Following is the manuscript Rev. KJ Norris wrote for preaching on April 15, 2018. It is not an exact transcription of the audio file, but the intent and preacher are the same.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
What is your favorite Children’s Book? Do you have one? A favorite story that was read over and over in your house when you were a child. Or perhaps a favorite story that your child asked you to read a million times?
I have some favorites: The Pokey Little Puppy. Dr. Seuss’s The Butter Battle Book. From the Bible: I loved Samson and Delilah. And, of course, Winnie The Pooh.
Some kids have blankets or rabbits that they keep with them at night. I had a bear. And I loved stories of the wobbly, cuddly Pooh, going on adventures with his friends. His friend Eeyore, the donkey who keeps misplacing his tail, appears in almost every Pooh book.
Eeyore, though, is a reluctant character. He goes on all of the adventures. He shows up when his friends need him. We would call him loyal, and his actions are truly brave at times, but he never really seems to be sure about, well, anything.
Eeyore often wonders why he is participating. And doubts his own presence and abilities.
When I meet Thomas in the Bible, it is Eeyore that comes to mind. Thomas, too, is always mentioned in the list of people who are with Jesus. He is present for all of the adventures. He is on the official list of “one of the twelve,” but despite how very loyal he is and despite the fact that we see him act in ways that may be courageous, he often seems just a little reluctant to be a part of the team.
We first hear from Thomas in John chapter 11. It’s a story we just studied recently in Bible Talk. Jesus’ friend Lazarus is sick. Very sick. In fact, Jesus knows that his friend is dying and Lazarus does die. But Jesus goes to him anyway.
And this is a dangerous thing to do because Lazarus lives in Bethany. And the last time that Jesus and his followers were in Bethany, the townspeople tried to stone Jesus and ran them all out of town. But Jesus decides to go back anyway. He wants to be there for his friends, for Lazarus and Martha and Mary.
When Thomas hears Jesus’ plan, he says: “Okay. Let’s go along with Jesus. We will probably die as well.” There are know voice recordings of Thomas, of course, but I think we needed an actor to play Thomas, Eeyore would be a great choice. We can hear his voice of reluctance, but also see his determination to be a loyal part of the team, despite his concern.
“Okay. Let’s go along with Jesus. We will probably die as well.” He is willing to go despite the threat of death, but he is not exactly optimistic or eager. He is simply willing to keep waiting and seeing for himself what happens. And spoiler alert if you haven’t read John 11: Though Thomas doubts that any good will come of this adventure, death does not come. In fact, Jesus boldly proclaims: I am the resurrection and the life! And Lazarus, though dead for a few days before they arrive, is brought back to life.
Thomas witness an amazing miracle on that day. But it doesn’t stop him from being Eeyore.
The next time we encounter Thomas is in John 14. This time Jesus is trying to explain something extremely important to his followers. He is giving them words that are often used in funerals. (READ 14:1-4). Jesus wants them to know that he will eventually die and will no longer be on this earth, but that even in the life after this one, followers of Jesus will still be able to follow. Jesus has a home prepared for those who love him not just in this life but in the next.
Thomas, of course, is not so sure about this. READ verse 5.
Or perhaps better, in Eeyore’s voice: Verse 5.
I love that Thomas is such a realist. Jesus we can’t follow you if you don’t draw us a map. We can’t follow you if you don’t leave specific instructions. We can’t follow you if we do not see you.
Thomas has doubts about his ability to find this place Jesus is preparing. Maybe we do, too.
But Jesus doesn’t get angry with Thomas for asking questions. He doesn’t say: Thomas, go away, you have been journeying all this time with me and you’ve seen miracles beyond imagination, clearly you are just not getting it. Go take your mopiness some place else.
No, Jesus instead gives one of the most profound truths we know. Jesus turns to Thomas and says: READ v 6-7.
If Thomas hadn’t asked. If we didn’t have his doubts before us, we would never have fully understood.
Jesus doesn’t give us a clear map of the future with every twist in the road marked out or the potholes lighted or even with danger ahead signs.
Jesus doesn’t give us a rule book that tells us if we just do these things, everything will turn out ok. We will be happy every day and have all the things we need.
No, that’s not Jesus. Jesus is far better than a written map or a book of rules.
Jesus IS the way. Jesus IS the truth. Jesus IS the life.
It is only by walking each and every day on this adventure with Jesus that the mysteries and beauties of life are revealed. It is only by walking each and every day on this adventure with Jesus that we find comfort even in the sad and lonely and hard times. It is only by walking each and every day on this adventure with Jesus that we find our true home both in this life and the next. I am the way, Jesus explains lovingly to his friend Thomas.
But then Jesus does die. And Thomas is defeated. How are we supposed to follow one who is dead? One who was killed in a brutal way. Thomas saw it happen. He knows that the one who saved so many others did not save himself.
And then his friends, the other follower of Jesus, they start talking crazy. They start saying they have seen Jesus. That Jesus has risen from the grave. And Thomas is like, “yeah right.” Or perhaps more like Eeyore: I don’t think so; you must have seen a ghost.
But the other followers, they try to convenience Thomas. No, Thomas, it was not a ghost. It was really Jesus. Mary is like: he said my name! I know it was him! And some of the others were like: he ate with us! It was him! And still others said: he keeps teaching us things. It’s the real Lord, not just a memory or a ghost.
So, Thomas, in his usual way, stays with his friends. Shows them loyalty. And yet, it’s fully a part of the team. Reluctantly, he stays. But he says: VS 25.
It’s not until a week later that Jesus appears in a house where Thomas is staying with other disciples, gathered around with the door shut.
And Jesus somehow miraculously appears in front of them. He clearly didn’t knock or do anything traditional, but just the same, he is not a ghost or a figment of their imagination. He knows what Thomas has been thinking. Jesus knows his doubts. And again, Jesus responds not in anger, but in love. VS 26-27.
Sometimes I think that we fear if we have doubts. If we have questions. If we wonder about this stuff called faith. If we are unsure of who Jesus is or where Jesus is leading us, then we are somehow not real believers. Or we are not actually a follower or Jesus. Or we somehow will be punished by God for not having faith that is strong enough. We ignore our own questions. We fear talking about them in church or anywhere else for that matter because we fear being wrong. We want our doubts to be hidden. Sometimes we even hid them from ourselves.
But Thomas reminds us that part of faith is doubt. Part of faith is doubt.
Part of journeying with Jesus is recognizing that we don’t always know where we are going. The road is windy and full of potholes and sometimes dangerous. It’s not always beautiful or easy. And there is not a map.
But, Jesus himself has been there. Jesus has been through all of the hardship and struggle that we could possibly imagine in life. And Jesus has even died. Jesus surpassed the final frontier. And Jesus reminds us today as he did Thomas long ago that he is the way.
Jesus shows Thomas that he really is alive. And from that moment on, Thomas’s life is transformed. My Lord and My God, Thomas proclaims. Thomas finally gets it. If we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father. Jesus and God are one. My Lord and My God.
I think that most of you know I lived in India for a time while I was in college. Perhaps you know that a group of people in the Indian state of Kerala have been believers since the 1st Century C.E.
After Pentecost, believers there tell us, Thomas journeyed by boat into the Arabian Sea. He followed the call of the Lord on a road less traveled and ended up on the southern tip of India where he boldly proclaimed the truth of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. He taught the lessons Jesus had taught him. He spoke boldly of Jesus’ miracles. He explained that Jesus Christ had died so that all might live.
And people believed Thomas. And God kept his promise and blessed them for they believed even though they lived far from where Jesus has been born in Palestine and knew nothing of Jesus except Thomas’s testimony.
And the Holy Spirit came into their lives and they were transformed. The Christian community has been strong there for 2000 years because of Thomas’s witness.
Friends, today, if you have doubts, that is okay. It is part of the journey of faith. Jesus will never turn you away from asking too many questions or for showing reluctance. You are welcome to come as you are, even if it means you show up at Kerr in your Pjs with a little Eeyore pouty face. We are on this adventure together. Loyal to the one true Lord who continuously reveals himself to us and who leads us on journeys we can’t even imagine.
And perhaps you have a story you are willing to share. We will have a time of sharing our faith journeys on Pentecost.