I wonder if you've ever had a nickname...and if so whether you liked it.
Some nicknames are funny and endearing – I still like being called “Catkin” by those who knew me when I was too little to pronounce my own name
Others are plain silly – all those short guys known as “Lofty” and hulking 6 footers called “Titch”
And some are a bit hurtful....nicknames that reflect an aspect of a person and use that one aspect as shorthand for all that they are
Ah yes...Doubting Thomas!
Such a familiar nickname that we even apply it to others...
“He's a bit of a doubting Thomas”
But is it really fair?
Across 2000 years Thomas is remembered not for his obedience in following Jesus
Not for his later courage in taking the gospel to India
but for his doubts.
But honestly, he wasn't much worse than the other disciples
Despite his denial of Jesus, we don't refer to “Peter the Turncoat”
Despite their anxiety to claim the best seats in the kingdom, we don't talk of James and John as the Wannabe Twins
But Thomas...he's stuck with that nickname, come what may.
And honestly, it's not surprising he doubted.
Imagine that you are with the 12 in that upper room in Jerusalem in the days after the crucifixion
None of you will be feeling very confident – in anything.
Each of you has let down your dearest friend
Each of you has put personal safety before the claims of God's kingdom
Each of you has cherished dreams that now seem to have withered before your eyes.
Each of you is, frankly, scared stiff.
But into that place of anxiety, fear and confusion comes Jesus – as he always does, into our places of anxiety, fear and confusion (even if we try to shut the doors against him)
Jesus with his message of peace – the forgiveness that each of that battered and beaten group most needs to receive
Peace – says Jesus...It's OK. I understand what you did. I still love you. You are forgiven.
PEACE BE WITH YOU
Peace to make good your failures
Peace to calm your fears
Peace to restore your broken dreams
The Peace of Christ – which he then tells them to share with others
“‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Peace that transforms them all
But not Thomas
Poor Thomas is somewhere else that day, so he misses out not only on seeing Jesus but on receiving that blessed assurance that all is now well.
He listens to his friends, with all their new-found certainty – but while they seem to be seeing the world by the new light of Easter hope, he remains stuck in the darkness of Good Friday.
No Peace for him – indeed, their very confidence increases his isolation.
He must have been tempted to pretend that he too was now secure in his faith once again, or at least to keep out of their way, in an attempt to gloss over his uncertainty
....but he had the honesty to stick to his guns – and to his doubts
‘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.’
Thank God for Thomas.
We need him – just as we continue to need those who, in any group, ask the questions we are afraid to voice ourselves...
We need him because he shows us that it is absolutely OK to have doubts, OK
to ask questions – and that God honours those questions....
There is no lecture on the essentials of faith, no reproach for his uncertainty.
Instead Thomas is invited to come close to Jesus (what could be better) and to touch with his own hands Christ's body in all its resurrection life.
It's hard to imagine a more wonderful confirmation that questioning is welcome, that we are to come to Christ as we are, - not resting on the faith of others but discovering it for ourselves as the complicated individuals that we are....complicated individuals with our own unique relationship with God in Christ.
Faith is PERSONAL
Not something you can receive off the peg from another person
Your faith is shaped by your life experiences, by the people you encounter, the books that you read
It's rather like a jigsaw puzzle. As you go through life, you slowly assembly the puzzle, until perhaps you get a lovely picture, with no gaps.
At that point, life intervenes, and doubt takes the puzzle and throws it up in the air, so that you have to start reassembling the pieces once again.
Every time that happens, the puzzle comes out with a slightly different picture...YOUR picture, created through your own encounters with God and his people.
Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, writes
"To be without questions is not a sign of faith, but of lack of depth." And he encourages people not only to ask questions about the meaning of the faith, but to question God. We ask questions, says Sacks, "not because we doubt, but because we believe."
So – that's my invitation to you today as well
Write them down if you like and post them in the “Vicar's box”
I can't promise to answer them all, but if you add your name as well I'd love to explore them with you – or perhaps we'll use them to launch a study group...
Nothing is off limits...for what we're about is helping one another to make a really beautiful faith picture...and for that to be real, we need every experience of questioning and doubt.
Thank God for Thomas indeed.