Summary: However you look at this story, the emphasis always appears to Thomas or us doubting, suggesting that we lack faith. It is not all to do with us; God has a role in our faith and we must let him work through us. We just cannot carry that burden alone.
This sermon was delivered to the congregation in Holy Trinity, in Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland on the 23rd April 2017: by Gordon McCulloch
(A Scottish Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of Glasgow and Dumfries).
Please join me in my prayer. Let the words on my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord. Amen.
Today’s reading is very familiar to everyone, even for those in other religions, … because the term “Doubting Thomas” is almost an everyday expression, … so in agreement with Callum from last week, to give you something new, … something that you have never considered before, gave me quite a problem, … however, I think I have something for you, but I will need to deliver it in three separate parts. … The first by using an Old Testament approach; … the second by using the more familiar Old Testament approach with Jesus “thrown in”; … and finally, … a New Testament, a version with power.
Old Testament manner
So let us begin in an Old Testament manner, a manner which clearly makes Thomas a failure, … because Thomas doubted the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead. … And this was made worse, because Thomas knew what Jesus was capable off; … yet he somehow, stubbornly refused to believe it, and … many sermons have been delivered in this manner of condemnation.
And yet, I have heard other sermons saying we are too cruel to poor Thomas as he did want to believe that Jesus had risen, … but just did not want to get his hopes up, just in case it turned out to be false. … I suppose it is like winning the lottery say, I suppose, … where we would say something like, “I will not rest until I see the money in my hand or my bank account”. … However you look at it from these points of view, there is still doubt.
So regardless of how you see Thomas, the emphases is on him doubting, … and not believing that Jesus had risen, …and I am sure there must have been many sermons delivered over the years with the minister or priests shouting down at the congregation, “you miserable bunch of sinners, you must believe, or you will be sent to hell”; … and we can just imaging those sermons. … And then: the congregation asking themselves, … “how am I meant to believe, and … what exactly am I to believe in”; because you never see anyone showing you how to do it. They will tell you to believe, or that you are not believing hard enough.
It is annoying, isn’t it? … Yet it is very complex subject, but notice the emphasis is on us believing, and this is backed up by Matthew 17:20 which says, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you”. … Eh!
So all you need then, … all you need is this tiny piece of mustard seed faith to move whole mountains. So if you cannot get this tiny bit of faith, you cannot believe; … which means you cannot do it; and if you cannot do it, … then you must be a miserable sinner and therefore deserve to be sent to hell. That is the simple logic of it.
Yet, we are all here today because we are “believers”, and I for one am not going to condemn anyone, but this is the Old Testament way of looking at things, … where we are to believe in God, and where God will sit around waiting on us believing?
As you all know, that approach is flawed, because we read this morning that, “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews”, … the disciples were locked in because they were afraid for their lives; and that no amount of believing would empower them otherwise.
This simple believing is basically New Age thinking, and there is a book called the Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale which I read many years ago, and I agreed with him, but after reading it, I totally lacked the power that positive thinking was meant to give, … and I am sure that I was not the only one. … Without power, or anointing, we are wasting our time, so I would say, do not listen to somebody who tells us to simple believe; … or as the American evangelists say, “believe and receive, or doubt and go without”. Make up your own mind on that one. Now, let us now look at this same Old Testament approach, but with Jesus thrown into the equation.