From our Gospel story, these selected verses: 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 Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."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."  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."  Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe."  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

It is morning on this day, the first day of the week, and the disciples of Jesus who are part of the family in Christ that goes by the name of Zion Lutheran are gathered, and although the doors of the place where we are gathered are unlocked, we nonetheless gather with fears of our own.

Many of us gather with fears that are based on the headlines we read and the stories that fill our news.  For those of us who grew up during the Cold War, who remember drills at school that taught us what to do if the Russians were to send atomic bombs our way (as if climbing under the desk was really going to make a difference), the news of potential nuclear war breaking out with North Korea might trigger some fear.  If that doesn’t, the tensions that are deepening in our relationship with Russia over the terrible situation in Syria might cause some alarm.

And then there is the threat of terrorism.  On Palm Sunday bombs were detonated in churches in Egypt, killing dozens of Christians who gathered for worship, and injuring many more.  No one has claimed responsibility as of yet for the blast in Syria the day before Easter, in which 126 people -- including 68 children -- were killed. 

There are many who fear that these types of events may soon happen here in the United States, which would only add to the fear that has spread due to the mass killings that have been occurring all too frequently throughout our country.

Of course, there are other kinds of fear that may be represented here this morning.  There is fear of cancer and other illnesses hitting us or our loves ones, or as is the case for at least three of our families, the fear of cancer coming back, which it has for Marlene.  There are still many other fears, including economic concerns... from precarious personal financial status, to national and global uncertainties.  

There are still more fears.  Some of us fear personal failure, maybe in our professional life, or in our personal life, or both.  Or maybe we fear moral failure.  Others fear the stability of relationships, or are dealing with serious addictions, or emotional and mental issues impacting their families.  Maybe most of you right now are faced with the fear that I am just going to go on and on about all these fears.

I’m not.  As a matter of fact, I have only brought them to the surface so that we can deal with these various fears in the only truly appropriate way: by commending them into the hands of God.

Gathered with us here today is Jesus.  He comes through doors—locked or unlocked doesn’t matter—but He comes with these words: "Peace be with you."   Jesus, the risen Lord, comes to us in the midst of whatever fears or stresses or illnesses or brokenness that we are dealing with and says to us "Peace be with you... Do not doubt but believe." 

No, this is not make-believe.  This is real.  I am not using hyperbole or figures of speech.  I’m not merely trying to make some kind of theological point.  I believe that what I am telling you is the absolute truth.  Jesus is present here, and He very much wants us to experience His peace.

Are you a ‘doubting Thomas’?  Yeah, me too sometimes.  There are times when I want to say that unless I can see and touch the evidence, I will struggle to believe.  For me, it is one of those paradoxes that are often present in my life: I doubt and I believe.  I guess that shouldn’t surprise me since I am simul eustes et peccator… a saint and a sinner at the same time.

But this morning Jesus is present, and He desires to overwhelm our doubts and calm our fears.  Jesus speaks to us through the word.  The Holy Spirit of God works through the written words of the Scriptures, and here are the words the Spirit wants each of us and all of us to hear: "Peace be with you... Do not doubt but believe."  

Ah, but with Thomas we are sometimes apt to say, "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."   We want to be touched by Jesus.  We want to touch Jesus. 

My word for you is this: you have been touched by Jesus.  Every time you walk by the Baptismal font, you can remember that Jesus worked through the water and the word to wash away your sin, to adopt you into the family of God, and to gift you with His Holy Spirit.  That’s why I recommend touching the water, making a cross on your forehead and upon your heart to remind you that you have been marked, you have been touched by Christ, the crucified.  And He has promised to never leave you or forsake you.  "Peace be with you... Do not doubt but believe."

Also, please remember this: every time you come forward and receive the bread and the wine of the Holy Sacrament, you are touching Jesus, and He is touching you.  In a mysterious and miraculous way, in, with, and under the bread and wine you are receiving the very body and blood of Jesus.  We do not see these as mere symbols.  We believe, teach and confess that Jesus is really, truly present.  "Peace be with you... Do not doubt but believe."

Then Jesus said to the doubting Thomases… "Reach out your hand and touch me. Do not doubt but believe." And we answer him, "My Lord and my God!"  And Jesus says to us, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Our text closes with these words: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these 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.

Fears and doubts are real, but they come and they go.  They come when we take our eyes off of Jesus, when we allow ourselves to be distracted by the things of the world or the pains of this life, or when we rely on ourselves and on others.  In the story in Mark’s Gospel of the man who came to Jesus asking that his son be healed, Jesus said to the man “All things can be done for the one who believes."  The man’s response can be our prayer: “Lord, I believe—help my unbelief.”

Jesus is present here this morning (as He is always present), and invites us to reach out for Him, and to hear His words echoing throughout the journey of our lives: "Peace be with you... Do not doubt but believe."  Amen

   November 2018   
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