Paul Olsen

on the way…not there yet

The Incredulity of St Thomas

Last Sunday,
Easter Sunday,
Day of the Resurrection Sunday,
you could almost get away with a fluffy Easter.

Something soft and cuddly,
all milk chocolate, no nuts;
a go down easy   Easter.

Yeah, there was that bit about an earthquake,
some hint there that resurrection might just be
the most earth-shattering,
destructive, disruptive, catastrophic event
you’ll ever know;
angels that hit you like lightning,
leaving the bravest among us
shaking like dead men.

But you might have missed that.

Stay focused on that basket full of eggs,
all pastels and soft hues,
and you could just about get through Easter unscathed;
Call a truce with God for the holiday:
leave me out of this, God, and I’ll leave you out of this;
you leave me alone, God, and I’ll leave you alone.

But not today.

Today, Easter gets harder to believe.

Today’s Gospel story is about a God who will not leave you alone,
and doesn’t want to be left alone;
who won’t respect closed doors and goes where he wants to.

This is no God-in-a-box,
content to stay in whatever grave you would you put him,
to leave you alone in your doubts and questions,
or even leave you alone in
whatever it is you think you believe.

Your ideas about God,
your arguments and proofs and theologies are of little interest to God.

But your life—God wants that;
and even more, wants that through believing
you may have life in his name.

When it was evening on that day…
[that would be the evening of that first Easter day,
 when Jesus rose from the dead]

…and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Locked doors and fear—that is the opposite of faith.
Not doubt; doubt is not the opposite of faith.
If you have doubts and questions and arguments against God,
that’s fine;
you are not so far from faith and not so far from God
if you are still in the game,
no matter what side you are on.

Disbelief is not the opposite of faith; fear is.

Doubt is not the opposite of faith; apathy is.

Doubt, in fact, is universally
the rational and appropriate response to resurrection.

Everywhere in the Gospels, when Jesus rises from the dead,
the first response is always doubt.

How could it not be?

Who sees dead men walking around and says, “Oh, that’s natural.”

Resurrection by definition is Life beyond what you know;
you shouldn’t find that ‘easy.’

Like Mary Magdalene, and Peter, and John, and all the disciples,
you should find that astounding,
more than you can believe, bigger than you can grasp,
and utterly disruptive
of every notion about life you’ve ever had.

And utterly compelling.

This is a Jesus who won’t fit your definitions of what God should be.

When Jesus appears, nobody can recognize him;
he’s the same, and yet he’s totally different;
they think he’s a ghost, totally unreal,
until they realize he is more real than life itself.

Jesus passes through walls and locked doors
as if he was a disembodied spirit,
and yet he eats fish and breaks bread.

He carries his old wounds, yet in a body that is completely new;
he lets you touch him, but refuses to let you hold him;
he is free to come and go as he pleases,
yet issues commands and gives commissions.

And that’s God.

God is never what you expect, and always more than you expected.

You don’t get to choose the God you want or the God you wish for.

God is God, and God chooses;
God will be and God will do whatever God chooses.

God chooses; not you—or God would not be God at all.

God is free from all your expectations,
because God is God!

That’s the disturbing, disruptive thing about resurrection.

Resurrection is terrifying—it should be terrifying—because it means
we have finally run up against something we can not control,
something bigger than we are,
something capable of making demands of us,
something deserving of faith and worship.

Resurrection is the overwhelming,
utterly disruptive, all-demanding,
out-of-your-control presence of God in your life.

But Thomas…, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Ah, Thomas—I love this guy,
precisely because he doubts and questions and argues,
precisely because he finds faith hard.

You’d expect Jesus to come back from the dead a little miffed.
These guys abandoned him; they deserted him and left him to die alone;
they proved themselves utterly faithless and unreliable.

But in fact, Jesus doesn’t abandon those who abandon him;
he comes looking for them.

And Jesus doesn’t scorn the doubtful;
he searches them out.

Doubt receives a welcome from God,
because God loves to wrestle.

Indeed, faith and doubt seem always woven together,
lest your faith be in your self,
in the strength of your convictions,
or in your ideas about God,
rather than in God himself.

Thomas asks for nothing that the others haven’t already received.

When Jesus came to the other disciples,
after he said, “Peace be with you,”
…he showed them his hands and side.

If Thomas simply wants the same experience of faith,
how can you blame him?

I have always been envious of other people’s experiences of faith;
I pray God for somebody else’s faith,
for the easy way they seem to believe,
for the easy way their lives seem be rolling in the blessings of God
(or at least it always seems easier to me).

But in fact, I’m stuck with my life,
and I have to live out my faith
and the way God chooses to act in my life.

Just like the other disciples, Thomas has lost his Lord;
he loved Jesus as much as any of them,
he is as wounded by Jesus’ death as they are,
and as lost and fearful and discouraged as any of them.

They are rejoicing, they have seen the Lord;
but Thomas hasn’t,
and if Thomas wants to nurse his wounds a little longer,
until God gives him a sign,
why not let him?

But Jesus won’t let him.

Trying to pin God down,
trying to get God to be the God you want God to be,
trying to get God to give you the life you wish for
instead of the life he created for you,
trying to find an easier way to believe in God
or an easier God to believe in—
it never works.

God will resist you to the end.

God will insist on being the God
God chooses to be, not the God you would choose.

I love Thomas, because sometimes
I look for signs and wish for an easier God, too.

The old English preacher, Charles Spurgeon,
once preached a sermon on this story where he told his congregation,


   If such signs be possible, crave them not.

   If there be dreams, visions, voices, ask not for them….

   Who are you, to set God a sign?

   What is it he is to do before you will believe in him?

   Suppose he does not choose to do it,
   are you therefore arrogantly to say,
   ‘I refuse to believe unless the Lord will do my bidding’?”

   And then, he says, when you wish for an easier life or an easier God,
   when you are nursing your own wounded faith,
    look instead “to the wounds of our Lord.”

Jesus does come looking for Thomas like a lost sheep,
and when he finds him, he presents him with his wounds:
Put your finger here and see my hands.
Reach out your hand and put it in my side.
Do not doubt but believe.

It’s not proof that Jesus is offering Thomas, but a call to faith;
a call to get his mind off his own wounds and troubles
and look up at something even greater.

What Jesus offers Thomas is not proofs for his doubts,
or answers for his questions,
but a call to a bigger life.

Jesus responds to your doubts
not by bowing to your demands,
but by placing demands on you.

In other words, by acting like God!

By giving you, not easy answers,
but a demanding, empowering, total call on your life.

Thomas finally comes to faith,
not by getting what he wants,
but by giving up his demands,
and getting more God than he wanted,
a God he will have to wrestle with for the rest of his life,
a God worth wrestling with for the rest of his life.

We have finally run up against something we can not control,
something bigger than we are,
something capable of making demands of us,
something deserving of faith and worship;
a God big enough to believe in,
a God big enough to follow,
a God big enough to give your life to.

We think of Thomas as a notorious doubter;
but in the Eastern Orthodox Church,
this first Sunday after Easter is sometimes called St. Thomas Sunday.

And Thomas is remembered for his faith—
for confronting Christ and wrestling with God;
for working through his doubts and questions,
not to answers, but to faith;
not to certainty, but to confidence;
not to a static definition of God,
but to a living relationship with God—
a relationship with a dynamic God
who comes and goes as he pleases,
but always with a surprise up his sleeve,
always speaking peace and forgiveness.

Thomas, they say, took his doubts to India, and wrestled with God there.

Tradition says that Thomas was the apostle who traveled to India,
and started churches there,
passing on his faith in the resurrected Lord
to generations of Christians.

So who knows what may come of your faith,
or even of your doubts?

Just stay in the game,
and welcome the God who welcomes you.


EASTER 2 A – APRIL 19. 2020 – KING OF GLORY LC, BOISE, ID – JOHN 20:19-31 – © Paul R. Olsen

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