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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

John 20:19-31
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 wrote that,

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.[1]

†††††††† 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[2] 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 the world.

†††††††† 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 government.

†††††††† 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.

†††††††† Amen.

†††††††† Valley Covenant Church
†††††††† Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
†††††††† Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

[1] From Forty Gospel Homilies, 26, in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, volume IVb, John 11-21, edited by Joel C. Elowsky (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2007), p. 367.

[2] Theodore Sturgeon, ďIt Was NothingóReally!Ē anthologized in Sturgeon Is Alive and WellÖ (New York: Pocket Books, 1971).

Last updated April 27, 2014