Sermon for April 28, 2019

Deacon Ben Remmert

Grace and peace be with you from our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen

We welcome back everyone from a wonderful celebration last Sunday of our Lord’s victory over death and the grave. This week as I was reading the texts and preparing for today, I could not help to get caught up into the excitement of the movie Avengers: End Game. As many of you know I a huge fan of the super hero genre of movies and have been collecting and reading comic books for the last 25 years. Growing up, I found that comic books were the medium to help me learn the language of my Christian faith. This previous year marked the 10 year anniversary of Marvel movies with over 22 films that connect to one big story. It has been such a joy to connect with younger fans and I even get special calls from friends and family members that ask me questions about super hero origins or do the movies really follow along with the comic book series.But I cannot help but remember last year when Avengers: Infinity War came out into theaters. I remember being so excited to see such a major story being made into a motion picture. The months the lead up to the movie being released were met with excitement. However as the movie came closer to closer to its release, so did the many spoilers, people who have gotten to see the movie early and were giving out detailed information about the movie. Thinking that I knew what was going to happen in the movie anyways, I watched these reviews. As I began to hear and read about the plot and who lives and who dies, I found myself in disbelief. Truly Marvel would not kill off characters A-K. So I went and had to go see the movie and afterwards I was in shock and awe. They truly did kill off these list of heroes and believe it or not, the movie ended with the villain did win in the story.

I imagine most of us have experienced at one time or another in our lives too; skeptical and doubtful if events are true, if the food is just as good as they say it is, or did that event actually happen. I imagine that many of you are skeptical about Avengers: End Game movie will be just as good as its predecessor Avengers: Infinity War. But you just have to go and see it.

In Jesus’ encounter with Thomas, we are given two great truths which are presented in the form of reversals. The first great truth, put quite simply is: skepticism and doubt lead to believing. Thomas demonstrates this when he states: “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.” That is one of the most honest statements of our humanity. I need to see these things so that I know them to be “true.” This can be a problem. We have many different voices of influence in our communities look upon skepticism and doubt as something very negative. For many others, it is actually something quite positive. Only by expressing his doubts does Thomas come to believe.

This is also very true of many other biblical characters. For example, Job doubted the way in which God seemed to govern the world. The writer of Ecclesiastes reveals the doubts of a wise and searching person. Jeremiah, in one of his prayers to God said: “Truly, you are like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.” (15:18b)

The poet, Alfred Tennyson once wrote: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” Lutheran theologian, Paul Tillich wrote in his work The Dynamics of Faith that faith and doubt are not opposites but different sides of the same coin. Without doubt faith is not genuine. Many of us doubts and skepticism have led them to a strong belief in God.

In the person of Thomas, we hear our voices and a permission to doubt and be a sceptic. Our God is not so small, or limited or vulnerable as to be destroyed of offended by our doubts and skepticism. Life is a complicated mixture of doubt and faith. We all have our days of doubt and skepticism as well as faith and hope. Thomas challenges each one of us to be honest with God, others, and ourselves about our doubts and skepticism. In doing so, we are led to a deeper, more genuine faith in God and God’s love for us.

Another great truth in today’s gospel is: those who are blessed who believe without seeing. This is a tough one for us, since we live in a world where seeing is believing. An event takes place in our world and we will not believe it until we have seen it on television or computer or heard it on the radio. Many of us are very deeply entrenched as seeing, hearing, and touching. The irony of this is that what we see or hear or read in the mass media is not provable by us because we were not eyewitnesses to these events. We rely on the reporting of journalists who are biased and, in actuality, are only able to present incomplete coverage of the events. Our reliance upon the reports of journalists is actually a form of faith on our part. Moreover, it is a faith, which does not see or touch because we are not physically present at the event.

It is very interesting that when the resurrected Jesus did come to the disciples, Jesus showed them his hands and his side, did the disciples not belief Thomas, there is no mention of Thomas touching Jesus, even though he is given the opportunity. It was enough to see him and then believe. Even Thomas did not carry out his own conditional terms of coming to believe. Yet, more interesting is Jesus’ comment on believing without seeing. Jesus very quickly reminds Thomas that it is by far more difficult to believe without seeing than it is by seeing.

These words speak to us and our situation today. The blessed ones, according to this gospel passage are not the disciples who witnessed the resurrected Jesus; not those who experience marvelous healings or dramatic conversions and visions; rather, that multitude of people who believe without seeing. Those of us who have plodded along without extraordinary, spiritual experiences. Believing without seeing is difficult and risky; there are little, if any extraordinary experiences upon which to base one’s faith or relieve one of the doubts that occasionally seem too much to handle. But believing without seeing does make one keenly aware of the fact that belief comes from God; it is solely God’s work not ours. As Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism in explaining the third article of the creed: “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth…” This is only possible through God’s effort and work, a work that often happens to us when we least expect it. May you come to believe of God’s love for you and give you peace. Amen.