Asking, Answering, Believing

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Easter; Acts 5:27-32, Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31

Terry is a friend of mine from my home parish. We share 3 things in common: Holy Trinity at one time we were both in the computer business, and a love of good jokes. I’m lucky in this respect, he is the source of all kinds of great jokes and stories. Thursday he shared this:

 No English dictionary has been able to adequately explain the difference between these two words – “Complete” or “Finished”. In a recent linguistic competition held in London and attended by, supposedly, the best in the world, Samdar Balgobin, a Guyanese man, was the clear winner with a standing ovation which lasted over 5 minutes.

The final question was: ‘How do you explain the difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED in a way that is easy to understand? Some people say there is no difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED.’ Here is his astute answer:

“When you marry the right woman, you are COMPLETE. When you marry the wrong woman, you are FINISHED. And when the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are COMPLETELY FINISHED!”

It is amazing the truth we can learn when we ask the right question.

We all know the story of Thomas. We all know the story was wrongly named “Doubting Thomas” centuries ago. No matter what we just heard the word ‘doubt’ is now where in the passage (O’Day). The trouble is we get all caught up in Thomas’ reaction to the disciples telling him “Jesus is risen.” But think back to last week; the women come racing back from Jesus’ tomb and share their story, including that Jesus is risen. What is the disciples’ reaction?

But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

This verse is from Luke’s Gospel story, the equivalent verse in John Gospel story is unless I see … I will not believe (John 20:25). Thomas not believing the disciples’ story is just like the disciples not believing Mary’s story (O’Day).

To be honest, I simply wasn’t drawn to parsing the subtleties of all this again. I had decided to explore the glory of Psalm 150, the closing psalm of the Book of Psalms. the Psalm cajoles us

  • to praise God
  • where to praise God
  • why to praise God and
  • how to praise God, which is with everything we have, instruments, dance, and voice, literally breath, which is a sort of returning to God, the gift of life given to us as God breathed the breath of life into us (deClaissé-Walford) (Genesis 2:7).

My divine Muse had another idea.

On the road, between two events, and I have no idea which ones, or when, it occurred to me, I realized Thomas is just asking a question. It’s a hard question, and it is a risky question. Just as the disciples rebuffed Mary and her companions for a stance the disciples did not hold, the disciples may well have rebuffed Thomas for not accepting a stance they did hold. What matters is I was drawn back to John’s Gospel and Thomas.

So, I went digging. From the Greek – English New Testament Interlinear we hear Jesus say, “not do be unbelieving but believing.” The authors clean it up a bit: “Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (Olive Tree). Another resource for this kind of digging around is Young’s Literal Translation; which reads: “and become not unbelieving, but believing.” And that is the end of my search, the beginning of learning (Young).

I was troubled by the dichotomy, the stark choice between “be unbelieving”, and “be believing.” The key is ‘become’ which indicates there is movement from one position to another, thus, there is a gleaning; a choice to be made. The important thing in Thomas’ response to the disciples’ proclamation about seeing Jesus is not the parameters, fingers, hands, and wounds, etc., but the underlying question about Jesus and resurrection, and his desire to discover the answer, to discover the truth. While it is unusual to ask a question of one person or group and get an answer from another, sometime later, with no discernable connection between the two, it does happen. Thomas asks the disciples and Jesus answers. No matter how strange the path between question and answer, the glory in the story is Thomas’ confession “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). It is every bit as powerful as

  • Nathanael’s “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49),
  • or Peter’s “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:69),
  • or Martha’s “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (John 11:27).

The last verse of this chapter is:

But these (signs) are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31).

Here we find the purpose for asking questions and responding to questions. We should dare to ask questions so we may become believing and have life in Jesus. We should dare to answer questions so that another may become believing and have life in Jesus. I am beginning to see that in both the asking, and the answering we should take a queue from Psalm 150; we should both ask and answer with everything we have, instruments, dance, and breath, so that all may know the breath of renewed life in Jesus; know shalom, wholeness in the presence of God.

In our asking and in our answering, we are never finished, certainly, we are never completely finished. Nor are we ever complete, yes, we have begun to become believing and begun to have life in Jesus’ name. Still, the world we live in is dynamic, ever-changing, therefore our believing is always facing new things, and so we face new opportune times to become unbelieving and struggle with lesser life or continue to become, to grow in our believing, living an ever-evolving life in Jesus.

So      me                        Alleluia Christ is risen

congregation        The Lord is risen indeed Alleluia!

May your becoming believing bring you to be a blessing to all (Genesis 12:2-3) (Thompson).


References

Crouch, Frank L. “Commentary on John 20:19-31.” 28 4 2019. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy. Commentary on Psalm 150. 28 4 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 4 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 20:19-31. 28 4 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Linger A Little. 28 4 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

—. Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Thompson, Barkley. “To be a blessing.” 17 3 2019. God in the Midst of the City. <https://rectorspage.wordpress.com/2019/03/17/to-be-a-blessing/&gt;.

Woods, Joshua. “Among His Disciples, Easter 2.” 28 4 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon>.

Young, Robert. Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible. 1892: Public Domain, n.d.

 

 

 

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