April 19, 1998 - Sunday after Easter
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture: John 20:19-31

Title: Signs and Promises

Taxes were due this last week - a reality check after a beautiful Easter. When Easter snuggles up to April 15 It reminds us as Christians that 3 things are certain - death, taxes and resurrection - right?

Maybe at your house taxes are no big deal, but I can assure you that for many people tax time is a heavy financial weight - an ugly reality that can certainly challenge their faith. The IRS has gotten enough bad press this year - I don’t need to tell you how the fear of owing the government money can cause people to doubt both their government and their belief in God.

In fact - not too unlike the fear and doubt the disciples were experiencing.

A little history here - the disciples weren’t the only ones who knew Jesus’ stand on resurrection - too many people had heard what he had to say. And believe me - resurrection was a hotly contested religious issue. So much so, that the authorities knew that there was a greater risk in Jesus dying than in letting him live. Their fear was that his body would be stolen by the disciples, to give the impression that resurrection had taken place. This would cement followers of Jesus together, creating an even bigger political /religious obstacle. The Disiciples had to have surmised that it was a possibility that someone would steal the body to frame them - It would make it easy to accuse and disperse Jesus’ followers - As in any power play situation the possiblities were endless - no one really knew who had done what - all anyone really knew for sure was what they had done.

So the disciples, in light of the disappearance of the body and the suspicion of resurrection, locked themselves away.

Imagine the scene - the disciples huddled together in hiding. Their conversations must have been full of speculation - How they wanted to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, but they feared for their very lives in light of the unstable religious and political environment. Their fears led them to doubt.

And suddenly in the midst of their fear and their doubt, Jesus comes to them and speaks to them - Well this resurrection appearance worked to convince all of the disciples except for the one who was missing - Poor Thomas. Imagine his confusion - when he left no one believed - and he returned and suddenly everyone believed.

I think that Thomas has gotten a bad rap all of these years, Doubting Thomas - indeed! - That nick name must have come from the self-righteous disciples - the ones who quickly forgot that they had been just as filled with questions until Jesus appeared to them. They were no different from the rest of us - Thomas included - it is easy to have doubts when fear threatens to control our world.

God understands our human need for evidence so well that Jesus reappeared to each of the disciples, so that they all had a chance to have seen and believed in the risen Lord.

So when Jesus says -

"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe -" It is not a condemnation of either Thomas or us when we doubt.

It is Jesus saying - "Here is what is going to happen - I will ascend - and you will have to go out into the community and be the ones who convince the world of the resurrection - Every generation after you will have to believe without the benefit of touching the mark of the nails. But when I leave, you will have everything that you will need in order to convince others of God’s great love"

We haven’t seen Jesus - we haven’t touched his hands, but we have seen the church, and we do believe - and because doubting is a part of the human condition, we also doubt.

Maybe both faith and doubting are a gift from God.

Frederick Beuchner said "Doubts are the ant in the pants of faith - They keep it moving."

Doubts are the evidence of our seeking to believe - Doubts are the motivators along our journey of faith. When our questions are answered our faith is deepened. Our questions are answered when we look at others who live selfless lives - people we cannot help but call Christians. Our questions are answered when we look toward scripture - when we remember that Jesus promised us - "I will not leave you desolate - The Holy Spirit will come to you - to remind you of all that I have said to you - Because I live, you also will live."

This morning we celebrated the baptism of three infants. We asked that the Holy spirit be upon them and their families. And we promised to nurture these children in the love of Jesus Christ and God. In those promises we have affirmed the gift of the Holy Spirit which we received in our baptism, and we renewed our commitment to continue on our faith journey - complete with our doubts and our seeking. and we renewed our commitment to live as Christians, little Christs, ready to go whenever God sends us.

Our faith, our questions and the answers to those questions are gifts from God - They send us along our journey toward true understanding of the resurrection - They remind us that God is with us always through the signs and the promises, even when it is difficult to see God’s supporting hand and they remind us that God has commissioned us to go into the world - equipped with all that we need to spread the good news - Jesus Christ is risen. Amen.

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