(This is the sermon I preached during the virtual online worship from yesterday, Sunday, April 19, 2020. You can find the full service recording on our congregational website – www.ststephenlc.org.)
For the last 4 and ½ weeks I’ve been doing a daily exercise routine with some of the kids – P90X. It’s not an easy workout program by any stretch of the imagination. Several of the routines are tough – really tough. And it’s not uncommon that we just can’t keep up with the instructor or the cast who appear in the videos. But we try our best anyway.
Some of the folks who appear on the videos are absolutely incredible in their physical abilities. They do things that I could never do or ever hope to do. But it’s not the people in the video who are perfect that inspire in how they do pull ups, or curls, or push ups, or jumps, or anything like that. No, those folks don’t inspire at all – they are too perfect. I just can’t ever be like them.
Instead, it’s someone like Eric. You see, Eric is unique on P90X. He appears in the Plyometrics routine – arguably the hardest exercise routine of P90X. What’s special about Eric? He only has one leg. He uses a prosthetic leg and yet he sticks with the routine. He stumbles. He’s far from perfect. He certainly isn’t glorious. But, he embodies the catch phrase of P90X – Do your best and forget the rest. That pretty much sums up Eric and makes him an inspiration for me. Because if Eric can stumble through the hardest exercise routine and do it on one leg, then I know I have a shot at it too.
All of this got me thinking about something – Jesus has his own cast of folks who stick with him. Some look better than others at the whole discipleship thing. There’s the Beloved Disciple – just hearing that name tells me that’s not anyone I can emulate. I’m just not that good. But what about Thomas? He’s like the P90X Eric of the disciples. He’s not perfect. But he is real.
Thomas says the stuff that we are all thinking. I’ll admit it – If I had missed Jesus the first time and then met up with my friends and they told me that Jesus showed up, I would probably say the same things as Thomas. He knows what happened – the trial, the punishment, the crucifixion, the burial. He knows it all. He knows the promise of resurrection – he’s been following Jesus. And he’s all in on Jesus – we have no reason to doubt that.
Often Thomas gets a bad rap. Nowhere in the Scripture does it label Thomas as Doubting Thomas. It does tell the meaning of his name though – Twin.
You see, Thomas is all in on discipleship – even if he’s not perfect at it. But Thomas is unique. It’s Thomas who understood something about Jesus – that it’s not about how perfect we are.
Go back to John Ch. 11. We read this just a few weeks ago – the death and resurrection of Lazarus. After Jesus hears about the death of Lazarus and specifically waits an extra two days to go to Bethany, it’s at that point that the disciples that are with him remind Jesus that returning to Judea is dangerous saying: “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’”
And Jesus says, yeah, I’m going because Larazus is asleep. And the disciples didn’t understand what he means.
This is what they say – “The disciples said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’
And it’s at this point that we hear from Thomas, who makes a bold statement – The Scripture says “Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” Wow. For someone who has been labeled throughout history as Doubting, that’s quite the statement to make, isn’t it?
You see, when I hear that story in John 11, and I hear today’s Gospel, I gain a new insight into Thomas. There’s something Thomas understood. Thomas understood that he needed, that the disciples needed, that the world needed, and that we need a wounded, crucified Jesus – one who has been battered, has holes in his hands and feet and died. We need that Jesus to show up resurrected. We need that Jesus, that Messiah, because that Jesus deals with the reality of the world – beaten, bruised, abused, oppressed, tortured, and killed.
I think Thomas understood that an unwounded raised Jesus would be seen as a lie – a fake. No one would believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead if he didn’t have holes in his hands and feet and his side pierced. Thomas wanted a real Jesus, a real Messiah, one who can relate with people. A Messiah whose outward appearance isn’t perfect, but perfectly relates with people who suffer, who are abused, who are poor, who are hungry, who are alone, who aren’t perfect no matter how hard they try.
When Jesus shows up and appears to Thomas, we hear this from the NRSV – “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’” But when we look at what’s really there in the Greek, a better translation would sound something like this:
Then Jesus said to Thomas – Reach out your finger here. (He’s pointing to a specific place), and behold (which is a command to gaze at) my hands. And Reach out your hand and cast/thrust it into my side (Just like the spear was thrust into the side of Jesus, the Greek word is Bale – the same word used for casting out demons), and do not be faithless, but faithfull – or faith-filled.
It is at this moment that Thomas responds with another bold declaration – “My Lord and my God!” A declaration of faith.
Thomas doesn’t make this assertion on his own. It comes from faith – a gift from God – right after Jesus finishes making a command about being filled with faith.
Thomas isn’t perfect. His belief isn’t either. But the gift of faith that he is given is perfect. You see faith isn’t about how much we believe, how strong our belief is. If it was, then we would fail. When it relies on us, we fold, we give up. We just aren’t good enough. We’ll never be perfect in belief. We’ll never live up to having perfect belief. We can’t live up to the expectations – to be the perfect belief workout people.
I don’t know about you, but I think it’s fair to say that most of us struggle in our belief – especially in times that are difficult, when there is a crisis, maybe even in times of a pandemic. Our belief may be stretched thin. We may have lots of questions and doubts. We may even say we won’t believe until Jesus shows up and gets in our face and shows us his hands and side. Our belief is just not strong enough.
Remember, even Thomas struggled. He wasn’t perfect. And if Jesus gives him faith to make bold statements about Jesus, then there’s hope for you and me too.
Jesus doesn’t fall short for Thomas – he gives him exactly what he needs. Not a hand up – literally a hand out to show Thomas, and us, what kind of Savior, what kind of Messiah, what kind of Jesus he really is. A savior, a Messiah that can relate with us – in all of our imperfection, can pick us up, and can give us exactly what we need and get us going again. A Messiah that knows our limitations and loves us anyway. A Messiah that is willing to get dirty and willing to die so that we can experience resurrection in real ways. A Messiah that isn’t caught up in a theory or heady theology. Instead, a Messiah who shows that resurrected life isn’t just for some distant time in the future, but rather, right now. Right here.
A Messiah who gives us the faith to live the Good News boldly. Just like Thomas. Do not be faithless, be faith filled. Jesus is giving you that faith. Now go and live it.