Sunday, April 19, 2009

Doubting Thomas

Texts: 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31
Our Gospel story this morning is one many of us are very familiar – it’s one of the few stories we have about the risen Christ and so it gets told fairly frequently. We may be familiar with this story but we aren’t as familiar with this man. Who he was, what drove him to follow Jesus, why he was so focused on the tangible “proof” of this great mystery called the resurrection.

Maybe he struggled with being left out or forgotten; maybe he was from one of those Jewish schools of thought that just didn’t believe in the resurrection at all; maybe he was just confused about everything he was hearing about a risen Christ because the story was getting a little muddled second hand. Or maybe not.

We don’t know much about Thomas the disciple I think because we don’t need to. Because doubting Thomas could easily be doubting Amy or doubting Tom, doubting Janey or doubting Bob. When we read the story of Thomas, we can see ourselves standing in his place – just as the writer of John wanted us to.

We all doubt. We all have doubts about God’s presence or about the nature of God or about even the very existence of God. It’s unfortunate that somewhere along the way, many of us have gotten it into our heads that these doubts we have are a bad thing, an ungodly thing, a sinful thing. Doubt isn’t wrong. Look at the story of our doubting Thomas. Jesus doesn’t condemn the disciple – rather meets him where he is. Thomas is just as scared as the other disciples were—hiding behind that locked door—and not quite ready to accept their news – and such news. Sure, some Jews believed in the resurrection, but on the last day – not 3 days after you’ve died. This walking, talking, self-same body today resurrection cannot be true.

Jesus gets it. He gets that Thomas needs to see him just as the other disciples did. And when Thomas does, does see the risen Christ, he professes his faith.

Thomas does not believe in the risen Christ – in his Lord and God – until he sees him. And that’s not so different from any of us. Jesus says that those who do not see and yet believe are blessed. And so it is. Those past the first generation do not get to see Jesus of Nazareth raised from the dead but many believe.

We believe because Jesus offers us too his hand—his presence—though not in the physical sense. We believe when we hear the stories of faith—stories from the Bible and stories from disciples of ages past and ages present who tell us of their encounters with the risen Christ. We believe because we have known and felt Christ’s presence in our lives.

But there are times in all of our lives—days, seasons, and even years—when these stories and memories don’t sustain us. And that’s okay. There is room for doubt in faith. One of the things we tell the confirmation class is that we can never know about God beyond a doubt – we can feel, we can believe – but scientific, testable, human controllable understanding – nope. We don’t get to touch Jesus’ side or put our hands in the holes in his hands.

And so sometimes—especially in a world that demands “proof” for so many things—the stories don’t get us through. Jesus understands this and doesn’t condemn doubt. Doubt in itself isn’t a bad thing. Fredrick Buchener calls it the ants in the pants of faith. It can keep your faith awake, moving, growing. When we doubt, we have an opportunity to wonder and spend more time seeking out God, and in spending time seeking—and finding God’s presence—we can grow in our faith.

Doubt isn’t something to condemn but to understand and live through. The problem with doubt comes when we just sit down in the middle of it and refuse to get up. When you doubt and just stay in the midst of that, not doing any work or soul-searching or anything to move beyond.

We all doubt God and we all need to acknowledge/honor our doubt, and move beyond it.

That’s easier said than done. We can’t just think or wish or work our way into faith. Faith, as the Paul reminds us, is a gift from God. But we can broaden our awareness of God’s presence, be on the active lookout, seek God out in order that we may see, hear, touch, feel and believe. Like Thomas we often need to see for ourselves. Hearing other people’s stories about how God has touched their lives doesn’t always cut it. We need to feel God or see God too. And so in order to deal with our doubt, we have to engage the world around us with this desire to know God firmly in place. Thomas didn’t believe the words of his friends but he didn’t just give up. He said “I need to see for myself.” Sure, he comes off sounding a bit stubborn about it but his willingness to be available to God was there.

When we doubt, we too need to be available to God. We need to open our eyes and our hearts to what God may show us – from the big moments to the mundane, from the sacred to the secular. Because the presence of God is out there – and it may just surprise you where you find it.

This past weekend I was at our Presbytery's women's conference preaching and leading worship. Something many of us had seen either on the news or on youtube came up in conversation. A moment that made us pause in surprise. I invite you to see this moment yourself.

In this beautiful moment in Susan Boyle's life, we saw God’s presence. Saw God in this woman's confidence and in the way the audience allowed themselves to be carried away by the power of her voice.

Our lives can be filled with so many of those moments—but we have to look. We can’t shut our eyes and stop our ears to God. When Jesus tells Thomas “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” I think he meant that quite literally. Blessed are those who hadn’t seen the risen Christ before them and yet believe. We don’t have the risen Christ – we can’t point him out to our friends and say “see, I told you he was real.” But we do have those small moments of God’s presence that we can see and name for what they are. We don’t have the risen Christ but we do have the Spirit of Christ. For all the ways he stands for us in the story of Jesus’ followers, Thomas perhaps had it a bit easier than we do. He got to see and touch and know Christ in a physical, tangible, provable way. We don’t. Instead we get this glimpses of God’s presence in the world around us, if we keep our eyes open.

So blessed are those who do not see the risen Christ standing before them and yet believe. Blessed are those who see the small signs of God’s presence and recognize them for what they are. May we each be so blessed as to see God’s presence in our midst and believe. Amen.

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