Sermon Notes for St. Thomas Sunday 2017: Thinking outside the box
- Humans often think themselves into a corner, or into a box, from which they can see no way out. Sometimes we do that to ourselves, sometimes others force us into that box.
- At the incarnation, God put Himself into such a box. He willfully limited His omnipotence in becoming fully human. God accepted all the limitations having a body and living in creation puts on any of us, including death. God ended up not only as a human on earth, but as a corpse buried in a tomb. That tomb was sealed by a heavy stone. God thought Himself into such a “box” even finding His way to Hades, the place of the dead from which no one ever escaped.
- Except God was not limited by any of these boxes – not the earth, not His body, not the tomb, not Hades.
- Today’s Epistle concludes with the Apostles also in a box – The Sadducees have them arrested and put in a prison. This is the case of others putting us in a box of their choosing. And yet that box, the prison, was not able to contain the Apostles – God helped them think outside the box!
Epistle: Acts 5:12-20
In those days, through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed. Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”
- Before the Apostles were put in that prison, they had put themselves in another box, but this was their own choice. The Apostles were terrified after the crucifixion of Jesus. Terrified that they too might be killed, so they went into hiding. They closed themselves in a room and locked the doors. They thought themselves into this box and could see no way out.
Gospel: John 20:19-31
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
- We Christians can think ourselves into such boxes. We think the society is against us and we can choose to hide in our churches or in our homes or in our hearts. Each – church, home, heart – can become a box. We might go into that box, like the Apostles into the upper room – for safety because we fear the society around us.
- But there is another reality which the Scriptures teach us. ANY box which we find ourselves in – whether it is one we chose to go into for safety, one we thought our way into and can’t see a way out of, one that is imposed on us by those who against us – still is part of this creation and so still is within God’s realm. “God is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:27-28). Whatever “box” we find ourselves in – God is still not far from us, and we are still in God. All “boxes” humans experience – all limitations whether self-imposed or imposed on us by others – are still within God’s grace and power. They cannot separate us from God.
- And as the Apostles discovered – even if in a box – Christ can still find His way into that box and be with us. So not only are our “boxes” always still in God with God close by, but Christ is able to enter into our boxes and be with us.
- The Apostles discovered that Christ does not prevent them from boxing themselves in, nor does He promise them that there is nothing to fear out in the world, but He enters their box and tells them to go into the world anyway even if that world is terrifying.
- We humans find ourselves in boxes of many kinds and we often think there is no way out of the box, or maybe even there is nothing outside the box! God is there. We might think our way into a box out of fear, depression, loneliness, overwhelmed by problems, or because others are imposing that box on us for their own (even nefarious) reasons. People these days think their way into political boxes as well, and this is often a self-imposed box. We allow ourselves only to read or think about ideas we agree with and we become afraid of everything and everyone outside our boxes and hate them as threats to our thinking. Political boxes also exist within God’s world and don’t contain it. And just as Christ came to His Apostles in their locked room, he challenged them to live the Gospel. He challenges us to do the same and not retreat into the imagined safety of our boxes.
- We can remember Thomas and the Apostles and how Christ came into their presence – Christ entered into that upper room where they were hiding and was them with them in their box, in their fear, in their depression as they hid for their own safety and He helped them out of that box. He didn’t bless them to stay hidden or afraid. Neither did He tell them “there is nothing to fear” because He after all was crucified by this world.
- The truth remains: no box humans create is ever outside of God. Every box and every prison is a human construct. When we are in them, we still are within God’s creation and are still living and moving and having our being in God. Even those who are in a tomb or in Hades are not outside of God, and Christ comes to them in their boxes and saves them.