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Date: April 23, 2017 (Easter 2) 1. Texts: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Ps. 16; 1 Peter 1:3-8; John 20:19-31. 2. Subject: discipleship. 3. Topic: evangelism in response to the contemporary spirit. 4. Aim: challenge, encourage. 5. Proposition: “Evangelism connects to passion, the quest for enlightenment and the need for proof.”

 

ST. THOMAS—OUR SAINT

 

We call him Doubting Thomas. John’s Gospel calls him Thomas the Twin. We should really call him St. Thomas the Contemporary. He really is the patron saint of our contemporary era. First of all, Thomas is passionate. Upon hearing of the death of Lazarus, Thomas proclaimed to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”1 You can almost imagine him striking his chest with his fist. Such passion really does resonate with today’s public climate. Public displays of fervor are applauded in public media. Recent elections were never really about policy—they’re all about the passion of the crowds which nominees seek to manipulate. We admire the passion of those people working for human rights and addressing justice issues. We want our public personalities to be real people, which is usually assessed by the amount of emotion they show. Perhaps we appreciate those public people who can dare to show the emotion we can’t. St. Thomas could be the patron saint of public passion. He could also be the patron saint of those seeking spiritual enlightenment. Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”2 Thomas wanted to know. He was seeking the way and wasn’t ashamed to ask questions. 1 John 11:16. 2 John 14:3-5. Page 2 of 4 -Thomas: a saint for contemporary lifeToday, many, many people lay claim to a public search for spiritual meaning. “I’m spiritual,” they say, “I just don’t believe in organized religion.” They take a kind of syncretistic approach: take a bit from Buddhism, a bit from Judaism and a bit from fake science. But there is a pervasive climate of spiritual enquiry for which Thomas could be the Christian patron saint. Lastly and certainly most applicably to our contemporary, Thomas could be the patron saint of those who want demonstrable proofs for believing in something. 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.’3 We’ve heard that lots of times, haven’t we. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” say a huge majority of people. And they mean it. So did St. Thomas and he could be the patron saint for those wanting proof for the faith. So, let’s stop calling him Doubting Thomas. Let’s call him St. Thomas the Contemporary. But if he is going to somehow represent contemporary seekers, we have to follow him through his journey. You see, his passion was misdirected. His spiritual questions required answers. And his need for physical proof was rebuffed by Jesus himself. So, if Thomas the Contemporary is going to represent our contemporary age, then we need to end up where he did. His passion was correctly directed when he proclaimed Jesus as Lord and God.4 The answers to his spiritual questions were in Christ himself.5 And Jesus asserted that the physical reality of the resurrection comes not as the precursor to faith but as the fulfillment of faith. St. Thomas the Contemporary ends up being one of the patron saints of proclamation. 3 John 20:24-25. 4 John 20:28. 5 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” John 14:6 and 7. Page 3 of 4 -Thomas: a saint for contemporary lifeYou see, contemporary society likes the passion of the Dalai Lama or St. Theresa of Calcutta. More and more people like getting caught in mass rallies, even in staid, old Canada. But in the context of Christian discipleship, passion requires direction and purpose. This is the passion of our proclamation of Jesus as Saviour and Lord. We have been effectively trained to think that Christians must be demure and quiet. The only proclamation our society allows us is the proclamation of quiet and self-effacing service. Good works completed with passion and empathy have become the only vocabulary allowed the Christian Church. Not so, says St. Thomas the Contemporary. His passion is redirected, from grandiose acts of martyrdom to the outrageous claim of Jesus as Lord and God. Passion serves the proclamation of the gospel and the mission of God. If Thomas is to be our saint, then we are to proclaim Christ as Saviour with passion, even in the face of the world’s disdain. I know someone who used to have a fridge magnet that showed a chocolate brownie in the centre and the tag line read, “Who cares what the question is? Chocolate is the answer.” We can chuckle at that, but St. Thomas the Contemporary would change the line to read, “Who cares what the spiritual question is? Jesus the Christ is the answer.” You see, Jesus is the good news of God. Jesus is the gospel. Jesus proclaimed the gospel in word and deed. Others wrote down the gospel about Jesus. So, when a friend of yours is asking spiritual questions, the life, examples and words of Christ will contain the answers. Oh, it won’t be easy to sort it all out, but, like Thomas, once we place Jesus at the centre of our quest, we’ll eventually find our way to our spiritual home. I think that need for physical proof will be the hardest lesson to learn from St. Thomas. But proof in advance of faith eliminates the need for and expression of proof. Let’s say that you promise to deposit $100,000 into my bank account. “I’ll believe that when I see it,” say I and wait for the balance to be verified. The proof comes and I’m able to buy a house. There’s no faith required. I don’t have to act on faith. The bank sends me proof. Page 4 of 4 -Thomas: a saint for contemporary lifeThat’s what Thomas wanted: proof before he would act. Jesus says, “No, that’s backwards.” Faith is the hope for things you don’t yet see. Faith is love, trust and self-sacrifice before you experience the realities behind the relationship with God. Faith empowers action without physical proof and physical proof actually takes away the need for faithful action. We don’t know that Thomas learned this lesson. It is a lesson for the spiritually mature disciple of Christ. But, inside a world that is constantly questioning the love of God in the face of disasters and death, it is a significant lesson to be learned. Faith is a relationship with God marked by love, trust, selfsacrifice and surrender. We choose this relationship because first loves us and we act on that love in faith, before receiving any of the physical benefits of his love. That is the lesson St. Thomas the Contemporary teaches us. So, let’s stop calling him Doubting Thomas. If you must focus on his incredulity, call him Misdirected Thomas. I rather like “St. Thomas the Contemporary”. But more important than that, learn the lessons of our passion which places Christ at the centre of our spiritual journey of genuine faith. Once we’ve learned those lessons, then our lives will become a genuine proclamation of the faith and a testimony to our Saviour. AMEN