Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year C, April 15, 2007

This Sunday is often called Thomas Sunday after Thomas the Apostle. I think Thomas would make an excellent patron saint for Missouri, the “show me” state. That is basically what Thomas wanted, he wanted to be shown. In the church we often refer to him as Thomas the Doubter, Doubting Thomas, or perhaps in more modern parlance, Thomas the pessimist.

Perhaps I’m just overly sensitive since I share his name, but this has always bothered me. It seems very unfair. After all in this passage it is clear that the other disciples got what Thomas was asking for. Jesus showed them his hands and his side. They may not have been brave enough to express their doubts out loud since they have been in hiding since Jesus death, but Jesus must have suspected some level of doubt as he offered them a view of this hands. Yet poor Thomas takes the rap as the doubter. Why don’t we call him Thomas the believer for his profession of “My Lord and my God” which is a whole lot more than any other apostle said so far.

The Scriptures are filled with stories of doubters. We find story after story of people who doubted that God would be able to do what God claimed. Moses was a doubter. Abraham was a doubter. We can find page upon page of doubters. And yet Thomas gets stuck with the name.

I think Thomas the Doubter resonates with us better because we live in a world often filled with doubt. People demand proof for everything.

I think the real reason that the title Doubting Thomas remains used is the fact that many of us our doubters ourselves. We can identify with Thomas the Doubter much easier than Thomas the Believer.

We are all believers but I know that I am a believer with doubts. Perhaps some of us doubt the virgin conception. Perhaps some of us doubt a bodily physical resurrection. Perhaps some of us doubt the inspiration of all of the Scriptures. But doubt is there. Sometimes doubt is transitory and we find the faith to drive the doubt away. Sometimes the doubt is pernicious and we learn to live with it throughout our lives.

Some might think that we need to start a self help group which could be called Doubters Anonymous. But I think this would be a mistake.

I believe doubt is a good thing. It is healthy. It shows that we are using the brains which God has given us.

Look at what Jesus was able to do with the doubts of Thomas and the other apostles. And just think what Jesus can do with our own doubts if we only let him. Thomas was not afraid to admit his doubts. But I think many of us are. It may be we live in a more hostile world for doubting today. Express a doubt about the Christian faith publicly today and you are liable to be immediately trashed as a heretic or a heathen.

That is an unfortunate reaction, but it is a reflection of the current polarization in the Christian church. The slightest deviation from orthodoxy must be immediately rooted out lest anyone begin that long slide down the slippery slope. This is a very sad response. It causes people to be fearful of raising their doubts, it makes them keep their doubts bottled up inside.

Bottling up doubts inside of us will never solve them. It will not help to drive them away. To deal with our doubts we need to be able to talk about them. We need to be able to explore them in a safe environment. We grow through exploring new things.

We must free ourselves to be doubters like Thomas. No one challenged Thomas. Jesus never condemned Thomas for his doubt. Instead Jesus used Thomas’ doubt for a moment of grace and healing.

But we, unlike Thomas, often try to hide our doubts from others and perhaps even ourselves. We fear the response of others to genuinely felt doubts. Perhaps Thomas would have to, but in the moment he blurted out the truth of his heart. God longs for us to express that same honesty of Thomas.

My life is filled with doubts. I spent many years in a very rigid orthodox denomination where doubts were signs of loss of faith. Now I’m free to experience and express my doubts.

Did Jesus have a physically resurrected body? I honestly don’t know. I have my doubts. But I don’t doubt the truth of the resurrection. I don’t doubt that Jesus did conquer death and return to his disciples. I can see that clearly in how the apostles reacted to their experience with the resurrected Jesus.

Some parts of the resurrection story clearly argue for a physical body, Jesus ate, Jesus touched. Other parts of the resurrection story seem to point in a less physical reality, Jesus appeared out of nowhere, Jesus walked through walls.

But in spite of my doubts about how it actually worked out, I can freely join in the Easter acclimation that Jesus is risen! I believe it. I may not believe it like everyone else. Neither may you. But that makes us neither heretics nor pagans. It makes us thinking, wondering individuals struggling with what the mystery of the incarnation and resurrection means in our lives. I pray that God will raise up more doubters in the church. Through their struggles we will all grow and learn.

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