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Terms and Conditions May Apply(?)

John 20:19-31; Ezekiel 37:1-14

Pastor Jason Zirbel

2nd Sunday of Easter
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

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Sun, Apr 19, 2020 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

You know from your own life experiences that when you hear “terms and conditions may apply,” you need to be on guard.  Things are never as they seem when terms and conditions apply.  Those fine-print terms and conditions always seem to have a way of making the sweet deal not so sweet at all.  ALWAYS read the fine print!  We know this when it comes to things like buying insurance or leasing cars or getting credit cards or purchasing memberships to the gym or Sam’s Club or the country club.  But… what about things like marriage?  What if rather than vow to love you in good times and in bad times, richer, poorer, in sickness and in health, your spouse-to-be instead states, “I will love you so long as….  Terms and conditions may apply.” Run away!  Caveats and conditions are not suitable substitutes for marriage vows. 

What about when it comes to matters of faith?  I know Thomas immediately comes into the crosshairs with these questions, and rightly so.  After all, in his own words, Thomas would never believe UNTIL he saw proof that Jesus was indeed alive.  He would have to first put his fingers into the wounds of the living Christ (like the other disciples got to do) BEFORE he would ever believe.  His faith had terms and conditions, which isn’t really faith at all.  Faith trusts in what is not seen.  Thomas, on the other hand, would only trust… provided he first had proof and reason to believe. 

But…this is where Christians with the best intentions tend to go off track.  Today is often treated as “Pick on Thomas Day.” It’s easy.  “Don’t be like Doubting Thomas.” But… just like we don’t pick on the women at the tomb that first Easter morning who forgot (and doubted) Christ’s own Word regarding His resurrection on the third day, deep-down we also don’t like to pick on Thomas for his unbelief/doubt.  After all, we can relate to Thomas.  We understand.  We get it.  So… instead, we often wind up making excuses for Thomas; maybe even praising Thomas because he’s just like us.  “Thomas is a guy after my own heart!  I don’t knock Thomas.  The other guys got to see the resurrected Jesus, and Thomas wasn’t there when that happened.  Thomas only wanted the same experience as them.” I get it.  I do.  I don’t disagree.  BUT…so now it’s okay to covet and not believe, so long as we have good reason?  Unbelief is never okay with Jesus.  There is never a situation/circumstance in which unbelief/failure to trust in God above all things is permissible/condoned.  Your Lord never blesses unbelief, no matter the circumstance. 

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” With these words of our Lord, all excuses for “situational unbelief” are shot down.  With these words, our Lord makes crystal clear that a quatenus-type faith (Latin for “in so far as,” as in “I believe, in so far as/as long as…”) is never okay—EVER.  (This stands in contrast to a quia-type faith; i.e., a faith that believes BECAUSE the hammer and anvil and God’s Word is in charge; i.e., “I believe because God says so.”

In a loving but firm way, your Lord calls Thomas and his unbelief out.  (And that’s what it is: UNBELIEF.) He doesn’t let it slide, and He certainly doesn’t praise/approve.  The Gospel immediately goes on to tell us that Jesus had done many other miraculous things in the presence of the disciples that weren’t recorded, “but these are recorded so that you may believe…and by believing you may have life in His name.” This is the whole point of today’s lessons, and to make excuses for Thomas’ unbelief misses this point!  Faith comes through hearing; hearing the Word of Christ.  I know we don’t want to pick on Thomas’ refusal to believe, but that’s precisely why this account is recorded—for us and our faith; a great lesson in “what not to do.”

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard over this past month, “This is unprecedented.  We’ve never seen anything like this.” Well… it’s not unprecedented.  There has always been famine and disease and poverty and fear and despair ever since the world first fell into sin.  History is filled with precedent.  All this may be new to us, but it’s NOT new!  It is true, though, that we’ve never seen it before, which leads me to ask: Do we still believe? 

Yes, I am framing these words of Christ in a different light.  Hear me out.  Jesus made this statement because of Thomas’ quatenus-type faith; i.e., the “faith” that first needed proof; that faith with all those terms and conditions attached.  Thomas needed to see BEFORE he would believe, and Jesus says “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” We get it.  However, coming at this from a different angle, we’ve never seen anything like what we’ve seen over these past several weeks.  Do we still believe?  Now, I know that every single person hearing/reading this question is going to adamantly confess, “YES, of course I still believe!” Some of you may be offended that I dare to even ask such a question.  Okay… so let’s ask it in a different way.  Does our faith come with terms and conditions?  Is it a quatenus-type of faith?  “I believe what my God and Lord says, BUT… germs, nice weather, inclement weather, too early, money’s tight, the fish are biting, the lawn needs mowing.  I will absolutely take up my cross and follow Jesus… provided it doesn’t involve any sort of inconvenience or discomfort on my part.  I am willing to be MARTYRED for Jesus and the faith…, but terms and conditions do apply.”

What does the Word of God say?  Keep in mind: It is this same Word of God who became flesh and died and rose again.  God is faithful to His Word.  God kept His Word… in spite of us.  No caveats.  No conditions.  “Tell you what I’m gonna do… provided you do your part.” Nope.  “While we were still dead in our sin, Christ died for us.” What has this same almighty Word of God already said?  “IT IS FINISHED!” No terms or conditions.  Quite the opposite.  Unconditional mercy.  Unconditional grace.  We don’t get what we justly deserve (death and damnation), and we do get what we most certainly do not deserve (life and salvation).  Folks: This is the same Word of God in resurrected flesh, who bids Thomas to touch and see and believe.  It is this same Word of God in the flesh who comes to us today in, with, and under the mere and unassuming means of Word, water, bread and wine.

It is strange to think about.  It even seems a little contradictory.  Jesus Himself declares, “Blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen,” and yet He still comes to us in very real and tangible forms; things we can see, touch, taste, and feel.  Like Thomas, He still bids us to come and taste and see that He is our Lord, and that He is still keeping His promise to be with us always.  In the midst of all this that we’ve never seen before, our Lord comes to us in our weaknesses, our doubts, and our despairs, bidding us to come and taste and see that He is our very present God and Lord.  Look no further than this altar…and listen to His Word and Promise.  “As often as you do this, remember what I have said.  This is My Body/Blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of all your sin.” It is so because He says so.  Not even the gates of hell can prevail against this Christocentric fact, so economic downturns and the possibility that you might get sick shouldn’t stand a chance either! 

Folks: Here is Christ, right where He promises to be, holding out to you His free and unmerited and unconditional gifts of Divine mercy, grace, and peace.  May this almighty Word of God breathe life and joy into you.  Here is He who died and rose again for you and your salvation, no strings attached, no terms, no conditions, no caveats!  May your eyes and ears of faith be always opened—no terms and no conditions—to recognize and rejoice that the resurrected and victorious Bridegroom is in your midst and with you always, loving you unconditionally; in good times and in bad times, for richer and for poorer, in sickness, in health, whether you live, whether you die, and everything in between.  May you ever and always be blessed with the quia-type faith that is able to see and hear and hold fast to your Lord and Savior, right where He tells you to seek Him and hold fast to Him, and may this Good News of your Prince of Peace and ever-present Immanuel guard and keep your hearts and minds in Him, now and into all eternity.

AMEN



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