What lies below is a copy of the sermon Andrea gave on Sunday. I know what you’re thinking: If I wanted to know the sermon the Pastor at your church gave on Sunday I would have went to your church on Sunday. Irregardless of your skepticism, I am going to post it any way. It seems to have come at a perfect time for me. I would almost say that it is divine intervention. I would almost say.
John 20: 19-32
A defendant was on trial for murder in Oklahoma. There was strong evidence indicating guilt, but there was no corpse. In the defense’s closing statement the lawyer, knowing that his client would probably be convicted, resorted to a trick. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all,” the lawyer said as he looked at his watch. “Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom.” He looked toward the courtroom door. The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked on eagerly. A minute passed. Nothing happened. Finally the lawyer said, “Actually, I made up the previous statement. But you all looked on with anticipation. I, therefore, put it to you that there is reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and insist that you return a verdict of not guilty.” The jury, clearly confused, retired to deliberate. A few minutes later, the jury returned and pronounced a verdict of guilty. “But how?” inquired the lawyer. “You must have had some doubt; I saw all of you stare at the door.” Answered the jury foreman: “Oh, we did look. But your client didn’t.”
In today’s scripture we see two different stories. In the first story we see the 10 disciples in a house on Easter evening. We know that Thomas is not there, and that one probably committed suicide. We aren’t sure why Thomas isn’t there. Maybe he didn’t know that they were all going to meet that night. Maybe he was so upset that he just needed to be alone. For whatever reason, Thomas was missing from the group. And in our story Jesus appears to the Disciples in a house, talked with them and showed them his hands and his side to show them that it was indeed Jesus. Our second story which I want us to focus our time today happens a week later. Thomas is now with the group and was told during the week what all the other disciples had seen. And Thomas said, “I want to see it.” Thomas loved the Lord but in his sadness and his confusion from what the other disciples had told him, he needed proof. I mean, maybe it was the other disciples who had gone mad up in that room, maybe they had just made it up.
But what I think is so important in our scripture today is for us to see how Thomas dealt with his doubt. Does he hide it and just go along with the crowd? No, Thomas brings this doubt out in the open so that his friends can help and support him. He questions what they are saying and states that he needs more time, more proof. Another important thing is that after he says this he doesn’t leave his friends, he continues to be with them to give them time to help him understand what they have seen. There is something to be said for Thomas’ willingness to be bold and state his doubt, and his willingness to be shown so that he too can believe.
But aren’t we like Thomas sometimes, when we are told something, don’t we want to question it, and even ask for proof? Does that mean we disbelieve what people are telling us or do we just need a little reassurance? I think many of us today, whether we will admit it or not have a little doubting Thomas in us at times. One thing is for certain and I want to prove it to you now.
Let’s play a little game. I’ll say a word, and you tell me its opposite.
Black, Girl, Up, Happy, Wide, Full, Faith.
That last one is tougher isn’t it? What exactly is the opposite of faith? I’m not sure what the best answer is. Maybe the opposite of faith is unbelief. Often in scripture, it seems that the opposite of faith is fear (“Why do you fear, you of little faith.”) One thing that I am sure about is that doubt is not the opposite of faith. Many people of faith, I’d venture to say all people of faith, have times of doubt or areas of doubt in their lives. Now, we tend not to use the word. We say that we are confused or that we don’t understand, but we are just being polite. We mean that we have doubts.
Because of situations that happen in our lives we all have doubts about God, our faith, and in the promises made by God. Many times our doubt comes from how much we are given and how unworthy we feel to receive God’s gifts.
There are times we doubt that God loves or cares for us, we doubt our free salvation, we doubt the resurrection took place. It is not that we deny any of these, but there are times when we doubt or question them. We want to believe, we do believe, but there are moments… moments when we just ask what if? What if God is so mad at me for asking for forgiveness over and over again, I wonder if I will really go to heaven? What if Jesus really didn’t rise from the dead?
I bring all of this up because I think that Thomas has been given a bad reputation. We call him the doubter when in reality we all doubt at some point in our lives almost everything. We don’t like Thomas because in reality he is just like one of us. But we can’t sit here as Christians and say that we have never ever felt some twinge of doubt in our lives. But today I think what is important for us to come to grips with is that to have doubts is ok, to question our beliefs is ok. It is how we handle those questions and doubts that is more important.
What we know from our story is that all the disciples were up in a room talking with one another and sorting through all that had happened in the past week. They were talking about Palm Sunday and how the people cheered, they talked about their last meal with Jesus, and they talked about his trial, beatings, and death. Finally they reflected on what had happened earlier that Easter morning with Mary going to the tomb and then talking to Jesus. They too probably had confusion, doubts, fear, and questions. It might not have said it in black and white but we are all human, with that much going on, we know that they were questioning the entire week’s events. And then Jesus appears in front of them, gives them peace, and sends them to start evangelizing. They got to see and talk with Jesus. But poor Thomas was off alone trying to deal with the week alone. Friends it is all about how we deal with doubt. Openness, communication, community, prayer, and study.
Imagine for a moment that you are a teacher. One student spends the day staring out the window or nodding off to sleep. Another writes down everything you say, memorizes it, and parrots it back to you on the exam. The third is full of questions. This student is always trying to guess what comes next or apply what has been said in unexpected ways. This third student is full of opinions and is willing to voice them even when they are clearly misguided. Which student is really learning? Which student will actually apply what you have taught? The second student may get the better grades, but the third student is the one who has internalized the lesson. Doubts and objections are a sign that the student is engaged and growing.
How are we growing? Are we growing? Do we find ourselves engaged in our faith and in scripture? Or do we find ourselves coming each Sunday to hear the word, get warm and fuzzy so that we can leave and mark off of our to-do list that we have attended church? Friends I think that it is important for us to question and I think that it is normal for us to doubt parts of our faith. If we never doubt or never question couldn’t we almost call ourselves gullible?
Recording artist Billy Joel in one of his songs wrote, “ And the only people I fear are those who never have doubts.” A faith that does not ask difficult questions is a faith that has become stagnate and stunted. An examined faith is not worth living. And to keep our faith alive we need to be really living it, which means study of the word and of the church. Back in the day, when the Methodist church was just being created the church intentionally created groups called societies. These groups main goal was to come together and to ask questions. Questions about their faith, God, salvation, resurrection, and the Bible. It wasn’t lead by a specific pastor. It was just lay people getting together and being in conversation. And what was so wonderful, and yet probably why we don’t have them today is that the people were ok with asking questions, knowing that if one had the question, than probably many others questioned the same thing. Also, the question was asked to the entire group, not one person had to know all the answers. They worked, struggled, and researched together for the answers. HHMM maybe a group that we need here at the church.
And we do have a group like this, every couple of months we have a question night with the youth group. And they really love it. They can ask any question that they have about their the church and their faith. And Phil and I try to answer their questions to the best of our ability. But what is even more wonderful is that most of the time, the kids help each other out and explain the answer together. If there is a cut and dry answer. But they are still in community, still in communicating, and still learning from one another’s faith and experiences.
>Doubt can be like a fork in the road. We can use our doubt as an opportunity to mature our faith and grow in our relationship, or we can use it as an excuse to isolate ourselves and pull away. “Doubting Thomas” became “Believing Thomas” because he stayed with the other disciples in spite of his doubts. He was rewarded with a closer knowledge of Christ. What many of us don’t know about Thomas because it is not in scripture but only in historical documents is that most of Jesus’ disciples went west to take the gospel to Europe. However, Thomas decided to go east and was believed to be the father of the church in India. Thomas’s doubts became convictions and God used him in a wonderful way. Our doubts can lead us to a deeper faith if we only seek God in the midst of our doubts.
I would like to ask you to think about this question this morning. The question is, “If Jesus Christ would appear to a group of people, what would your reaction be?” Think about it for a while. Would you panic? Would you run? Would you hide in fear? Would you doubt? Would you ask for proof?? Did he really appear, Would you cry out in love, “My Lord and My God?” “Would you disbelieve because you weren’t in the group? What would your reaction be to the question that Jesus appeared to a group of people?
I wonder if our reaction to Jesus’s appearance to a group of disciples would have been like Thomas if we weren’t there?? I wonder if we would have been there if we would have believed without some proof, some evidence that this person was really Jesus??
One of the most amazing things we have that gives us proof to so many of our questions can be found in our scriptures. But they can also be found if we just stop and look around us. So many people ask the question how do I know that God loves me? How do I know that God exists, how do I know that I am saved? Well today I am here to answer those…at least attempt. We know these things because if we look around at everything we can see, God made that for us. God made it for us. How do we know he loves us, well he keeps on giving doesn’t he. If he was so disappointed in us as humanity why does he keep blessing us with springtime, with friendships, with new babies, with food on our tables, with…well the list could go on and on. We can’t look at a sunset or a new baby and say that God does not exist. Where else could the most beautiful things in our lives come from? Only someone who loves us more than anything could give us such things. How do we know we are saved? Have you ever experienced inward peace? Have you ever just sat in the pew and felt calm? With all the sinning we do, with all the bad ways in which we treat each other don’t you think that we would feel different. Don’t you think we would feel heavier with guilt, anger, and chaos? If we weren’t saved do you think that you would still have that urge to love everyone, to do things for others, and to be here? Proof of God’s presence is all around us friends, you just have to stop and see it.
another proof that we have is all of you sitting in the pew who have just been recognized for being a member of a UMC for 50 years. And we also have those who have been members for over 50 years. All of these people could say that they have struggled with their faith, that they questioned their faith. But just like a marriage or a friendship, faith takes work. If you have a disagreement with a friend or a spouse what do you do? You talk about it. If you have a fight to you stop being friends? Do you get divorced right away? No, you talk it out, you find yourself in a conversation. Today we have honored our 50 year members because of their commitment to God, to the church, to our community, and for their leadership. They are proof that God is Good and will provide.