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John 20_19-31

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TITLE: Finding Our Way Out of the Dark Place       SCRIPTURE:    John 20:19-31


We call him Doubting Thomas, but we could call him Honest Thomas.  Thomas had honest doubts, and didn't hesitate to express them honestly.

The other disciples had been as certain as Thomas that their hopes had come to an end with the death of Jesus.  Our scripture reading tells us that, on Easter evening, they locked themselves in a house for fear of the Jews.  They had seen Jesus crucified, and were afraid that they, as his disciples, might be next.

We might be surprised to see the disciples so fearful. Peter and another disciple have seen the empty tomb -- and Mary Magdalene has seen the risen Christ-- and Mary told the disciples that Jesus was alive.  By this time, on Easter evening, the disciples should have been celebrating in the streets, but were instead locked in a secret room because they were afraid. 

We can understand them being afraid after the crucifixion -- but it seems surprising that they are still afraid after the resurrection.  But, then, they have only the testimony of two disciples that the tomb was empty -- and the testimony of one woman that she has seen Jesus. 

So what if the tomb were empty!  That could mean anything!  It didn't necessarily mean that Jesus was alive.  And what if a woman said that she had seen Jesus alive.  In that time and place, a woman's word didn't amount to much.  A woman seeing a crime wasn't allowed to serve as a witness in court.  These men must have discounted Mary's testimony that she had seen Jesus alive.  Jesus was dead and buried, and they all knew it. 

But then Jesus came through the locked door -- came into their locked room -- entered their fear-filled prison -- and said, "Shalom!  Peace be with you" -- and the fear drained from their faces to be replaced by skepticism -- and then by joy!  Mary was telling the truth after all.  It was one thing to hear her tell that Jesus was alive, but it was another thing to see him in the flesh.

But Thomas wasn't with them.  At this point, there were only eleven apostles, because Judas was dead (Matt. 27:3-10).  And then there were only ten, because Thomas was missing.

So the ten disciples told Thomas, "We have seen the Lord."  But Thomas said:

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

"I will not believe."  That is why we call him Doubting Thomas.  But we could call him Honest Thomas, because he is simply expressing honest reservations about Jesus being alive.  After all, when a person dies, that is it!  You can be injured and come back.  You can get sick and come back.  You can be in a coma and come back.  But you don't die and come back.  That just doesn't happen. 

If we are honest, we will have to admit that, had we been in Thomas' shoes that day, we would have had trouble too.  So instead of calling him Doubting Thomas, maybe we should put a more positive spin on things and call him Honest Thomas.  That is certainly how we would want people to treat the story if we were the doubters -- and we have all been doubters at one time or another, haven't we.

Doubting Thomas!  Honest Thomas!  We might even think of him as Courageous Thomas, because it takes courage to be the lone dissenter -- courage to stand up and be counted when there are ten of them and one of you -- courage to stick with unpopular doubt in the face of popular opinion.  Thomas did that.  He stuck by his guns!

So we could call him Doubting Thomas -- or Honest Thomas -- or Courageous Thomas -- but that wasn't the end of the story.  Doubting Thomas became Believing Thomas when Jesus came to visit again.  This time Thomas was present.  Earlier, when he was Doubting Thomas, he had said that he would have to see the wounds in Jesus' hands and side -- that he would have to touch the wounds to make sure that they were real.  When Jesus came back for a second visit, he told Thomas:

"Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe."

And Thomas responded, "My Lord and my God!"  In this Gospel of John, nobody says it better. 

And Thomas did more than to say, "My Lord and my God!" The Bible doesn't tell us what happened to Thomas after that day, but we think that he took the Gospel to India. Doubting Thomas became Believing Thomas, and belief changed his life.  He who had been depressed and unbelieving became a pillar of faith.

That was true for all of the disciples.  One glimpse of the risen Lord transformed all of them, because it proved that they had been right to believe in Jesus.  It proved that there was no difficulty too great for Jesus.  It showed them that they had no need to be afraid.  And they weren't!  They weren't afraid anymore!  Now the disciples were faith-filled -- ready to face a hostile world with the Good News of Jesus' resurrection.  They had seen him!  They knew what they were talking about!

I like this story of the Doubting Disciples.  I like it because I am a doubter too. When things are going well, I am tempted to doubt that I need Jesus.  Then, when things are going badly, I am tempted to believe that Jesus has let me down.  I am always in danger of bouncing between those two poles -- either doubting that I need Jesus or believing that he has let me down.

But Jesus always tries to help me out of that miserable place.  He never stops trying to coax me out of that dark hole into the light.  When Thomas had trouble believing, Jesus came to him.  Jesus said:

"Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe."

In other words, Jesus came to this man who was having trouble believing, and gave him what he needed so that he could believe.

Jesus does that for me too.  He comes to me.  He gives me what I need so that I can believe.  He helps me past my unbelief.

Sometimes I am slow to move out of my dark hole.  Sometimes, when things are going badly, I wonder where God is.  Sometimes, when I read the newspaper, I wonder why God allows so much evil.  Sometimes, when I see the kind of people that get rich, I wonder if there is any justice.  Sometimes, I get angry with God and want to stay in my dark hole. 

But Jesus never stops trying to coax me into the light.  He never fails to give me what I need so that I can believe.  At that point, it is up to me.  I can doubt or I can believe.  Jesus always leaves me that choice.  He never forces me.  But Jesus always does his part. He always gives me what I need so that I can believe -- if I will.

Some people would say that a preacher should never admit doubt.  But I confess my struggles with doubt and my temptation to stay in the dark place, because I know that those are common experiences. 

Most of us experience doubt at some point -- especially when we are young.  When we are young, we have so many unanswered questions.  We don't know where life will take us.  We don't know if we will amount to anything.  We don't know whether our lives will go well or badly. We are tempted to despair -- tempted to doubt -- tempted not to believe.

But I share with you my own struggles, because I want you to know that, in the end, Jesus has always helped me to believe -- has given me what I needed -- has helped me out of the dark place.  Just as Jesus gave Thomas what Thomas needed, so Jesus gives me what I need.

I share this with you because I know that many of you struggle with doubt too -- are tempted to hole up in a dark place and let the world go by.  I share my story with you, because I want you to know that doubt and darkness need not be the end of your story. Jesus is always there for us -- always trying to help -- always offering us what we need so that we can believe.  At that point, it is up to us.  We can choose doubt -- we can choose darkness -- or we can choose to join Jesus in the light.

It isn't much fun to sit in the solitude of the dark place.  It is far happier to come out into the light of belief.  At first, the light can seem too bright -- dazzling -- it can hurt our eyes.  But once we adjust to living in the light, we will not be able to imagine why we ever wanted to stay in the dark place. 

Jesus told Thomas,

"Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

BLESSED!  "BLESSED are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."  Jesus said many true things in the course of his life, but none truer than this. "BLESSED are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

I have told you about Thomas' doubt and his belief.  I have told you about my struggle with doubt.  I have told you that Jesus has always been there for me -- has always helped me through my doubt -- has always helped me to believe.  Jesus has always given me a choice.  He has allowed me freedom to hide in darkness, but has always encouraged me to come to the light.  He has given me the freedom to doubt, but has given me what I needed so that I could believe.

Now let me close by telling you that, in believing, I have been blessed.  The life of the believer is ever so much happier than the life of a doubter.  I have been both.  I know.

Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." 

-- BLESSED!  It was true for Thomas.
-- BLESSED!  It has been true for me.
-- BLESSED!  It will be true for you too. 

Let Jesus bring you out of the darkness of your doubt into the blessed light of belief.  Make that choice.  Once you receive the blessing, you will never want to go back. I promise it.

He is Lord UMH #177

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Objects suggested: pillow, stuffed animal, or a child's special blanket

What causes you to feel peaceful?  Do you like being rocked in your mother's lap?  Do you feel peaceful when your father reads to you?  Perhaps you have a special blanket or a stuffed animal that you use to help you feel calm and secure when you need to rest.  A comfortable pillow can also help you drift off to sleep peacefully.

Some people are calmed by the sound of the sea.  Others feel peaceful when they are warmed by sunshine or watch snowflakes fall.  The sound of wind blowing through trees or seeing cows in a meadow can be a relaxing experience.  What are other things that cause you to feel peaceful?

Feeling peaceful is a pleasant experience.  Jesus talks about peace and his words are recorded in the Bible.  Three times, as Jesus talks with his disciples before he ascended into heaven, he says, "Peace be with you." It seems Jesus wants all his followers to feel peaceful.

Jesus also said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."  The Holy Spirit is the part of God that lives within us.  The Holy Spirit is the part of God that gives us peace. The Holy Spirit is our comforter. When we are upset or when we worry it is good to remind ourselves that God's Spirit of Peace, The Holy Spirit, lives within each of us and is always with us.

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