Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection April 26,2020
"Thomas,the Doubting Twin" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Since we had another Sunday service technical “glitch” - I’ll put my Sunday sermon in this week’s Advance.
Sisters and brothers, today we again encounter “Doubting Thomas.” This phrase is known by virtually everyone in our country. “Doubting Thomas,” a character given to us from the final Gospel writer. Thomas is the star of what I believe is the final Resurrection appearance in John. I will add more about this later.
On Easter evening, Jesus appears to the gathered disciples (John 20). Jesus “breathed” on them, telling them “receive the Holy Spirit.” (I preached on this passage on Easter Sunday.)
Thomas was not there for that Easter appearance. Where was he? Watching Sunday night football? Well, we don’t know where Thomas was, do we?
But a week later, same scene, Thomas is with the fearful disciples. What? The disciples are still fearful, still cowering behind locked doors, even after experiencing the Risen Christ a week earlier? What’s with these disciples anyway?
And another question I have: Where was the Risen Christ for a full week? Think about this! The Risen Christ hangs out somewhere for a full week? Another doctoral dissertation waiting to happen!
I looked on-line to see any speculation about where the Risen Lord might have been but I found nothing. No real surprise there. Not everything in the Gospels is easily explained (see a real puzzler in Matthew 27:52-53).
Let me add something important here. After Thomas in John 20, we find chapter 21 of John. Many, if not most, scripture scholars believe Chapter 21 was added to John by another writer. Think about this (and take a look see for yourself: Peter goes fishing? Really?)
I believe the true ending of John’s Gospel is at the end of chapter 20. Look at your own Bible. At the end of chapter 20, we find the most important pronouncement about Jesus Christ found anywhere in the Bible; Thomas’s supreme proclamation of faith: “My Lord and my God!” Nowhere else can we find such a statement of faith. In essence, Thomas is stating: “When I look at Jesus Christ, I see God shining back!” The Crucified and Risen Christ is the abiding presence of God among us.
Look at how chapter 20 concludes: “These words are written so 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.”
So you may have life in his name! Brothers and sisters, LIFE is what Jesus Christ is all about. It’s about seeing the deep connections that hold all things together.
Let me say something important: Believing in Jesus Christ is not about giving assent to some intellectual propositions. Believing in Jesus Christ is so we might have life and have life more abundantly, as Jesus teaches us in John 10:10.
How do we have life and have it abundantly? By releasing our fears. Fear traps us. Fear strangles us. Fear sickens us. Fear imprisons us. Fear separates us. Fear divides us. I so disdain politicians and other leaders who seek to divide us even during these difficult weeks of crisis.
When we see the web of life in all its incredible fullness, we stop being afraid. We stop blaming THOSE people. We stop arguing about who has it right. No one has it right. You don’t have it right. I don’t have it right.
We are all stumbling around in the dark until we finally SEE. Until we see how we are tied together with all people and all creatures. Until we finally see how God is under, above, intermingled with everything. Until then we do not see. As the prophet Jeremiah taught us: God is as close to us as our underwear!
I want to venture into our understanding of Biblical Greek. I’ve preached about the Greek word for faith before but please bear with me. The Biblical Greek word translated as Faith is Pistis (a feminine noun). The verb regarding faith is Pistevo.
But here’s the thing: Pistis has more than one meaning attached to it. It can be translated as 1) faith; 2) loyalty; and/or 3) trust. But pistis is not usually translated as belief or to have belief.
Why does this matter? In our preaching text for today, when the Risen Christ speaks to Thomas, the best translation of the Greek is: “Do not doubt but have faith: Do not doubt but be loyal; Do not doubt but trust.” This teaching from Jesus Christ is not about believing; not about what you believe!
Sisters and brothers, faith is both a gift from God and a task. Some of our forebears in the faith got it wrong when they taught about some absolute chasm between faith and works. Yes, faith is a free gift from God. But it also comes as a task.
We have too many Christians mistakenly thinking that Life in Christ is about believing the right things. Faith is not about believing. Faith is about being loyal; loyal to Christ and loyal to one’s fellow faithful. Faith is about trust; trust in God but also trust in one another.
Loyalty is about who we are tied to, not in our heads but in our hearts. Loyalty involves being deeply connected to one’s family, to one’s faith family, to all of life.
Brothers and sisters, faith and belief are not the same. Faith always comes from God. Faith is always beyond belief. Belief is a game one plays in one’s head. Faith is a way of life, a way of abundant life, life to the full.
Isn’t this what we all want? Isn’t this what we all yearn for? I don’t really care what your beliefs are. I do care if you live as a person of deep faith.
The Greek of John 20:27 is best translated thusly (from my Greek-English New Testament): (The Risen Christ speaking to Thomas) “Do not become faithless but faithful.”
This is why we must always be careful about translations. They do not always give us the multiple meanings from the ancient Greek or ancient Hebrew. This is why I keep insisting that any and all translations of the Bible are someone’s best guess. No translation is considered to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, including the beloved King James Version.
Back to what we are promised as loyal, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. What are we promised? Life is what we are promised. But it’s a special kind of life.
We may well say that we already have life without needing faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, this is true.
But the Risen Christ is promising us a new kind of life: a life where we live with trust and not fear. A life where we live in simple fellowship without the endless grasping for more and more. A life where we feel deeply connected with all life; all people, all creatures. A life where we cease warring against one another and warring against our own planet.
Brothers and sisters, why not be happy? Why not seek to be content? Why are we so continually and constantly disappointed?
Does the robin bring you joy? Robins bring me joy. Yesterday I looked out into my backyard to see my forsythia bushes in full bloom (I was on the phone with Vinal who was talking about her forsythia bushes not yet being in bloom so I looked out at mine) and, lo and behold, a bright red cardinal under the bushes! That scene brought me joy.
In my life I’ve not been given over to joy. Perhaps that comes from my Irish DNA! But I would like to spend whatever time left to me experiencing as much joy as I can.
To me, after a life-time of reading and reflecting, I now know that abundant life is first and foremost about experiencing joy. Joy that comes on waves of laughter. Joy that comes in anticipation of gathering once again as our beloved faith family. Joy that comes from being loyal to one another. Joy that comes from seeing MY fox. Joy that comes from anticipating seeing my family again, seeing Vinal again, seeing my friends again. Going downtown again.
Joy that comes from art and my trips to the Art Institute. Joy that comes from music and once again attending concerts at Orchestra Hall. Joy that comes from corny jokes (and, yes, I do mean you - Chuck!). Joy from sunshine. Joy from warmer weather.
Brothers and sisters, why not joy? What prevents you from joy? What prevents me from joy? This is a vital spiritual question. How is it that so many Christians are so dour and, unfortunately, so mean-spirited? Lord, protect us from unhappy, joyless Christians. I’ve had to endure more than my fair share of them.
Let me end with some words from a 17th Century Anglican clergyman, Thomas Traherne, whose writings were lost for 200 years. He influenced people such as C.S. Lewis and Thomas Merton.
Here is something he wrote: “You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself flows in your veins; (you never enjoy the world aright) till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars; (you never enjoy the world aright) till you perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world; and more than so because people are in the world who are everyone sole heirs to the whole world as are you.” (slightly edited for effect!)
Traherne also taught that we should seek “Felicity.” Faith and Felicity! Hand in hand, sisters and brothers, hand in hand. Faith and felicity: abundant life indeed!