Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Doubting Thomas. Focus on how doubt can either paralyze us or lead us into a deeper faith. Also listen to Amy our soprano soloist who will soon be the lead soprano for the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City come October 2014.
In some ways faith is the easiest thing in the world. We all have it. We all use it without thinking about it. Right now, if you are planning what you are going to do following worship you have faith. If you are thinking about what you need to buy at the grocery following worship you’ve got faith. So in one sense having faith is as natural to us as breathing.
But when we get to specifics like the Christian faith – things get tricky don’t they. To go and boldly proclaim that Christ has risen in bodily form takes chutzpah in this day and age. We live in a world that demands proof for just about everything. And since faith is somewhat subjective, mystical and mysterious; it is hard to get a firm grip on the Christian faith. And as a result, it can easily seem like the life of faith leaves you feeling like you’re hanging in mid-air at the end of a rope and you have no idea what that rope is attached to.
At the end of the day, how can we be certain about things like the resurrection, the afterlife and our ultimate destiny? As Soren Kierkegaard put it for every proof there is some disproof.
And yet it would seem that John’s account of the resurrection attempts to do just that. In our lesson for today we are told that the “signs” Jesus did are recorded here “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” (20:31).
Unfortunately, that’s just restating our problem, isn’t it? For us as people of the 21st century, we are just not moved by the “signs” that moved people in the First century. But it’s not just a modern versus ancient problem. To a great extent, this problem of “verification” is built into our search for faith. If it’s faith, we can’t prove it, can we? And if we can prove it what good is it?
I think that’s why Thomas’ doubts are so appealing. We don’t want a faith that merely consists in wishful thinking or in smoke and mirrors. I guess that’s why many of us tend to resonate with Thomas’ doubts.
Even St. Paul recognized that “if Christ has not been raised, then our faith has been in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). A lot is riding on whether something actually happened on that first Easter Sunday. If Easter was merely a symbol or a vision or some kind of spiritual experience that had no correspondence in this world, then the victory we proclaim over death seems less than real.
Without Easter, what is there to distinguish the death of this one Jewish man from the countless other deaths at the hands of cruel oppressors?
While it’s important that our faith rests on something more than wishful thinking, I’m afraid that all our efforts to demonstrate that fall short of being convincing. When it comes to faith, we just cannot present an airtight case. It’s just not the way faith works. At the end of the day, when we approach these matters solely with our intellect and our logic, it would seem that the doors to faith are permanently closed and locked shut.
So how do we find the faith to go out and live like God is working in this world to bring grace, justice and joy to our everyday lives? Ironically, Easter gives us some help here. In some way that we simply will never be able to sufficiently explain or prove, we continue to have the experience of the living Christ. The same Jesus who surprised the first disciples huddled behind locked doors out of fear, also surprises us behind locked doors of doubt.
It’s a dark world out there. Who are we to blame them for locking themselves in? Have you ever met anyone who is locked in?A colleague once said, “You don’t have to knock very hard on any door in your parish to find some sort of agony behind that door.”
Have you ever been locked in like that? Do you know someone who has?
In her book, Any Day a Beautiful Change, Katherine Pershey describes what it’s like to be locked into a prison of fear:
Fear is a physiological response to tomorrow. It is almost always about death. Fear causes us to live in a perpetual state of anxiety. Fear is exhausting and depressing. Generally, the calamities I expect do not come to pass. So I replace them with new ones. Time and energy that could be used constructively, for prayer, dishwashing, learning to quilt, I sacrifice to cultivate apprehension (The Christian Century, “High Anxiety: The Terror of the Dark Unknown,” March 7, 2012; partial paraphrase).
Sometimes I think we have more faith in our fears than we do in God. Have you ever been locked in by your fears?
Of course, when someone or something is locked in, someone else has to be locked out. Have you ever been locked out?
Locked out is how you feel when you read you’re poverty statistics and wonder how things will ever change if we continue with politics as usual. Locked out is how those being discriminated against feel when they look at the worlds that are open to those who aren’t. Have you or anyone you know ever been locked out?
And yet as our story tells us there are no walls thick enough to keep Jesus out of the safe rooms that we and the disciples have created around the focus of our fears.
And it would seem that is where the good news or hope is to be found. For while we can’t move beyond our fears and doubts, the risen Christ can and does. If this were not so then we would never see fearful people become courageous people. We would never see people who depend on others for fish become fishermen who feed others. We would never see those caught in poverty rise out of it.
Faith is not easy. The truth is that it never has been easy. In some respects, we only find faith by having faith. It’s very much like setting out on a journey without even knowing where you’re going, like Abraham and Sarah. But the question we face is how do we who seem to be so full of doubt set out on that journey?
And the answer is simply a step at a time. I think that if you are honest enough and courageous enough to face our fears squarely, you will wind up with a faith that works for you. And most of us have found by facing our doubts head on we have come to a deeper faith that works for us. One that says it’s time to take the second step and the next and the next until we’ve reached our journey’s end. Is it miraculous – maybe? Courageous – certainly. Amen