Post Modern Pastor, The Sixth Sense

April 15, 2012

The Gospel of John is the most sensual of all Gospels. It requires us to use all of our faculties to discern its meaning. Throughout most of the gospel we have to use our eyes. Jesus is the light of the world. In him was life and the life was light, and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. I am the light of the world, Jesus says. In addition to sight we have to open our mouths and taste the goodness of God. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Truly I tell you, unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you. We have to breathe in and smell the fragrance of Christ, which Ken beautifully offered on Palm Sunday. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet and we meditate on how the costly perfumed lingered through his trial, flogging, and crucifixion. We have to open our ears to hear the Good Shepherd who knows our name and calls out to us. We must touch Christ as the beloved disciple, reclining next the Lord, intimately, during his last meal. God blesses us with five senses, one for each loaf which feeds the multitudes.

Yet in the abundance of God, God reveals the divine nature in seven signs throughout the Gospel: the wedding at Cana, the healing of the officials son, healing of the paralyzed man, multiplication of the loaves and fish, healing of the blind man, raising of Lazarus, the crucifixion and the resurrection. With seven signs, the number of perfection, our five senses can’t keep up. We have five senses and God reveals seven signs. There’s a gap there, and our “Doubting Thomas,” completes the picture. Any grade school child can tell you, the only way to get from five to seven is six. God has blessed us with a sixth sense, the gift of faith. Everything our eyes see, everything our ears hear, our hands touch, and so on, requires faith, the application of meaning. Our faith bridges the gap between what our faculties receive and what God reveals.

Several weeks ago I had the blessing of speaking at a Centenary College forum discussing the relationship between happiness and faith. Very quickly our discussion on happiness became a discussion of the value of religion. There was the basic assumption that religious people live according to a system of belief and atheists do not. This is simply not true. A better discussion is in what or in whom do we believe, not whether or not we live according to a belief system. You would not brush your teeth in the morning unless you believed it prevented cavities. When you put your foot on the accelerator you trust that it will propel your car. Whether you read a blog post or a textbook about what’s going on in the world you trust that what you are reading is true. So I felt like I was in a room of “Thomases,” so to speak saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

I would imagine you’ve heard your fair share of Thomas sermons. After all, it comes up in the lectionary every year on this, National Associate Pastor’s Day (the acronym of which is NAP Sunday). So, those of us leading from the second or third chairs have had time to walk with this text. There are two basic sermons I’ve heard on this text. The first goes something like this: “Poor Thomas who doubted. We are not to be like Thomas. We are to have faith. Jesus denounces Thomas and blesses us because he says, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.’” The other sermon is quite the opposite. “Poor Thomas, he gets a bad rap. We remember his doubt but not his faith. Thomas is the only disciple to proclaim, ‘My Lord and my God,’ a proclamation the other disciples couldn’t muster. All of the disciples doubted, in a way. They were hiding behind closed doors out of fear, and if there’s anything the resurrection proclaims is ‘Do not be afraid,’ as the angel says at the tomb. Our story does not end in death. Christ has defeated death. There is nothing which can separate us from the love of God; therefore there is nothing to fear.”

I have a place in my heart for the faithful, those who look at the world and whatever may come they find a way to rejoice as the Apostle Paul urges in Philippians. I also have a place in my heart for the realist who echoes the Psalmist saying, “My tears have been my food day and night,” and “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So, on the one hand we preach that we are not to be like doubting Thomas. On the other hand we preach that we are to follow Thomas’ lead proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” In their extremes both of those sermons miss something because it is not the Word of God so that we might see the correct Thomas. It is the Word of God because it reveals Christ.

In this story we see three ways in which the resurrected Christ is revealed. First, Jesus appears to the disciples and says, “Peace be with you.” Overjoyed by his appearance Jesus again says “Peace be with you.” A week later when Thomas is present, Jesus again appears and says, “Peace be with you.” Once for the Father, once for the son, and once for the Holy Spirit. Jesus is revealed in the peace we share. You see, Thomas did not doubt the resurrection. Thomas doubts what his friends have said about the resurrection. He didn’t doubt Jesus. He doubts his friends. When the disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas replies, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger in his side, I will not believe.” I’m rather preaching to the choir when I urge you to believe in the resurrection, but does our love of God overflow our cup to incorporate Jesus’ command to love each other as Christ loves us, and not just us but those whom God is calling to soon be here? “Peace be with you,” the resurrected Lord proclaims. The first rule of resurrection is for peace to abide with you.

Secondly, Jesus is revealed through healed wounds. Jesus presents his wounds to Thomas and says, “Put your finger here. See my hands. See my side.” Jesus is revealed when wounds are healed. Living as resurrected people means that we are open and honest about our humanity, our frailty, our faults, but we don’t stop there. In a covenantal community we share our wounds not to perpetuate gossip or blame, but so that we might be healed. Jesus’ wounds remain, but they are healed by the grace of God, likewise when we acknowledge our wounds they too will be healed. Jesus is revealed in the peace we share and in the wounds we heal.

Finally, Jesus says, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” To whom is Jesus referring? Notice the language. It is not blessed are those who have not seen and will believe. It is past tense. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Who outside of the gathering of disciples have believed in the resurrected Lord? Who is Jesus touching who is not here with us this morning? In other words, it is the great commission in the Gospel of John. Who is Jesus calling who have not yet made their way here to bless our community of faith? The resurrection is life giving even outside of these walls. Jesus is saying, “Go from this place showing my peace and my healing to those who feel Christ working, but have not yet seen it in practice.”

Jesus is revealed in the peace we share, the wounds we heal, and the practice of our faith with those who have not yet seen the beauty and the glory of God. Let us go in peace , in our healed and shared brokenness to transform the world. I’ll believe it when I see it? I’ll believe Christ when I see Christ? No. The world is saying, “I will see it when I believe it.” I’ll see Christ when I believe and trust in the body of Christ, the church, when I trust the peace of Christ they share and the healing of Christ they offer. Praise be to God. Amen.