Posts Tagged ‘Doubt’

Its Okay to Doubt 4-27-14

In this sermon, based on the story of Doubting Thomas in John 20, I explore the tension of living with doubt. Thomas felt this for a week before Jesus appeared to him. Likewise, we experience it as well.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Risen Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen

One year ago…to the exact day…I woke up in Sioux City. As the single seminary graduate to be assigned to the Western Iowa Synod, I was present at synod assembly as a guest to be introduced. In addition, I was invited to sit in on assembly business in the plenary sessions for the duration of the assembly.

As the morning passed, we all walked into a ball room at the Sioux City convention center for lunch, and I was invited to sit at a table along with the synods other “first call pastors.” As we sat there conversing, we were joined by the ELCA’s big cheese. You may remember that a year ago, Western Iowa elected a new bishop, and as is the custom, the presiding Bishop of the ELCA is on hand for these elections…and so, in his wisdom, our former Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, a man I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few times…chose to sit with us.

Following lunch, the plan was for Emily and I to jump in the car and head south…because my interview with the call committee of Underwood Lutheran was scheduled for late that afternoon. Upon hearing this in conversation, Bishop Hanson made the joke “Oh, first call interview huh? Let’s grill him folks…get him ready for it.” (pause) What better way to prepare…while at the same time getting extraordinarily nervy…than to have the Presiding Bishop of the largest Lutheran church body in the United States give you a mock interview.

Be that as it may, Emily and I followed our plan for the day, and after lunch we headed this way…and we spent the next 2 hours in the car going back and forth, discussing various things…but both of us clearly exhibiting nervous energy. (pause) And perhaps this is not unexpected…after all, it was my first call interview…not just with Underwood, but anywhere. This was the only congregation that I was in conversation with…but it was in a relatively unknown corner of an area, that while I’m familiar with, I was completely foreign to this particular small town…might as well have been on the moon…because other than a destination on mapquest, and a final location on the gps, the only other exposure I’d had to Underwood Lutheran was a blurry picture on Google Earth…and a couple of phone conversations with Gary Leaders…not a lot to go on.

As the time passed in the car, its safe to say that we were both getting more and more nervous…and it escalated when we pulled off 680 up by Neola, and drove south the 6 or 7 miles on Railroad highway…the tension was palpable as we rounded the curve about a mile or so north of town…it got even worse as we caught the first glimpse of the church from about half a mile away…and peaked as we pulled into the parking lot.

We sat there for a brief moment, looking around…and surveying the cars in the parking lot…no doubt members of the call committee…and just as we were taking a deep breath before reaching for the door handles, I noticed…and joked that there was car on the south side of the church that supports Iowa State…Joyce Tiarks I’m guessing…while on the north side was Nancy Dose’s car…clearly a Hawkeye fan…and we saw that Underwood is a “community divided.” (pause) You never know what will break the tension do you? After that, we walked up the sidewalk, through the front doors where Gary Leader’s greeted us, and we headed down into the fellowship hall for my interview…the rest, as they say, is history.

But for a long time, both on that particular day as well as quite a bit of time leading up to it…we were living in the tension…the tension of unknowns…the tension of questions to which there were not yet answers. And it is in remembering this tension that I found a connection to today’s Gospel story.

Now in a bit of an odd situation, today’s Gospel story includes the passage of time. Typically, our daily lesson includes one particular story, which marks a single action in the story of Jesus…but today…time passes…did anyone catch that?

We start off on Easter Sunday…the day that Jesus has risen from the dead. Now directly before this passage, Jesus has appeared to Mary Magdalene, conversed with her for short amount of time, and then she has found the disciples to report what happened…that was in the morning…and now we pick up that evening…so if you would…imagine that we are a week ago…and the disciples…minus Judas who is gone by this point…and Thomas who is simply absent for reasons that we don’t know…They are gathered in a room behind locked doors out of fear…fear that they would share Jesus’ fate…and perhaps, due to Mary’s confession of the risen Lord, afraid that Jesus might not be overly happy with them…having abandoned him to his fate a few days prior.

And yet…Jesus is able to pass the locked doors, and is suddenly standing among them…quieting their fears…Peace be with you…you do not need to be afraid of me…I am neither angry with you, nor am I a ghost…look, see my hands and my side…I was dead…but I am dead longer…and with this he breathes upon them…and the Spirit of God…the Holy Spirit itself comes upon them.

But Thomas…dear old Thomas…missed the party…and though he hears about it…seemingly later that evening after Jesus has departed again…he falls short in believing the testimony given to him. And so Thomas gets saddled with the nickname that has stuck with him for 2000 years…Doubting Thomas. (pause)

Its almost funny for us now…2000 years later, knowing the story…knowing what we know…believing what we believe…its almost laughable to think that one of Jesus’ own disciples would fail to believe the testimony of both Mary Magdalene and the other disciples…and yet we hear his famous words…Unless I see the marks of the nails, put my finger in them, and put my hand in his side…I…WILL…NOT…BELIEVE.

And Thomas lives in that tension…that lack of knowledge…that lack of belief…with all the questions that come with it…for an entire week…and so, now, in the second half of today’s story, we’ve finally caught up with the timeline. The first part happened a week ago…but the second part…happens today…right now…because as we hear…a week later the disciples were again in the house…and Thomas was with them…when once again, Jesus passes through the locked doors with the same greeting. Peace be with you…don’t be afraid. (pause)

And then…Jesus…turns his eyes towards Thomas. (pause) Now think about Thomas for a moment…think about the tension that he’s been living in for the past week…perhaps you can relate to it. A week ago we gathered together and heard the proclamation…even shared in the proclamation that JESUS IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD! But…has anyone physically seen him? (pause)

Interesting…and in that my friends, you share something with Thomas the proverbial doubter…because Thomas had not yet seen Jesus, only heard that he was alive…what on earth must have been going through his head during those 7 days? (pause)

Maybe I missed my only chance to see the Lord…Maybe he’s unhappy with me which is why he appeared when I wasn’t there…Maybe I’m not worthy of him…or maybe…just maybe, the thought went through his mind that Jesus…didn’t really…rise from the dead after all.

Ever had that thought? Even for a brief moment? Ever experienced the doubt that…since you haven’t physically seen him…maybe, just maybe the stories aren’t really true? (pause) If you answer those questions with a no…then I’m jealous…because the tension of the unknowns…the questions of “is it all real or just a nice story,” I think they catch of us at one time or another.

Doubt happens…and if you deny that…I’m calling you out on it…because its in our natures to want proof…we want physical evidence…just like Thomas…and you know what…I’m going on record right here and right now as saying…that’s not a bad thing. (pause)

Because it’s a human thing…and especially when we are looking at matters of faith…we all experience the occasional crisis of doubt…the experience of questions…we all do…and its not a bad thing to admit it…it doesn’t make you a bad person…it doesn’t make you less of a Christian…and it doesn’t make you unworthy to walk through these doors and come into worship with fellow believers. (pause)

Because in today’s lesson Jesus himself puts this to rest…In what may, at first glance, seem like a rebuke for Thomas, Jesus says these words “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (pause) And Jesus makes this statement in response to Thomas’ expression of faith…Thomas calls Jesus “My Lord and My God.” And he does so without actually touching him…Thomas doesn’t place his fingers in the holes or his hand in Jesus’ side…he merely experiences Jesus and declares him Lord, which you may recall from a few weeks ago is the name God gives Christ, the name above all other names…Lord.

Thomas…though he has lived in the tension and doubt for the last week, has come to faith and Jesus acknowledges it…just as Jesus acknowledges everyone else who comes to faith…calling them blessed…blessed are those who have come to believe…having not seen.

What I believe Jesus is really saying here is that there are a multitude of ways to come to faith in Christ as Lord. For some, its by seeing him…Thomas wasn’t the only one…the disciples and Mary all saw him before expressing their faith in him. Others believed because of what they heard proclaimed to them. (pause) Jesus isn’t rebuking Thomas here…he’s just acknowledging the blessing that we receive when we come to faith through hearing the proclamation…and that faith meets us in the midst of our doubts and questions.

And let me also go on record to say that faith doesn’t erase these questions…they still occur and I believe that God himself desires for us to ask them…he desires that we ask them of each other and that we ask them of him…and we are not condemned for this…we are only encouraged to believe that Jesus is Lord…and in that belief, even with the presence of questions, our sin is no more.

And so, we share in the mission given to the disciples when Jesus says that if you retain the sins of any they are retained. But make no mistake, Jesus isn’t placing the judgment of sins in our laps, because we aren’t worthy of that…rather, Jesus is instructing us to go out and proclaim that Jesus has risen from the dead, and because of his sacrifice our sin is no more…people can’t believe it if they don’t hear it…and Jesus is telling us that by failing to proclaim this amazing truth, we are holding them in sin.

And so today…a year after I walked into Underwood Lutheran for the first time…it is my hope and prayer that this is a place where we do not condemn questions…it is my hope and prayer that this is a place where together we can live in the tension and the questions and the doubt that is a life of faith in what we have heard, but what we have not ourselves…seen.

Thomas may have been a doubter…and you know what…I’ll claim that too…I’ll claim my doubts and my questions and my fears…and I’ll acknowledge yours…but I darn sure won’t condemn you for them…and it is my hope and prayer that you take the same stance…acknowledging your own doubts and questions…while at the same time rejoicing in your own belief in our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.