Semon preached by Rev’d Dr Sarah Brush,Tutor in Pastoral Theology at Ripon College Cuddesdon on Sunday 28th April 2019 at St Giles’, Horspath.
John 20: 19-31
In the era of fake news you can’t always believe what people tell you. Just like Thomas in our reading this morning sometimes we feel we have to see things for ourselves. Thomas had been away when all his friends had seen something amazing. Something so WONDERFUL the best thing they could possibly imagine. Their friend was not dead but alive. The hope they had put in Jesus was justified. Thomas would have wanted to believe that but just imagine it.
What one thing would you REALLY want to happen. If someone told you it had happened – wouldn’t part of you not really believe it? Would you believe it if you hadn’t seen it for yourself? Thomas said he wouldn’t. He said he needed not only to SEE Jesus alive again but to touch his wounds to prove he wasn’t a ghost a trick or some other person who just looked a lot like him. Then, of course Thomas DID see Jesus and what was his response? He saw JESUS. A man who had died and who was alive again. Not just any man. A special man. Unique. No-one had ever been like Jesus before. Seeing this amazing man back from the dead Thomas KNOWS that he is really something special. He KNOWS how special as he says to Jesus ‘My Lord and my God.’ This is a fantastic statement. FINALLY one of the disciples has really got it. Jesus isn’t just another preacher. He’s far more than that. Yet Jesus isn’t as pleased as you might think he would be. He says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.Who is Jesus talking about there? Who but us? Pope Gregory the Great who lived 1400 years ago cherished this passage of the bible because it spoke directly about those of us who believe in Jesus without having seen him. Gregory lived 600 years after Jesus (the same gap as between us and Henry V) and we live 2000 years after Jesus but that passage can still speak about us. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” And yet still they say that seeing is believing It’s certainly what Thomas seemed to think. We believe in lots of things because we can see them. Yet that’s not really BELIEF it’s not faith. In our modern world, so often, things are not always what they seem computers can now do amazing things with film and pictures to create things that have never really happened. So seeing isn’t always believing. And more than that believing isn’t always about seeing. Can we believe in things that we don’t see? Can we believe the things that are described in the bible when we didn’t see them ourselves? Well there are many things that we believe in that we can’t see. We can’t see electricity and yet we KNOW that it’s there. We can’t see air but it’s clearly around us. It’s the same with heat or the power of a magnet. Someone told me we can’t see Dark Matter and yet apparently it’s what makes up most of the universe. Well there are many things that we believe in that we can’t see as such but we can see their effect. So you can’t see electricity but you know that there is electricity running through the cables when it makes the lights shine. And you know that air is there because you can feel it move in and out of your nose and lungs. There are much bigger things too. We can’t see LOVE but we know it’s there by the effect it has. And of course like Thomas at the start of our passage we cannot see Jesus. Thomas had not seen the risen Jesus but he could have SEEN the effect Jesus had had on the other disciples and we too can see the effect Jesus has on the lives of others.
There are many people in this world who will tell you about Jesus and the amazing things he did the fact that he died for us and rose again from the dead to put an end to death. None of those people has seen like Thomas but each of them was told it by someone else who was told it by someone else and each of them has seen the effect that Jesus had on their lives and the lives of others. Just as the electricity is the power we can’t see, and the air that moves within us and gives life is something we can’t see, so God is an unseen power which gives us life.
The disciples and Thomas SAW Jesus and the effect that had on their lives was great enough that hundreds of people followed them while they were alive. As Gamaliel observed in our passage from Acts: “if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them”and they could not so NOW millions of people believe in Jesus’ message because of those first disciples.And what of Thomas’ role in that? In response to what he saw when he met the risen Jesus, Thomas is said to have traveled through many countries notably India taking the message of Jesus with him. Just like those first disciples who refused to obey earthly authority over the command of God, we need to share God’s story that Thomas passed down to so many who passed the message on to others who eventually passed it on to us and now it’s our turn so that we can truly say “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Yet so often we find ourselves following in Thomas’ example NOT by telling the good news but by being uncertain coming up with reasons why we can’t believe Thomas’story is a reminder that God can work with those who have doubts and transform them into sharers of the gospel. We might look to Thomas and other apostles as great flawless heroes of the faith and yet we should remember how human they all were How human all the great saints were. Even those of our own time. A few years ago a collection of Mother Theresa’s writings was published which revealed long periods of doubt in her life. Desmond Tutu, among many, did not seen this revelation of her times of doubt as any kind of disaster. He said: “Mother Teresa wonderfully was no plastercast saint. She has helped to affirm many who are passing through this period of desolation and dryness when God seems so remote. St Theresa of Avila after one such bout cried out in frustration to God, ‘No wonder your friends are so few given how you treat them!’ My regard for Mother Teresa has been enhanced. Doubt can be an integral part of faith, when the evidence is never so overwhelming, so incontrovertible. St Thomas is our patron Saint for doubters. We live by faith not by sight and frequently the evidence does not make the leap of faith redundant.”
Seeing may be believing but believing and faith are not the same in the times of doubt. We can still have faith. As for me, I’ve personally rarely struggled with faith in God I’ve come to realise this is a gift. I know deep within myself that God is there and that God loves me. Faith in myself? Faith in the church? Faith in the current plan God seems to have? That’s a little more tough isn’t it? And that doubt in myself and in other earthly things can sometimes make me doubt other things. Yet God never lacks faith in me. God believes in me even when I can’t believe in myself. Even when I can’t believe in God, God believes in me. If ever you have doubts, remember how blessed Jesus thought you were that you have believed even though you haven’t seen. REMEMBER that Jesus spoke about you when he spoke to Thomas just as he spoke about Gregory the Great, about Theresa of Avila, about Mother Theresa, about Desmond Tutu. Jesus spoke also about you “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” May we, like Thomas be called to those who have not yet seen and do not yet believe so that they too may have Jesus’ blessing.