April 14-15, 2012
So this evening I wonder…
was Ben Franklin right?
Death and taxes.
Are they the only certainties in this world?
Sometimes it seems to be the case.
In the past, we’ve been “certain” about so many things
only to have then been proven wrong.
We were once certain that the earth is flat….
until we learned it isn’t!
We were certain that the Titanic was unsinkable…
until it wasn’t.
We were certain that smoking is harmless
and that a suntan is healthy.
We were certain that the Patriots would defeat the Giants in the Super Bowl…
(well maybe only some of us were certain)…
Jesus’ disciples were once certain about a lot of things too.
Peter was once certain that he would never deny Jesus.
He, James and John were certain that they would not fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And even Thomas was certain that he would be willing to die with Jesus,
“Let us go to die with him,” he said.
All of them were certain…very certain…
until they were confronted with a body.
And regardless of what Jesus had said time and time again…
of how he predicted his death and resurrection.
Regardless of what Mary told them,
that she had seen him alive walking around in the garden again on that very day!…
Regardless of that,
they had seen his body – his dead body.
And they were certain:
There is no such thing as a dead man walking.
And so on that first Easter evening,
Jesus’ closest friends did not get all dressed up and go to church (or synagogue);
they did not invite friends over for a big celebration;
and they definitely did not have an Easter ham! (for many reasons!)
Instead, they went into hiding;
they locked the doors against any of the Jewish leaders
who might be as frightened of the disciples as they were of Jesus;
and they huddled together in fear themselves.
In his book, A Passion for the Possible: A Message to U.S. Churches,
William Sloane Coffin said, “As I see it, the primary religious task these days is to try to think straight….You can’t think straight with a heart full of fear, for fear seeks safety, not truth.”
The disciples were afraid and they weren’t thinking straight.
They were seeking safety, not truth.
And I suppose it’s because the disciples weren’t out and about looking for him,
Jesus comes to look for them.
He comes through the locked door,
and not one of the disciples, not one, says with relief,
“Oh there you are!”; or
“We were expecting you!”; or
“What took you so long?!”
Instead they continue to hold onto what they think is certain.
Death is certain.
Dead men don’t walk.
How many thoughts are we holding onto or worse – giving up on – because we are so certain?
Palestinians and Israelis will never be able to live together in peace.
There’s nothing I can do to end hunger in the world.
I will never be able to forgive him.
She will never change.
Oh, we’re so certain!
The earth is flat;
Big ships don’t sink; and
Great teams don’t lose…right?
But then you know what happens to the disciples.
They hear Jesus’ voice, and they see Jesus’ wounds.
And with this experience, they are finally jumpstarted out of their anxiety,
and they rejoice and say, “We have seen the Lord!”
But poor Thomas.
Thomas is not there.
Thomas is not hiding out behind the locked door that Easter evening.
When he returns,
he hears the story from the rest of the disciples,
and he asks for the same experience they had –
to see and to touch the wounds,
and feel for himself that this incredible news was indeed not ‘too good to be true.’
Thomas’ faith was no less, no weaker than the others’ faith;
…And his desire for certainty was no different than ours.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a book discussion here at St. James
about the book, Heaven is For Real.
It’s the story of a young boy who was deathly ill with a ruptured appendix.
After his recovery, he tells his parents that he was in heaven,
and gradually gives an account to them of what heaven was like –
in a fair amount of detail.
The book has captured the hearts of millions of people,
and has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year!
As our group discussed the boy’s visions,
some of us were convinced and others were skeptical.
But all of us had been intrigued enough that we were interested in what the boy had to say.
If there were an opportunity for certainty of the resurrection rather than merely faith,
I imagine most of us, like Thomas, would seek certainty.
Jesus gives him certainty.
He comes again to the disciples – this time however, the door is shut, but not locked.
And he says 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.”
And then Jesus turns to us and says,
“Blessed are you who are not Thomas, who do not have certainty; who will never have certainty;
blessed are you who have not seen and have come to believe.”
Ben Franklin is wrong – at least on one count.
Death is not certain.
We know this by faith and faith alone.