Weekly Sermon (8)

Sermon – April 7, 2024

Brother Thomas

April 7, 2024

Scriptures: Acts 4:32-35, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31

Looking back, knowing the end of the story…even knowing that Jesus fully intended to go out of his way to assure Thomas that indeed he had risen…it is not too hard to remove ourselves from the picture…not so difficult to step back and look at Thomas as though he was somehow weak for not believing a word of his closest friend’s account of their encounter with Jesus…for doubting the word of these people he had walked alongside of for three years, both men and women who had witnessed so many unbelievable things together.

So, why did Thomas doubt? What was he really thinking? And why does it seem like it is easy for us to be critical of his weakness? Even now, we all are familiar with the lable, ‘Doubting Thomas’, as a way of negatively singling out someone who is usually somewhat unjustified in their hesitation…someone who doubts first and waits to be shown they are mistaken.

And yet, I would submit that everyone of us has moments when we are very much like Thomas…and far more often than we think! However, in tandem with that assertion, I also think that there is another way of looking at doubt. A way of seeing this particular reaction as a normal part of human emotional and rational behavior. In fact, doubt, or its close cousin ‘caution’, may just be a part of who we are…may be a ‘hard-wired’ genetic response that is a part of self preservation.In fact, there in the garden of Gethsemane, just hours before Jesus was arrested, as he knelt there in deepest anguish, was he not doubting why he had to go through what he most surely knew lay before him? Was he not so fully human in that moment and consumed with fear, so much so that Luke tells us his ‘sweat fell like drops of blood’?

And perhaps most importantly, was that doubt and fear of Jesus there in the garden therefore somehow weak or unholy? Was that a moment when Jesus was somehow self-separated from God? Or is doubt truly something that every one of us goes through from time to time as we try to navigate the road of life in a way that is in keeping with our faith? I think it can be.

And moreover, I think that doubt can either be constructive, or it can be destructive. As mentioned, doubt can keep us from taking an action that may in fact be dangerous or harmful to ourselves or others…times when common sense would dictate that a particular course before us, though attractive or recommended, may in fact not be the right thing to do. In a sense, this could be seen as constructive doubt…or at least, not destructive.

Doubt can also be constructive I would hold, if the indecision causes us to look more deeply within our soul, causing us through prayer to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit in deciding whether or not to proceed. In fact, I would submit that there in Gethsemane Jesus was seeking assurance that the path before him was indeed the one towards which the Spirit was leading…forcing him into deep prayer, forcing him to cry out to God…and eventually, giving him the ability to willingly surrender to those who found him there and roughly arrested him.

Destructive doubt on the other hand is that which finds its origin in untruth or falsehood…the kind of doubt which paralyzes people into inaction, inhibiting them from being able to act in ways that truly would be holy, or truly would be in response to the Spirit of our God. Unfortunately, destructive doubt shows itself quite frequently whenever we see individuals or groups acting in opposition to both the commandment to love one another, as well as all of the instructions given in Matthew 25 where we are told to do all those things ‘to the least of these’.

Which brings out another important point. And that is that I think that constructive and destructive doubt can be found or located both on an individual level, as well as on a group level. One person’s hesitation on a certain course of action can gain clarity and strength of purpose for good or for bad when shared with others of like mind. We are social beings, we do not often live unto ourselves alone…and how we interact with others both in the pursuit of goodness and grace, or in the lack of care and compassion towards others can spell the difference between doubt that is ultimately good for us and for our faith, or instead something that prolongs hurt and injury to others.

Truly we all take turns doubting. Each of us has had struggles with life and unmet or seemingly unanswered dreams, hopes, or prayers. All of which could have led us into doubt. I know I have shared before how my own world was thrown into doubt and confusion at the death of my mom after 13 long years of suffering through quadriplegia, as I had been so sure that my own prayers for her physical healing would be answered before she died. But I have also shared how that drove me to prayer and to the eventual realization that in fact it was her handicap that enabled her to be such a powerful witness and inspiration to so many during those same 13 years.

Another time of deep doubt, even rejection of God on my part occurred when a group of close Christian friends falsely accused me of something and basically wrote me off…leading me to wander in bitter confusion and self-doubt, even rejecting my faith on a hot and dusty road somewhere between here and Carmel. And it was there, in the hot sun blinded with bitter tears, that I experienced a very real vision of Christ standing before me on the road, both blocking me, and beckoning me to come back to him. To trust in him for what was a desperately needed healing of my heart. Just standing there waiting…until I surrendered.

And again, in what seemed like a light-hearted lecture comment made during my early days in seminary, the seminary President at the time, Dr. Dale Irvin, who was my Church History Professor quipped, ‘Do I ever have doubts about all of this, and of my own faith? Yes, I do…pretty much at least once a day!’ After getting to know him, and being able to count him as a friend, I realized that he was teaching us an important lesson…in that ‘blind faith’, or a faith practice that never questions or doubts, is not really a true faith at all, but rather more like an ill-fitting garment worn for all the wrong reasons.

So yes, each one of us is ‘Thomas’ from time to time. Each one of us comes up against life circumstances that are challenging, and which cut deeply to the point of causing us to question our most basic beliefs or assumptions. And each one of us at that moment has a choice to make…either to close ourselves off to any sort of understanding, resigned to bitterness or fear, letting go of trying to truly understand how we should proceed. Or, to go to a place of quiet and prayer, seeking to hear the whisper of the Spirit as was foretold in Isaiah 30 and verse 21, ‘If you wander off the road to the right or the left, you will hear a whisper behind you saying, “Here is the road, follow it.”’ And that, that my friends, is how we as followers of our risen Lord should engage with doubt…we must learn to listen in those times for that soft ‘whisper’ of guidance.

In closing I think it is also important to note what happened to Thomas after that now infamous moment of doubt. And I would add that it did not just happen to Thomas, but happened for the benefit of all who were gathered there in that upper room on that second night. And that is quite simply…that Jesus showed up! He knew Thomas had doubts, he knew how hard it was going to be going forward for all of those who had believed in him, he knew the climate of persecution and the endless trials, even martyrdom that lay in the near future…and once again, for the benefit of all, he showed up.

And he will do the same for us. I know this to be true…for he came to me personally on that hot dry afternoon, and just would not go away or leave me alone until once again I turned back to him. Which I did eventually…not because it cleared up my understanding or gave me clarity regarding what lay ahead, but simply because it was him standing there and inviting me back. My doubt was not gone…but I had someone to lead me out of it.

So, do not be afraid to wonder or even doubt at times…it does not have to be a bad thing whatsoever…and never be afraid to share your feelings with another…

…but just promise yourself that you will continue to seek after that ‘whisper’…for it is out there for each one of us…and it will surely guide you on the right, and righteous path…

…Thomas, you truly are my brother…I know this to be true…for I have seen you in the mirror…


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