My sermon is about someone who had two nicknames.
One of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas, had TWO very unfortunate Nicknames: When Thomas gets mentioned in the Gospels nearly every time it says, “Thomas, who was called the Twin.” That had to get really old. Were any of you twins? You lose something of your individual identity. Are “The twins coming”
But THAT nickname would prove to be 100 times better than the name he has come to wear now for the past 2000 years. We can hardly SAY Thomas without his prefix. You know what it is, “Doubting Thomas!” THAT’s his name now. No more twin teasing, no he is now known to generations of Christians as Doubting Thomas. It’s even an expression in our language, “Oh, Don’t be such a doubting Thomas!”
Of course he largely deserves it.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
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.”
Doubting Thomas! Well deserved! That’s his name for all time, right?
Hopefully after today you might want to reconsider. Why? Well first, let’s put ourselves into Thomas’ sandals that fateful day.
Imagine that you are late for a breakfast meeting here at Hyattsville Mennonite. When you arrive you find Cindy Lapp, and ten of your most engaged members beside themselves with excitement.
“We have seen Jesus,” they tell us breathlessly! “He suddenly appeared, talked with us and even ate some breakfast! We know this sounds crazy but we all saw and heard the same thing. Isn’t it wonderful? Please believe us!”
O.K., what do you do? You would love to believe them but everything in you is screaming, “this can’t be happening!” You immediately begin trying to think of a plausible explanation for what is going on.
“Maybe someone has slipped some hallucinogenic drug in the coffee…. maybe I’m dreaming…. maybe they’ve all gone crazy at precisely the same moment!” When you look at it as a contemporary event doesn’t Thomas deserve our deepest sympathies? I wonder what it would take to turn OUR doubt into belief?
Because reason number two is that is not all we know about Thomas. We meet him earlier in another pivotal moment in Jesus’ Life.
As early as chapter 7 in John’s gospel Jesus is clear that his enemies are plotting about how to kill him. In fact one day when he was teaching at the temple in chapter 10 the Pharisees get so angry that they begin inciting the crowd to stone him and stones are picked up and hate is boiling over when somehow Jesus is able to slip away.
It was a very close call—and the disciples were undoubtedly very relieved when Jesus says, “We’re going back home.”
In chapter eleven Jesus has left Jerusalem and gone back to Galilee where he was popular and safe. Very powerful people in Jerusalem, Caiaphas and Annas, the high priests, are determined that the next chance they get this Jesus WILL die.
But now Jesus gets some shocking news: I’m reading from John 11: 1-16.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” He told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.
Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Now here it is! Listen carefully to what happens next! “Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
“Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Thomas doesn’t think they will be OK if they go back to Bethany, which was a suburb of Jerusalem. He thinks they will all die! But with all the other disciples trying to persuade Jesus to stay in Galilee, Thomas, our famous Thomas, is THE ONE disciple who persuades the other eleven to go with Jesus even though they will surely die.
I am blown away by that powerful moment in our Lord’s life—and I am filled with admiration for Thomas. It makes me want to give him a new name. I am proposing Courageous Thomas or Thomas the Brave! Surely he deserves a name other than the twin and doubting Thomas.
None of us want to be judged and forever labeled based on our worst moments. At least, if you are going to talk about the weakest, most embarrassing times in my life, please be sure to note the times I was strong, loving and faithful. Wouldn’t we ALL want that? Wouldn’t we all DESERVE that?
Well, so does Thomas! He deserves our deep admiration for his amazing courage in his willingness to follow Jesus even if it means his own death! He deserves our deep gratitude for the many times he is not mentioned by name but followed Jesus with great loyalty and devotion.
The disciples were chosen, yes, but it meant leaving their homes, their families, their friends, and going who knows where to be Christ’s students, supporters and friends. He and they deserve our deepest thanks.
So, after today, I urge you to give Thomas a new name—I don’t mean you can never say Doubting Thomas again, but if and when you do, also think loving thoughts about Courageous Thomas, and ask if you would have been so incredibly brave in the face of what he imagined was certain death.
And if anyone ever gives you or me a nickname that reflects how well WE followed our Lord….. let’s pray they are kind enough to look at our better angels! Amen!