Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) - 2018

8 April 2018

Text: John 20:19-31

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

“Do not disbelieve, but believe,” says our risen Lord Jesus Christ.  He doesn’t order us to believe based on blind faith, but He does require faith – faith in something that we experience in person, even as He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In the case of doubting Thomas, our crucified and risen Lord was so merciful as to allow Thomas to touch the wounds made by the nails and the spear at His crucifixion, because, for whatever reason, Thomas was hung up on this point: that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Our Lord gave Thomas’s faith something to cling to.

And Thomas responds: “My Lord and my God!”

As for us, we are given the Scriptures, for as the Evangelist explains: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

“Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Often the difference between disbelief and belief is a thin line.  Consider St. Thomas: a disciple of Jesus for three years, who would become an apostle, carrying the Gospel as far as India, and, it seems, dying as a martyr, making the good confession of the faith of Jesus Christ.  Thomas witnessed the great miracles of our Lord: turning water into wine, feeding the five thousand, curing lepers, the deaf, the blind, casting out demons, and even raising the dead.  But for some reason, the idea that His Lord Jesus Christ, whom he saw crucified, was raised from the dead, just did not seem credible – even when the other disciples claimed that they had seen Him.

Maybe this was part of Thomas’s stumbling-block: being excluded from that first appearance. 

For whatever reason, it seems remarkable that Thomas would be so filled with disbelief, and passionately so, stubbornly saying: “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” 

Often the difference between belief and disbelief has less to do with evidence, and more to do with emotion.

Similarly, there are two kinds of atheists: those who do not believe in God, and those who do.  Honest atheists, for whatever reason, truly do not believe in God.  They generally don’t believe in the supernatural.  They are typically materialists, and in a sense, like St. Thomas, requiring a level of physical evidence that they are yet to see.  But there is another kind of atheist, one who is actually angry at God, or one who thinks God is horrible, or one who doesn’t want God to impose rules on his lifestyle. 

Of course, this latter form of atheist is a walking contradiction.  What he knows and what he “believes” are out of sync.  Often this is an atheist that is governed by emotion, not reason.  His disbelief is caused by resentment rather than reasonable doubt.

Similarly, Thomas’s doubt was unreasonable.  Perhaps he was hurt that the Lord had excluded him on that first appearance.  Maybe the disciples came across as condescending when they said, “We have seen the Lord” to Thomas, who did not see Him. 

At any rate, the Lord, in His mercy, provided Thomas with the gift of faith.  He allowed Thomas to see and to touch.  And He bade Thomas, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

“My Lord and my God!” says believing Thomas!

“My Lord and my God!” says the Christian confronted with the paradox of his own existence, when faced with the dilemma of creation out of nothing, when he comes to grips with the reality that not everything that is real can be put into a test tube and analyzed: things like love, things like personality, things like the blessing of “those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Dear brothers and sisters, the story of Thomas and his week of doubt is of great comfort to us.  Our weak flesh often doubts.  We may doubt the existence of God.  We may wonder if Jesus is the Son of God.  We may question the incarnation or the resurrection.  We may be skeptical of the atonement.  We may simply lack the faith that our Lord’s death on the cross forgives my sins, or saves me from sin, death, and the devil.  Our doubts may not be addressed to Jesus at all, but rather towards ourselves. 

But let us remember Thomas, whose account has been placed before us by the Holy Spirit.  St Thomas walked with Jesus, saw miracles with his own eyes, and would himself be one of the Lord’s greatest evangelists.  Yet even Thomas struggled with doubt.  And what restored him, dear friends, was not his “own reason or strength,” but the Holy Spirit who “called [him] by the Gospel, enlightened [him] with His gifts” and “sanctified and kept [him] in the one true faith.”

And, dear brothers and sisters, “in the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies” you, “with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”  This is how it is that the Lord Jesus, in His very flesh and blood, can simply tell Thomas: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

For we have “these [things that] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.”  We also have His very flesh and blood in physical form, in the bread that we eat, in the wine that we drink, that are His true body and blood: the very same body touched by Thomas, and the very same blood that Thomas saw shed upon the cross from the very wounds that he handled.

“Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Jesus rose from the grave, and He has won the victory for us.  Jesus continues to come to us in Word and Sacrament, so that we too might see and hear and take and eat – and believe.  Jesus continues to convert the unbeliever into the believer, even as He strengthens our faith – especially given that by our own “reason or strength” we cannot believe in Jesus or come to Him.

But, dear brothers and sisters, by His own reason and by His own strength, Jesus believes in us and He comes to us.  He loves us; He dies for us; He atones for us; He forgives us; He instills faith in us, and He gives us eternal life.  By the Holy Spirit, He changes our unbelief into belief. 

And we respond in joyful wonder and in exuberant belief: “My Lord and my God!”

“Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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