The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW...
BUT CAN THEY?

Delivered 4/19/98
Text: John 20:19-31
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

April 19th. An important day in history. On April 19th, 1775, the American Revolution began at Concord, Massachusetts when the minutemen formed before the British and fired "the shot heard round the world." April 19th, 1993, after a 51-day standoff, the FBI stormed David Koresh and the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas - 80 cult members (including children) were killed. Two years later, April 19th, 1995, the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed in the worst incident of terrorism ever experienced on US soil - 168 died. Happy April 19th.

For that matter, Happy April 20th or 21st or 22nd or ANY day. Pick any date in the long calendar of the year, then go back through history - it will not take long to find something awful to recall.

You are familiar with David Heller's delightful little book, Dear God: Children's Letters to God.(1) There are some wonderfully witty observations. For example, apropos of the season,

  • Dear God, What do you think about all those movies made about you around Easter time? I think they're kind of corny, myself. Your buddy, Charles (age 9)


  • Dear God, What do you do with families that don't have much faith? There's a family on the next block like that. I don't want to get them in trouble, so I can't say who. See you in church. Alexis (age 10)


  • Dear God, Want to hear a joke? What is red, very long, and you hear it right before you go to sleep? Give up? A sermon. Your friend, Frank (age 11)


Then there is this one from a youngster who sees all the April 19ths (or whatever date) on the calendar and wonders: "Dear God, I have doubts about you sometimes. Sometimes I really believe. Like when I was four and I hurt my arm and you healed it up fast. But my question is - if you could do this why don't you stop all the bad in the world? Like war. Like diseases. Like famine. Like drugs. And there are problems in other people's neighborhoods too. I'll try to believe more. Ian (age 10)"

Is there any of young Ian in you? Or how about the hero of our gospel lesson, Thomas? "Inquiring minds want to know," as the old commercial used to say. We would ALL admit to doubts. There are so many awful things out there - terrorist bombings, devastating tornadoes, babies in dumpsters, and yes, good people murdered just as Thomas' friend Jesus had been for the flimsiest of reasons. Only an ostrich would not have doubts.

Thomas' story is familiar to us. The risen Christ had appeared to those of the Twelve who happened to be there on the evening of the resurrection. Thomas was not there. We are never told where he was, only that his friends let him know what he had missed. (Not a bad evangelism lesson for the modern church, eh?) Jesus alive? No way, says Thomas. "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

A week later, Thomas in attendance now, Jesus appears again and moves directly to our skeptical friend. "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." And the rest of the story we know. Thomas proclaims for all the world to hear, "My Lord and my God!"

Please note something here: the story of Thomas' move from doubt to faith appears in the Gospel of John. As you Bible scholars know, of all the gospel writers, John is the one most intentional about sharing stories that are to be understood for more than their face value - there is a faith-based reason behind every one. In this case, the reason is laid out plainly - first on Jesus' lips ("Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe"), then in the narrative ("Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name"). John is calling us to faith, and he is using Thomas as a surrogate for everyone of us who find believing difficult in the midst of a world that regularly seems ready to spin right off its axis.

No question, "Inquiring minds want to know," but can they? Are there not some questions to which, wish though we might, we will never have answers? At least not in this life? To me, that is an inescapable conclusion, but it is one I can live with...and even be content. I think it is part and parcel of growing up.

There is a wonderful "growing up" tale that I have seen so often that I no longer have any idea where it originated.(2) Our narrator's name is Jim, and this is his story:

When I was quite young, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember well the polished old case fastened to the wall. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother used to talk to it.

Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person. Her name was Information Please, and there was nothing she did not know. Information Please could supply anybody's number and the correct time.

My first personal experience with this genie-in-the-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn't seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy. I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway - the telephone!

Quickly I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up I unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to my ear. "Information Please," I said into the mouthpiece just above my head.

A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear. "Information."

"I hurt my finger..." I wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough now that I had an audience.

"Isn't your mother home?" came the question.

"Nobody's home but me," I blubbered.

"Are you bleeding?"

"No," I replied. "I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts."

"Can you open your icebox?" she asked. I said I could. "Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger."

After that I called Information Please for everything. I asked her for help with my geography, and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped me with my math, and she told me my pet chipmunk I had caught in the park just the day before would eat fruits and nuts.

And there was the time that Petey, our pet canary died. I called Information Please and told her the sad story. She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child. But I was unconsoled. Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers, feet up on the bottom of a cage?

She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, "Jim, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in." Somehow I felt better.

Another day I was on the telephone. "Information Please."

"Information," said the now familiar voice.

"How do you spell fix?" I asked.

All this took place in a small town in the pacific Northwest. Then when I was 9 years old, we moved across the country to New York. I missed my friend very much. Information Please belonged in that old wooden box back home, and I somehow never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the hall table.

Yet as I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left me; often in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had then. I appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.

A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Tacoma. I had about half an hour or so between plane, and I spent 15 minutes or so on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, "Information Please."

Miraculously, I heard again the small, clear voice I knew so well, "Information." I hadn't planned this but I heard myself saying, "Could you tell me please how to spell fix?"

There was a long pause. Then came the soft spoken answer, "I guess that your finger must have healed by now."

I laughed, "So it's really still you," I said. "I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time."

"I wonder," she said, "if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls."

I told her how often I had thought of her over the years, and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister.

"Please do, just ask for Betsy."

Just three months later I was back in Tacoma. A different voice answered Information and I asked for Betsy.

"Are you a friend?"

"Yes, a very old friend."

"Then I'm sorry to have to tell you. Betsy has been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago.' But before I could hang up she said, 'Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Jim?"

"Yes."

"Well, Betsy left a message for you. She wrote it down. Here it is I'll read it. 'Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He'll know what I mean.'"

I thanked her and hung up. I did know what Betsy meant.

Did he really? No. No more than Betsy or you or me. Not about that or any of the other really deep questions of faith. No matter. Yes, "Inquiring minds want to know," but can we? Well...

In the nearly 2000 years which have come and gone since Thomas' night in the Upper Room - in every land, in every nation, throughout the whole wide world, no matter how many April 19ths go by, people HAVE been able to get past their doubts. Not lunatics or fanatics or even ostriches. It has simply been a matter of tapping into the same peace, the same happiness, the same love and radiant resurrection victory that Thomas came to know.

Would you like to fellowship with the risen Jesus as he did? Your problems solved by his wisdom? Your weakness turned into strength by his presence? Your struggles become victories by his grace? Your sorrows turned to joy by his comfort and peace. The same wonderful changes that have come to millions these past 2000 years can come to the anxious mother, the fearful father, the stressed-out spouse, the tempted teen. They can be YOURS as you welcome Jesus into your heart and life.

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." Come. Touch. See. With eyes of faith. Then proclaim with Thomas, "My Lord and My God!"

Amen!


1. Bantam, 1987

2. Perhaps in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul volumes??? In its current incarnation it comes from Roxann Miller, via Ecunet, "H Square," #1142, 4/14/98

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