Sunday, April 07, 2013

Sermon, Easter 2C, John 20:19-31

It’s the Second Sunday of Easter, which means that we hear the annual story of Thomas the Twin and how he doubted the resurrection story told by the other ten disciples.  Once more we get to hear how he was admonished to not doubt but believe.  And once more we get to wonder how this guy refused to believe, giving him the moniker, “Doubting Thomas.”

Today’s gospel passage is, I think, one of the more unfortunate passages of Scripture.  It’s unfortunate because it creates the false impression that doubt plays no part in faith.  It’s unfortunate because too many churches and clergy have used this passage to keep people from questioning their teachings and/or actions.  It’s unfortunate because it can lead to a ‘conformity or damnation’ theology.  People are told, “Don’t doubt, just believe what we tell you or suffer the consequences.”  As a result, those doubts are never addressed and will often return in unhealthy ways, or drive people out of the church entirely.

But doubt isn’t to be feared.  Doubt doesn’t need to be pushed away or controlled.  If we fear doubt, or if we push it away or attempt to control it, then I would argue that our faith really isn’t faith; instead, it becomes a manifesto we are required to sign-on to in order to protect our souls from everlasting damnation.  We end up believing out of fear rather than from a position of love and trust.  And the proper term for that situation is ‘abusive relationship.’

Doubt is necessary to our faith.  Doubt leads us to ask questions.  Doubt can lead us to challenge long-held beliefs.  Doubt can get us to ask why we feel threatened by a new thought.  Doubt can help us break free from a black and white literalist interpretation and lead us into interpretations that are multi-colored.

The other thing about doubt is that you are not the first person to experience it.  There are many people today who have doubts about God in general and Christianity in particular.  Furthermore, if you read Psalms, Job, Habakkuk and Lamentations, you will see many more instances of doubt.  Based on the number of people and writers in the Bible, it would appear that God has a rather high tolerance for doubt.

And that’s a good thing, because this faith we proclaim is almost unbelievable and certainly not rational.  A virgin birth, conflicting genealogies, healings and miracles, being raised from the dead, fully human and fully divine, and an ascension into the clouds are all things that should make our rational minds question their validity and cause doubt at one time or another.  This faith of ours is not based on rational treatises, logical thought or verifiable proofs.  As the writer of Hebrews says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Back to Thomas.  Here’s a man who would not believe the resurrection story as told to him unless he was able to see and touch the wounds inflicted on the crucified Christ.  Remember that Peter wasn’t willing to believe the resurrection story Mary told him until he went to the empty tomb.  Other disciples weren’t ready to believe until they also had verifiable proof.  As a side note, this also puts the women on par with the men, because just as the disciples thought their story was an “idle tale,” Thomas wasn’t falling for the story told to him by the other men.

Eventually all the disciples get the proof they need of a resurrected Christ.  Whether it is through a meal at Emmaus, an early morning fish fry or touching the wounds of Christ, eventually all the disciples get the same proof that Thomas overtly asks for – some hard evidence of the risen Christ.

“Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

This is not so much a knock on Thomas as it is words of encouragement to the rest of us.  Thomas had doubts about the resurrection, as did all the disciples.  Thomas was able to work through his doubts when Christ visibly appeared to him.  The rest of us, however, have only the testimony found in the bible and the experiences in our lives.  Just as Thomas was searching for his risen Lord, we also search for Jesus to manifest himself in our lives.

Doubt is a part of that search.  We doubt the Virgin birth.  We doubt walking on water.  We doubt the resurrection.  We also doubt other things – is there really a God?  Why do I believe this way and not that way?  Why am I here?

We shouldn’t be worried when doubt causes us to examine ourselves and our faith.  We should be worried when doubt causes us to be afraid that we don’t have enough faith.  We, the church, aren’t here to give you all the right answers; we are here to help you delve into the questions.  I read an article last week that said, “Jesus was asked 153 questions.  147 times he responded with a question.”

Jesus isn’t here to babysit us.  We must, as Paul wrote in Philippians, work out our own salvation with fear and trembling – fear and trembling because our faith can be shaken when we honestly work through our doubts.  And when we have openly and honestly addressed doubts about our faith and what we believe, then I have no doubt that we will be blessed.



First time comments will be moderated.