When the Temple police brought out the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The High Priest said to them: We gave you strict orders to shut up and not talk about this Jesus person anymore, yet you have disobeyed us and filled the streets with your propaganda about a resurrected Messiah! You are determined to make us look bad and to bring this man’s blood on us.
Peter speaks up and says something like this: Who do you think you are. You are not God. We are compelled to obey God and not any human authority, whoever they are. We are followers of the resurrected Christ, the Messiah, and you don’t acknowledge any of that. You reject the Messiah and you reject our God. Who do you think we should take directions from? Definitely, not you! (Acts 5: 27-32)
Now it’s interesting that in the last verse of our reading that Peter says we are witnesses of the testimony we speak of, and we participate in and with the Holy Spirit whom God has given to us, and so we are not just empowered by our own conviction, but we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. These apostles that had turned their back on Christ, denying that they knew him or were associated with Jesus, were now boldly proclaiming him in the streets of the city. No longer were they afraid of the consequences. It had soaked in. It had become a part of them. The first reaction was fear, but then the teaching of Jesus endured and pulled them back after the shock of the crucifixion. But, they were not alone. Jesus Christ was with them in the form of the Holy Spirit. The witness and the power of the resurrected Christ was in their midst.
The disciples were now bold, focused and intentional. They were not afraid. They knew the consequences, but something was different. They were now accompanied by the Holy Spirit. They no longer felt all alone.
In our gospel reading when Jesus came and met with his disciples behind closed doors the only one missing was Thomas. So when he was with them, he breathed on them and said “receive the Holy Spirit.”So here’s another reference to the Holy Spirit. Thomas wasn’t there and he had his doubts. This is where the expression “doubting Thomas” comes from. When the other disciples told him that they have seen the Lord, Thomas says: I don’t know. Unless I can have more evidence, I just can’t believe it.
We heard the story. Jesus comes back the following week, and has a heart to heart talk with Thomas. With the new evidence Thomas declares to the risen Christ: My Lord and my God! And Jesus says this: Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. That’s us, you and me that Jesus is talking about here. We know Christ through the evangelism of the church, the written and the spoken word of God. But, let’s not be too quick to judge Thomas. Thomas had his doubts, and we are too quick to judge people with doubts.
Thomas is referred to as the “Twin”. (Didymus in Aramaic means twin.) There is a lot of speculation throughout history why Thomas was called the Twin. One early church writer stated that Thomas looked almost identical to Jesus. So, when Jesus needed to get away, Thomas would stick around so the crowd thought Jesus was still with them. Perhaps Thomas twin was not a follower of Jesus. Another early historian says that Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus was Thomas twin brother. What if Thomas twin was his sister, and what if she also was a follower of Jesus? She would not be in the inside we group, because she was the wrong gender. We know that there were many women that followed Jesus on his journey, not just men. But, that’s a different sermon, but an important one to discuss.
We know from Church tradition and history that Thomas took the Gospel to India and started churches there in the early 50’s AD. In India today there are Thomas Syrian Orthodox, Thomas Roman Catholic, and Thomas Protestant Churches. In seminary I had two Thomistic student classmates in the ordination process in the Thomas Orthodox Church of America.
Let’s consider one more scenario. Let’s imagine that we are the twin of Thomas, and that could be a twin sister or brother. Thomas could be your brother. Thomas could be my brother. As twins we share some of the closeness of thinking, sharing many similarities. Even the doubts that Thomas has. We read but we have trouble believing sometimes. We doubt, when we think we should believe. We pray this prayer: “Lord help me in my unbelief”. We read something in the Bible that bothers us on the first or second read, but when we delve into the word more closely using proven methods of study and interpretation and relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us, it deepens our faith.
Is there doubt in faith? Yes, there is doubt in faith, but Jesus does say to Thomas: “Blessed are those that don’t see yet believe”. Now Jesus turns the message away from Thomas to us…those that were not there with Thomas or the other disciples. I like to identify with Thomas as a twin, because at the end of the day he speaks his faith: “My Lord and my God”
Sometimes we have this idea that faith needs to be blind. We are told to believe and so we put our questions on hold and believe, because after all, that’s what real Christians do, right? Faith contains doubt. Doubt is part of faith. It’s good to have questions. God says we are to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. And, that does not mean that we leave our brain at the door of the church, and pick it up on the way out. We are instructed to serve God with our entire mind, to think, to reason. We study truth wherever that may take us, in the sciences, arts and creation. But, it doesn’t take away from our faith. It encourages our faith.
When we realize how small we are in comparison to our solar system, and that our solar system is traveling through space at 558 thousand miles an hour. Its part of the Milky Way galaxy and it takes our solar system 200 to 250 million years to orbit the Milky Way once, and our solar system is moving at 558 thousand miles an hour one of which is part of the Milky Way. It should give us pause that even in this vast universe of billions of stars and galaxies, and the edge of our universe that is roughly ninety billion trillion miles away that God is in our midst.
Faith contains elements of doubt, but the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. So, Father Dave, what are you talking about today? What can I take home with me to think about? How about this:
- Jesus has not left us alone. He has sealed us with the Holy Spirit, just as he breathed on the disciples and they received the Spirit, so he has given us the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the evidence of the resurrected Christ, living in the church. God has not left us as orphans. I will come to you. I will reach out to you. (John 14:8)
- It’s okay to question and have doubt. Doubt is part of a mature faith. As the prophet Isaiah says to us: Come now let us reason together. (Isaiah 1:18)
- We are invited to participate on a daily basis in this exciting resurrected life in Christ, to be connected with truth, God, the Ground of All Being. It’s a deep calling to follow Christ. Deep calls to deep.
In Michelangelo’s mural in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Italy, we see just two hands; God’s reaching down to Adam and Adam reaching out to God, their fingers almost touching. It is within this small space between the two fingers almost touching that we find communion with God. God is reaching down to us and we are reaching out to God, in the only ways we know how. In that space between the two hands, we find comfort in the experience of knowing God and being known by God.
Jesus says: I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you. I will reach out to you. And just as we are reaching out to Jesus with one hand, let’s reach out and bring a friend with the other. (John 14:8. Matthew 25:40)
Give thanks to the Lord for He is good.
His mercy endures forever.