Sunday, May 24, 2009

“The Greatest Sermon Ever Preached”

This is the greatest sermon ever preached. Seriously, this is the greatest sermon you will ever hear. And if you don’t believe me, well; you’re just a bunch of doubters. You bunch of Doubting Thomases. Doesn’t this story say “Don’t Doubt!?”

Are you ashamed or justified in your doubting? Maybe being a Doubting Thomas is a good thing. Being critical is just a part of life, we question and discern all the time. By looking at the Gospel of John, we will see that Thomas wasn’t doubting, but more critical of what his friends were saying.

I’m not sure why Thomas gets the label “doubter.” Just a glance at the Gospels and you can see the disciples doubting all over the place. While Jesus was alive, they doubted he could feed the multitude, doubted they would survive the storm on the sea of Galilee. Doubted that they would ever deny that they even knew Jesus. Then Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried.

Almost immediately, Mary Magdalene took up the doubt. She went to the tomb, not because she was going to greet the risen Lord, as Jesus told his disciples more than once that he would come again, but to prepare Jesus’ body for death. She was shocked to find the empty tomb and even more shocked to see the risen Jesus.

She ran and told the disciples. The Gospel doesn’t say what the disciples said to Mary… but their actions speak for themselves. They immediately run to the tomb to verify the story, doubting Mary’s story and Jesus’ promise to come back.
Then Jesus shows up in the upper room and the author makes sure to note that Thomas wasn’t there. When Thomas gets word of Jesus’ resurrection, he does what everyone else has been doing the whole time. He doubts.

But his doubt is a little different than the others’. This is more than a playful challenge we give to our friends like “Hey, I won front row tickets to the Coldplay concert at Hershey” which the natural response would be “No way, really? Nah… How?!” This goes deeper. This goes to the level of interested investigation.

Thomas is searching for details, facts, and he leads a careful examination. He has a lot at stake here. Are his friends trying to pull some first century practical joke? Are they getting his hopes up just to crush them? But Thomas stays with the disciples because he’s interested. I mean we’re talking about the teacher who expanded Thomas’ faith beyond the limits he thought possible. This is the person who was unlike anyone he had ever met, teaching others how to love God and love their neighbors as themselves. This Son of God who taught him that people are people, in spite of the fact that they are lepers, Samaritans, tax collectors, prostitutes, or just plan sinners.

Thomas sticks with his interested investigation for a week. I wonder what went on in that week. Did the other disciples plead their case with Thomas? Did they each take turns giving personal testimonies? Did they talk about how Jesus looked, what he said to them, how they knew it was Christ? Were these conversations calm or shouting matches? The Gospel does not give us these details.

Thomas gives the disciples an obstinate challenge. It can be viewed as demanding, defiant, or spiritually ambitious. The challenge is a familiar one in the Greek-speaking world. What is recorded in the story is “I will never believe” but the full quote is “If I don’t examine, I will never believe.”

Only Jesus can provide the answer to Thomas’ challenge. Jesus appears and offers to give Thomas exactly what he asked for. Thomas just answers “My Lord and My God.”

“My Lord and My God.” This phrase can be uttered so many ways. I often hear it uttered at seminary in a variety of ways, mostly in the negative way. Seminary is a hard place. Seminarians are asked to lead their own interested investigations of faith. Many have come into seminary believing certain things and they are uncomfortable with the examination part.

“My Lord and My God, I have to examine that?!”

I’ve heard it uttered many times by my classmates that they sometimes feels like they are losing Jesus more than they’re finding him.

Then I come to Trinity. It seems to be the stereotype that Christian churches don’t challenge their members or try to teach them new things… like those very things the minister learned in seminary. NOT HERE. Instead of trying to spare you the pain, I think Nancy wants you to join her. She asks those in the Bible studies and also those in worship, through her sermons to consider things way outside our personal experience.

Trinity is also a diverse group of people, all who grew up in various denominations. We have ex-Catholics sitting next to ex-Methodists, who sit next to ex-Charismatic Pentacostals who are next to ex-Brethren. In talking with one another, we hear things that are light years beyond our traditions and personal theologies. We speak with our fellow members whose own style of Christianity can be so vastly different from our own. We wrestle, we read, we discuss and most of all we ask, and we ask and we ask. And our questions are met with more questions.

But there are times.

In the midst of reading, in the midst of wrestling, in the midst of these strange conversations with our friends and church family… there are times.
During the sermon, preached by someone who has dedicated their lives to the study of the gospel, to the study of the Old Testament, to the study of preaching both… there are times.

Even in our strongly held opinions, even in our demanding, defiant, or spiritually ambitious challenges to God… there are times.

There are times when the curtain is pulled back. There are times when our interested investigations end and all we can do is echo Thomas’ words… “My Lord and My God.” Words best said in a voice filled with wonder and awe. We are getting these glimpses of the divine all the time, and it’s not through the answers we have, it’s through the questions we carry!

At the end of the story, Jesus doesn’t condemn Thomas. There is no attempt to shame him for his challenge. Jesus gives him what he needs to believe. In Thomas’ wonder and awe Jesus says to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”



We can pick up on these revelations if we stick to our interested investigations. We will only see Jesus if we get out into the world and are engaged by it. We will only see Jesus if we challenge and continue to be challenged by his example! So make a joyful noise unto the Lord, read your bible, pray at home with your door shut, and pray at your local food banks and soup kitchens! Attend a Bible study, or enter into conversation about the sermon with a friend or pew-mate. When two or three are gathered, Jesus is in our midst, and the Holy Spirit is always with us. Through our interested investigations we might just be able to see Jesus in our world around us.

AMEN.

9 comments:

lneely said...

Indeed, Jesus never said, "[...] cursed are you who don't believe without seeing." The story still begs some questions, though.

- How does Jesus "appear?"
- Why should he reward credulity?

societyvs said...

Word verification - no word of a lie is: hotties...off topic but interesting

Greatest sermon ever - not sure - but I really the focus on researching your faith and finding solid answers (no sitting pat for no one). I think this is a lost art in Christianity - but I think we all desire more of it...seeking

Thomas doubted aftre the fact - that's why he stands out - everyone already all knew except for him...plus maybe he was wandering around in some serious contention about coming back to this 'faith'...maybe he thought it was 'wrong'. We'll never know - but apparently he wandered away from the inner circle after the death of Jesus - and this re-appearance re-coaxed him into coming back.

Luke said...

@Ineely

i think ya gotta understand John before you ask those questions. Out of the four gospels that are canonical, John is the least historical. It is more of a narrative praise poem in Greek than translates to english.. there are double meanings and wordplay all over this gospel. that being said, the question of "How does Jesus appear" becomes irrelevent. we understand this at a symbolic level, we're not looking into the type of parlor trick Jesus pulled to get himself in a locked room.

the other Gospels talk about how Jesus arrives unexpectedly, you know, cause he's supposed to be dead. so his friends don't recognize him at first until he does something familiar, then there's that "AHA!" momement and they get it. i'm going with that, that John was using poetic license to show how Jesus "pops" in.

as for why rewarding credulity.. he's not. the author of the Gospel of John is. here, the last scene, is where Jesus turns from the scene (if this were a play) and speaks directly to the audience and says "You're just as blessed as those you have seen and believed, if you believe and didn't see." another literary device employed by the author of John.

well, you may say, this is crap! how can you believe in a book that's obviously playing loose and fast with the facts. the authors of the bible didn't share our concept of history. read any history and you'll see this phenom. occur over and over. in Virgil's writing, in Flavius, Josephius, and in Pliny's writings, and the latter is considered THE historian of the time. facts and truth are not connected in the way we connect them today... hense my pervious post on truth and fact.

Luke said...

@SVS

you doubt that this is the greatest sermon EVER?! good, you were supposed to. played you like a drum i did ;-)

yeah, i wondered, as i researched the passage for the sermon, where Thomas was. i didn't find any thing... maybe we could midrash this.. it'd be a great sermon!

Angilcan Gurl said...

I LOVED this sermon. The device you use at the beginning is perfect. You immediately get me to doubt your words, which was your intention. You review the story "up until this point" about how everyone doubted Jesus, and then you connect it with Thomas in a way I've never seen done.

This was just great. I love reading this blog because you get me on my own "interested investigations."

lneely said...

Well put. I wasn't aware, actually, that the gospel of John was written as epic poetry. That adds an interesting perspective, and now I'm going to have to re-read it keeping that in mind.

Learn something everyday. Thanks. :D

freestyleroadtrip said...

Great sermon. I have always felt of bit of kinship with Thomas for some reason. Haven't been sure why completely. I think he gets a bum wrap. I like the fact that he questions. I like the fact that he changes his mind after he investigates. I like your take on it.

Nick said...

Greatest sermon ever? Perhaps to you. One sermon is never really better than another as long as truth is spoken of. The Bible is a two fold book of 66 books. Common themes two that really stike out at me. One the love that God has towards us and His chosen people. How often do the Jews praise God and when one thing isnt to their liking they start grumbling...are we not the same? If not now we were at one time even being in Christ Jesus. Two. All things come together for good. Doubting Thomas? Perfect. Because we are all doubting Thomas'. This shows us that perhaps we have our doubts until Jesus shows himself to us. He shows us Himself in so many ways we just need to look. Sometimes we think looking is not enough but it is as Thomas sees Jesus and the holes he believes. Its the same for us. This may have gone off track a little and I used to many words to explain it but I think you get the just of it. In my ending. We will all have doubts at times. Doubting is not a sin. Disbelief is the only sin that cant be forgiven. God Bless each and everyone one. Peace out...

Luke said...

"Greatest sermon ever? Perhaps to you." -Nick

hey nick, i think ya missed my tactic. it was a rhetoric device to get you to DOUBT that it was the greatest sermon. so you did doubt, hense becoming a "Doubting Thomas" ;-). and you're right, it's far from the greatest, i'd go with any of the parables to beat it.

thanks for your blessings and peace be! thanks for stop'n by!