Is it really Doubting Thomas?

Those of you on Facebook will know that Michael Hopkins, our minister, was visiting the Vatican on Friday for a fact finding visit on behalf of the Assembly Arrangements Committee for ideas to improve the URC’s General Assembly, and finalising details for Pope Francis’s visit to the Assembly this year.

He was, of course, on holiday in Cornwall, and the date was April 1 – April Fools Day.

Who here was caught out by an April Fool? The newspapers in particular have a strong tradition of printing unbelievable stories on April 1.

  • The Guardian, for instance, claimed the royal family was planning to make a dramatic intervention in the Brexit debate by announcing that it supports Britain remaining inside the European Union.
  • The Daily Mail reported that actress Olivia Colman is set to make history by become the first female 007.
  • The Independent said that Boris Johnson has sparked outrage among conservationists with a secret plan to tarmac over Britain’s canals to create a nationwide “cycle superhighway” if he becomes prime minister, while The Metro reported that he is set to unveil plans to push through Boris Boards – hoverboards for hire – before he steps down as London Mayor.
  • And the Daily Express told readers that EU bosses have demanded European Union flag stars be incorporated into the Union Jack flag.

However, let’s turn to Thomas. Imagine the scene. Thomas meets Peter and James in the morning.

T: Hi Peter. Hi James. How was your evening?

P: Those Jewish vigilantes were out in the street braying for our blood. We were terrified. We had to barricade ourselves in, we were so scared.

T: Sounds terrible

J: Yes but Jesus visited us. It was so good to see him again, and he was so reassuring. He said “Peace be with you”. Man, he’s had a rough time. He showed us his hands and his side. They were so badly injured.

Stop right there! Peter’s just said what? Jesus has visited them in a locked house, said “Peace be with you” and shown them his hands and his side. Is this some sort of April fool?

What’s Thomas to do? Of course he’s not going to believe them! What a ridiculous story.

So let’s not be too harsh on Thomas. After all, the other disciples had locked themselves in “for fear of the Jews”. Thomas, though, wasn’t there. Perhaps he was more courageous than the others, and didn’t have issues with venturing out.

We call him “doubting Thomas”, but we’ve now seen how unbelievable the story was. And let’s not forget that the other disciples didn’t believe until they saw Jesus either.  Mary had told them that she had seen the Lord, yet they refused to believe her.

What about us? Which of us does not harbour doubts about the risen Christ, or even about the existence of God, from time to time?

So perhaps it shouldn’t be doubting Thomas, but doubting Peter, doubting James, doubting John, doubting Andrew, doubting Philip, and so on. And it’s doubting me and doubting you.

What we see in Thomas is that human courage and faith in God are two different things.  Sometimes we confuse the two.  The human strength that allowed Thomas to be absent from the safe place behind the locked doors is not going to help him when he needs faith.

And in just the same way, it was Peter’s faith, not his human strength, that allowed him to obey God rather than the human leaders in our reading from Acts.

Wasn’t that a marked contrast? In John, they are all hiding, terrified that the Jews were going to lynch them and kill them for being Jesus’s disciples, and in Acts, they were boldly proclaiming what they had seen, despite the Jewish authorities’ attempts to silence them.

So just as Peter’s actions resulted from his faith and from the filling of the Holy Spirit, so should ours. When issues arise in church or in our personal lives, our human response is, ‘What are we going to do?’. But maybe it should rather be, ‘What is God going to do?”.

After all, we know that God is the supreme power and authority in this world.  As we were reminded in Revelation, he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the one who was, who is and who is to come.

The problem is that we believe he is the “God who was”, and we believe that he is the “God who is to come”, but we struggle with him being the “God who is”. He may be the Alpha and the Omega, the A and the Z, but what about the Beta, the Gamma, the Delta and the Epsilon, the B to the Y, the God of today?

For Thomas, Jesus was able to deal with his doubts by appearing to him a week later, and allowing Thomas to touch him. But this is not going to be an option for us. For us, we need to believe that which we have not seen with our own eyes. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” For us, the evidence is the witness of those who went before us, and the evidence is from our own interaction with God in our own lives and the lives of those around us. And it is entirely a journey of faith.

As we watch the disciples in the gospels and in Acts, we see their life grow as their faith grows.  They grow from bumbling disciples sinking in water, from deniers, abandoners and betrayers and frightened cowards.  As their faith grows, so does their abilities.  They become fearless preachers who disobey the governing bodies saying, ‘We must obey God rather than human orders’.  They become the persecuted, like John, exiled to the deserted island of Patmos because he refused to bow down and worship the Emperor.

And it is the same when we watch those people with the strongest faith today – we see people experiencing the fullness of life, and the confidence of God.

So if we are going to grow in faith, and if those around us and those after us are going to have faith, we need to share our own experience of God, and we need to share the good news of Jesus. We need to forgive and allow those around us to receive that forgiveness.

Our big projects – fundraising, building, uniting churches – are important. But they are only enablers. For if we don’t remember God’s primary calling to us to witness to the world, the projects will be meaningless. And if we try to do them in our own human strength, rather than through faith in God, they will fail.

“Peace be with you!”, says the Lord. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Let us go, and take the Spirit wherever the Easter message needs to be heard, not fighting it, not trying to force it, and not presuming where we will be sent.  But trusting that God knows where the Easter message needs to be heard, and go – believing without seeing.

Adapted from a sermon at <>

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