It’s a gorgeous day: the sun’s shining bright. The sky is blue as only April skies can be. The wind is ruffling the hair sticking out of your helmet. You feel the rumble of the engine beneath you as the ground below rushes past. (Pause) Then you take a step, and hurtle a few thousand feet to the ground.
I have spoken to many skydivers over the years. There are two moments in skydiving that really get the adrenaline pumping. One is when you’re standing at the open door of the plane before jumping out. If you’re wise, you’ll look straight out, not down before you go. The second is when the chute needs to be deployed. Will it come out normally or will it tangle? Will I need to cut it away and pull my reserve chute? Will it stop me from plunging to my death? Skydiving takes a lot of faith: faith in the person who packed your parachute, faith in the parachute itself that it will do what it’s supposed to do, faith in yourself that you can land the right way.
When I was at my nephew Isaac’s wedding a few years ago, I had a good time talking with another nephew Caleb. Caleb is the daredevil and black sheep of the family. He was the first one in the family to get a helicopter ride, though He doesn’t remember it- he was flown to a hospital ER after he fell out of a tree. He was first Bickford to get a tattoo. On his 18th birthday he tried skydiving, and last I heard still jumps out of a plane occasionally and so does his wife. I remember joking with Caleb that if he and his girlfriend decided to get married, I would perform the marriage and we could do the ceremony midair, like I’ve seen on TV.
Guess what? A few weeks after our conversation I heard from Caleb that he was getting married! It left me hanging with two futures. One future I perform an ordinary wedding in a church in Arizona. The other future I’m perched in the door of a plane, summoning the courage to step out.
When Jesus headed for Jerusalem the week before he died, it left the disciples hanging, too. What would the future be? Before that horrible week, the disciples were sure Jesus had a plan to kick out the Romans. Then when Thomas heard Jesus was going to Jerusalem, Thomas showed courage. He thought Jesus was going to die in Jerusalem and he wanted to die with him.
It didn’t work out that way. Instead, when Jesus was arrested he ran away. Thomas didn’t have the courage he thought he had. Then Thomas stayed away. He was even harder on himself than the other disciples were. When he didn’t stand by Jesus, he took off by himself for awhile. That’s why Thomas wasn’t with the others when Jesus first appeared.
Off alone, Thomas probably had to convince himself the week was not one big nightmare. He had to figure out what was real and what was fantasy. He probably had just come to grips with reality when the other disciples showed up. They told him Jesus wasn’t dead. They’d seen him and he was alive!
We can forgive Thomas for being skeptical. He’d wrestled with what Good Friday meant and then at daybreak Sunday everything changed. We can forgive Thomas for saying to the other disciples, “you’re nuts!” Thomas was stubborn- and that can be virtue as well as a fault.
It took more than a little to persuade Thomas to believe what had happened. My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with the facts! How many of us are like that at one time or another? The fact is, it’s easier to live in our own worlds than to come to grips with what the rest of world tells us is the truth.
The funny thing was, when Jesus showed up again and Thomas was there, he believed right off. Jesus offered to let Thomas feel his hands and side, but the gospels Thomas needed no more proof. Then came the adrenaline pumping moment for Thomas. He stepped out of the plane of his own reality and into God’s reality. He simply believed. His Lord was alive! And when he believed he received the Holy Spirit just as the other disciples had.
So what does all this have to do with us? Well, how many of us fail to believe the stories of other Christians? It’s easy to find reasons for not believing If we’re honest most of us hear the stories about the resurrection and Pentecost without believing them 100%. Or we believe that that’s how God operated THEN, but it’s not how God operates NOW. Like Thomas, we need to see God’s power in person before we can truly believe.
What’s wrong with that? Nothing really, as long as we still have some faith. Remember, faith is not completely up to us- God inspires us. Some of us are blessed with more ability to believe. We all have times when it’s hard to believe. Thomas isn’t unusual. Thomas is like us. The point is to want to believe. I BELIEVE that if we WANT to believe, we WILL believe. Thomas was willing to believe when he saw the hands of God with wounds in them, and so he did believe.
Paul doubted, Thomas doubted, both took some major persuading that Christ was alive after the crucifixion. Jesus had to appear to both of them in person. But both, once they had been persuaded, had faith that was unstoppable. We know Paul spread Christianity far and wide, because his journeys are in the book of acts. We have no more proof in the Gospels of what Thomas became after today’s gospel, but Christians in India tell stories that Thomas spread the gospel there and died a martyr’s death.
So have courage doubting Thomases everywhere! There is no faith in this world without doubt. And we read about Thomas every year to remind us of this fact. Faith without the need for doubt it wouldn’t be faith would it? We don’t really need faith to believe the sun will rise tomorrow. It simply does. We do need faith to believe in the resurrection. We do need faith to receive the Holy Spirit.
Christ wants us to believe in Him and to understand the world seems plot against us to destroy our faith; the world plants doubt in our minds. When that doubt comes, - and it will come- pray. Pray for the help to believe, and you will believe. Remember what Peter said? “Lord I believe, Help my unbelief?” We can pray likewise. And when you believe, as Thomas did, you will be filled with the power of God. With the Holy Spirit will come the ability to believe and the ability to help others to believe.
Take a flying leap into the unknown, Zion Lutheran! Trust that God will help you find a great pastor for the years ahead and believe that God’s parachute will open for you. After so long in Milaca, our Lord will
NOT let you fail. This parachute jump of a ride until the next pastor is settled in, with all its ups and downs, will be glorious and scary and wonderful, and helped by God’s grace all the way down to landing. It will surely get our blood pumping in the weeks ahead. May the Power of the resurrected Lord fill each of us, giving us the courage to run our church without fear, to live our lives without fear, and tell others what God has done! Amen.
BTW I did NOT jump out of a plane. I couldn’t make the weekend he wanted to get married, so some other pastor married my nephew Caleb and his fiancé. He didn’t even do it in the air!