Sermon 3 April 2016

Low Sunday/Easter 2 – 3 April 2016, Westbourne Church

Reading: John 20: 19 to end

Address by Reader Martin Brown

A man fell over a cliff and, as he tumbled down the sheer drop, he managed to grab on to a bush growing from the side of the rock.  Terrified, he hung in space, his life flashing before him.  In desperation, he shouted towards heaven, ‘Is there anyone up there?’

To his astonished delight, a voice floated down: ‘I am the Lord God, and I am here.’

‘What should I do?’ called the man.

The voice replied, ‘Let go of the branch and, with my protection, you will float harmlessly down to the beach below.’

The man glanced under his feet to the jagged rocks at the foot of the cliff, hundreds of feet below.  He gulped, and looked back toward heaven.

‘Well....is there anyone else up there?’

And so seeds of doubt were sowed in the man and that is what our Gospel reading is about – doubt.

Many doubt the existence of God.  Many doubt the resurrection story.  On that first Easter, one of the disciples refused to believe in the resurrection.  He had doubts.  This morning we are going to take a look at that man and see how his doubts are our doubts.  We are also going to see how Jesus healed this man of the disease of doubt, and how He heals us today.

On Easter night, the disciples had gathered together in a house, hiding behind locked doors.  A number of them had seen Jesus alive, and now they were frightened.  What were the Jewish leaders going to do?  Would they also be arrested?  Would they be accused of stealing Jesus’ body?  Would anyone believe them, if they told people that Jesus had risen from the dead?  Suddenly, Jesus was standing in the midst of them, and He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.

Our Lord always said just the right thing at the right time.  He tells the disciples that they can feel peace in their hearts.  He was there, and they had nothing to worry about.  He showed them His hands and side to prove to them that He was not a ghost, but that He was the same Jesus they had known, the same Jesus they had seen crucified just three days earlier.

The disciple Thomas was not there at the time.  When he returned, the other disciples told him that Jesus had appeared to them.  But Thomas did not believe: ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and put my hand in His side, I will not believe.’  He would not believe, unless he saw visible proof.

Why did Thomas refuse to believe, because after all he was a practical person?  He was shattered on Good Friday when Jesus died.  But he was not about to succumb to fantasy.  Dead was dead, and that was it.  No-one in their right minds would doubt it when the Romans said a prisoner was dead.  The Romans were experts at killing.  It is not that Thomas did not want to believe that Jesus was still alive.  The fact was that Thomas knew how the world worked.  Dead was dead, and that was that.

And that is how our world sees Jesus’ resurrection today.  Nice story, but it did not really happen – people do not die and then come back to life.  The apparent newspaper headline “Man survives fatal accident” cannot be true.

Many are set on proving that Jesus’ resurrection was a spiritual resurrection.  Jesus rose only in the sense that His spirit goes marching on, but experts dismiss such a theory.  They point out that it would have been a contradiction in terms for an early Jew to say that someone was raised from the dead, but his body was left in the tomb.

That was not how people talked in those times.  Numerous disciples were executed because they would not deny the resurrection.  No sane person would die for something that did not happen.  Of all the events that took place in the first century, no historical event has better or more widespread documentation than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And yet, we Christians today live in a sea of doubt.  And when you are swimming in a sea of doubt, it is hard not to get wet, to have that doubt seep in to your way of thinking.

Have you ever had doubts?  Have you ever wondered about the whole story of Jesus, the cross and the resurrection?  Have you ever asked yourself if your faith is really only a form of superstition?

Have you ever wondered,’ Am I a Christian only because my parents were?’  People are often afraid to face their doubts because they are afraid of what they might find.

People are afraid of what others might think of them.  People might find out how weak their faith really is, so they keep any doubts they may have to themselves.

And yet people’s doubts do not go away – they are always there and can slowly eat away at their faith, until they believe in Jesus less and less, and they become more and more sceptical like Thomas.

So what can people do to get rid of their doubts?  I suppose the answer is nothing, really.  There is no earthly cure that will take away a person’s doubts.  But there is one thing that can cure a person’s doubts.

That one thing happened to Thomas one week later.  On the Sunday after Easter, the disciples were together, and Thomas was with them.

The doors were locked again.  Suddenly, Jesus was standing in the midst of them.  ‘Peace be with you’, Jesus says again.

And then He turns to Thomas and invites him to do what he said he wanted to do – to touch the wounds Jesus sustained on the cross.  ‘Do not doubt but believe’, Jesus told Thomas.

This is what cured Thomas of his doubt.  Thomas responded by saying, ‘My Lord and my God!’  Thomas had become a man of faith, a man who believed in Jesus, even though everything he knew about the world would tell him otherwise.

The only solution, the only way, to get rid of any doubts in a person’s heart, is to experience a moment with our Lord, like Thomas had that Sunday after Easter.

Now you might say it was easy for Thomas because Jesus actually appeared to him.  How is someone today supposed to experience a moment like that?  When does Jesus come to us, and speak to us, like He spoke to Thomas?  When does Jesus chase away a person’s doubts?  When does He transform people into a person who strongly believes in Him, like Thomas did all those years ago?

Today, Jesus comes to into our world in an invisible way, through His Word.  Every time we hear the Word of God, Jesus steps into our lives and says, ‘Peace be with you.’

Every time we receive the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is right there, through His body and His blood, and He chases away any doubts we may have, and fills us with faith and hope and trust in Him.

Through the Word, through the Sacraments, that is how Jesus appears to us and speaks to us, just as He spoke to Thomas.

That is how Jesus changes people today.  In our Gospel reading, Jesus says to Thomas: ‘Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Jesus is talking about people in the here and now.  We have not seen Him with our own eyes like Thomas.  But we have believed.

We have believed by having Jesus come to us in an invisible way, through His Word.  The Apostle John tells us that Jesus did other miraculous signs that are not recorded in the Bible.  ‘But these are written’ (these stories, these accounts of Jesus and His disciples) ‘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.’

We must stay close to the Word of God.  We must take the Lord’s Supper regularly.  We must let Jesus speak to our hearts, just as He spoke to Thomas.  Let Jesus take away any of our doubts.  Let Jesus continue working in us and through us so we fully become Christians who strongly believe that Jesus is the Christ, even though none of us have ever seen Him.

May God grant us the same heart He granted to the disciple Thomas, a heart that says ‘My Lord and my God’.  Amen


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