jesus their Lord – standing right there in front of them.  He’s not a vision!  He’s not a ghost!  He’s Alive!  They can’t believe it.  And yet there he is.  Don’t you think their worries and fears turned to joy?

          Man, if only I had been there.  Have you ever thought that?  If only I had been there.  To have all my doubts – all my fears erased – just like those first disciples.   Why, if I had been there – I wouldn’t have any doubts at all.

          And of course the disciples are all there.  Well, almost all of them anyway.  Thomas – the one named Thomas – is not there.

          So when the disciples and Thomas finally get together again, what do you suppose the disciples said to him?  “Hey Tom!  You won’t believe it!  We saw Jesus!  He’s alive?”  And Thomas says, “Yeah.  You’re right.  I don’t believe it.”   He refuses to believe.  He refuses to believe that Jesus is alive – UNLESS – he can see – and touch those scars – the marks of the nails – the spear in his side.  Unless he can see and touch and hear the voice of Jesus for himself – he will not believe.

          Now before we start beating up on Thomas, remember that the other disciples did not believe at first either.  Peter and John did not believe Mary when she told them that she had seen the Lord.  They were skeptics.  They were doubters – until – until they too had seen the Lord.  For them – seeing is believing.

          And Thomas takes it one step further.  It isn’t enough for Thomas to see and hear about it from somebody else.  He needs proof.  And the proof he is looking for is literally in the hands of Jesus – as well as in his feet and his side.

          Guess you could say, Thomas is a realist.  He won’t believe in fairy tales.  And he’s not about to believe the words – of his friends.

          Now imagine what that whole next week must have been like.  Thomas is struggling with what he’s heard.  He sees that his friends – the other disciples – have an excitement and a joy that he does not have – and that he cannot explain.  But still, he continues to meet with them, even if he can’t quite share their joy and enthusiasm.  Even if he can’t believe what they’re telling him.  And the other disciples, for their part, in spite of the way Thomas feels – continue to include him in their fellowship.

          And do you know what that tells me?  It tells me that it’s all right to be a part of the group – it’s all right to be among believers – and still have questions.  To still have doubts.  It’s a good thing to ask questions.  It’s a good thing to wrestle with your faith.  Christians are not people who believe blindly what has been told to them.  It’s okay to ask questions.  It’s okay to look for evidence to support your faith.  And if you were here last week on Easter Sunday – you know that I gave you six reasons why I believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead really happened.  Six pieces of evidence for us to think about and digest.  And if you weren’t here – or if you didn’t hear the sermon – you can go to Zion’s website and read it for yourself.  It’s not on the website yet – but it will be by sometime on Monday. 

          So Thomas was not excluded – he was not kicked out – because of his unbelief.  A week later, while the disciples are meeting – the risen Jesus appears to them again.  This time – yes, this time – Thomas is with them.

          “Thomas!  Put your finger here,” says Jesus.  “Place your hand here in my side.  Do not doubt, but believe.”  Well, that’s all Thomas needed.  And in fact, the scriptures do not tell us whether Thomas reached out to touch those wounds or not.  My guess is that he did not.  He didn’t need to.  But the Bible says that he does react.  He proclaims what I would say is perhaps the greatest statement of faith ever made.  He falls to his knees – okay, it doesn’t say that he fell to his knees, but a little drama never hurt.  He falls to his knees and says, “My Lord, and my God.”

          And in those words he identifies just exactly who Jesus is.  He is the Lord.  He is God!      

          And Jesus says, “Do you believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.”

          Oh, by the way.  That’s you and me, folks.  Someone somewhere in some place told us about Jesus and his resurrection.  And maybe we believed – or maybe we were skeptical – or maybe we didn’t believe the resurrection at all.  As Those really are the only three choices we have when we hear the Good News that Jesus Christ is indeed risen from the dead.  But it is a choice we have to make.  Folks – the resurrection is huge.  We might even call it titanic.

           So even if we’re tempted to say, “I wish I had been there.”  Well – we weren’t there.  We’re not there.  We’re here.  And just like last week – on Easter – we are to here to meet the risen Lord.  And even though we have not seen – we believe.  Even though we have not seen – we have heard the witness of those who did see.  Throughout the Scriptures – we hear their words.  Listen once again to the close of our Gospel reading.  This is so good! I think it sums up the entire witness by the disciples to Jesus in the whole New Testament.  Listen!:

          “These [things] are written so that you might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in his name.”  That’s why we’re here.  With our doubts.  Our questions.  Our fears.  There may indeed be someone here today who is wrestling with – who is questioning – this whole thing called faith and belief.  This whole business about the resurrection.  I can only invite you to examine the evidence – and to meet the risen Christ right where you are. 

          And Jesus does indeed come to us.  He comes to us today in his Word.  He comes to us today in bread and wine.  And he says to us, “Shalom.  Peace be with you.”  He wants to meet you where you are – doubts and fears and all. 

          The hymn we are about to sing says, “We walk by faith and not by sight.”  We walk by faith even if we were not there – even when we wish that we had been there.  And still we believe.  And because of that, we of all people are called blessed:

          “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe ... [that] you may have life in his name.”


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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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