ďHoles in Our FaithĒ
April 27, 2014 - Second Sunday of Easter
†††††††† The Easter story is
full of holes. Last week on Easter we read in Matthewís Gospel that just after
He rose from the dead, Jesus promised to meet His disciples in Galilee. A few verses later they go there, about three days away, and Jesus meets them and
gives them what we call the Great Commission. But here now in John we read that
Jesus met His disciples that same evening of the day He rose from the dead,
right in Jerusalem. Matthew and Mark tell us there was one angel at the tomb;
Luke and John tell us there were two.
†††††††† Itís not only the
account of the Resurrection which has inconsistencies, gaps and holes in it.
Any good skeptic will be glad to point out such things to you all over the
Bible. Our whole faith, they would tell us, is full of holes, and not only our
faith, but our lives as well. If we truly believe what we say we believe, then
why have Christians done such rotten things to other people and even to
themselves down through the years? There seems to be a huge, monstrous chasm
between what we say and what we do much of the time.
†††††††† There are good answers
and perfectly solid plugs for many of the holes. John Himself tells us that
Jesus met His disciples in both places, Jerusalem and Galilee, as is perfectly clear in the very next chapter of his Gospel. And itís perfectly
understandable that two of the Gospel writers would mention only the angel that
did the talking, while Luke and John were a little more careful about the
number of the angels. Itís worth thinking through these things and coming up
with good answers when people ask.
†††††††† Moreover, itís worth
taking to heart some of the criticisms that are made of Christian behavior. We
believe in a Savior who wants to and has the power to make us better, much
better, than we often allow ourselves to be. We certainly could stand to close
that gap between what we say and how we act.
†††††††† At the same time, it
came to me as I reflected on the text for today, that while it might seem at
times like there are holes in our faith, we might also want to say that our
faith has some holes right at its foundation. And those holes are good,
beautiful, and you will just have to pardon me, holy.
†††††††† Thomas was seeing the
holes in the story when the other disciples told him how they met Jesus on
Easter evening. He was an intelligent man, a realist. Back in John chapter 11,
when Jesus decided to come back to Judea to help Lazarus, it was Thomas who
foresaw the practical consequences. Jesus was going to get Himself killed, and
maybe them too. And thatís exactly how it turned out, at least for Jesus.
†††††††† When Thomas heard this
fantastic story from the other ten disciples, about how Jesus had shown up and
blessed them with peace and showed His wounds from the Cross and then breathed
the Holy Spirit over them, he wasnít having it. He had seen Jesus die. He had
seen the holes poked in Him with nails and a spear. He had seen Him taken down
from the Cross and stuck in a hole in the ground. Jesus was dead and dead men
stay dead. Thomas knew that as well as he knew anything and so he knew their
Easter story was full of holes.
†††††††† The strange thing
about it all is that what Thomas wanted, what Thomas needed, was a
better look at the holes. He was only acting like any reasonable person who
hears a story which doesnít all seem to fit, which challenges belief. He only
wanted the same opportunity which all the other disciples already had, to see
for himself. Thatís what he asked for in verse 25, ďUnless 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.Ē
†††††††† In other words, Thomas
only wanted to examine the holes in the Easter story for himself. He wanted a
reasonable response, an answer for the parts that did not hold together. Yes,
he doubted the word of the others, but as we see in the next few verses, he was
totally ready to let the holes in his faith be filled up when he saw Jesus.
†††††††† It is a good thing for
you and me that Thomas was a disciple. It is good for you and me that he was
absent on the evening of Easter. His doubts, his worries about the holes in the
story, assure us that the message that Jesus rose from the dead was not just
the wishful thinking of some disappointed Jewish peasants.
†††††††† Gregory the Great
The divine mercy ordained that a doubting disciple should, by
feeling in his Master the wounds of the flesh, heal in us the wounds of
unbelief. The unbelief of Thomas is more profitable to our faith than the
belief of the other disciples.
†††††††† God allowed Thomas to
be absent on Easter so that he could doubt and then have the truth of the
Resurrection verified beyond the shadow of a doubtóall for our sake.
Thomas is our reality check. He investigated the facts so that you and I could
believe them. He looked over the holes in the story so that we can believe even
though our own faith encounters holes.
†††††††† †Thomasís doubts are a
blessing to us. Skeptics often think Christians operate by blind faith, never
doubting. They imag≠ine we are all willfully stupid people who refuse to
question whether what we believe is actually true. But Thomas from the very
beginning shows thatís not how we are. He had his doubts, and so do you and I.
We keep bumping up against the holes and wondering about them.
†††††††† The thing is, the
holes make our faith stronger. I read a science fiction story decades ago about how an engineer working for the military was sitting ďdoing
his business,Ē as we say, when he noticed that, a significant amount of the
time, about forty percent, toilet paper does not tear exactly at the
perforations, but in the middle of the sheet. His conclusion was that for such
a percentage of imperfect tears to be reached, the middle of those sheets had
to be stronger than the perforations. In other words, toilet paper is often
stronger where the holes are, then where they are not.
†††††††† In the story, this
leads to the silly result that the engineer discovers that the more material he
removes from an object, the stronger it gets, until finally, when absolutely
nothing is left, he has an impenetrable force field made from ďNothing.Ē Thatís
just a geeky science fiction story. But the Christian story is actually like
that. We are stronger because of the holes, because it is into those vacancies,
into those empty places, that Christ our Lord steps and shows Himself alive and
strong for us.
†††††††† Thatís why some of the
inconsistencies, the holes, in the Resurrection accounts between Matthew, Mark,
Luke and John actually make the whole thing stronger. Put four witnesses on the
stand in court and ask them what happened on the night of July 17. If they all
tell exactly the same story, with all the details matching, and with no
inconsistencies at all, what will you conclude? They got together and made it
all up. They agreed ahead of time on the lie they would tell. But if four
witnesses all tell the same big truth a little differently, with maybe even a
few details that donít quite match, it is much more likely to be real testimony
and not just something they cooked up together.
†††††††† And itís the holes, of
course, that are at the center of Thomasís story, the holes that are in Jesus.
Itís those holes in His hands, and the one in His side, which show that He really
is the Man who was nailed to a Cross and died there three days earlier. And
when Jesus shows Thomas those holes in verse 27, Thomas does not even need to
touch them. His faith grows solid and impenetrable. All he can say is verse 28,
ďMy Lord and my God!Ē
†††††††† Those holes, those
wounds in Jesus, cement Thomasís faith and they are very much at the foundation
of our faith. Itís those wounds which tell us how much God loved us, enough to
let us poke holes in His Son, enough to bleed for us, enough to suffer all the
wounds of our lives in His own body.
†††††††† In fact, we celebrate
those holes. Look at our sculpture on the wall behind you. Jon King the artist
called it ďGodís Dance.Ē Itís the joy of our Lord, but look there at the
figureís waist and you will see the pierced side, the hole which bled and
flowed down because God loved us and forgave our sins with His own blood.
†††††††† The third verse of the
hymn we will sing at the end goes,
†††††††† Crown him the Lord of
love, behold his hands and sideó
†††††††† Rich wounds yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
†††††††† Itís the holes Jesus
suffered for us which heal the holes in you and me, the wounds caused by our
own sins and by the sins of others. Those holes were so important that God did
not erase them when He raised Jesus, but left them there as the sign of what is
at the center of our faith, our Lordís love and sacrifice for us.
†††††††† Our faith is built on
holes and it is stronger because of some holes. As Iíve been saying, itís good,
itís very good to doubt and then try to find some answers to those doubts. I
praise God for all my Christian bible scholar and philosopher and theologian
friends who take doubts and questions seriously and spend their lives working
at good answers. If it werenít for the holes and the Christians who study them,
it wouldnít be as clear as it is that Christian faith is just as reasonable, as
supported, as worthy of belief as any other religion or scientific theory in
†††††††† Yet there is another
very deep sense in which our faith is stronger because of some holes. As it was
for Thomas, those holes, those empty places, those weaknesses in us are just where
our Lord appears and shows us His strength in our lives. Thatís why Paul
said in II Corinthians 12:10 that he was ďcontent with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and calamities,Ē in other words, all sorts of holes in
his life, ďfor the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.Ē
†††††††† Itís in the holes that
real strength lies, both in those blessed holes in our Lordís body, and in our
own bodies and lives as Christians. As I thought about this the last couple
weeks, I realized how poorly Iíve been thinking about what just happened here
this morning. We said goodbye to another couple, another pair of strong young
leaders in our church, who are moving away from us. And we know thatís going to
happen again, and again.
†††††††† Iíve looked at those
departures as holes left here, holes left in the body of Christ which is Valley Covenant Church. But Iíve been thinking how much they weaken us, and praying for God
to ďfillĒ the holes, to send us people to sit in the empty seats, to take on
the roles on our volunteer list, to minister to children and people in need.
And not until it came time to preach about those first holes in Jesusí body did
I realize that God wants to make us strong through the holes in His body here.
Heís giving us the opportunity to grow in trust, in confidence, in reliance on
His strength, not on our own.
†††††††† In fact, itís an
integral part of our congregationís history to be full of holes, with new ones
constantly forming. We live in a transient community. Many, many people come here
and go to school or find a job that lasts for awhile, but then they move away,
and leave behind a hole in us, in our church body. Yet from before the time I
came, this church has strengthened, taught and built up those Christians who
have come and gone, sent them on their way with a deeper faith. So a hole here
means that some other church is now being blessed by the faith and leadership
and service which was nurtured and grown here.
†††††††† They hurt, those
holes. We miss Luke and Kayun and we ache to see Chris and Laura going, and we
will hurt again when any of us find ourselves led away from here. Yet those
holes among us are also our glory, just as Jesusí wounds are His glory. Our
church holes are the sign that we are blessing and strengthening the larger body
of Christ all over the world.
†††††††† And there is one more
way in which holes are our strength, a deep, mysterious, painfully beautiful way
in which we share in the holes which pierced our Lord, in which we are
wounded with Him, but then raised to new and stronger life with Him.
†††††††† Thursday morning a man
who was raised in a Covenant church in Detroit was shot to death along with two
other Americans at a Christian hospital in Afghanistan. Dr. Jerry Umanos was a
pediatrician who believed he had a calling to be where he was then. His wife
said, ďHe always had a desire to be the hands and feet of Christ. He was always
a light for Christ, and he had a love and commitment that he expressed for the
Afghan people because of that love for Christ.Ē
†††††††† Jerry wanted ďto be the
hands and feet of Christ,Ē and as we keep hearing and seeing today, the hands
and feet of Jesus were pierced with holes. And so an Afghan security guard
there shot Dr. Umanos full of holes, just like his Lord. May our Lord give
grace and comfort to his wife and family because it is in and through holes
like they have suffered that we see just how truly strong our faith is.
†††††††† Christian faith is
willing to go where it is dangerous, to go where there are holes in health
care, in public infrastructure, in personal security, and to stand in those
holes and make a difference. Umanos was serving in Kabul at both a community
health center and the childrenís hospital where he was shot. Those two places
were the only training centers in the country for Afghan doctors. Because of
his faith, he was willing to suffer the holes.
†††††††† Thatís not all. The
shooter was not a hospital employee, but a member of an Afghan police detail
which was supposed to protect the hospital. He shot himself after he shot Dr.
Umanos and the other two victims. But here is what Jerryís Christian colleagues
did with that shooter after he shot himself: they took him into surgery and
worked to save his life before he was transferred into the custody of the
†††††††† That, brothers and
sisters, is true Christian faith. Shoot us full of holes and we only grow
stronger, more faithful, more loving, more ready to forgive as Jesus forgave,
and to show mercy to those who want to pierce holes in us.
†††††††† Iím glad there are
holes in our faith. Itís who we are. Itís who Jesus is. My prayer is that you,
like Thomas, will let yourself feel the holes. If you have doubts and
questions, that is all right. As folks will learn Tuesday evening exploring
Christian faith, doubts and questions are good. They only let us see the holes
which make us stronger, the holes which Jesus shares with us. And in verse 28,
as our Lord blessed Thomasís faith, He also blessed our faith full of holes,
our faith which has not seen, but nonetheless believes.
†††††††† Valley Covenant Church
†††††††† Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
†††††††† Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj