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Doubting Thomas

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John 20:19-31
2nd Sunday of Easter 2013
(7-4-13)

The Bible never tells us that Thomas doubted, but that he did not believe. Earlier translations use the word ‘faithless’. Yet doubting is normally attributed to this apostle. If ever there was a man who has been misunderstood it is the apostle Thomas.

Story about a misunderstanding:

A dustman was on his rounds and he was outside a house and just couldn’t find the bin. So he stood at the door and rang the bell. ‘Where’s yer bin, mate?’ he said. ‘Oh, I bin to Hong Kong,’ came the reply. ‘No, where’s yer bin?’ said the dustman. ‘I bin to Hong Kong.’ ‘Where’s yer wheely bin, mate?’said the dustman. ‘I weely, weely bin to Hong Kong!’

Poor old Thomas - always known as 'Doubting Thomas' and yet the last words we hear him say to Jesus are ‘My Lord and my God.’ Words of faith! We don’t refer to the apostle Paul as ‘Persecuting Paul’, despite the fact that he did persecute the first Christians. We don’t call the apostle Matthew ‘Thieving Matthew’, who, before he was a believer was a crooked tax collector.

Thomas wanted to believe. He was part of the inner group of Jesus’ disciples and was with them after Jesus had risen from the dead. But for some reason he was not with them when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. Of course he would have wanted to believe that Jesus had come back to life. Imagine how he felt when he found all the others except him had actually seen Jesus, He had risen, as he said he would, and how they knew that Jesus really was God. But hearing it from others wasn’t enough for Thomas. What Thomas needed was hard proof—not just hearsay or even sight, but experience—to touch Jesus; that’s what would be needed for Thomas to believe.

Thomas was a man searching for the truth, he truly wanted to have faith, but something inside stopped him from taking that step of faith. Actually it wasn’t a very big step because he’d heard and was willing to listen. He was willing to go and be with the other disciples. He put himself in the right place to search and find, amongst other people of faith.

This story reminds me of our Holy week experience here at SMAS. For those who braved the cold and came, they found firstly that we were meeting in the warmer climes of the Octagon and more importantly, secondly that we were meeting in the even more warming radiance of Christ.

At the time I was a tad disappointed at the turnout BUT my heart has been incredibly warmed since by, not just the many positive comments about how helpful people found the meetings but, for a couple of people how life-changing they were. Some people here in this church truly met with Christ themselves that week. They had purposefully put themselves in a similar ‘upper-room’ experience to Thomas. With other disciples hearing about their Lord.

Many years ago a bridge had to be built across a deep canyon in the United States of America, before all the modern equipment was available that is taken for granted today. Those responsible for the bridge built it on one side on rollers. Then workmen assembled on both sides of the canyon where the bridge was required and a heavy object, which had string attached to it, was thrown across the canyon. The object was removed and stronger string tied to the initial string, which was pulled back across the canyon. To that string was tied rope; to the rope - wire; to the wire—chain. Eventually the bridge was pulled across till the sides of the canyon were joined.

Faith is like that. There has to be that initial ‘throw’ to make contact. Then follows the growth of faith, getting stronger and stronger as the Christian life proceeds.

Some people here made that initial throw by coming to the Holy Week experience. And for those who did indeed make that contact with Christ you have more delights in store as your faith grows and you get stronger.

Sometimes people say they want to believe in Jesus and yet something is stopping them. A quote in a newspaper read: ‘Belief in God is fairly general, yet those who know him seem to be few.’ Sometimes we may have doubts ourselves - particularly about whether we know Jesus. I spent the first 30 odd years of my life convinced that I was a Christian because I believed in God, went to church, tried to be good and did good deeds. In my early 30’s I was challenged by a curate who said that all my good works at and for church did not mean I was a Christian, being a Christian he informed me meant knowing Christ.

Did I know Christ he asked? I felt very affronted by this, of course I was a Christian . . . wasn’t I? I went home and thought about it. I had tried hard to be good, done my bit at church and all that, and yet I’d never really felt that Christianity was all it was cracked up to be. I thought of Cliff Richard’s story of asking Christ into his life, I’d heard him say that you had to say it really meaning it . . . being prepared for him to take over, giving him your life completely.

I wanted to. . . but . . . what might happen? Then I thought well . . . I’ve had all these years of slavishly going to church, serving others and trying to be good . . . why not? Why not do it properly. Who knows I may even start to get that kind of glow that ‘real’ Christians have. So I rather nervously said to God that I was prepared to give him my life, asking if Christ would REALLY come into my life!

I woke up the next morning feeling not much different, maybe just a bit nervous and kind of excited. Things began to happen very gradually, I did begin to change as my life became more Christ-centred.

Perhaps you secretly have doubts - you want to fully believe but something is stopping you - it might be that you can’t understand why God allows suffering in the world, or you can’t quite believe that miracles happened, or maybe it’s the church that stops you taking that step of faith.

Perhaps you’ve heard about Jesus and know a little of his life story. Maybe you’ve seen a little how he has changed other people’s lives but, like Thomas, you need to touch him, to experience him in your own life before you’ll really believe.

What will it take for you to believe? Whatever it is you will find it by seeking in the right places, surrounded by other Christians and waiting with them as Thomas did.

Jesus said to Thomas ‘Stop doubting and believe.’ Faith is a wonderful gift from God. It may only start very small. Do you know how to walk from John O’Groats to Land's End? One step at a time. Every journey starts with just one step.

To Jesus' offer of friendship and faith Thomas answered 'My Lord and my God'. In other words 'I believe and I in trust you'.

Today is a good time as any to refresh our own belief and to seek for personal experience. He is risen, He is alive! And in this passage we have this foretaste of Pentecost - the breathing of the Holy Spirit. It is often the same in our lives - we get to know Jesus personally and He breathes enough of the Spirit into us to enable us to know Him in a deeper way, the total filling with the Spirit for mission comes later.

Tradition has it that Thomas went on to be a missionary to India and it was he who first brought the Gospel to that country. How God was able to use him when he put his life in God's hands and trusted Him! The words of Jesus to us today are the same as to Thomas, "reach out … stop doubting, and believe." May we do that, and be able to say with Thomas, "My Lord and my God." May our lives be changed as with Thomas, mine and millions of others after him.

We just need to be in the right place, with open hearts and minds to allow Him to breathe His Holy Spirit into us. God sends us as He sent Thomas, and me, and the millions who have passed on His message. May it continue in our church, our village, our land and beyond.

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