Thomas Gets the Holy Spirit – Do We?

Thomas Gets the Holy Spirit – Do We?

April 27, 2014
Stina Pope

This Sunday is usually called “Doubting Thomas” Sunday, because of our Gospel reading. Good old Thomas! He is called faithless, because he wants to see things for himself.

I think Thomas is very important in this story, because he represents us so very well. Let’s look at this story again for a minute. The disciples are hiding behind locked doors. They do not believe the women who have told them what they saw. They are living in fear, they are the faithless ones, and Jesus comes to them, just as they are. When they see him, they believe. But Thomas was not with them, and like them, he also does not believe. He wants to see for himself, and Jesus obliges, and Thomas is totally humbled, and what does Thomas say? My Lord and my God!

What is really important about this story? There are a couple of things that pop up for me. One is very simple, and extremely important to our understanding of faith. The disciples, including Thomas, did not believe, they were all doubters, and God did not strike them dead. The lesson from this? We do not have to come in the door with faith, we just have to come. I tell people all the time, please bring your questions. They are much more important than having answers! So doubting is not a bad thing. It is actually a good thing, in my book, because it means you are engaging with the subject.

The second important thing about this story is what happened next, which is what we read in the first lesson. The disciples did not say, wow, that was cool, so who are the Giants playing against next? No, they went out and started telling everyone they knew that Jesus, the guy the Romans executed, yes, that same guy, he rose from the dead. We saw him with our own eyes. We touched him. He is alive.

It did not take long for this story to fly around Jerusalem.

But wait, there’s more here. It’s kind of a “soft” story, we almost miss it. This is the first Pentecost. What do I mean by that? Pente, in Greek, means five, like pentangle, pentagram. Pentecost means “fifty-ish” and it is the feast day we have about 50 days after Easter. And what does this feast day of Pentecost celebrate? The giving of the Holy Spirit.

So what is this and why is this such a big deal? The big deal about this is that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to everyone, just for asking and being willing to receive. But what is this “gift of the HS?” It is the immediate sense of the presence of God. It is tapping into the power of God to do God’s work in the world. Now this has always been available to humans – but up until this point it was available to special humans, to priests, to shamans, to people who had set themselves apart and spent lifetimes reaching for God. Imagine the shock when suddenly ordinary people were given this gift! Imagine the anger. What do you mean, these uneducated peasants and fisherfolk received the Spirit of God! It might make the educated priests very upset, realizing that perhaps they had just become irrelevant. It was echoed again when translators and the printing press made the Bible accessible to the masses, another way of opening the way to God without benefit of clergy, and they burned the translators at the stake for doing it.

The book we call the Acts of the Apostles is a dangerous book. It explains what happens when people take seriously the promise that “God with us” means exactly that, and the action begins with Pentecost, with the giving of the Holy Spirit to the people. There are two stories of the Holy Spirit being given to the disciples, and the one we read in the Gospel today is the first one.

Can you imagine? Can you imagine the awfulness of feeling total despair, at having thrown yourself entirely into this man’s work, only to see him killed like a common criminal? Gathered together with a few of your friends, afraid the secret police were going to come any minute for you too, afraid for your family, your children and grandchildren, you hold your head in your hands and wonder how you can go on living. Suddenly, he is there. The one you saw killed, the one the women said they saw, but who could believe it, he is there in the room with you, you cannot believe your eyes, but you see everyone else sees the same thing. You keep rubbing your eyes, and then he calls your name. You get up and go to him. You see the terrible wounds, yes, it’s him. And then you hear the words: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Somehow, you are transformed. Somehow, you are not afraid any more. Somehow, you feel like the daylight just shown through dark clouds, and now you know what you will do next. You burst out of the room because you have to tell your friends and relatives, he’s alive. And we’re still following him.

The question for us now is this: have we received the Holy Spirit? Yes us, here and now!

My father used to say that God does not have any grandchildren. What he meant by that was that we each have to know ourselves as a child of God. Just because we were brought here by our parents does not mean that we have a relationship with God. It just means we know it is a good thing to come here. As John the Baptist reminds us, if we don’t fit the bill, God can make heirs out of the rocks. It does not matter who our parents were in terms of God, what matters is how we are. To use a more contemporary metaphor, when we receive the Holy Spirit, it is like putting gas in the car. Until then, we can have a beautiful car, we can sit in it and admire how lovely it is, but until we get gas in the car it really doesn’t do anything.

God calls each of us by name, and offers us the Holy Spirit, offers us an open door. It is offered as a gift, not a requirement. If you want to accept the gift, all you have to do is to say OK! OK, God, I accept. You are now the Lord of my life, I’m letting go of the wheel, you drive. And the voice comes back, hang on for the ride of your life!