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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sermon from May 1, 2011 + The Second Sunday of Easter (A)

“Witness of Doubt”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Doubt is something of an unwelcome guest among people of faith. Somewhere along the line we got the message, spoken or unspoken, that having doubts was a sign of weakness, a sign of lack of faith, and something to be avoided. Thomas the apostle in this story is far too often referred to as “doubting Thomas,” as if that’s a bad thing.

Well, there are two problems with that title. First, Thomas is hardly a doubter, and in John’s Gospel is one of the disciples who truly shows faith. But second, who ever said that doubt was a bad thing? Where is that written in Scripture? If we look at all the people of faith in the Bible, doubt seems to be a pretty regular companion. The same for believers in the centuries since Jesus. Recently Mother Theresa’s lifelong doubts and struggles with faith were revealed, and I, for one, was very glad to hear of them. If the great saints can admit their own doubts, it gives the rest of us room to breathe as well.

It seems important that we find a way to embrace our doubt as a normal part of our lives of faith. Because there is a disconnect in this story of Jesus’ appearance in the Upper Room on the Sunday of the resurrection, and it’s not Thomas’ questioning. And even though for Thomas the disconnect is healed a week later by Jesus himself, it’s still worth our considering. The disconnect is this: how do people who believe in the risen Jesus share that faith with those who do not? The other disciples had seen Jesus alive; Thomas had not. How can they help him to faith?

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” Of course, that’s us. But how do we witness – which is a central part of our call – to others who also have not seen and yet do not believe? Peter’s first letter says today “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.” Wow. That’s a beautiful description of our faith. But is there any way we can witness to this that’s helpful to others?

The reason I like Thomas so much in John’s Gospel, and certainly this story, is that Thomas simply reveals our reality: faith is hard when you haven’t seen.

He’s not being intransigent – he just isn’t sure he can believe something so outlandish without some evidence. In that he’s not alone. All of us are here on the Sunday after Easter – we’re not here today just because it’s Easter Sunday, we’re here because it’s once again Sunday and this is where we come to be fed by God, strengthened in faith. But we all likely have Thomases we know in our lives – good people, people even who might believe in God, or a notion of God, but who do not understand our faith and our regular worship life and our hope in Christ. Friends, family, co-workers – it wouldn’t take long for us to put together a pretty good list to join Thomas.

And Thomas misses the evidence for no apparent reason – as do many of the people we know. Maybe he drew short straw to go and get supplies – they all were locked up. But it seems random that he missed Jesus’ appearance and the others didn’t. And when we think of what has brought us to faith while others struggle, it can almost seem as random. Why do you believe, come here regularly, seek God in this place, and some of your loved ones do not? What did you get that they didn’t?

And the disciples who did see – they have a challenge. As do we. I wonder what this week was like for them and Thomas. John only gives the barest details. But they must have tried to convince him between Sundays, tell him that they really did know the truth. And that’s a really difficult task, one that we share.

And what I’m wondering is, might the reality of doubt in all our lives be the connection we can make with others?

“Blessed are those who believe without seeing,” Jesus says. But not necessarily those who never doubt.

What would happen if we could embrace doubt as a normal companion to faith? If we were more willing to admit that there were days we didn’t feel secure in our faith, where we wondered, days where we had more questions than answers. I wonder what kind of witness that might be for others.

That instead of fearing doubt – or despising it in ourselves or others, we admitted it, were open about it. It’s not like we’d have to create it in our lives – we all experience doubts. Some days we feel stronger in faith than in doubt. Other days it’s the other way around.

But perhaps if we were able to be OK with that we might be more effective and helpful witnesses. Because ultimately that’s our call – to witness. And a witness should be honest and true. The first letter of John begins with witness: “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have touched with our hands . . . we declare to you.” That’s all we can do – tell others what we’ve seen, heard, touched, felt. Some of that is faith. And some is doubt. And all should be part of our witness.

So we witness by our lives and our actions, and by our faith and doubt.

And we witness because what we have found, why we’re here this morning, is what John promises at the end of this chapter. We have come to believe, as he hoped we would, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in that believing we have found life in his name.

We are here for that life – to be fed at Jesus’ Table, led by his Word, made joyful by his love and forgiveness, strengthened by the Spirit. For one of the rare times in the Gospels, we are actually included in the story – we are those blessed Jesus talks about who have not seen and yet believe. And like the other disciples, we know we have a task ahead of us: how do we share this with others we love who do not know, do not believe?

That’s the whole point, isn’t it? We do this so others may believe and find the life we have found. Those who, like Thomas, just aren’t sure what to do with what seems to be a lack of physical evidence, especially 2,000 years after the fact. Who want to believe, perhaps, but don’t know how. Who have been hurt by believers, and don’t know how to let that go. Who struggle for answers to the pain and suffering of life and don’t see how God could be real. Or who have simply not experienced God the way we have and don’t know why. Thomas just wasn’t with the others when it happened, simple as that.

And all we can do is live our lives of faith, live the love we have come to know, and tell what we know and what we don’t. We can invite people to “come and see” and bring them here with us to worship. Or we can simply love them in the name of Jesus and trust that witness. Or we can gently tell them of what we have found, of the life that is rich and full that we have from Jesus.

All these are witnesses. But perhaps we can also tell them of the doubts we have at the same time. To let them know that faith is a gift of God and sometimes we don’t always find that gift. Ultimately, if we’re looking for connections between us and those who struggle with faith, it is precisely that struggle that unites us. It is our doubts and fears that we share. That’s the one place where we all are in the same place. And from that place, since we know it so well, maybe we can help someone else to find their way into life in Christ.

I thank God for Thomas – because of him we learn that even those who do not see as those first believers saw can believe and have life.

That’s our Good News. That’s what we can share. Faith, doubts and all – it’s what we know. What we experience.

And more to the point, even in our deepest doubts we have found that God comes to us with life and grace and resurrection. That even when we feel most lost the risen Christ has reached out and found us. And that this life in Jesus we know is abundant and rich and extends even beyond death.

And wouldn’t that be something to share with someone who does not yet know, does not yet believe? To say to someone who has more questions than answers not that we have all the answers, but rather that we have been found by the One who is the Answer, and we trust him to truly give us life. We can do this – so that they too might have life in Jesus.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

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