Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter - 3/30

          I was watching the six o’clock news last Monday night and one of the items was a short preview of what was going to be on Buck LeVasseur’s show that evening.  It was something about whether or not there are cougars in the UP because I guess there aren’t supposed to be but someone in Delta County who’s been tracking for a long time claims he’s found tracks that can only be cougar tracks.  Concerning his finding he said, “There are lots of doubting Thomases out there who don’t believe it.  I was a doubting Thomas myself until I found these tracks.”

          On the Monday after Easter it made me realize how well known the idea of a doubting Thomas is.  It’s something from the Bible that has become part of our common culture, probably to the point where even people who couldn’t tell you where the term comes from still know what a doubting Thomas is.  It also made me realize that, despite Thomas’s ultimate confession of Jesus as “My Lord and my God!” the highest praise of Jesus that can be offered, despite the efforts of me and many other preachers to rehabilitate Thomas and have him remembered differently, he will forever be remembered as doubting Thomas…even though it would probably be more accurate to call him normal Thomas because what we find in him is a pretty normal, understandable response to the resurrection of Jesus.

          I can’t say for sure, but I have to think that Thomas’s normalcy is the reason that of all the Easter resurrection appearance stories this is the one that is included in the lectionary every year.  Many of us can relate to Thomas and take some comfort in the fact that even Jesus’ closest disciples didn’t come to instantaneous and lasting belief in the resurrection.  It was a process; it took time.

          Now maybe there are some of you for whom the resurrection is a stunning, joyous reality all the time and if so that’s great; I’m happy for you.  For many others though, you know the ups and downs of Thomas.  You have your “My Lord and my God” moments when it’s all real and you know without question that it’s real; but you also have those other moments when…in the face of the reality of sin and death and evil and injustice…you wonder; and just a little more proof sure would be helpful.

          The last mention of Thomas in John’s gospel is the high of “My Lord and my God.”  The gospel leaves Thomas there but if he was as normal as I think he was, that wasn’t the end of it for Thomas.  My guess is that he didn’t remain on that high.  Faith is most often a circular rather than a straight line journey.  “My Lord and my God” moments don’t last forever as much as we might like them to.  Sooner or later, disorientation creeps back in and that probably happened to Thomas too.   But this story has something to teach us about that as well.

          In his “doubt,” (although note that the text never uses that word) Thomas remained part of the group of disciples proclaiming that they had seen the Lord.  A week later he was still there.  He hadn’t gone back to his previous life; he hadn’t gone off to look for another messiah.  He was still there.

          The message I wish we could get out there more effectively is that we are a church where the Thomases of the world are welcome.  We welcome those people who aren’t so sure they believe all the church doctrine all the time.  We welcome those who wish there was a little more proof.  We welcome those who have questions and doubts.  We welcome them because faith is not a journey that we make in lock step all at the same point, all in agreement on everything.  When I look out there on a Sunday morning or a Monday evening, what I hope I see are some people who are at a “My Lord and my God,” point of confidence and praise.  But I also hope I see some people who are at an “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands I will not believe” point. 

I want those people to be here not because the church is the only place where the Holy Spirit is able to do its thing but because placing yourself among those who “have seen the Lord” or more likely among those who have not seen yet still believe,” placing yourself in the midst of the mystery of Word and Sacrament, I believe gives you a better chance of getting to a “My Lord and my God” point.  Apart from the community of faith it might still happen, but Thomas teaches us the value of continuing to be with the community at those times when it doesn’t feel very real.

I wish we could get the message out there that the Thomases are welcome here because I think there is a perception among many that if they can’t accept all the doctrinal and confessional statements lock, stock and barrel they ought not be here.  But I want those people here and that brings us to another part of today’s gospel.

Another reason that this text is part of the lectionary every year is that it is John’s version of Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit.  It’s not quite as dramatic as the way the book of Acts tells it, the story we’ll hear in a few weeks with wind and fire and people speaking all kinds of different languages.  In John, Jesus simply breathes on the disciples with the words, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  Before that though, he greets them with the words, “Peace be with you…as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  As the Father has sent me, so I send you, and then he sends them with the power of the Holy Spirit. 

This sending just continues a pattern that has been recurrent throughout John: discipleship, following Jesus, includes spreading the word and pointing others to Jesus.  In the beginning of the gospel, John the Baptist talks about Jesus but his work isn’t done until he points two of his own disciples to Jesus.  One of those two, Andrew, doesn’t follow until he goes to his brother Simon Peter and brings him to Jesus.  Jesus calls Philip and the first thing Philip does is to tell Nathanael.  In the story of the woman at the well, after her conversation with Jesus she goes back to the city and says to others, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I have ever done.” 

Do you detect a pattern here?  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.  As Jesus followers 2000 years later we hear those words and hear ourselves called to the work started by Jesus and continued by John the Baptist and Jesus’ first disciples and surprising people like the Samaritan woman Jesus encountered at the well.  They all invited others and note that for all of them it was an invitation, a come and see.  Nobody was quizzed first to make sure they believed all the right things.  They were just invited to join the journey.

In our time and place the Thomases are good group to focus on, a good group to invite to come and see.  You know who they are…nice, normal people, your own family members, your friends, your neighbors.  They already know that you go to church, you can be pretty sure of that.  But do they know what kind of church?  By that I don’t mean Lutheran I mean do they know that there is an openness here to thinking and asking questions that maybe they didn’t think the church allowed, that this church doesn’t require you to follow in lock step agreement on everything? 

We do confess our faith in the words of the ancient creeds because we can’t put it any better than they did.  There’s truth in those creeds. We do accept the confessional documents of the Lutheran church because Luther and his followers had some pretty profound insights.  But we also accept the fact that to wonder and to question and to doubt is normal, it’s OK; in fact, not only OK, but good.    

As was the case with Thomas himself, it is often the wondering, the questioning, the doubting that brings us to the My Lord and my God moments and after all that’s where we all want to be.  It’s also where the normal Thomases you know want to be.

We are those who have not seen, yet still believe.  Let the Thomases know that they are welcome to join us. 

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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