Sermon Text: See For Yourself
I had a real laugh during Lent. I was talking to someone I know, not a member of St. Mark's. She runs a business I use all the time. So a couple of weeks before Easter, she tells me that one of her employees is retiring. There was going to be cake on the final day. If I could stop by, I would be welcome to celebrate with the cake.
I asked for the date and she said, "March 30." I said, "March 30? That's my busy time! It's Good Friday, you know! Did you hear that Jesus died?" She said, "Well, I don't get the paper any more, so I didn't see the obituary."
Boy, wasn't paying for Jesus' obituary a big waste of money?!? On the third day, they'd have to print a retraction.
So here we are in the Great Fifty Days of Easter, hearing the resurrection stories. And today, we hear about Thomas. We always hear about Thomas on the Sunday after Easter Day.
There is a theme in John's Gospel: You gotta see for yourself. It happened with the early disciples. Philip tells Nathanael about Jesus, and then says, "Come and see!"
The woman at the well meets Jesus and is drawn to him. She tells other people in the village about him. After they hear Jesus themselves, they say to her, "We no longer believe just because of what you said. Now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."
And now Thomas wants to see for himself. Thomas sometimes gets a bad rap. They call him "Doubting Thomas" like that's a bad thing. But he just wants to experience the same thing the others did. The other guys saw the wounds on Jesus which proved it was really him. Thomas just wants to see the same thing.
Thomas gets a bad rap, but he's real. He's the hard-nosed skeptic. He's the guy from Missouri, the "Show Me" state. He's the one who is unafraid to poke around to see if this thing holds water. You go, Tom!
I'm with him. I have to see for myself. You have to see for yourself. As the old saying goes, "God doesn't have grandchildren." You have to make up your OWN mind. And therefore Thomas fits beautifully with the way I experience the Episcopal Church. We are a church with very few "musts"...instead, we ask people to think for themselves and make up their own minds. We say, "Come and see."
How many times has someone said to us, "You gotta see this movie...you'll love it! You gotta read this book....you'll love it! You gotta try this restaurant...you'll love it!" Well, maybe. But we have make up our own minds to like it...or not.
I'm with Thomas. Jesus has to show up alive to ME for me to believe. And for me, he does...in the text of the Gospels. I'm a reader, you see, and that's how I meet the world.
I believe that great books endure because they help us interpret our lives. It's a personal quest, this grappling with the world and ourselves. We need all the help we can get. The fact that there are people who came before us and wrote down so much in books is consoling. We stand on their shoulders. And when we do, miracles happen. That's what the writers of the Gospels have done for me.
My family knows what reading does for me. One time, my mentally challenged but truly wise daughter Marie was home for the weekend. She and her mom were laughing on the other sofa. I was reading a book and drinking coffee. As they laughed, I looked up at them. Marie laughed again and said, "Read your book, Godboy!" Marie knows what books mean to me.
I had a friend back in seminary who is now a bishop (which, by the way, knowing the guy, I just can't believe). I remember a conversation we had over 30 years ago now. He was talking about the stories in the Gospels. He talked about how much he wished he could have been there, to see it all with his own eyes. "If only I could have seen him face to face, I'd have no trouble believing," he said.
I remember telling him that for me, the text was enough. The written stories are enough. The Gospels are enough. I meet Christ in the book. I see Christ in the text. I experience Christ in the Gospel stories. But that's me...I can't speak for anyone else.
However, I do have it on Jesus' authority that there is also another way to see him. In his teaching, he said that whenever we do good for anyone else, we are doing it for him. He hides in other people. So not only is he in the text, he is also in the hearts of those around us, whether they and we know it or not.
As another friend of mine used to say, "The Lord walks around."
And he ought to have known. He was a member of my church in Pennsylvania, and he was the Resurrection Man. He was elderly, and then he got sick. He was in the hospital, and we all thought he would die. I was thinking about what to say at his funeral.
Well, he got a little better, and then was sent to a nursing home. And he got a little better still, and actually went back to his home. And then he got even better. And he bought himself a red Thunderbird convertible. He had some years left!
I called him the Resurrection Man, and he's the one who taught me, as much as anyone did, that the Lord walks around.
Christ is risen.
Be like Thomas and see for yourself.
He is risen in the text.
And he is risen in the hearts of those around you.
See for yourself!