John 20: 19-31
The Reverend Phillip Blackburn
April 3, 2016
So, I like to gamble. I find it fun, and I don’t do it very often, and so I can confess to you that I like to gamble. I will meet my childhood friends in Las Vegas every year or two, or when I’m on vacation and see a casino I might go in for a while, I have strict rules which prevent me from ever, I hope, having a problem. I never gamble near my home. I always count my money that I am playing with as spent, just as I would if I bought a ticket to a game or show. And I always try, when possible, to hedge my bets. See, I like to gamble but I hate to lose money; so I am a very cautious sort of gambler, and when I have the opportunity, I hedge my bets. I will spread my money around so I can’t be wiped out on a direct hit, or I will play bets off each other to minimize potential losses. I won’t get into the details, but hedging my bets is an important part of my gambling strategy.
And it’s an important part of yours too. Even if you don’t gamble, most of you hedge your bets. Have you ever signed a pre-nuptial agreement? Have you ever bought insurance voluntarily? Have you ever diversified your investment portfolio? Have you ever expected your team to lose a big game just so you wouldn’t be as disappointed if they lost? If you have done any or all of these things, then you have hedged your bets in life. It’s ok. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; if you are a prudent person in any way then you like to hedge your bets. You want to make some money in the market but you don’t want to lose it all. You love your fiancée, but you aren’t willing to bet everything that you will love her in 20 years. You think your team will win, but you don’t want to be one of those fans they catch on TV crying in the stands if things go badly. You hedge your bets. Everybody does. We all do.
And so did poor old Thomas. We give Thomas a hard time, don’t we? We call him doubting Thomas, but we shouldn’t. He didn’t doubt. He just hedged his bets. It’s not that he didn’t believe the other disciples when they told him that Jesus was alive, it’s just he couldn’t be sure. He hadn’t seen it, he’d only heard about it. I mean, how often has somebody told you something that stretched the plausible and so you googled it just to be sure? I mean, most of us have done that, right? Well, Thomas was unsure he wanted to go all in with these guys, so he hedged his bets. It makes perfect sense. He heard that Jesus had appeared to the disciples and so he said, “if Jesus shows up again, I will believe it’s him if I can touch his wounds.” Ok, it’s kind of gross but it’s ok. He needs proof. Think about it for a minute. If Thomas thought all those guys were crazy, I mean complete loons, he could have bolted. He didn’t have to stay. But he didn’t think that. In fact, I suspect he wanted to believe them. But on the other hand he didn’t want to be a rube. He didn’t want to be the butt of anybody’s jokes. He didn’t want, perhaps, to be disappointed. What if he had accepted it right off and then found out there was no resurrection, or what if Jesus hadn’t returned to the disciples again? That would have been tough. So Thomas hedged his bets.
And you know what, we do the same thing, you and I. When it comes to faith, most of us hedge our bets. We do. You do. Don’t deny it. You hedge your bets. Do you really spend every minute of your life believing Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and then living as if it were so? Do you? Be honest. How many times this past week did that belief shape your actual actions? Not that often, probably. At least not for most of us. It did a few times. When we prayed or did our devotional. When we turned up for church this morning, maybe. When we helped somebody out or were kind when we didn’t have to be. But still, it’s not like we were thinking about Jesus when we went out to dinner and ordered way too much food, or sent a snarky email to an annoying acquaintance, or posted some mean political rant on Facebook. See what I mean. We hedge our bets. We don’t live our lives, every moment of every day, as if this were true. We live some of them that way, but we believe it is impractical, and perhaps even impossible, to live that way all the time; to always have that belief shape our actions.
So while we all sit and ponder our spiritual shortcomings for a moment, let me say a couple words about the little epilogue tacked on to these two resurrection stories which you have heard. First, John tells us that there are lots of other stories that weren’t included for the sake of brevity. Then he tells us that all this was written down so that we, everybody who ever reads this, would believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Then he concludes that this belief will give us, the believer, life in his name. Ok. Got that? It’s a pretty clean little equation he sets out before us. And he’s doing something here, he’s making something pretty clear, I think, about the Thomas story.
Remember at the end of that story, Thomas touches Jesus’ wounds and say, “my Lord and my God!” Ok, he clearly believes. Then what does Jesus say? It’s a pretty famous line but picture it as if this scene were in a movie. At this point Jesus might turn to the camera, not to Thomas, not the other disciples, but to the “you” to whom John refers one verse later, and Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.” You know who he is talking about there? Us! It’s you and me. He was talking to us the whole time. All the disciples saw the risen Christ. It was easy for them; they had no doubts, no questions. They knew. We were not there yet we battle and fight and scuffle every day to believe what we have not seen, and most of us do a pretty good job.
Will Jesus throw us overboard for the days we hedge? Here’s the best part, no! No, he won’t. How do we know? We know because he let Thomas touch his wounds. He didn’t kick him out. He didn’t send him on his way. He blessed him with what he needed. The life of faith is hard. It can be a battle. To some it comes as easily and naturally as breathing and to others it is a daily struggle. But Jesus has already blessed all of us, no matter where we are on the spectrum today. We didn’t see. We weren’t there. All we have to go on is what is written down for us, and still and yet we show up. We worship. We pray. We try.
So this week, don’t worry. Don’t feel bad if faith is hard. Do your best, just try to do your best every day because here is the thing, the greater our belief, the more we work at it, the more we trust in Jesus to be who he says he is, the more we will find life, in this world and the next. It’s not a gamble to follow Jesus, but it is human nature to hedge our bets. And the best part of all that, the good news of this resurrection story, is that Jesus doesn’t convict us for it. He blesses us. That is grace. That is life. Amen.