Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter 04/27/2014

I’m going to start at the end today, where John says that these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that through believing you may have life in his name. There’s still one chapter to go in John, but this might have been the original ending as it certainly does seem like an ending, a concluding statement and as such it’s an important concluding statement. It’s important because it identifies what John sees as the purpose of his gospel, but actually, what he says would pretty much describe the purpose of all scripture, the whole Bible. The purpose of Bible stories is to help people come to faith in the living God, the God that we as Christians find revealed in Jesus Christ. “These things are written so that you may come to believe…”

The purpose of the Bible and scripture is not to report historical events just as they happened. It’s also not to ask you to literally believe a bunch of stories that can be pretty unbelievable. The purpose of the Bible is to take the reported remembrance of people’s experiences with God and to imaginatively retell things in order to reveal God and the truth of God so that…you may come to believe, you may come to have faith.

John then goes a little bit further; he says that these things are written so that you may have life in his name, his name being Jesus’ name. Life in his name; in Greek there are, I think, three different words that can be translated as “life.” Two have to do with what we could call physical life, biological life, hearts that beat and lungs that breathe, the kind of life that all living things have. Those however, are not the words that John uses here.

The word he uses has more to do with another dimension of life, which is living life in relationship with God. With that kind of life, biologically we’re still the same creatures, hearts beating and lungs breathing, but another dimension is added, a dimension that not everyone shares. For John though, the purpose of his gospel is to bring people into that kind of life, life lived in relationship with Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. It’s life based in resurrection hope and the promise and possibility of God doing new things

This ending, which states John’s purpose in writing his gospel, comes right after the story of Jesus’ encounter with Thomas. That sequence probably doesn’t have deep significance, it’s just because the Thomas story comes at the end of the narrative. But still, if John’s purpose is that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that believing we may have life in his name, this sequence does allow us to ask how this story fits into that purpose. It might seem like “Doubting” Thomas could take us in directions other than “that we may come to believe.”

Beloved is probably the wrong word to use in describing the story of Doubting Thomas. It’s not beloved, but it is pretty well known or at least everyone knows what a doubting Thomas is even if they don’t know all the details of the story. So while beloved is probably the wrong word, many of those who do know the details have kind of a soft spot in their heart for Thomas. They can relate to Thomas in his desire to see for himself before accepting the reality of something as preposterous as resurrection. He had his doubts and most of us can relate to that.

If in telling the stories he tells, John’s purpose is that we may believe in Jesus and have life in his name and if the life he indicates is life lived in relationship with God, life trusting in the promise and possibilities of God, then, based on the Thomas story, can we say that life in relationship with God includes what we call doubt or is it not until his confession of Jesus as “My Lord and my God,” that Thomas is in that relationship? I would suggest, I would hope that Thomas has life in Jesus’ name throughout this story, even when he honestly expresses his feelings and questions, the same kind of feelings and questions that many of us have at one time or another.

It’s too bad that doubt has such negative connotations or that we tend to see doubt as the opposite of faith because I think doubt is very much an aspect of faith, not its opposite and this story is the case study for that, the story that sets the precedent. In setting the precedent, this story shows that doubt doesn’t lead to absence of faith, instead it leads or at least it can lead to deeper faith. As is often noted, Thomas’ statement “My Lord and My God” is the most profound profession of faith in Jesus found anywhere in the gospels and yet that statement started in doubt.

As a pastor, over the years I’ve had a few people come to me and say words to the effect of, “Pastor, I’m not sure I believe any of this…” I’ll say stuff because from the pulpit I probably shouldn’t say the actual word that gets used. When they say that I think they’re a little embarrassed, maybe a little ashamed, perhaps thinking I might be offended or that I might think less of them. When I mentioned this to another pastor he said, “What you should tell them is that they just passed the entrance exam for seminary. Join the club, we all feel that way sometimes.”

What that pastor said is true; we all, or many of us anyway, we do have our moments. Lay people, clergy, whoever, we have those times. Sometimes it’s when something unexplainable happens, something that just doesn’t make sense, something that causes us to say or think, “If there was a God, this wouldn’t happen; a good God wouldn’t let it happen.” But there are also those times when the questions are more like those of Thomas, when we question the basics of the faith, when the rational and reasonable part of us says things like, “Resurrection just doesn’t happen; dead is dead and that’s it.”

When someone comes to me and expresses those kinds of concerns and feelings, when they express the kind of doubt that Thomas did, my thought is, at least they are engaging their faith, at least they are thinking about it and that’s a good thing. As much as I respect and admire and probably even envy those who seem to have unwavering faith no matter what, I understand where the Thomases are coming from. I appreciate their honesty, I don’t think less of them, and I certainly don’t write them off. I know that God doesn’t write them off.

As was the case with Thomas, I have seen such people grow in their faith especially when they come to understand that their questions are OK, that questioning doesn’t exclude you from the faith community, that it can lead to “life in his name” as John puts it, that it can lead to a deeper relationship with God. There’s a big IF to that though: if they continue to be part of the faith community. Using the story of Thomas as the precedent setting case study, he did come to profound faith in the Risen Christ but he did so as part of the community. He apparently remained with the other disciples even though he didn’t take much stock in what they told him. Thomas was still there; he was still around a week later; he didn’t become an inactive member.

Staying with the disciple community, Thomas got what he asked for; Jesus appeared to him. I can’t promise anyone that if they stay with the church, the community of faith, that they will have an experience quite that dramatic. But I am confident that those who continue to participate in the life of the church, even with their doubts, will move in their faith journey so that they do know that other dimension of life, life in his name. That’s not to say that life in his name can’t happen outside the church, but being open to the means of grace made available through the church in word and sacrament and being open to the witness of the community does make a difference.

Doing what we do here this morning, celebrating the sacrament of Holy Baptism with Calvin and his family, is part of that, part of being open to the means of grace. It’s a reminder to all of us of the journey of faith that starts with baptism. It’s the journey of coming to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. It’s the beginning of the journey that leads to life in his name.

If Thomas were here you could ask him; I think he’d agree.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

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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