Sunday, April 15, 2012

Doubt Is Not The Opposite Of Faith...

Thanks to my friend Kevin Daugherty for helping me hammer out clarity concerning the following.

Extra points if you know Major Major's middle name...

Here's the audio from the sermon.

Check this out on Chirbit

Acts 4:32-35
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.  They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

1 John 1:1-2:2
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written 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.

This is the Word of the Lord.

Doubt is not the opposite of faith.

That Sunday afternoon of the Resurrection, the apostles’ problem wasn’t doubt. Terror, grief, self-loathing, despair, confusion, all of these were a problem, but doubt? There was nothing to doubt. There was only the fact that Jesus was dead. What’s more, sometime the night before someone had taken his body. Never mind what that crazy Mary Magdalene said. Peter and John had confirmed that Jesus was missing, and though John was inclined to agree with Mary, the rest of them only knew that if they hated Jesus so much they’d steal his body, there was no hope that any of the rest of them would survive.

So they huddled in that dark, airless room.

But someone was missing that afternoon. Thomas has gotten a bad rap over the millennia, what with the nickname “Doubting Thomas” and all. We don’t know a lot about him, of course: the three times he’s mentioned in Scripture, he’s called “Thomas Didymus” – “Thomas” means “Twin” in Aramaic, and “Didymus” means, well, the same thing in Greek. Poor guy’s name is “Twin Twin,” kind of like the character in “Catch-22” whose name was Major Major.

But those three appearances in Scripture, all in the Gospel of John, paint a picture of a man who was anything but a doubter. When, in the 11th chapter, Jesus sets off toward Bethany, it is apparent to everyone that it’s far too close to Jerusalem and those who want Jesus killed. Everyone listening to Jesus knows that for him to go to Lazarus is to sign his own death warrant. Some of them have got to be wondering why Jesus would bother, what with his friend being dead and all. But Thomas is the one who stands up, dusts himself off, and says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” There is no doubt in those words, but resolution, even courage. The worst is yet to come, yes, but we’ve come this far with Him, let’s finish the journey.

In Chapter 14, at the Last Supper, at one point Jesus says to his disciples, “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” It is left to Thomas to ask Jesus the one question which had to be pounding in all of the disciples’ heads: “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas is not rebuked for daring to question, not ridiculed for “doubting,” but is rewarded with one of the clearest Scriptural statements about who Jesus is and why He came to live and die among humankind: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

We have no idea why Thomas wasn’t in that upper room on that Sunday afternoon. I like to think that he just got tired of sitting around, waiting for the door to get kicked in by soldiers. “Y’all can hide up here if you want to, but I’m taking a walk.”

As Thomas’ footsteps faded down the stairs, the rush of fresh air from the once again closed-and-locked doors was swallowed up by the smell of sweat, hopelessness, and fear.

Then a voice said, “Peace be with you.”

Scripture does not record the disciples’ reaction, so you can fill in the blanks yourself. But what is telling, to me, is that our reading specifically states that Jesus showed the disciples his hands and side, and only then do we read that “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”

 Put yourself in Thomas’ shoes. You’ve just endured the worst three days of your life. A man you had staked your reputation on, a man you’d given your life to, a man you thought was the Messiah, is dead and gone, and now your friends are swarming around you babbling about him being alive.

He probably thought he was the only sane person left in the city.

But rather than run screaming from this pack of lunatics, rather than laughing them to scorn, Thomas demanded the same thing that the others had gotten, because the others had doubted just as much as Thomas was in that moment.

And just like the others, Thomas got his proof eight days later.

Doubt is not the opposite of faith. It is, rather, the portal through which faith becomes real. Doubt breeds questions, after all. Because Thomas dared to ask the questions, dared to seek the evidence, he was able to proclaim of Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

It seems to me that we Christians seem to operate within one of two extremes when it comes to what we call “faith.” On the one end of the spectrum are people for whom what they believe about God, about salvation, and about how they are to live and interact with the world around them in light of those beliefs are in the same realm as what their favorite band is, what their favorite ice cream is: completely subjective, the result of personal taste. Doubt is irrelevant to this group, because if one asks questions, one may reach definite conclusions… and dare I say, definite conclusions are the enemy of personal preference.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who think that what they believe about God, about salvation, and about how they are to live and interact with the world around them in light of those beliefs is defined by a rigid set of rules and specific mental assertions. If you’re a Christian, you think this way, talk that way, believe these things, and do not believe those things. Doubt is dangerous to these people, because questions may bring conclusions different than the accepted status quo, and to disagree with the traditional standards, beliefs, and power structures is to disagree with God.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I would argue that people in both of these extremes are suffering from an unexamined faith.

Thomas and the rest of the disciples believed because they saw Jesus. Their faith was galvanized by that evidence, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And yes, Jesus said “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” and in the two thousand years since He ascended to heaven, countless men, women and children have been the benefactors of that blessing.

But Thomas and the rest of the disciples came to faith through doubt. They had obvious questions, and though the process of researching the answers to those questions was brief and incontrovertible (I mean, Jesus was right there, showing his wounds, after all), it was nonetheless a process.

Their faith was an examined faith. And that faith brought action. For Thomas’ part, he is believed to have been the missionary to India, spreading the Gospel and establishing churches and Christian communities until his martyrdom in perhaps AD 72.

Because of the active faith of all of those disciples, the door was opened for billions of people to be reconciled to God, to become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

How do people in this day and age come to faith in Christ? Is it because they pick Jesus, like picking their favorite TV show? Or is it because they are taught the creeds and the prayers, and receive careful instruction on what to think and how to dress?

I want to suggest to you that people come to faith today in the same way that Thomas and the other disciples came to faith.

Think of it: can you look at the world today without having serious doubts that this is the way things are supposed to be? Wars, famines, poverty, starvation, the powerful oppress the poor, the rich get richer, teenagers are regularly bullied to death, tornadoes here and earthquakes there…

Doesn’t it make sense to ask “why?” Doesn’t it make sense to look for a different way?

Thjomas and the other disciples found their answers when they saw Jesus for who he was. And I contend that this is how people today find answers to their doubts. They see Jesus.

Not physically, perhaps. No nail-scars or spear wounds to provide evidence. Where people see Jesus today is through his official messengers, his ambassadors, to use a term from 2 Corinthians 5:20. You and me.

Honestly, isn’t that a scary thought? I don’t know about you, but I know that I am far from perfect. I don’t have the most even temper, or the prettiest language, or the sharpest wit. I stumble. I fall. I have doubts.

But I have cast my lot with the risen Christ, as have you. And because of that, we all have a calling.

We may not have nail-scars, but we are the hands and feet of Christ. We may not show spear wounds, but our hearts are pierced for the hungry, broken for the naked, bleeding for the stranger, crushed for the sick and imprisoned. And because we are the hands and feet of Christ, because our hearts are broken, we act. That is how it is supposed to work. Our faith, acting in big and small ways, globally and locally, corporately and personally, sharing the Good News in word and deed, using our talents and treasure in an active expression of our faith.

Thomas and the other disciples knew Jesus was real because they saw the evidence.

When people have doubts, when people ask questions, when people look to us… what do they see?

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