John 20:19-31

The Doubting Thomas in Us All

By Fr. Bill Wigmore

(This sermon was delivered to a group recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.)

Well good evening once again –
And a very special welcome to any doubting Thomas’ who are
here with us tonight. You’ve definitely come to the right place!

Now I don’t know too many of us in the Program
who haven’t struggled & stumbled, in finding our way to faith.

But “finding a faith that works….”
that’s the thing the Big Book says we each need to do
if we’re to have any hope of staying clean & sober
over the long haul….

Most of us come into the Program harboring plenty of doubts.
If you’re struggling with Step Two –
you really need to know that you’re not alone.

But the Big Book writers tell us that while they too shared some of our doubts,
they found a way to get over those “faith hurdles”.
And they tell us that if we’ll just be willing to follow a few simple directions –
then we too can make that leap of faith that’s maybe eluded us for so long.

Whenever I think about taking a leap of faith,
I’m reminded of that great scene in one of those Indiana Jones movies –
Maybe you remember it?

It’s the one where a bunch of bad guys are chasing Indy
through a very long and very dark cave.

They’re shooting guns and throwing spears at him –
and they’re just a couple of hundred yards away from killing him.

And Indy’s running as fast as he can – he’s trying to stay ahead –
but then, all of a sudden, he’s brought to a screeching halt.

Indy’s arrived at the end of the cave –
and it looks like the road he’s been running on stops right at the
edge of a tremendous, high cliff.

Indy looks down: and it’s a thousand feet to the bottom –
And then he looks back: the bad guys are almost on top of him with their guns blazing –
What’s he going to do?
Either way lies certain death – and he doesn’t have time to call his sponsor!

And then there’s a really intense moment of silence up there on the screen.
You can almost see Indy going inside and starting to pray.
His life is back at Step One again –
Things are definitely: unmanageable!

So it’s then that Indy remembers a piece of spiritual guidance
that he’d been given by his sponsor –
Some Wise Old Man we met back at the start of the movie.

And that old Man’s voice is playing in his head
and it’s telling Indy that he needs to “ let go” –

He needs to step off the cliff and trust –
Trust that the hand of God will be there to catch him, and hold
him, and carry him safely over to the other side.
But like most of us, he hesitates;
Like most of us, he’s terrified of letting go.
How does he let go of the world that he can see, and feel, and touch?
And turn his life & his will over to the care of a God that he can’t see at all –
and he’s not even sure that he really exists?
It’s Step Three time for Indiana J.

So Indy raises his right foot, and he squeezes his eyes shut,
and then, in what the Big Book calls: a moment of complete
abandon, he steps off the edge of that huge cliff.

And just as he does,
then those of us in the audience can see that the road that looked like it ended –
well, it didn’t really end at all.

The road had continued on –
but somehow it had blended into the rocks behind it
and so it couldn’t be seen with the naked eye.

We couldn’t see that the road was always there
until Indy took that step and his foot landed him on solid ground.

God held him in the palm of his hand! –
just like the Wise Old Man had promised he would.

Faith isn’t knowing for sure that something will happen –
Faith is really just the opposite!
Faith is Not Knowing that something will happen –
It’s not being sure at all –
but going ahead and taking that step anyway.

In tonight’s gospel story from John,
the disciples really have their backs up against a wall.
They sound like some of us when we first arrive in the Program.
Their whole world’s come crashing down around them.
They’re terrified.
The authorities are hot on their trail
and they’re locked up in some cheap, Jerusalem motel.

At the moment we meet ‘em – they’re more than a little paranoid.
And some of us can probably identify with that too!

Now what we need to understand is that
for three years or so Jesus had been with these guys.
And for three years, he’d provided them with their strength
– He’d been the one giving them all their courage.
When Jesus was with them, they felt safe & secure.
When Jesus was with them, they experienced his peace.
But once Jesus had died, it seems that all their courage & all their faith
died right along with him.

So now they’d given up their dreams and most of them were getting ready
to pack up and head back to Galilee.

Peter was going back to his fishing.
He said, “No more following dreamers like Jesus – no more fishing for men –
From now on – he said: I’m sticking with fish – fish that I can see.”

According to John’s gospel, the scene is now three days after Jesus’ death –
and the disciples are in hiding behind those locked doors.

But now John says that somehow Jesus enters into that room
and he stands among them.
Somehow he’s there – made present to them once again;
Very gently he says the word: “Peace.”

They can’t understand how this can be happening –
they’re sacred to death – they ain’t peaceful at all ! –
So Jesus has to repeat himself and he says to them again:“Peace!”

And then, as we heard in the story, Jesus does a really strange thing.
It says he breaths over his friends and he says:
“Here’s holy spirit! Here’s my spirit! Take it now!”
Take it into your hearts
and feel what it’s like to have me back in your life again.
Feel my presence – know that I’m still with you –
Feel that empty hole where your faith and your courage used to be.
Feel that hole filling up once again –
Feel it filling up with God’s Spirit & with my love.”

And so we ask: Just what is it that John’s trying to tell us
through this strange sounding story of his?
I think his message boils down simply to this:
That when Jesus was absent from his disciple’s hearts – they were full of fear.
But when Jesus was present to them once again –
their fears were removed and they were once again filled with his peace.

Somehow that night, the disciples once again felt his presence
and experienced his peace.

Somehow that night,
the disciples once again came to know Jesus as real and as present –
but now in a very different way than before –
And once they did that, (no matter how that all happened)
they found their faith & they found their courage restored.

You know, so many of us do really well while we’re in treatment –
We find some faith and we find some courage here –
We feel God’s presence in our lives – and we respond –

But once we leave the security of the group –
Once we go out of here,
especially if we go out of here alone and unchanged,
without somehow carrying God and the fellowship with us in
our hearts – then watch out for the terror to return.

The apostles huddled together – they too felt lost & afraid;
but they made their meeting that night and so God was with them.

Peter came to the meeting and he said:
“I feel so damned guilty for what I’ve done.”
and as he shared his guilt – his guilt was relieved.
And John – the apostle Jesus loved so much –
Maybe he came and he said, “I feel so lost & so lonely without him” –
and as he shared his loneliness –
lo and behold: his loneliness went away.
But there was one of their own who missed experiencing Jesus that night.
There was one of their own who wasn’t with them –
He missed out on feeling Jesus’ healing presence in this strange, new way.

His name was Thomas –
Thomas missed going to his meeting that night!
Maybe he thought he had something more important to do!

But I don’t want to be too hard on poor Thomas.
Doubting Thomas is what we’ve called him throughout history.
And I’ll bet Thomas is getting a pretty bad rap
in some of the sermons around town today.

Maybe people in churches are being told they shouldn’t have doubts
like this Thomas guy did.
Maybe they’re being told that if they do have doubts
then there’s something wrong with their faith!

And so, what are those people hearing that gonna do?
They’re probably gonna repress those doubts –
They’ll probably keep ‘em hidden from the saints sitting next to ‘em in the pew.

But one of the blessings of being alcoholic & addicts –
is that we get reminded at each meeting we attend that
“we are not saints” –

We’re reminded that we all come in here with plenty of doubts and
part of getting honest is the fact that
we don’t have to deny those doubts any more –

All we have to do is keep an open mind and be willing to grow
along spiritual lines.

And so, for us, our growth often starts with an honest sharing of our doubts
with the people we meet in the rooms.

I’ve had doubts – and you’ve probably had them too.
Doubts that there really is a God.
Or that if God really does exists – then –
Doubts that he really gives a hoot about what’s going on in my life or in yours.

And I’ve sure had my doubts about Jesus too
About how a little, Jewish boy could ever be called the son of God –
I struggled long & hard with that one too!

And, thank God our brother Thomas
seems to have had lots of doubts about Jesus as well.
Maybe that’s why his story is the one that’s repeated every year
on the very first Sunday after every Easter.

His story’s told each year – because in one-way or another, like the Big Book says: maybe at some level we’re all atheists & agnostics – we all have our doubt –
We don’t want to live our lives on the basis of faith –
we want to know for sure!

But the only way for us to know for sure – is to step off the cliff not knowing! –

Thomas isn’t quite ready to trust and to risk taking that plunge.
So he says to his group:
“I’ll never believe what you guys are telling me unless I can see it for myself.
I’ll never believe it till I’ve put my fingers in the holes the nails made in his hands.
And put my hand into his side where they stuck him with that spear.”

Thomas is definitely a little stubborn – and he has a real defiant streak in him too!
He really is starting to sound a lot like us!
(Maybe Thomas was out having a drink or getting high when he missed that meeting!)

But there’s something really, really important we might also want to notice here –
and that is that Jesus doesn’t blame Thomas for his not believing.
I think that’s really important and it’s something that’s so easily missed!

Jesus doesn’t say, “Shame on you, Thomas for not believing!”
Jesus isn’t into shame – he never was and he isn’t now –
But Jesus sees that Thomas is like us: he’s frightened;
and so maybe Thomas needs a different kind of spiritual
experience than the one the other guys received.
And that’s what Jesus offers him in this story from John.

Jesus says: “Thomas, come here.
Come here and put your fingers where the nails went into me!”

And then he says, “Thomas, now come put your hands here in my side – right here where the spear went through me.”

Jesus has a special treatment program for all of us doubters –
And it seems that it’s a kind of hands on treatment.
When our faith is weak,

the Big Book says we’d better go and work with another alcoholic or addict.
When our faith is weak, we need to stop thinking, and questioning, and doubting
We need to put it all down and stop beating ourselves up for not having faith.

The Big Book reminds us that Faith is a gift –
and all we can do is get ourselves ready to receive that gift.
We can’t think or reason our way to faith.
But what we can do is this:

We can take the action; we can take the steps –
and if & when we do – we’re promised to find a faith that works.

Next time faith is weak – or even when faith is non-existent –
then maybe Jesus is inviting us to do what he invited Thomas to do.
Take the bleeding hand of another addict
who’s reaching out for help as best he knows how.
Find the nail holes, or the track marks in that addict’s life
and try to feel some of his pain instead of wallowing and staying stuck in our own.

God, relieve us from the bondage of self – because for us – that’s a killer!
See, there’s always someone out there in worse shape than us.
And there’s always someone out there who’s further along in their spiritual growth
and able to see what we may still be blind to seeing.

We need to go seek them both out
We need to do what we can to help the one,
and we need to learn what we can about the spiritual life from the other.

And what we’ll find when we do those two things
is our own faith coming to life in the process.
Sometimes service work is the only thing that works for us Doubting Thomases.
Sometimes Easter arrives a week late but just on time for us addicts.

And once we start doing that work, the Big Book says:
“Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.”
In time, we might even start seeing a whole new world.
It’s a world where Jesus still comes to share with all those
who’ll risk stepping out from behind closed doors.

But like Indiana Jones, there’ll be times on the spiritual journey
when we have to trust and step off what might look to us like the edge of a steep cliff.

Maybe it’ll come in Step 4 or 5 –
Letting go of some secrets or some shame
that we’ve always been afraid to share with God or with another human being.

Or maybe it’ll be an amend that we know we need to make – but our pride or our fear hold us back from doing it.

Those are the times Jesus promises he’ll be with us.
Those are the times we need to see him breathing his spirit into us just like he did to those guys locked up in Motel Six!

Maybe he’ll do it at a meeting, or in our morning Quiet Time,
or maybe through words that’ll jump out at us from the Big Book:

Words like:

We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
We will not regret the past nor wish to shut & lock the door on it.
Fear will leave us!

Now, “Are these extravagant promises?” (cock your ear)
(Audience responds:) “We think not!”

They’re being fulfilled among us sometimes quickly on Easter
or sometimes slowly – a week later
just like for our Doubting Brother Thomas –

But they always materialize if we’ll just keep coming back
And they’ll always appear if keep taking that next right step.

Take it even when it looks like it’ll lead us
right off the edge of a cliff.

Take it cause we’re coming to believe
like those many thousands who crossed it before us:

That he’ll either be there to catch us –
or else he’ll be there and teach us how to fly!
“Rarely have we seen a person fail.”


Copyright 2008 Bill Wigmore. Used by permission.