Following Doubting Thomas’ Good Example


    Following Doubting Thomas’ Good Example

    Epworth United Methodist Church

    Linda Loessberg-Zahl

    When I was in college I went spelunking, cave exploring, with a group of students.

    One student with experience with this particular cave said you could walk in at one place

    and come out at another. It sounded fun. What he left out of the description was what

    came in between. We started out standing erect (as our species is supposed to do). Soon

    we had to duck as the ceiling descended and the space darkened. Next, we were on our

    hands and knees crawling in the pitch dark. Now, when you’re crawling inside the earth

    in the dark you start to wonder what else might be creeping and crawling on those rocks

    next to your hands and knees and inches from your nose. Then we transitioned from the

    luxury of crawling to squeezing our bodies through a crevice at an angle, with our feet on

    the ledge of a bottomless pit, while grasping at the sides of the ledge for dear life. This is

    the time I would have turned back, except that the others behind me blocked my escape.

    Fortunately, I was following my good friend, Joe Scott, a priest. I thought, “I’ll get

    reassurance from Joe, a pillar of faith.” So, I called out, “Joe, how are you doing?” and

    waited for his encouraging word. He said… “We could die in here.”

    Following Joe Scott reminds me of following Doubting Thomas. We call him

    Doubting Thomas like it’s one of those two part, Southern first names like Billy Bob or

    Peggy Sue – Doubting Thomas. You’ve heard the story – how after the resurrection

    Thomas expresses his doubts and questions about the whole thing. He wants to see for

    himself, to touch the wounds of the risen Christ. But doubting wasn’t all there was to

    Thomas and the other disciples started out enthusiastically like I did at the entrance

    of that cave. They were excited to follow Jesus. But when it got really scary, when death

    looked imminent, since they weren’t blocked by others behind them as I was, they cut

    and ran – everyone except Thomas. Though Thomas and Joe Scott weren’t great pillars

    of faith, they were exemplary practitioners of friendship, willing to travel with others

    even into the scariest places.

    We see Thomas’ loyalty earlier in the story from the Gospel of John when Jesus

    gets word that Lazarus has died. Jesus gathers the disciples saying, “Let’s go back to

    Judea to see Lazarus.” They can’t believe what they are hearing. They remind Jesus of

    how they were run out of town last time, how people there want to kill him. Thomas

    alone says, “Come on, let’s go die with him.” Thomas is the only one who is willing to

    go with Jesus into a vulnerable situation, while the others are frozen in their tracks.1

    Thomas wasn’t full of faith, but he was faithful. He stayed with Jesus.

    Instead of Doubting Thomas we should call him Intrepid Thomas or as Rev. David

    Henson suggests, Thomas the Brave. He moved forward in the face of doubts and death.

    He was willing to touch the wounds of Christ, the places of suffering. Thomas was

    willing to admit his own uncertainty and accompany others in theirs.

    Joe did that for me. As I jokingly berated him for his failure as my spiritual

    mentor, I was comforted by his presence and for a moment I forgot about those threats

    lurking in the dark earth.

    As we look for signs of resurrection and search for places of light in moments

    darker than that cave, let’s follow the good examples of Doubting Thomas and Joe Scott.

    We can accept our own uncertainty and walk with others in theirs, opening our hearts to

    the wounded places, the suffering of others. We will be surprised by what we find there.

    I was surprised by what I discovered when my life touched the suffering of one of

    my dearest friends, Beth. The melanoma cancer she had when she was a young adult had

    returned. As she looked ahead at the serious threat to her life, she talked about the love

    that had been expressed to her by others. She said, “I feel so blessed.” That was the last

    thing I expected and I have to admit I didn’t really get it. She was looking at death and

    she felt blessed. In the years since, through my own struggles, I’ve come to better

    understand that Beth found light in the darkness of her vulnerability, through the love of

    family and friends who stayed with her. Her vulnerability from her own wounds allowed

    me to also experience that resurrection of love, shining even in a place of terrifying

    Jean Vanier was surprised by what he found among people who can’t hide their

    wounds, their vulnerabilities. Vanier was born Canadian and after serving in the

    Canadian and British navies he left a promising naval career in search of something

    more. His quest led him to train as a theologian and philosopher. He completed a

    doctorate in philosophy and taught ethics at the University of Toronto. But this did not

    satisfy his longing. He returned to a village in France where he had helped a priest who

    worked with people with intellectual disabilities. He was touched by the suffering and

    loneliness of two of the residents. He decided to buy a small house and live with the two

    men. That was the beginning of the L’Arche Communities where those with intellectual

    disabilities live and work side-by-side with others. Touching their wounds has given

    Vanier the meaning, joy, and love he sought and has created a model of community

    where everyone who walks through the door is welcomed in their vulnerability. He says,

    “We have to realize that this wound [of loneliness] is inherent in the human condition and

    that what we have to do is walk with it instead of fleeing from it. We cannot accept it

    until we discover that we are loved by God just as we are, and that the Holy Spirit in a

    mysterious way is living at the center of the wound.”2

    When have you been surprised by the healing you experienced when you touched

    the wounds of others? When have you reached out in love to someone who was suffering

    or to the wounds of the world and found that you were the one who was encouraged?

    Thomas is not the last to touch the wounds of Christ and experience the

    resurrection. Like Vanier, when we courageously touch the wounds and vulnerabilities

    of others we discover our shared humanity and find hope and love together:

    “To be human is to enter a greater vulnerability. So how to live that vulnerability

    joyfully? One of the ways is quality of friendship, quality of community. When I

    go down the street here… I might find that three people with disabilities will rush

    into my arms. I mean, they are beautiful, and they love me!... So, the greatest thing

    to calm anguish is the knowledge that we are loved. Not for what we do, …. but in

    Your own vulnerability is a door into community for yourself and others. You

    don’t have to be full of faith, just faithful. You don’t have to be filled with conviction,

    just compassion. Be faithful to who you are and faithful to those around you. Our

    willingness to acknowledge our own vulnerabilities as individuals and as a society, and

    touch the wounds of others, whether on a personal or global level, will give us hope for

    our own wounds as a worldwide community. It will lead us to light and hope in

    unexpected places, small resurrections rising out of the wounds of the world. Vanier

    reminds us that it’s not about being saviors: “We are simply a tiny sign, among

    thousands of others, that love is possible…” that oppression and conflict are not

    When all seemed lost, when I thought we might never come out of that cave, we

    crawled around a corner and saw a light streaming from above into that place of darkness.

    It was beautiful! Following Joe took me to places I wouldn’t go alone and led to a light I

    never expected in that dark place.

    Thomas can lead us to a different light in a world of darkness. Let’s follow

    Intrepid Thomas in his candid questioning and his courageous compassion. Let it lead us

    to action. Let’s touch the suffering of others in a world full of wounds. We may be

    surprised to find light and healing for our own. Amen.

    1 My thanks to the Rev. David R. Henson for his insight into the courage and faithfulness of the disciple Thomas:

    “The Unexpected Faith of Doubting Thomas,” April 2, 2012

    2 Community and Growth by Jean Vanier

    3 Jean Vanier’s comfort and joy: ‘What we have to do is find the places of hope,’ Ian Brown, Trosly-Breuil, France,

    The Globe and Mail; Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015

    4 Community and Growth by Jean Vanier

    #sermon

    © 2020 by Epworth United Methodist Church

    1953 Hopkins St. Berkeley, CA 94707 | epworth@lmi.net | 510.524.2921