April 3, 2005

Second Sunday of Easter

"Touch and Feel, Taste and See"

(John 20:19-31)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


INTRODUCTION:

There's an old story about the four-year-old son of an undertaker who was rather perplexed after hear the story of the resurrection in Sunday School on Easter. "Do you mean that Jesus really rose from the dead?" the boy asked.

"Yes, Jesus really rose from the dead," the Sunday School teacher said.

Shaking his head in wonder the boy said, "Well, I know my daddy didn't take care of Him then, cause his people never get up again!" (1)

Maybe that little boy was related to Thomas. He needed more proof. He knew what he believed and what the others were telling him was contrary to all that he'd ever seen or believed could ever happen. Once you were dead, there was no getting up That was absurd. I guess Thomas forgot about Lazarus. Whatever the case, Thomas needed to Touch and Feel before he could believe. He needed to see it with his own eyes.

Let's look at the passage from John 20:19-31 which describes that incident.

[19] When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."

[20] After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

[21] Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

[22] When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.

[23] If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

[24] But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

[25] So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "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."

[26] A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."

[27] 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."

[28] Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"

[29] Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

[30] Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

[31] But these are written 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.


I. DOUBT AND FAITH:

A. During his long career as pastor of New York's Riverside Church, the late Harry Emerson Fosdick spent many hours counseling students from nearby Columbia University. One evening a young man burst into his study and announced, "I have decided that I cannot and do not believe in God!"

"All right," Dr. Fosdick replied. "But describe for me the God you don't believe in."

The student proceeded to sketch his idea of God. When he finished, Dr. Fosdick said, "Well, we're in the same boat. I don't believe in THAT God either." (2)

I wonder if that might not have been the motivation behind Thomas' doubt. The God he believed in and the God made present to the world in the flesh of Jesus weren't the same. Thomas only thought he knew who God was and who Jesus was. Maybe it was that phrase at the last supper which confused him, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."

Whatever the case, Jesus didn't condemn Thomas for his doubt. And he used that moment of doubt as a teaching moment about faith. Doubt isn't bad or wrong or a sin. Doubt is actually quite useful in the faith. Otherwise we might fall for the Gospel of every Tom, Dick and Harry or believe works of fiction like the Da Vinci Code are fact. Doubt can act as a filter.

Robert Strand writes: "Faith lives in the same apartment building as Doubt. When Faith was out of town visiting her uncle in the hospital, Doubt fed the cat and watered the asparagus fern. Faith is comfortable with Doubt because she grew up with him. Their mothers are cousins. Faith is not dogmatic about her beliefs like some of her relatives. Her friends fear that Faith is a bit stupid. They whisper that she is naive and she depends on Doubt to protect her from the meanness of life. In fact, it is the other way around. It is Faith who protects Doubt from Cynicism." (3)

B. Somebody wrote: "I spent twenty years trying to come to terms with my doubts. Then one day it dawned on me that I had better come to terms with my faith. Now I've passed from the agony of questions I can't answer into the agony of answers I can't escape. And it's a great relief." (4)

I think that's what Thomas felt. Jesus took his doubt seriously. He didn't dismiss it. Instead Jesus offered the proof Thomas needed.


II. TOUCH DEEPENS FAITH:

I also think Thomas wanted desperately to believe. But he was a realist. He saw the spear pierce Jesus' side. He saw the Romans take Jesus off the cross. He saw the burial cloths. He saw the tomb sealed. And it HAD been three days. He wanted desperately to believe but there were so many things, so many unanswered questions getting in the way. Jesus knew all this. He understood completely. We don't all come to God or come to believe the same way. So Jesus meets us where we are.

In his book, SOME THINGS I HAVE LEARNED SINCE I KNEW IT ALL, Jerry Cook tells about having open-heart surgery. After he recovered, Jerry had a visit from a man who was fearfully facing the prospect of his own bypass surgery.

"I want to see your scars," the man said shyly. Jerry took off his shirt.

The man gently traced with his finger the violet scar that ran vertically down Jerry's chest. The man went on, "The doctor says the most painful part of the operation will be the surgery on my legs. They're going to take out veins from my calf to use in the heart bypass."

Looking up at Jerry, he asked, "Can I see your legs?"

Jerry rolled up his pants. The man got on his knees. Without shame, he put his hands on Jerry's legs, touching the scars with his finger. When he rose to his feet, there were tears in his eyes. "Thank you," he said. "Now I have hope." (5)

Seeing and touching those scars gave him hope. For Thomas, Jesus was standing right there, alive. Death had been conquered. Touching Jesus' scars gave Thomas hope. Hope about the meaning of his life. Hope that life really does matter. Hope that Jesus' words and teachings were true. And hope that the Easter story is true.


III. TASTE AND SEE:

A. Thomas was able to Touch and Feel, all you and I can do is Taste and See, like Psalm 34:8 says: "O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him."

Today we come to celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion. Next to the Resurrection itself, this is as close as we get to being Thomas. This is as close as we get to the scars and the wounds. And yet Christ invites us to extend our hands, just as he did Thomas, not to touch his side or the wounds in his hands, but to reach out and receive the bread and the wine. The Sacrament that symbolizes and embodies His sacrifice on the cross for us.

Just as Jesus gave Thomas hope and a future and sealed his faith with that touch, this simple bread and wine that we receive this morning gives us hope, gives us a future and seals our faith.

All we're asked to do is believe, stretch out our hands and receive.

So, I give you this simple invitation. Come to the table this morning. Bring your doubts and replace them with faith. Believe, stretch out our hands and receive.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

______________________________

Bibliography

1. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), April 2000

2. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), November 1995

3. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), January 2001

4. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), July 1998

5. Jamie Buckingham, LOOK OUT, WORLD (Altamonte Springs, FL: Strang Communications Company, 1993).

Other References Consulted

www.SermonWriter.com (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000)

www.SermonMall.com

www.deaconsil.com

www.rockies.net/~spirit/sermon.html (Richard Fairchild Lectionary Resources)

Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)

Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)

Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)

The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)

Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)

Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)

The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)

The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)

Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 2002) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Miracles, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1998) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Parables, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1997) SermonPrep Version.