Sermon for 4/3/16 John 20:19-31

I find it interesting that we get this story after Easter every year. It seems strange that after we’ve declared that Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, death doesn’t have the final word after all, that we get the story of Thomas who is filled with doubt. Let’s not forget just last week, Peter didn’t believe what the women told him so he had to go back to the empty tomb and see for himself that Christ had indeed risen. Jesus had come among the disciples, but Thomas wasn’t there. So, it’s understandable that when his friends tell him that Jesus has returned that he wants proof. A week later, the friends are gathered again when Jesus comes to them once again. And Thomas is present this time. And Jesus, knowing all that he knows, presents Thomas with his hands. Thomas just needed affirmation that his friend really did rise again after the third day just as he said he would.

Maybe that’s why you’ve come back. Maybe you’re here every Sunday (or nearly every Sunday) or maybe you’ve come back after last week because you have trouble believing it too. I love being a Pastor. I love sharing the story of God and God’s love with lots of different people. I want to make sure that everyone who is able to hear or understand will come to comprehend that God’s grace is for them too. But, I have an issue with modern Christianity. We have seemed to do away with making room for doubt. I don’t know when or how this started but it seems that the church is turning into a place where doubt and questions are no longer welcomed.

Now, that’s not necessarily the case in this particular church; I’m just speaking about churches in general. When I talk to people about why they don’t go to church or why they stopped coming to church, the general feeling is guilt and shame. But then when we dig a little deeper, sometimes the people hesitate to come to church is because they have questions, they have doubts, they have some issues and don’t feel that the church is a safe place to bring those doubts. We somehow believe that everyone who walks through the church doors already knows all the answers, is 100% strong in their faith, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the dummy that asks questions and draws attention to myself. But, of all places, church should be a place where you can come with whatever doubts you have and feel welcomed.

The kind of doubts we need to make room for aren’t just the doubts related to faith. Church must be a safe place for all doubts of all kinds. Church needs to be a place where anyone can come with doubts and be welcomed and also be assured that they’re not alone. If there’s anything we should learn from today’s story is that our God is a god that welcomes doubts and will answer not with judgement, but with peace. We serve a God that when we cry “we need proof” God holds out a hand. None of us have it all figured out, so let’s make church a place we can come and sit with our faith and our doubts and be okay with both. Maybe your doubts are faith related. Maybe you struggle to believe that a man really can come back to life after being dead for three days. I get it. Logically, it makes no sense at all. It hasn’t happened since. We’re supposed to just believe this because some book tells us that thousands of years earlier this happened? It’s okay if you doubt. The fact that you’re here is proof enough that you want to know more and that you believe enough to walk through the doors.

Maybe the kind of doubts you have are more to do with everyday life than with faith. Are there doubts at work that you’re struggling with? As many of us draw closer to planting season, it seems as if doubt is a small component of what we do. The irony that my Royals will open their season tonight and I’m talking about doubt isn’t lost on me. This is a team, after all, that many doubted year after year. Some people even think that their World Series win last year was just a fluke. Maybe you’re doubting what life has in store for you as you sit with a new diagnosis. Maybe you’re doubting our economy, our political process, our leadership, our government; with the current state of things, who can blame you? Maybe it’s more personal than that. Are you doubting your marriage?  Are you doubting your physical health? Are you doubting your mental health? Maybe you’re doubting that if anyone knew whatever secret keeps you up at night that you would still be loved. Are you doubting the image you see in the mirror? Are you doubting who God has called you to be? Maybe you or someone you know is even doubting their sexuality. Whatever your doubts may be, please hear me loud and clear: doubts do not make you a “bad” Christian, whatever that is. Doubts make you human.

God did not create us to go through life blindly. One of the places I see God acting most clearly in my own life is when I wrestle with my doubts. I am not removed from having those doubts. I had more doubts about my faith life and my call upon graduating seminary than I did entering. My classmates and I joked that going to seminary is the only place where you can graduate with more questions than answers. Remember, God’s love and faithfulness to you, to us, is not dependent on your faith and your love for God. Thomas wasn’t a horrible disciple for asking for proof that Jesus was risen; he was human! He was simply asking for what any of us would have asked for. And because we serve a loving God, he got the proof he was needing.

Doubts, my brothers and sisters, are what drives our faith. While this may sound strange, doubt makes our faith stronger. Doubt brings us back to the baptismal waters and doubt brings us back to the table over and over again. Doubt is what makes us stand at an empty grave and cry “alleluia!” Doubt is being willing to say “I don’t know what I believe, but for today, I’m here and that’s enough.” Expressing doubt isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, expressing doubt is probably one of the bravest things anyone can do. And maybe all it takes is one person to express doubt for you to finally be able to breathe and say “oh good! Me too!” So, in that light, I want to share some of my doubts with you. I’m not sharing them with you so that you can assure me that they’re not true or whatever, but again, so you’ll know you’re not alone.

I doubt I’m forgiven. I understand that I am. My brain comprehends this fact. My heart struggles with it daily. I struggle and wrestle with my mental health, which you all know. But the doubt creeps in when I wonder how long you all will be able to tolerate it before you give up on me. As most parents know, I doubt my parenting ability on an almost daily basis. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world, but Lord, it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. I doubt the future. We’re on the brink of a big change at our house and I have no idea what’s in store and that drives me crazy. I doubt the future of this country. I doubt some of the relationships in my life. And yet… Yet, I come every week, and am fed. I am fed by you. I am fed by you and am fed by you watching you feed one another. I am fed by the bread and wine. I am fed by water and a promise. And, believe it or not, I am fed by doubts. Alleluia, Christ is risen! And it’s okay if you doubt that.

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