Closer And Closer – Reach Out And Touch

Grace Lindvall
(John 20: 19-31)

He has been dubbed, “Doubting Thomas.” In my opinion that’s a little unfair, but I don’t want to reject that title too much because I don’t see anything wrong with being “Doubting Thomas.” But first, let’s look a little bit at who Thomas is – for he is not the ultimate skeptic, the #1 doubter, the unsure one as this text may accidentally be misunderstood. No, Thomas is one of Jesus’ faithful disciples, he is the disciple who 9 chapters earlier commanded the others to go with Jesus to the dangerous territory of Judea to raise Lazarus from the dead, saying “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas was also the one in chapter 14 as Jesus comforted the disciples telling them they knew the way to where he was going who perked up and said, “No, actually, we don’t, where are you going?” – that is not a direct translation.

Thomas is the guy in class who when everyone is confused and looking around trying to find the answer, Thomas is the one who is bold enough to raise his hand and say “can you explain that – I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He’s the guy who asks all the questions we want to ask but are too scared to ask. 

To cast Thomas as only a doubter is to totally miss the totality of his discipleship, of his faith; others have quipped new names for Thomas as well and I think I would call Thomas rather than doubting Thomas, “honest Thomas.” In chapter 14 he is the one who asks the question they are all probably thinking – “hey Jesus, where ARE you going, we’re a little confused.” And in chapter 20, he is the one who honestly comes forth with his questions.

Thomas remarks that he needs to see the wounds of Christ, just as all the other disciples did when Thomas missed the party the night before. Thomas is only asking for the same thing the other disciples saw.

So, let’s call Thomas instead, “honest Thomas.” Honest because he tells the truth about his confusion, he owns his doubt, and by doing that he invites others to be honest in the doubting and their questioning too.

This story, the gospel of John 20:19-31, the story of the disciples huddled together in a locked door room and Thomas’ request for more answers is repeated in our lectionary readings EVERY YEAR! Every year preachers across the world are asked to preach this text after Easter. And thank God we are, thank God we are given this opportunity each year. I can’t think of a more fitting thing to preach on the Sunday after Easter.

Easter Sunday is all about belief, the gorgeous music we heard last week, the throngs of people filling our sanctuary, the joyful faces of the church. It is all so wonderful it is just full of belief. But then this week is less so, the crowd has died down, the brass quartet has left and we are here with our faith, shaky perhaps, longing for the strong belief of last week but having been met with the troubles of the week. And so the story of Thomas allows us to remember that our shaky faith, that our doubts, that our questions are so very real, so very honest, and so very needed.

If we don’t doubt, are we truly taking the story seriously? Are we really letting it meditate on our hearts and our beings? Are we letting it ruminate our bones and deeply contemplating what it means? Are we really listening to the story if we don’t doubt some or ask a few questions? If we don’t wonder how it is possible that God became flesh, that God came into the world, was with the world, suffered with the world, that God was crucified, betrayed by friends and family, and that dead and buried, Christ came back to the living, breaking the powers of death to come and walk among his disciples yet again? If we don’t wonder how all that love could even be possible, are we taking in the whole story? Are we really letting that sink in fully if we are not asking some questions along the way? 

You may be familiar with this quote from Frederick Buechner, he says: “Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith. 

Doubt is the very thing that makes us wonder a little bit more, makes us challenge a bit harder, makes us rumble with our world, with ourselves and with our faith. Brene Brown describes a rumble saying “the rumble is where wholeheartedness is cultivated and change begins” 

Doubt brings us to the rumble – doubt invites us to rumble with our faith and become, like Thomas, honest with our faith, to be wholehearted with the way we think about the gospel story, it allows us to grow in faith. 

That is the story of Thomas – he is honest, he is one who is not content to be a sort of believer, a half-convinced skeptic, he is one who cares so deeply about his faith he is willing to doubt for it, he is willing to go to the rumble.

This morning I want to make it absolutely certain that the message is heard – doubting is part of faith, questions are part of honest faith. Kudos to all of you for coming here with your doubts, with your fears, with your certainties, whatever you came here with kudos to you, this is exactly where you should be. Because, as we read in this passage from John 20, Jesus invites us who are doubting, us who are unsure to reach out and touch. 

Jesus does not leave us in our doubt, in our half convinced faith, in our moderately skeptical hearts, or our slightly critical minds. Jesus does not leave us there – Jesus invites us to reach out and touch. When Thomas needs more reassurance, he speaks up, he says – help me, help me believe, he reaches out. And Jesus does not judge him, does not condemn him, does not reject him. No, rather, he says “Put your finger here. See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop doubting and believe.” He only tells him to believe once he has said, “come to me, I will help you believe, reach your hand out to me and I will show you.” 

So, my friends, I invite you to reach out and touch. In the midst of your doubts, in the midst of your questions, and even in the midst of your certainty – reach out. Be honest. Come to the rumble.

Perhaps for us, some 2,000 years after the resurrection, those who cannot physically touch the wounds of Christ, those who cannot see the face of the Risen Lord. Perhaps it will look a bit differently. Perhaps we can reach out by:

  • reach out to a friend whose faith right now is strong and say, “tell me the stories of your faith, tell me the stories that help you believe.”
  • Look around, look around, open your eyes and look around – look in the faces of those you love – could that be God’s grace and love in your life? Look around the ways that lives are being changed in the world, could that be the risen Christ alive in this world?
  • Read scripture, read stories of others’ faith, read words that inspire you to see the faith and trust of others.
  • Or, Write your story down, write your story down and see if you’ve seen God in it.  Write down your story of faith, of life, and honestly look for how God has been present in it without you even knowing.
  • Reach out to God in prayer – honest personal prayer. Tell God, honestly – I’m having a hard time with this, help me believe. 

Whatever you do, however you do it, just do something – reach out, reach out to God. And know that when you reach out, Jesus is not condemning you, judging you, and will certainly not reject you. Come honestly, come humbly, just come to the rumble of faith.

This morning, I invite you to celebrate your doubts, celebrate your honesty, celebrate your questions. Because each one of you who is here, or listening online, or reading this sermon at home, if you have doubts you are wrestling with them, because you are here, you are listening to a sermon in church with your doubts. That is amazing! Good for you, good for all of us gathered here for bringing these doubts, this honest faith, to the very place it belongs – the church.

So this morning as we celebrate the honesty of our faith, I am asking the ushers to pass out index cards and pens. I invite you to take time now or in the moments to come to write down your doubts or your questions, write down the honesty of your faith. Write down a question you may have, write down a place of doubt or uncertainty for you, because the truth is: every person here has some. And then during the offering, I ask you to place these honest questions, doubts, thoughts into the offering plate, for these are gifts, we offer these to God as signs that we are here to wonder together.

Let us, like Thomas, be honest, be honest with our faith, be honest with out doubts, be honest. Reach out and touch, reach out for the one you are in need of, and touch, touch the places, the stories, the very things that you need to believe. Together, as a church, we rumble in our faith and in our doubt, we grow together in our honest contemplation of what it means that Christ came to the world, lived among us, was betrayed by us, was crucified, and raised from the dead to show us what radical love looks like. Let’s rumble with it so we can let it touch our hearts just a little bit deeper, so that our eyes can be opened a little wider in amazement, so that our lives can be changed just a little bit for the better. Reach out and touch the risen Christ.

For:

Blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe
Blessed are you who have been hurt and yet come still to church
Blessed are you who are unsure and ask questions
Blessed are you who are grieving and yet are praying
Blessed are you who are angry and yet are worshipping
Blessed are you who are confused and yet sing praise
Blessed are you who doubt and who ask questions.
Blessed are you who share your story of faith
Blessed are you who listen to the story of faith until it becomes your own
Blessed are you who search not for answers but for hope
Blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe

 In the name of God who loves so deeply. Amen.

(If you are listening to or reading this sermon at home, we invite you to participate in offering your doubts as those gathered in worship did on Sunday. Please take a moment and write down a question, a doubt, a fear, a wondering and share it with us either by mailing your index card back to us or emailing Grace Lindvall.)