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

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.” 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 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.”

The Purpose of This Book
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:24-31 (NRSVUE)

In just a few weeks, we are going to be starting our third-grade tours, and over four weeks, we will be swinging open our church doors to welcome fourteen third-grade classes. They come not to learn about Jesus or to better figure out how they can live out their faith, but they come to discover the history of the Oldtown Church and to learn about how this meeting house was and still is such an important part of the town that they call home. On each tour, we have forty-five minutes to share three hundred and twelve years of history and have about twenty-five children ring the bell and ride the rope upstairs.

Every year, Ed, Carolyn, and I try to brainstorm new ways to cut down the length of the tour. And each year, we tweak it a little bit here and there. But one of the biggest challenges that we run into is that the moment the kids walk through the door, they start asking questions. Who is that a picture of? And why is there a string hanging up there? If you are the pastor, who is the priest? Why is there a box of tissues in the seats? And what are all these books for? What does that sign say? And why is there a bottle of water up there? Now, some of the questions are quite simple, while others are very deep. And some of them I know the answers to, while others I can only make a guess at.

What I find is that when the children ask their questions, I can see that sparkle of excitement in their eyes like they are uncovering a great mystery that has been hidden for years. And I have to say, that sparkle is what I strive for, not only with the third graders but also with the children of all ages here in Oldtown. Because that sparkle means that they care. It means they are engaged and interested in what is happening around them. And those questions mean that they want to learn more. They want to dig deeper. And they want to grasp a better understanding. Now the negative side to their questions, at least during our school tours, is that they take extra time in our already tight schedule, and they often get us off track. But the truth is, I would rather have the kids actively engaged and interested than simply fill them with information that they don’t care about.

When we meet the hour before worship for Household Huddle, Household Huddle works the same way–it is all about questions! Sometimes the kids ask them, sometimes other adults ask them, and sometimes I ask them. Like, what happened first in the story and what happened next? Why do you think that happened? How do you think the people felt? What would you do in this situation? Or what was your favorite part of the story? You see, questions invite us in and help us to get involved with what is going on, even if it is something that happened more than two thousand years ago. And friends, the truth is we all have questions–things that we wonder about or have trouble wrapping our minds around. But many times, we are afraid to ask, thinking that our questions are silly or that we should probably know the answers already. But the truth is questions are what help us to grow and to learn, and as the saying goes, “If you have a question about something, don’t be afraid to ask because someone else is probably wondering about the same thing.”

As you all know, I am constantly asking questions because that is how I learn and stretch my understanding. The act of wondering opens possibility and helps us to look at the world through different lenses. It helps us to understand that not everyone sees and experiences life the same way we do. We start to realize that there is not only one path. And there is not only one correct way or one perfect plan. Life changes by the experiences we have in our everyday lives, and because of that, our understanding of life changes. And our faith is the same way.

Folks, faith is not about a list of memorized prayers and scriptures. It is not about having all the right answers, knowing the right words to say, or knowing how to act more upright and holy. Because our faith is constantly growing and stretching and changing.

In our scripture reading today, we learn that the disciple Thomas loved to question too. He wanted a direct, personal experience with the risen Christ. He didn’t want to believe just because someone else told him to believe. He wanted to make sure that he could reach out and touch the nail prints in Jesus’ hands and the wounds on his side. He wanted a direct experience of faith in the risen Lord. And I think Thomas speaks for all of us. He’s honest, bold, and forthright. In my book, he’s not doubting and cautious, no! He’s daring and courageous! He’s not just going along with the crowd. He’s deliberate, and he thinks for himself.

Friends, one of the things that I have always loved about being a part of the United Church of Christ and part of this Oldtown family is that we have the freedom to ask questions, to struggle with our own faith dilemmas, and to figure out how we can experience Jesus’ presence in our own lives and in our own way. It’s okay to be like Thomas and to ask to touch Jesus’ hands and side.

As I said a few minutes ago, when I read this story, I don’t see Thomas as a doubter. I think he was daring to be himself and courageous enough to ask the questions he had in his heart. And I truly believe that when Jesus looked at Thomas that day, Jesus saw the sparkle in Thomas’ eye and Jesus knew that Thomas asked questions because he was curious and engaged. He asked questions not out of judgment or doubt but because he was trying to understand and wrap his head around this wonderful thing that had happened. This situation meant too much to Thomas to simply allow someone else to fill him with information about it. He wanted to experience it himself to uncover the great mysteries like the third-grade explorers who come every year to discover the history of Oldtown. After all, this was far too important and exciting to simply take someone’s word about it.

But the big question for us today is, “How does Thomas help us? And what does this story mean to our faith?” Now, I am sure that you have your own ideas, but I think Thomas gives us permission to be honest. He gives us permission to open our hearts and minds to come to faith with all our senses involved. He gives us permission to raise questions about Jesus’ presence with us and his presence in the world.

Friends, though Thomas got a bad rap for being a doubter, I have always thought that he was one of the smartest disciples because he asked questions. It is not that he didn’t believe; it’s just that he wanted to know more. He wanted to truly understand what was happening to him and around him. Now, please know that there is a lot about our faith that we can’t prove because faith is not about a list of facts and figures. There are questions that we will never know the answers to, but that is okay because when we ask questions, we learn more about ourselves, our faith, and what really matters to us in this world.

Folks, in just a few moments, we are going to join together at the communion table, and communion is one of the greatest mysteries of our faith. Some people may see this as a table set with simple bread and juice, while others see it as much more. And yet, at this Table, we are a lot like Thomas when he asked questions about Jesus after the resurrection. Because, like Thomas, we long to see Jesus too. And for us, the communion table is the perfect place to do just that. Through the bread and the cup, we experience Jesus’ love and his forgiveness, and his grace and his peace. This is a sacred moment where time seems to stand still, and we commune not only with those who have gone before but also with those who will someday be. This is where we come to be fed and nourished. The holiness and the sacredness of this experience fills us with humility, and hope and it causes our eyes to sparkle with the understanding that we are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, know that ALL are welcome at this table: the doubters and the believers, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the gay and the straight, the members and the non-members, the saints and the sinners, and everyone in between. So come as you are, to be fed and nourished, that you might go out into your busy week ahead to wonder and to ask questions and to learn more about yourself and your faith, so that with a sparkle in your eye, you can go out into the world sharing the good news of Jesus with others.

May it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!


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