The Second Sunday of Easter (May 1, 2011)

Lessons:Acts  2:14a, 22-32 Psalm 16 1st Peter 1:3-9 St. John 20:19-31

Prayer of the Day: Almighty and eternal God, the strength of those who believe and the hope of those who doubt, may we, who have not seen, have faith in you and receive the fullness of Christ's blessing, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 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.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

St. John 20:19-31, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Do Not Be Untrusting… But Trusting

What is faith? There is an old, sermon illustration about the great Blandon. It is reported that he once stretched a tightrope across Niagara Falls, and proceeded to walk across it from Canada to the United States. When he reached the far side, he approached the cheering audience. At the front was an admiring fan, cheering with the rest. Blandon asked the fan, “Do you believe I could put a person in a wheelbarrow, and push that person from this side to the other without falling?” The enthusiastic fan replied, “Yes I believe you could.” Then Blandon asked, “Would you let me do it with you?” The fan, somewhat in shock, replied: “Not a chance.” He believed in Blandon, but he didn’t have enough faith in Blandon’s ability to entrust his life to him.

This weekend’s Gospel lesson, which we read every year on the week following Easter, is all about faith and trust. At the heart of the discussion are two Greek words: the noun “pistos” (and its opposite: “a-pistos”) and the verb “pisteuo.” Each of them has the root meaning of “to trust” or “to rely upon.” In this weekend’s lesson, verse 27 of The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates this word as believe, and its opposite as doubt. But these translations don’t get to the heart of the Greek word “pistos.” (Actually, there are at least six other Greek words that can be accurately translated as “doubt” — yet none of them are used in this instance.) The core meaning of “pistos” is trust, and the opposite of trust is not doubt. I can choose to trust others, even though I have doubts about them. The opposite of trust is an unwillingness or inability to trust. And so the challenge Jesus put to Thomas had nothing to do with whether or not Thomas had doubts. It had to do with whether or not Thomas was willing to entrust himself to Jesus despite his doubts. “Do not be untrusting… but trusting.”

The interesting thing about this exchange is that before his experience with the Risen Christ, Thomas found himself unable to trust in the proclamation that Jesus is risen. The rest of the group, having experienced Jesus the week before, embraced that proclamation with their whole hearts. But Thomas couldn’t. Not until he personally met Christ, and experienced it for himself. Try as he might, Thomas couldn’t trust that message. But once he had an experience with Christ, that all changed. “My Lord and my God!” he proclaimed.

The week before, Jesus had placed a challenge before the disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And so the church received its mission. We are to follow in their footsteps, as they followed in Christ’s footsteps. We are to help people towards an experience with the risen Christ. We are to realize that apart from God’s work, none of us can be people of faith and trust by our own volition. But empowered by the Holy Spirit, Christ comes into our lives in a way that moves us to have faith and trust in him.

May we, like Thomas, be touched by God’s Spirit, and become people of faith and trust. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. As the text begins (with the disciples hiding behind locked doors) would you describe them as believers? Or unbelievers? Trusting? Or untrusting?
  2. After Jesus appeared to the others, why did Thomas not believe?
  3. How do you interpret Jesus’ interaction with Thomas? Was he glad to help Thomas believe? Was he irritated with Thomas for not believing what the others told him?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I found myself unable to trust in the message of the Gospel?
  2. What first hand faith experiences have I had with Christ?
  3. Who has been God’s vehicle in bringing me to a place of faith and trust?
  4. Who might God be nudging me towards — someone who needs my encouragement to become a person of faith and trust?