(who's this "Al" character, anyhow?)
Ok this is the GIST of tomorrow's sermon. Or maybe the PITH. Preaching seems to consist mainly of GISTS and PITHS...some of mine are pithier than others. Sometimes they are so pithy, I could jutht thpit (OK, that's not original).
Here is Misnamed Thomas again, waiting for us to notice that he IS named in Scripture, and he isn't called Doubting, he's called Didymus -- Twin Thomas. And coyly, Sceripture doesn't tell us who his twin was/is. We hear all about Simon Cyrene's kinfolks, but not Thomas's double. And you thought this was an accident?
Thomas is not in the group when the group is visited by Jesus; why not? He was too sad? he was too distraught? his kid had hockey practice? No. Thomas was not there because the group needed him to encounter Jesus in their midst in a different way which would enrich, deepen, validate, GROUND their encounter with the Risen One. The story requires somebody to be out of step with the rest.
This isn't the first time Thomas has been wrong-footed -- not to forget he was the one of the whole bunch that got on board with the outrage of Jesus' explanation of what was going to happen at Passover. "OK, then, if he's going to get killed, let's all go get killed while we're at it." Not the words of a doubter. Not a skeptic.
Because Thomas is not a skeptic -- he's like Umberto Eco, who in dialogue with Carlo Cardinal Martini, douce man that he was, defended himself: "I am NOT a skeptic, Your Eminence -- I am merely NOT CREDULOUS." (cuz credulity ain't faith, right?)
I could digress here about 15 minutes' worth on how Thomas just keeps his screen door hooked, and then I would quote THIS in its entirety...
Maybe someone comes to the door and says,
"Repent," and you say, "Come on in," and it's
Jesus. That's when all you ever did, or said,
or even thought, suddenly wakes up again and
sings out, "I'm still here," and you know it's true.
You just shiver alive and are left standing
there suddenly brought to account: saved.
Except, maybe that someone says, "I've got a deal
for you." And you listen, because that's how
you're trained---they told you, "Always hear both sides."
So then the slick voice can sell you anything, even
Hell, which is what you're getting by listening.
Well, what should you do? I'd say always go to
the door, yes, but keep the screen locked. Then,
while you hold the Bible in one hand, lean forward
and say carefully, "Jesus?"
But I probably won't.
The point is that the group needs the challenge of that wonderful moment when out-of-step Thomas says, "My Lord and my God" -- they still had the initial clutch-and-grab oh-good-he's-back reaction -- they weren't going to move off that place of comfort without Thomas's near-blasphemous blurt.
But then there's another piece of the story -- and I don't for one minute think that Jesus was "dissing" Thomas. The story is told to reassure people who were not part of the Old Original Galilean Veteran Marching and Chowder Society, and could never have been. Because we plant our foot as a faithful people on the reality, the factuality, of an event in time, but we have to avoid getting ourselves boxed into "back in the day," "you had to be there" thinking. So Jesus speaks reassurance to those who will not see and yet will believe. That would be US, my dear brothers and sisters. We haven't missed anything essential, by being "born out of time."
That's our comfort. But there's never comfort without challenge; and the challenge comes in asking "HOW" those who have not seen are blessed? They must be blessed by the witness of those who have encountered the Risen One. And this is where the rest of the disciples are, by implication, smacked on the head. Because their witness is not effective -- they don't say, "Jesus is Risen!" No, they say, "WE have seen the Lord!" and no wonder Thomas says, in effect, "Well, big whoop for you." Their witness has not yet made room for the gift of the Holy Spirit, which they received so casually on Jesus' first visit (reference here to the explanation by Peter in the Acts passage, that the Spirit herself is witness to the resurrection in and through those who are proclaiming it -- even the original generation who "saw it with their own eyes."
And that is our challenge -- so to receive the power of the Holy Spirit that our own witness will be effectual blessing to our neighbours.
I think that's all. Obviously I've got to peel it back a good deal.
I love Thomas, can you tell? He's right up there with Jonah among My Favourite Gnarly Friends of God.
Oh yes -- the "other" twin? I have a strong suspicion that Thomas is twin to each of us...