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How St. Thomas Saved The Church

On the second Sunday of Easter we always read the story of doubting Thomas from the Gospel of John. Thomas is not present when Jesus first appears to the Apostles and when he is told of the appearance he says that unless he sees for himself he will not believe.

 Dr. Elaine Pagel is a professor from Princeton and writes interesting books about the faith, usually taking a slightly off beat approach.

 I heard her speak and she suggested that at the time John’s Gospel was written the Gospel of Thomas was being widely read by Christians in the early church. The Gospel of Thomas and numerous other books enjoyed a wide following in the early church, but did not make it into what we know as the New Testament for various reasons. Anyway she thought that John intentionally wrote Thomas into his Gospel in an unflattering way and to show a Thomas at odds with some of the teachings in the Gospel of Thomas. (That John! Thomas has no lines in any other Gospel.)

 Here are the three places Thomas appears in the Gospel of John.

 1.John 11:14 - 16

 Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

 Unless you got an invite to the Alamo how is ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him,’ the right response.

 2.    John 14

 After Jesus tells the Apostles In my Father’s house there are many rooms I go to prepare a place for you, Thomas says to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 

 3.Then in the upper room resurrection appearance John gives us ‘doubting Thomas.’

 John 20:24- 25 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘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 say God works in mysterious ways, because John meant to disparage Thomas and the teachings of the Gospel of Thomas but really what he did was save the Church from itself.

 I want to embrace Thomas’s questioning, His uncertainty, his desire for evidence, his doubts and I want to tell you I think they are the salvation of Christianity.

 What is the opposite of Thomas’s position it is certainty. And religion with certainty is not pretty.

 Religion with certainty is a scary thing.

 Religion with certainty looks like the Old Testament Stories in Joshua and Judges where the editor believe that God wanted the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanites who were in the land before them. (There is internal textual evidence and archeological evidence to indicate they did not exterminate the Canaanites.)

 It looks like the Sadducees and the Pharisees who Jesus is always at odds with in the gospels because they have boxed in God with all their rules and made God very small.

It looks like the crusades and Christian soldiers attacking Muslims in the streets of Jerusalem.

It looks like the Spanish inquisition and people being tortured for their beliefs.

It looks like the witch trials that spread across Europe and the US in the 16 and 17 hundreds.

It looks like slavery, apartheid and segregation defended with biblical texts.

It looks like Christians and Muslims fighting each other in the Sudan.

It looks like the Taliban.

It looks like the American manufacturer who put biblical inscriptions on the gun sights of military rifles destined for Iraq.

It looks like the excommunication of divorced people.

It looks like an all-male priest hood.

 Religious certainty can be very ugly. We need the right and ability to say is this really what God meant for us to do and Thomas more than anyone else gives me the right to question my brothers and sisters in the church.  

 But to bring it down to you and I.

 You might think it would be nice to have a faith where someone could explain every piece of symbolism, doctrine and tradition. A faith where every church leader would rattle off the same pre-memorized answer to every moral or theological question you might ask but such a faith creates a very small understanding of God that often leaves us unprepared for the surprises life has in store for us.

 I embrace my doubts and my questions because they are part of living into the mystery that is God.

 My questions and doubts are an admission that though God can fully know me I cannot fully know nor understand God. Did we really get it right when we wrote the Nicene Creed or is this simply the best word s we can find to express the mystery that is God?

 Does our understanding of the Trinity truly provide the best way to explain the mystery of the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Ghost? I stand on what I believe but I remain open to all that I may not yet understand. I am free to think about God and free to get it wrong as I struggle to get it right if there is a right.

 I want to live into the mystery of God.

 On the front of our altar and on our baptismal font we have the letters IHS, on our cross we have the letters in Greek that look more like IHR which are really Greek letters IHC. These are monograms for Christ but in reality we are not certain of their origins or actually which names for Jesus they refer to. You can easily find three or for explanations including the English interpretations of ‘In His Steps,’ and ‘In His Suffering.” In truth we know it means Jesus but its true origins and meanings are a mystery.

 I invite you to embrace a faith not shrouded in mystery but revealed through mystery.

 My questions and doubts help me from follow in the ways of God. I live out the gospel as I understand the calling of God in this time and this place, but my questions and doubts allow me to live with an openness that I can always do better and know better and maybe act better. We corporately believed in an all-male priesthood until we were convicted of our sexism. We excluded people who were divorced or gay or who we stigmatized in some other way until we admitted that our actions caused pain and did nothing to show forth the love of God.  

 We have improved the way we understand and relate to animals but we need to be better. We have improved how we treat and use the planet but we need to do better. We have improved medicine but we need to do better and increase its availability to all. The list goes on. If we held to certainty we would refuse to hear the cries of creation and of God’s children who are not us. Our willingness to question ourselves leaves us open to truth we do not yet know.

 I pray to be protected from the self-righteousness of certainty while at the same time being delivered from the paralysis of uncertainty.

My questions and doubts expose me to God revealed in mystery and leave me able to join St. Thomas who in the end says, ‘My Lord and my God!’