Thomas and his doubt usually get pride of place today, but in the text Jesus repeats on phrase three times. And when Jesus repeats something it is usually worth paying attention to what that is. In this case it is peace, or more specifically “Peace be with You”. The Lord desires that his disciples have peace. The question is what does he mean by peace.
This sermon ponders on what type of peace the Lord brings. How that peace differs from what the world calls peace. And how that peace comes to reside in us and the life that it gives us. The resurrection peace of Christ be with you.
The text is the standard text for the second Sunday in Easter, Doubting Thomas. It is paired with the epistle less from John’s first letter. The pairing of these two texts is almost perfect. This sermon stakes out three points: 1) The pride of place in the Thomas passage should not be the sight of the body, but Jesus’ “Peace be with You”. It is this proclamation of the gospel and the shorthand for the entire story that enables all the disciples to truly discern the resurrection. 2) Jesus re-explains just what that peace is about. That peace of God is both the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the issuance of the Keys. The Keys are the authority to forgive sins which are given to the church and to individual members. We as Christians are at peace because we are forgiven. Because we are forgiven we can “see” the resurrection rightly. 3) When we live by the story (Peace be with you), we have fellowship with the Father. That fellowship is unto eternal life.
A traditional theological education is usually divided into four areas: Bible, Doctrine, History and Practice. They of course are meshed together, but the point really is to acknowledge that we have different primary lenses through which we can reflect. I tend to default to the Bible which I think leads me to a couple of quirks compared to the LCMS in general which is a Doctrine first body predominately. I’d just say the difference is between messy and clean. Doctrine is clean;the Bible can be messy. Doctrine is the math proof that leaves out a few steps as “obvious” that are not at all obvious to the layman or student. Practice tends to be the warm fuzzy pile where we are reminded it is not about the bible or the book of doctrine but the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The one that gets lost is History. Partly because it takes study. You have to read it. Partly because even if you read it you have to figure out how to preach it. And partly because if the bible is messy, try history.
This sermon is an attempt to look at how different ages of the church read and reacted to Doubting Thomas. Every age has their own fascinations and trials. This text is a sharp example of that which I think gave itself to a method of actually preaching Jesus. I’d invite you to have a listen or give it a read.
Okay, I’ll admit that this is one of my geekier sermons. Although I think even if you completely don’t get what I’m talking about in the middle, the introduction and the application or gospel in the world section work.
Why this is so geeky is because it is an attempt to identify something that we are dealing with but has not been completely defined to the point of say “well duh”. Trying to compress it I think our society has a hard time believing anything. That unbelief is not you garden variety doubt, which I would label as just part of the Christian life. The older saints would call it poetically a dark night of the soul. Thomas doesn’t doubt, he believes something else entirely. He believes is wood and steel and Roman power and his senses and dead things stay dead. When Jesus appears the command is not stop doubting and believe, but stop the unbelief and believe. Now I said Thomas believed in something (wood and steel, cross and spear, the marks in the hands and the side), but belief in idols is no belief at all. Idols have no real existence, so belief in them is unbelief. Jesus tells Thomas, to stop the idolatry. And that is our problem. Our old idols of nation, race, ideology and even church have failed. And postmodernism has convinced us to not get fooled again. But the problem is that we don’t have a choice. We are contingent creatures. We all rest on something. The default metaphysical dreams are our bellies or nothingness or gussied up mammon and nihilism. Those are the idols of post-modernism. And they are bad ones. The command issued by Jesus to Thomas caught in both is stop the unbelief and believe. Christ is the true cornerstone that we can build upon. All the old idols have been knocked down, but they have been knocked down so that we might see Christ. Not so that we can find worse idols.