2 Easter Proper 2A                         
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 20:19-31 Sermon                                                     
May 1, 2011

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
210 "The Strife Is O'er, The Battle Done"
208 "Ye Sons And Daughters Of The King"
207 "Like The Golden Sun Ascending"


TEXT (vs. 24-25):  24Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord.'  But he said to them, 'Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.'            

            This morning, I have a story to relate to you that happened to me this past Friday.  I was driving home from our District Convention in Waterloo, Iowa.  I had taken a little detour through Clear Lake, Iowa to see my 93 year-old uncle.  It was late afternoon, and I was driving down I-35 just north of Ames, and my cell phone rang.

            I answered it, and a female voice on the other end asked me, "Is this Rev. Schroeder?"  I told her that it was.  Then she said, "This is Peggy Kessler."  I was almost speechless, if you can imagine that.

            Allow me to quickly bring everybody up to speed on this.  Last Sunday for my Easter sermon, I used Peggy Kessler's story to illustrate somebody who has had a miracle happen in their lives, and also the problems and hurts that arise when there are those who either doubt or won't believe a story like hers.

            Peggy is the woman who is on the Cancer Treatment Centers of America advertisements.  She survived stage 4, pancreatic cancer, which is the same disease that took my dad's life back in 2006.

            The reason for her phone call was to tell me how much she appreciated my sermon.  Of course I like to get feedback on what I preach about, especially when it's good feedback.  It's reassuring to know that I'm not failing to do my job; you know, one of those little perks one gets in life to help a person to keep plugging away.

            Anyway, Peggy had read my sermon on-line.  She also copied it off to give to others, one of whom was her 87 year-old mother, who also appreciated it.

            We had a long conversation that lasted from north of Ames to somewhere west of Des Moines.  We talked about her famous commercial.  And we talked about the naysayers and others who criticized her and doubted her story.  And there have also been those who have just out-and-out lied about her and have invented stories that just aren't true.  I know that those accusations have really hurt her, and we talked about that too.

            One of my many questions to her was, "Did I, in any way misrepresent you or say anything that wasn't true?"   Yes, there were a couple things I didn't have right, but they were incidental things, and not really germane to the story.  However I did promise her that I would publicly correct any mistakes I made, just so the facts are straight.

            I originally said that she was from Rapid City, South Dakota, and that's wrong.  She actually lives on the opposite end of the state, just outside of Sioux Falls.  However, she did say that she enjoys the Black Hills, and loves to go horseback riding there.  Well, at least I got her in the right state, and had her connected with a place she loves.

            I also said that she ran a general store with her family, and that's wrong too.  She works for Luverne Truck Parts at their plant near Sioux Falls.  Maybe you've seen pickup trucks with Luverne bumpers or bull bars.  At least they had a good health insurance scheme for her!

            The third thing I had wrong, was that I said she was an eight-year survivor.  She very joyfully told me that she is now a ten-year survivor of pancreatic cancer.  And that is probably the happiest correction I could make!

            It's now two Sundays in a row that we've had doubters and naysayers in our Gospel lessons.  Last week, it was the disciples who wouldn't believe the testimony of the women at the empty tomb.  And today, our attention is turned to Thomas, the disciple who hadn't seen the risen Jesus.  He needed proof beyond what the other disciples and the women could give him.  He had to press his fingers into the nail prints in Jesus' hand, and put his hand into the gaping hole in Jesus' side before he would believe.

            He too doubted the stories about the resurrection.  I don't know what could have been going through his mind.  He certainly witnessed many of the miracles Jesus performed.  He heard him preach and teach.  He knew he was the true Son of God and the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.  And considering the fact that he would have first-hand knowledge of how Jesus healed the man who was born blind and how Jesus raised the decomposing Lazarus from the dead, why would the account of his resurrection be so unbelievable?  Why did Thomas need this kind of proof before he would believe?

            Well, let me throw this right back at you.  Were there any amongst you that still doubted the Peggy Kessler story when I told it last week?  Granted that nobody actually came to me, or phoned me, or Emailed me and told me that they felt her story wasn't true.  But even with that, did any of you have any scraps of doubt floating around in your minds?  Were any of you amongst her naysayers and doubters?  Even though you might not have accused me of out-and-out lying to you, did you think that I might be operating under some false or misleading information?  After all, I did have a couple of things wrong!  Could I have possibly been wrong here as well?

            If you look at things that way, then I think you might be able to understand what was going on in Thomas's mind.  He would have trusted the disciples and the women.  But he most likely thought that they were somehow mislead in making their conclusion.  Maybe he thought that they had gotten a hold of some sort of hallucinogenic drug, and saw something that just didn't exist.  Or maybe they had just seen some sort of ghostly spirit being that really wasn't Jesus.

            Thomas wanted to be certain that what he was being told was the truth.  His way of verifying the resurrection would be to feel the nail prints and put his hand where the spear had pierced Jesus' side.  That would be concrete evidence he couldn't dispute.

            We need to take special note of the way Jesus handles all of this.  Thomas was one of the Lord's disciples.  He was faithful and loyal to Jesus, and loved him as much as anybody could.  When Jesus died on the cross, Thomas would have mourned and wept.  He would have felt genuine grief and sadness.

            Here, Jesus complies with Thomas's request.  He wants to give Thomas the proof he needs to eradicate his doubts.  So he appears, and allows Thomas to physically experience his nail prints and his wounded side.   

            Jesus doesn't dismiss Thomas.  He doesn't say, "Well Thomas, since you couldn't take the word of your fellow disciples, you are of no use to me.  Get out of here, and don't come back!"  He doesn't say anything of the sort.  Instead Jesus says, "Stop doubting, and believe!" 

            People have always treated Thomas with a certain amount of disdain.  People will sometimes call others a "doubting Thomas" if they show skepticism.  Even though Thomas wasn't the only disciple to show signs of weakness, he's the one that gets the bad rap.

            The real point of truth here, is that Thomas is a lot like you and me.  It's human nature to act like he did.  We are a whole race of skeptics and naysayers!  We're always looking for hidden agendas.  We're always trying to "read between the lines" to try to dig beneath the surface.  We don't like to take people at their word.  We want rock-solid proof of everything, or we don't want any part of it.  Doesn't this sound like the way we go about things?  We don't want to be gullible, and we don't want to be duped.  And so we demand proof to satisfy ourselves.

            The thing we need to remember is that Jesus gives us proof.  He's the one that answers our questions and gives proof to our skeptical faith.  His miracles and the absolute proof of the greatest miracle, that he rose from the dead, has been verified by many witnesses.  Most court cases don't have as many witnesses as Jesus did!

            John writes in verses 30-31 of our Gospel lesson for today: "30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."  

            A saving faith is what God the Holy Spirit gives us.  All of Scripture points to our Saviour Jesus Christ and what he did to secure our salvation.  Believing in Jesus as our Saviour is what we need to enter heaven.  Over and over again Jesus shows himself to be true God.  There can be no doubt about that.  So can there ever be any doubt that our sins are forgiven?  Can there be any doubt that Christ bore the punishment for our sins, and died the death we deserve?  Can we ever question that when we appear before the judgment seat, that God will see Christ's righteousness instead of our sinfulness?

            Jesus gives us the proof we need to know without a doubt that our faith is secure with him.  He will never let us down.  And he will never leave us or forsake us.  In Mark chapter 9 verse 24, when Jesus is removing an unclean spirit from a boy, the boy's father cries, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!"  

            Jesus has indeed conquered all of our doubts and fears.  And when we are tempted to doubt what God tells us, we can make the same exclamation that the boy's father made.  God will indeed strengthen our weak faith.

            He certainly strengthened Thomas's faith.  History tells us that Thomas was the missionary to Persia and India.  Even though he was reluctant to go at first, many people came to know Jesus because of his ministry.  He died a martyr in approximately the year A.D. 72 when someone who was opposed to the Christian faith stabbed him to death.  He died defending the faith of his risen and living Lord. 

             That telephone call I received on Friday from Peggy Kessler really made my day.  I never really doubted that what she talked about on those television commercials for Cancer Treatment Centers of America was real.  When I went digging to find out a bit more than what I saw on the commercial, I also read what her critics said about her.  It's hard to believe that skeptical people can be so cruel.  Unfortunately, that's the way human nature is sometimes.

            We talked about many things.  She said that when they made that commercial, she sat down and talked into the camera for several hours, just relating her story.  What we see on the commercial is excerpted from the story she told.  There is a longer version you can see on the internet.

            We also talked about what she went through with her disease, and what I saw my dad going through.  It was the same chapter out of a different book.  And thankfully, she's still here to talk about it.  I just hope that nothing discourages her from sharing her story, with the hope that somebody else can be spared from the agonizing disease that took my dad's life in a horrible way.

            Even though I didn't doubt her story, I hope that by sharing this today, any doubts you might have had are now silenced.  Just like Jesus gave real proof to Thomas, I hope that the proof of our telephone conversation will enable you to believe that miracles do happen, and that Peggy Kessler did indeed survive pancreatic cancer.  She is just as awe-struck as anybody is about this.

            The neatest part of the story is that I made a new friend in the process.  She has promised to keep in contact with me, and I hope that she will.  She also told me that one thing on her "to do" list, is to attend a Nebraska home football game.  And don't be surprised if you happen to see her sitting next to you in the pew some Sunday morning.

            In the commercial, Peggy recounts what one of her doctors told her:  "There's no expiration date stamped on the bottom of your foot."  As true as that is, still the day will come when Peggy will breathe her last on this earth.  Jesus raised the widow's son, he raised Jairus's daughter, and he raised Lazarus who were all dead.  But they all eventually died later on.  They're no longer around.

            Cancer Treatment Centers of America gave Peggy a real hope for her disease; but even so we know it is the Lord who actually provides the healing.  Physicians and surgeons and medicines are only the instruments the Lord uses in sustaining life.  God alone is the one who dictates the success rate.

            The real hope that God gives us is the hope of an eternity in heaven.  That comes only through faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour.  The earthly mortality rate amongst humans always was, and always will be 100 percent.  Nobody gets out of this world alive.

            Through faith alone, we know for certain that since the grave could not hold Jesus, it won't hold us either.  Therefore we do not doubt, but believe that heaven will be ours for all eternity.  Our risen and living Saviour is proof of that.