The Legacy of Thomas

Dear Friends,
It was advertised as “Everybody Sunday!”
At a little country church, the worship planners had intended for it to be a worship experience that would meet the expectations of everyone. So they provided poinsettias and Easter lilies on the altar, for those who only come to church on Christmas and Easter. There would be electric fans on one side, for people who criticized the church for being a hot and stuffy place; and quilts on the other side who thought that the church was cold. Rocking chairs were placed in the aisles to address the concern that pews were too hard. And the offering? There was none, so that those who thought that the church was only interested in their money could relax and enjoy the service. You might be interested to know that attendance on “Everybody Sunday” was up a whopping 38%!
Last Sunday was Easter Sunday, and I can tell you that our attendance here at First United Methodist in Lindstrom was up by far more than 38%! With 166 worshipers in attendance that’s an estimated 66% increase, and all of them heard the glorious news: “He is Risen!”
But this week, across the board, and around the world, church attendance will be back to normal. The lilies are fast disappearing and so are the hundreds of visitors who worshiped in churches around the world last Sunday. After worship on Easter Sunday one new friend I met jokingly introduced himself to me as a “CEO” – meaning “Christmas and Easter Only”. We had a good laugh about that and I assured him he’s not alone in that category! I didn’t tell him this, but I really hope he comes back to worship this Sunday. Because on Easter, with all the hype and the hoopla, there is the sense that everybody buys into the resurrection – except perhaps, the CEO’s, that is. They might leave Easter Sunday worship wondering what’s wrong with them? Why is it so easy for everybody else to believe so wholeheartedly in the resurrection, but it’s so hard for them? I wish all the CEO’s would come back this Sunday, to hear of a man who was, perhaps, like them; Thomas, the doubter.
As I prepare my sermon for this Sunday (based on John 20:19-31) I truly believe that when we are honest with ourselves, we are all a lot like Thomas. Many of us, whether a CEO or not, may have difficulty accepting a life of faithful discipleship with a childlike faith. Jesus knew there would be Thomasses throughout the generations who would struggle with their faith. We too, struggle with a God who is seemingly silent, when we cry our desperate prayers. We too, struggle with a God when parts of the world are torn apart by senseless violence, and he does not reach down and stop it. Like Thomas needed, “Give us evidence, God, and we will believe.” Give us proof, and we will never doubt again. But it seems the proof never comes, doesn’t it? Not as concretely or as convincingly as we wish, at least. And I guess that’s why we call it “faith.” In fact, I’ve heard it said that “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith but, actually, part of it, maybe even an essential part of it.”
Unlike the CEO’s, if you attend worship on a regular basis, please reflect on this question for a moment: “Have you ever seen Jesus in his bodily form?” I’ll assume your answer is “No.” And yet, you continue to believe in Jesus – in his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. You continue to show up to worship, at times, struggling to believe while still trusting it’s true.
If Thomas has a legacy, it is this: he made it okay to doubt. That’s his gift to the Church. He made it okay for Christians to struggle with faith, that’s his legacy. I don’t know if they had markings on gravestones in the first century or not; epitaphs, we call them. If Thomas had markings on his gravestone, I believe there would be a two-sided message. On one side, it would read “He Doubted.” The other side would read “He believed.” Which begs another question: “What will our legacy be?” When people consider our lives of faith, hundreds of years from now, what will they say about us? May we use the rest of our lives to write that message to future generations.
Pr. Dale