Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Doubt and faith
April 11, 2010, 6:39 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , ,

A Sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, 11th April 2010

“You believe because you can see.” There can be little doubt that there is an implied rebuke in these words of our Lord to Thomas. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” Somehow, Thomas has missed out on this particular blessing. Where did he go wrong?

Thomas had been with Jesus from an early stage in his ministry. We don’t hear about his particular call, but he is in the list of the Twelve whom Jesus chose as his special disciples. He had seen our Lord’s miracles, he had heard his teaching. He had not objected when Peter confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, God’s special messenger to Israel and to the world. Even when Jesus proposed doing something he thought futile and dangerous- going to Lazarus when he was already dead- Thomas had still said, “Let us go and die with him”. (Incidentally, I think he meant “die with Lazarus”, although that would mean dying with Jesus too: the point was, he thought Jesus was going into a situation where he might well die; and he was prepared to stick with him even so. But it has a slightly resigned tone, rather than enthusiasm.)

So far, Thomas seems to have been like the rest of the Apostles. When Jesus was arrested, he ran away and hid. When Jesus was executed, he thought this was the end. And it looks as if he did not even keep in the company of his friends. When Jesus returned to them on Easter evening, Thomas was not there. It isn’t clear even whether he had heard, as they did, the confused story the women told, or the testimony of Peter and John that the tomb was empty. But when they told him that they had seen the Lord, he simply refused to believe them. So great was his disillusionment that even their evident excitement and joy made no impression on him.

Whatever the thoughts that passed through his mind, his stubbornness has a lesson for us. It may be that he did not want to believe, because he was afraid of being hurt and let down again. That would be very human. But he did not say he would never believe, in any circumstances. He simply made conditions: I want to see, I want to touch.

Faith is trust. Trust is personal. It is not the same as love. I may have little liking for someone, and yet be sure that they can be relied on. I may love someone dearly, and yet sadly know that I cannot depend upon them. Once trust is betrayed, even once, it is hard to regain it. If you lied to me once, how can I ever be sure that you will not do so again? And if I myself have been untrustworthy, I may find it impossible to trust others. All the Apostles (except perhaps John) knew that they had failed Jesus. And they may even have thought that somehow, by dying, Jesus had let them down. We do sometimes have these illogical thoughts when emotionally off-balance.

But whatever passed through Thomas’ mind, it was totally overcome by Jesus’ appearance. Jesus, although absent, knew what he had said, what he had thought. But Jesus was not angry, even if Thomas’ unbelief saddened him. “Could you not trust me? Your trust in me matters so much that I will gladly give you whatever reassurance you need. See. Touch. Be certain.”

This is where Thomas’ doubt is so valuable to us. Because at this point, given the reassurance he had asked for, Thomas’ faith went far beyond what he could see and touch. Just as it was not flesh and blood- his natural abilities- that had revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Messiah, the messenger of God; so Thomas realised that the Person standing before him, the Master and Friend he had followed for three years, was not simply God’s messenger, but his Lord and God himself. This is the heart of our faith, too. Jesus Christ, the Teacher and Healer, the Friend and Brother of us all, is as human as we are, and yet at the very same time is our Lord and our God, who was, who is, and who ever will be.


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