Reading John 20: 19-31
Preacher Revd Alan Sykes
I expect we’ve all been there – or should I say not been there. You’re watching, say, a game of football on the TV, the cup final maybe or an England game. You pop out of the room for a moment – to go to the loo or put the kettle on – and you miss the winning goal. Of course, you can watch it later being replayed a million times, but it’s not the same as watching it happen when it happens.
You feel really unlucky. Why does it always happen to me?
Or perhaps you get a really severe cold and you don’t feel well enough to do anything but stay in bed. And it so happens that for the first time in weeks the sun is shining but you’re just not well enough to enjoy it.
Just my luck, you think to yourself.
Well, Thomas was very unlucky that first Easter. He missed seeing the risen Jesus. You can’t get more unlucky than that. Perhaps he’d gone out to buy some bread. Perhaps he’d gone out for a walk, trying to get his head round what had been happening in the last few days. Whatever the reason, the others were in that room when Jesus appeared and Thomas wasn’t.
Thomas had been really unlucky.
And yet from another perspective Thomas was incredibly lucky – not quite as lucky as the other disciples maybe but incredibly lucky all the same. He was given – eventually – the incredible gift of seeing Jesus alive after he’d died.
I suggest, my friends, that we’d have given our right arms to have seen the risen Jesus. Having been unlucky initially, Thomas ended up being very lucky indeed.
Perhaps lucky isn’t quite the right word. But let’s not quibble over a word. You know what I mean.
None of us followers of Jesus alive now, 2000 years later, have had that immense privilege. We haven’t had the luck that Thomas had.
In one sense we are very unlucky indeed. I refer to the times we live in. Especially in western Europe we live in a very unbelieving age. People are gullible alright about many things but, when it comes to the Christian faith, many people think it’s all a fairy tale. You need to be pretty robust spiritually to keep your faith alive in a context like that the we’re in at the moment.
Among many influential sections of society it is simply assumed that belief in God is impossible for a modern, thinking person. You may remember that TV programme called Cosmos presented by Carl Sagan. I believe there’s a remake out at the moment. In it he coined this famous phrase: the Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.
The idea that the physical universe is all there is is often called ‘naturalism’. It’s an ideology shared by many people. It’s a very fashionable view in certain circles.
And it’s widespread in the media. It permeates people’s minds. It makes it very difficult for them to take the Christian faith seriously. They dismiss it. And they dismiss it because they’ve been led to believe by people who seem to know that the physical universe is all that is or was or ever will be.
But how did Carl Sagan, for instance, know – he’s dead now – how did he know that the physical universe is all there is? The simple answer is that he didn’t. How could he possibly know? It was an irrational prejudice masquerading as a fact.
Of course it might conceivably be true that the universe is all there is, but it doesn’t follow at all that that is therefore the case, just because it might conceivably be true. It simply doesn’t follow.
The argument seems to be that because you don’t see, touch, hear, taste or smell something, it therefore can’t possibly exist.
But the fact is that we have reasons for believing that things exist other than the simple evidence of our senses.
Naturalism is nothing less, in my view, than a doctrinaire and irrational prejudice – a failure of the imagination. Those who espouse naturalism aren’t being nearly as rational as they think they are. They just assume they’re right.
The reason I’ve spent a little time talking about naturalism is that those who espouse this worldview are often very cocksure of themselves and they can give the impression that what they believe must obviously be true. Well, it’s not obviously true and we all need to know that because such views are very prevalent and they can influence us without us even being aware of it.
Naturalism is one cause why we live in a society where religious belief is scorned by many as being believable only to the simple-minded or the uneducated. And that actually makes me very cross because a) it’s patronising and b) it’s just plain false.
So, now I’ve got that off my chest, let’s get back to our gospel reading, Jesus says to his disciples: ‘have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Well, I guess that means us, and those who persist in believing and in taking Christian faith seriously.
We’re unlucky to have been born into a sceptical age – well, actually, not so much sceptical as doctrinaire and arbitrary in its rejection of the Christian faith – in many ways the very opposite of being sceptical. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s possible to see that nonsense for what it is.
No doubt it would have been easier if we’d been born in an earlier, more believing world where belief in God and the Resurrection was simply the air you breathed.
Yes, we’re unlucky in a sense to be alive in an age like this – but not as unlucky as all that. It’s still possible to believe in God, to trust in Christ and to give our full assent to the truth of the Resurrection. But we do need to do a little work to see through the hollow delusions that modern society thrusts in our faces.
We began with Thomas. He was both unlucky and lucky. And so are we – unlucky perhaps because of the times we live in but also lucky, because Christ was risen then – in Thomas’s day – and he is risen now, in our own day.