West Side Moravian Church
Wednesday, February 27, 2002
Jesus Christ, Lord and God, we bless you, we worship you.
You alone are worthy to receive our thanks and praise.
You are the resurrection and the life.
We, who believe in you, will not die.
You, Jesus, are the way, the truth, and the life.
We who know you also know God the Father. You are in the Father and the Father is in you.
In your incarnation you became God's love for us.
By your life and your suffering you lead us in the path of love.
In your death you call us to die to sin.
In your resurrection you declare victory over sin and death.
In years gone by, your saints and apostles have followed in your way.
All of them were heroes of the faith. Their lives demand that we follow you as they have.
Sisters and brothers, when God corrects you, do not take it lightly. But do not be discouraged, either.
God corrects the people he loves, and Jesus Christ came to us for health and not for condemnation.
We have lived with trouble and fear, anger and sadness.
You, God, are our help in times of trouble.
Our lives are cluttered with selfishness and coveting, with hurt and judgement of our neighbors.
You have called us for compassion and for mercy and for rightness of life.
We have not lived as saints and apostles ought to live.
Yet you have made us kings and priests.
Jesus, you are our friend. You have promised to open for us our true homeland.
We trust in you. We have faith in your promises for us.
Where you are, Jesus, we trust that we too will be.
Lead us to your dwelling place and by your grace make us worthy to live there with you.
The story we are acting out tonight is just a story, part of a small but very old book of fantastic stories about Thomas. There was a real a King Gundafor, or Guduphara, or maybe Gondophernes, who ruled in the Punjab and nearby lands around the years 20-46 A.D. And a group of Christians in India with very old roots has a tradition that Thomas brought Christianity to India.
After Jesus rose from the dead,
the apostles drew lots for the different parts of the world.
Judas Thomas drew India.
But he became angry and said,
I won't go to India!
It happened that at that same time a merchant named Abbanes
arrived from India.
Abbanes was looking to buy a carpenter for King Gundafor.
The Lord Jesus went to Abbanes.
Jesus asked him,
Are you looking for a carpenter?
So Jesus said,
I have a carpenter to sell you.
Then Jesus brought Thomas to Abbanes.
Abbanes asked Thomas,
Is this your master?
Yes, he is my Lord.
I just bought you from him.
So Abbanes took Thomas and they went to India.
Abbanes brought Thomas to King Gundafor.
The king asked Thomas,
What trade do you know?
Carpentry and house-building.
The king asked,
When can you build a house for me?
Between December and March.
King Gundafor was very surprised and said,
Houses are built in the summer, not the winter!
But Thomas said,
This is how is must be.
So King Gundafor left food and money for Thomas.
Then the king went away.
Thomas turned around and gave everything to the poor.
Thomas told them,
The Lord has provided this for you.
After a while, King Gundafor came back.
He asked the people,
Where is the new palace?
The people told him,
Thomas has not built anything.
But the people also said,
Thomas has helped the poor
and gives away whatever he has.
King Gundafor was puzzled, and shook his head for a long time.
Then King Gundafor asked Thomas,
When can I see my new palace?
You can't see it now.
You will be able to see it when you die.
Then King Gudafor became very angry and sent Thomas and Abbanes to jail.
Meanwhile, King Gundafor's brother, King Gad, became very sick. King Gundafor hurried to his brother's bedside. But shortly afterward, King Gad died.
An angel came and took King Gad to heaven.
The angel took Gad for a walk through heaven
and asked him,
Where in heaven would you like to live?
Gad saw the most magnificent palace he could possibly imagine.
So he said,
I'd like to live in that house,
even in one of the basement rooms!
The angel said,
You can't live there.
That is your brother's house, which Thomas built for him.
King Gad said,
Please let me go back and ask my brother
to sell that house to me.
And the angel brought him back.
King Gundafor was amazed to see his brother alive again.
King Gad said to him,
Gundafor, my brother, please
sell me the house which Thomas built for you in heaven.
At first, King Gundafor didn't know what to say.
Then he realized what Thomas had done.
King Gundafor sent for Thomas and Abbanes.
Thomas, now I understand
what you did for me. Pray for me,
so that I might become worthy to live in the house
which you built for me.
(Our offering prayer comes first tonight. Our gifts will be gathered during the singing of the hymn.)
In this season of lengthening days, we are grateful, Creator God, for this world in which we live, for the air and trees and fertile fields, for flowing streams and for lakes and seas. We are grateful for the privilege of living here in the company of all the living beings which you have created.
We remember that it is one world, and that you care for all its inhabitants. We think of our neighbors in many lands and ask your blessings for them.
Jesus, you came as a human being, teaching and healing and finally dying for us. Your saints followed your example and gave their lives to do your work.
We remember, Jesus, your call to give up everything and follow you.
Come, Holy Spirit, guide and strengthen us.
Take an offering from every aspect of our lives and our selves. Accept from our hands tokens of our love, and from our hearts accept our deepest commitment.
About the time I was first ready to describe anyone as my hero, a sermon preached by another Thomas, Thomas Long, opened for me the possibility of naming Thomas the Apostle a hero of the faith [Hebrews 11:39].
We know little about this man. In the scripture and the story tonight we have heard a little bit more than everything we know about Thomas. We aren't even completely sure of his name: He was called "Thomas", which is Aramaic for "the Twin". Was Thomas his name, or only his nickname? Did he have a twin brother? Or was he called "Twin" because he looked like someone else?
The first 3 gospels say only that Thomas was one of the 12 apostles. In the Gospel According to John, Thomas is named in 4 stories and speaks only in the 3 we read. Beyond that we have only legends and stories, a little part of which we acted out tonight.
We do know Thomas' reputation. "Doubting Thomas" we call him. Doubting Thomas, a hero of the faith? Could it be? The people I list as my heroes are ordinary and flawed, and so are all heroes. As the writer of Hebrews says, "they were weak people who were given strength." [11:34] Hebrews lists several marks of that strength:
Based on these attributes, we can affirm that Thomas received the strength to be a hero of the faith.
In the first story, Jesus and the disciples were avoiding the authorities by living across the state line, so to speak. Jesus had been teaching in Jerusalem until the religious authorities arrested him once, threatened him with execution, and tried to arrest him a second time. After that, the little group travelled across the Jordan River to where John the Baptist used to preach. [John 10:31-41]
While they were there, word arrived that Jesus' good friend Lazarus was seriously ill. Lazarus and his sisters lived just outside Jerusalem, so it would not have surprised you (had you been there) that Jesus did not immediately set out to visit. But after waiting 2 days, long enough for Lazarus to die, Jesus said, "Let's go back to Judea." At this, the disciples were surprised. "The Jews just tried to stone you," they pointed out, "and now you are going back?" [11:1-8]
What would you have said? If the government had just declared your leader a terrorist and you had crossed the border to avoid arrest and execution, if you had already stayed away from a sick friend's deathbed and you could no longer get back in time for the funeral, and now your leader suggests returning to the capital city, what would you say?
I'd say, "We can't do any good going back now." I'd say, "We may risk our lives for God, but not needlessly. Let's use our wits to avoid conflict until a more propitious time."
Thomas was no less apprehensive about returning to Jerusalem. He expected that that they would be arrested and probably condemned to death. But Thomas said, "Let us go to Jerusalem with him, so that we may die with him." [11:16]
Staying alive is not the reward we are looking for. Dying for Jesus is not the reward. Being with Jesus is the reward. In a comment about eternal life, a friend of mine said, "Wherever Jesus is, that's where I expect to be." That is the commitment Thomas also received the strength make.
Thomas went to Jerusalem because he wanted to be with Jesus. Nevertheless, neither Thomas nor the other disciples were completely clear about Jesus' role and mission. In the second story, Jesus told his friends that they knew the way to follow him. Thomas said, "We don't know where you are going. How can we know the way?" [John 14:5]
What would you have said? I'd say, "I don't know where you're going. How can I know the way?" That's pretty reassuring to me. I'm just like one of the apostles!
Thomas was confusing the destination with the way, but give him credit for speaking up and admitting his confusion. Thomas' question gave Jesus the opportunity to answer, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." [14:6-7] Thomas may have been uncertain or confused, but his heart was given the strength to keep searching for a way to follow the one who embodied the promises of God.
Did Thomas conquer kingdoms? We aren't sure. If the legends are correct, Thomas conquered Gundafor's kingdom for Jesus. But the truth is that we don't know whether Thomas did great deeds or not. Did Thomas do what is right and earn the promises? Yes. He was given the strength to ask directions – not for reaching Jerusalem, but for reaching the kingdom of God.
The reputation of Doubting Thomas was made in the third story, in the upper room with the doors locked. The first time that Jesus had appeared to the disciples, he showed them his hands and his side. But Thomas wasn't there, and didn't see. [John 20:20,24]
The others came to Thomas and said, "We've seen Jesus. He is alive. He showed us his wounds, so we know it is really him.". What would you have said? Thomas said, "Unless I see what you saw, I won't believe that you saw it." Very well; he doubted. So would I.
What Thomas said the next week is more important. The next week, when Jesus came again, he showed Thomas the injuries he had already shown to the others. Thomas was given the strength to answer, "My Lord and my God!" [20:26-28] Thomas was flawed in faith; Thomas was like us in his doubts and uncertainty. But Thomas was given the strength to commit his life to Jesus.
I am convinced that God has never been ashamed to be known as the God of Thomas the Apostle. If we have as much faith as "doubting" Thomas, God will not ashamed to be called our God. Our faith is flawed, like Thomas' faith. We are often enough weak and confused, as Thomas was. But God offers us strength, like Thomas, to live as heroes.
"Do not be afraid, little flock. It is my Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
Go with Jesus, even if he leads you to India, or to Jerusalem. Accept the strength God offers you. Keep your eyes fixed on the reward. Let God be proud to be called your God. Live as heroes!
Quotations from Hebrews taken from The Jerusalem Bible. Copyright © 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd., and Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York.