Sunday, April 23, 2017

Quasimodo Geniti - The Second Sunday of Easter (Easter 2)

John 20:19-31; 1 John 5:4-10; Exodus 37:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I like Thomas. Thomas is a realist. Thomas calls a thing what it is. Thomas believes that things have meaning in and of themselves, meaning endowed in them by the very God who created them. Thomas believes that, if he observes and studies real things in the real world, he can know something about them, and thereby he can know something about the God who created them.
Do you see how radically different Thomas’ view is than the view commonly held by people today? Today, as a people, as a culture, we do not believe that things have meaning in and of themselves, and we certainly do not believe that things are endowed with meaning by God or by any other supernatural being. Rather, we assume that things only have meaning insofar as we, human beings, ascribe meaning to them. We have become like the scoffers of whom St. Peter warned us saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” Truly, this is the only way that you can arrive at a biological, chromosomal, anatomical male “identifying” as a female and legislators, lawyers, judges, and all the world agreeing that this man is a woman simply because he says he is, thinks he is, or feels that he is. Somewhere in time there was a seismic shift in thinking, in common philosophy, in worldview, away from realism, calling a thing what it is, to nominalism, calling a thing what you think it is regardless of what it really is.
Thomas is not a nominalist who calls a thing what he thinks, feels, or desires that it is, but he is a realist: Thomas calls a thing what it is, what it is endowed by God to be. “These things did Thomas count as real: The warmth of blood, the chill of steel, the grain of wood, the heft of stone, the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.” Thomas needs to see and touch and, presumably, smell, taste, and hear, in order to believe. So do I, and so do you! God created our bodies and our souls, our reason, and all our senses, good. And so, it is not a bad thing that we need to experience real things in order to believe – God made us this way – but it is only a bad thing if, after having experienced other real things that proved to be true in accordance with the Word of God, and upon hearing the testimony of trusted friends who have also experienced those same real things, also in accordance with the Word of God, we do not believe them. That is where realist Thomas goes wrong saying, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” Now Thomas has shifted from being a realist who calls real things what they really are as God endowed them to be, to being a materialist who only counts as real material, physical things. Thomas believed in Jesus, to be sure. He believed Jesus to be dead. Thomas had seen his Lord scourged, whipped, and torn. He had seen the cruel thorns driven into His holy head. He had seen his blessed hands, feet, and side pierced with nails and spear. He had seen His lifeless body taken down from the cross and placed into a tomb. He had seen these things and he called them what they were: He called them death.
However, it was not the case that Thomas had only seen and touched His Lord in the past, but he had also seen the signs He performed, more than mere miracles, but signs confirming and fulfilling Messianic prophecies of God’s Word that he had heard with his God-given ears and comprehended with his God-given reason. Thomas had good reason to believe, not only that his Lord had died, but also that He had risen and was alive, just as Jesus had said before His crucifixion, just as his trusted friends accounted to Him that Sunday evening in the upper room. “The vision of his skeptic mind was keen enough to make him blind to any unexpected act too large for his small world of fact.” Just like that, faced with the certainty of death, Thomas became a Modernist and a Materialist. Though Thomas knew that Elijah had raised a widow’s son from death, and that he himself had witnessed Jesus raise a widow’s son from Nain, Jairus’ daughter, and his good friend Lazarus, nonetheless “His reasoned certainties denied that one could live when one had died.”
And, so it is with much that passes as science today; it is a close-minded ideology, a “small world of fact,” not an open search for truth. Only consider the debate on Global Warming, Neo-Darwinist Evolutionary Theory, and (SOGI) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. To be on the wrong side of these ideological issues is to be labeled anti-science, anti-intellectual, bigoted, sexist, and racist. But, true science requires critical thinking and intellectual honesty, the ability to admit that, when the findings disprove your hypothesis, then what you had believed, no matter how strongly held a viewpoint, is wrong. Those who truly want to support science should defend the right of all scientists — including dissenters — to express their views. Those who stigmatize dissent do not protect science from its enemies. Instead, they subvert the process of scientific discovery they claim to revere.
However, our Lord is gracious and merciful. He comes to us in our weakness of flesh and raises us up to faith and life. He breathes His Holy Spirit upon the dry bones of our unbelief and causes sinews and flesh to come upon us, and He fills us with His life and Spirit. The following Sunday, the disciples were gathered together again with the door bolted behind them. But, this time Thomas was present with them. Once again, our resurrected Lord Jesus came to them where they were. He passed through the barrier that kept them in and He spoke directly to Thomas saying, “Peace be with you. Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Then Thomas’ “fingers read like braille the markings of the spear and nail,” and Thomas believed and confessed “My Lord and my God!” If you think about it, Thomas’ confession is even greater than was Peter’s who confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. No longer doubting, Thomas confessed Jesus to actually be God Himself. Jesus gently and lovingly rebuked Thomas for His foolish unbelief saying, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Thomas had everything he needed to believe, but, like we too often do, he became enslaved by his desire for visible and physical proof so that he forgot that God had also given him ears to hear His Word and Promise and believe.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.” Which book is that?  It is first the Gospel of St. John, but that book is also the entirety of the Holy Scriptures, all of which testify of Jesus. “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name.” This is the reason you have the Holy Scriptures. This is the reason you have as Church and a Pastor. This is the reason you have preaching, teaching, and exhortation, the proclamation of your sins forgiven, Holy Baptism, and Holy Supper – that you may believe, and keep believing throughout your life until Jesus comes again. These things come to you from outside of you. You can see them and hear them, touch them, smell them, and taste them. “May we, O God, by grace believe and thus the risen Christ receive, whose raw imprinted palms reached out and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.”
By all means, use your God-given senses to observe and study His creation, and derive its meaning. By all means, use your God-given reason to know and understand and believe. However, use also your God-given ears and listen to His Word, the Holy Scriptures, for they are the revealed Word of God and they are Truth. That which you perceive finds its meaning in God’s Holy Word, “which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” For, “if we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater. For this is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning His Son.” Don’t be a nominalist, believing that things are essentially meaningless until you give them meaning, but be a realist like Thomas, believing and confessing that all things that are are and are sustained by the creative Word of the LORD and thus testify to their Creator and to Jesus, the Word made flesh, crucified, died, risen, reigning, and returning in glory today, tomorrow, or the next day. And, to preserve you in faith until that day and hour, your Lord Jesus is present with you now that you may believe, and that believing you may have life in His Name, to the glory of God His Father.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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