First Lesson: Acts 5: 27-32
Responsive Reading: Psalm 118: 14-29
Second Lesson: Revelation 1: 4-8
Gospel Lesson: John 20: 19-31
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Bethany Hamilton was thirteen years old. Bethany lived in Hawaii and was one of the country’s best young surfers. Bethany went out for her routine morning surf with a friend, her father, and her brother. Bethany, like she had done hundreds of time before, had her left arm dangling in the water with no more menacing a threat than harmless turtles in the area. Only on this morning, a tiger shark attacked severing her left arm just below her shoulder.
She was rushed back to shore with her life in grave danger. Bethany would lose sixty percent of her blood and spent the next three months of her life in a hospital. She was thought to be finished as a competitive surfer with only one good arm. Bethany before this incident was an active member of her church’s youth group. She initially struggled with doubting God’s ways in the loss of her arm.
Everyone who has ever seen their dreams crushed like Bethany Hamilton can understand her doubt. Now Today’s Gospel lesson tells us a similar story.
Mary Magdalene had just returned from Jesus’ tomb proclaiming: “I have seen the (Risen) Lord.” The Disciples couldn’t at first believe such a foolish sounding thing.
They had seen Jesus arrested by the Romans; they knew he was sentenced to be crucified by the Romans; they knew the Romans never failed to kill an intended victim properly. The Disciples initial reaction upon hearing Mary Magdalene’s claims of resurrection probably would mirror many of ours: “They rolled their eyes, they smirked.” The Disciples didn’t go looking for Jesus; they instead stayed home thinking there was something better to do with their Sunday evening.
The Disciples remained so afraid of the Romans in the wake of Jesus’ death; they locked the door to the room in which they were staying. The Disciples had seen plots by both Romans and their fellow countrymen in the last week against both Jesus and Lazarus. They weren’t going to take any chances.
But when the Disciples least expected to see Jesus, he was standing in the room alongside them.
“Peace be with you.” He showed the Disciples his hands and his sides and they all begin to celebrate.
Jesus then proclaims: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven.” Everyone seems ready to go home happy, everyone except for the lone disciple Thomas.
Thomas was gone when Jesus appeared. Where was Thomas? My old preaching professor David Lose theorizes that Thomas after the crucifixion did whatever fans do when your team loses the big game. Thomas planned to get on with his life. Thomas was planning to travel home. Thomas’ dreams were crushed, so Thomas sought to get out of Jerusalem to save his life.
So now Thomas hears Jesus is risen, Thomas is skeptical. Thomas knew the Romans always used spears to pierce victim’s sides. Whereas the Disciples had told Thomas, Christ rose from the dead, Thomas wasn’t there to see it, and Thomas hadn’t seen Jesus since.
So Thomas declares boldly before his fellow disciples: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Thomas of all characters in the Bible gets a bad rap. He is forever known as Doubting Thomas though he merely requests the same amount of proof that Mary Magdalene and the other Disciples had already received.
The Bible besides Thomas includes many stories of doubters. Gideon lived in Israel shortly after the people returned from Egypt. Israel was on the verge of collapsing into the hands of the mighty Midianite army. God begins to speak to Gideon, instructing him that he would be the man through which God would save the nation. Gideon doubted. Gideon had never been a recipient of good fortune in life before this. He was the guy that always got caught in unexpected rainfall. Gideon had no physical attributes that inspired great confidence. One could say that Gideon lacked self-esteem. No way God could use Gideon to save the nation. So Gideon demanded signs. He tested God twice before the hard shell surrounding his doubt began to crumble. God’s promises though led Gideon to an eventual victory.
Job doubted as God let him lose his wife, his kids, his possessions, and finally his health. Jeremiah doubted as he saw the wicked Babylonians conquer his nation’s capital. While King David is known for the 23rd Psalm declaring: “The Lord is My Shepherd.”, the 22nd Psalm where he cries out: “My God, My God why have you forsaken me” is often forgotten.”
Many similar arguments can be found in the pages of scripture regarding doubting God out of disappointment made by those who struggle with their faith today.
In seeking to understand Thomas further, I came across the words of Henry Drummond who distinguished between a “doubter” and an “unbeliever.” A doubter is searching for God, whereas an unbeliever is searching for the temptations of this world. A doubter is a person who may have a thousand questions for God about the universe, whereas the unbeliever doesn’t care. A doubter struggles to find God’s purposes, whereas unbeliever merely struggles with the challenges of everyday life.
So Thomas shouldn’t be singled out for his doubt; in fact, God seems rather doubt tolerant. Thomas had a tough last week seeing one of the closest people in the world to him die brutally via crucifixion. Thomas doubted because he was skeptical of being burned again by “false” hope.
So what ends up happening to Thomas? One week after Thomas had given his speech about how he will not believe. Jesus appears before Thomas in a locked room. Jesus declares: “Peace be with you!” “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas upon hearing these words calls out to Christ for eternal salvation. Thomas’ life would forever change after encountering the Resurrected Lord. Thomas would switch his plans to return home, instead traveling to India to be the first believer to spread the hope of Resurrection within this foreign land.
Thomas came to realize that God’s plans for Thomas were bigger than even Thomas’ doubts.
What happened to Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who suffered a shark attack? She doubted God, eventually returned to youth group, and started surfing again on a custom made surfboard. Bethany would win an ESPN Espy award for Best Comeback Athlete when she returned to being a nationally completive surfer.
Twelve years after Bethany Hamilton’s accident, she would declare: “12 years ago I lost my arm, but since then I have gained so much! I'm so thankful for my life...just as it is! If not for my faith in God, I can't say I would think the same thing. God is good."
Thomas would witness an arrest and attack of Jesus at the hands of the Romans. Thomas doubted that he would ever see Jesus alive again. Thomas’ doubt though would soon turn to belief before his very eyes. Thomas’ life would never be the same ever again.
What do these stories of Bethany Hamilton, Gideon, and Thomas mean for us?
Let me close with one final tale, Field of Dreams tells the story of a struggling Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella. Kinsella one night hears a foolish voice crying out: “If you build it, he will come.” Kinsella interprets the voice to mean that he needed to build a Baseball field in the middle of his corn crop to hopefully bring about reunion with his long-dead father.
The most skeptical person around Ray is his brother in law Mark. Mark continually demands that Ray use his good judgment and sell the farm. Mark fears what would happen to his sister Annie and niece Karin if Ray persists in his foolish beliefs. Ray claims to be watching long-dead baseball players, whereas Mark merely sees empty bases.
Mark eventually gets so heated at Ray that they scuffle. Ray’s young daughter Karin is knocked to the ground unconscious. Ray’s foolishness seems destined to cost Karin her life. Mark the doubter appears to soon be proven right.
Then a miracle happens that leaves everyone speechless. To Mark the Doubter, what appeared to be an invisible baseball player leaves the field, to save Karin from choking to death.
Mark’s doubt is turned to belief. Mark begins to beg Ray not to sell his farm. Mark had witnessed a supernatural event like no natural event he had ever known, so he would never understand life in the same way, ever again. The greatest skeptic about Ray’s baseball field had become the greatest believer!
The Resurrection of Jesus does the same thing to us. It speaks to our doubts, our fragility, and our failures. In the moments of our greatest desperation, Christ appears before us speaking the words to Thomas from earlier in John’s Gospel: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” Amen
 “Bethany Hamilton.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 11.Apr.2019. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 “Soul Surfer.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 29.Dec.2018. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 John 20:19-31
 John 20:19.
 John 20:23.
 Lose, David. “Blessed Doubt.” In the Meantime (David Lose.net). 29.Mar.2016. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 Chris. “Three Bible Heroes Who Doubted.” Bible Gateway. 9.Aug.2012. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 Weldy, Brandon. “Gideon the Great Doubter.” Medium. 28.May.2018. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 Yancey, Phillip. “Faith and Doubt.” Philip Yancey.com. 2009. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 Yancey, Phillip. “Faith and Doubt.” Philip Yancey.com.
 Markquardt, Edward. “Thomas the Doubter.” Sermons from Seattle. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 Markquardt, Edward. “Thomas the Doubter.” Sermons from Seattle.
 Yancey, Phillip. “Faith and Doubt.” Philip Yancey.com.
 Bethany Hamilton.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation
 Ong, Czarina. Bethany Hamilton: I lost an arm to a shark but gained so much faith in God in return “Christian Today. 6.Feb.2017. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 The following analogy comes from Text Week under movie scenes for the week of Easter 2C under seeing/not seeing.
 “Field of Dreams.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 2nd April.2019. Web. April.11.2019.
 Field of Dreams.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation
 John 14:1-2.