April 12, 2015
+ I’m going to test you this morning. This is going to be a hard test. I’m going to see if anyone here actually read my book of short stories, The Downstairs Tenant. I wrote a story in it called, “I Could’ve Gone on Forever.” In that story, I talked about an astronaut and an actual famous event about astronaut in the 1960s. So, who was the astronaut I wrote about? Or—and I’m going to make this easy for you who didn’t read it—who was the cosmonaut? It’s all right if you didn’t read the book or the story.
It was about Yuri Gagarin. And today, April 12, is the 54th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s trip to space, making him the first human being in space. In 1961, this was a HUGE event.
Supposedly, the first words attributed to humankind in space came from him and they were not words of awe, or praise. The first words from humans in space were:
“I see no God up here!”
Actually those words are probably apocryphal.
But, let’s face it—he didn’t see God up there. He didn’t see God there or anywhere. You’ve heard me say it again and again.
I have deep and profound respect for atheism. I truly believe that atheism is fairly simple and straightforward. But belief—belief is hard. And none of us can believe without a certain level of doubt. Doubt is healthy. It’s an important part of true faith. In fact, it’s one of the healthiest things we can do as believers.
In this morning’s Gospel, we encounter doubt of course in the person of the apostle Thomas. Doubting Thomas, as we’ve come to know him, doubted that Jesus was resurrected until he had put his very fingers into the wounds of Jesus. It wasn’t enough that Jesus actually appeared to him in the flesh. Obviously, Jesus wasn’t a ghost or something after all. He stood there in the flesh—wounds and all. Only when he had placed his finger in the wounds, would he believe.
It’s a strange and wonderful story. I always liked this story and what it stands for. I think it’s always interesting to hear this story of Doubting Thomas. Thomas, I think, is so much like us in many ways. We sometimes do need little bits of proof to make our faith meaningful. We sometimes need to touch the wounds of our own faith to actually believe. We sometimes need to proof just to get us through the difficult phases of our belief.
But, the fact is, we are not St. Thomas. For the rest of us, we don’t get it so easy. Our doubts are not as easily done away with. Jesus is probably not going to appear before us—in the flesh. And we are not going to have the opportunity to touch the wounds of Jesus.
Let’s face it, to believe without seeing, is not easy. It takes work and discipline. A strong relationship with God takes work—just as any other relationship in our life takes work. It takes discipline. It takes concentrated effort. There will be good days and bad days in our relationship with God.
And with that, we cannot get around the fact there will be times of doubt. We will question. We will, however briefly, question God’s actions, God’s love for us. Or even that God exists at all. We might even question the actual existence of God at times. It’s important to question. Questioning means we’re not robots. And doubting is not a bad thing in and of itself. Without some doubt, we would, again, be nothing more than unthinking and unquestioning robots. And that is not faith.
Faith is being able to weigh both the certainties and uncertainties and still make that step forward into the unknown and hope and believe that we will be sustained. Doing so is not the easiest road to take. It takes constant work to make that step into the unknown. Belief doesn’t—and shouldn’t—come easy. It takes constant discipline to believe in something we can’t see or touch. It takes constant discipline to believe that there is something out there that we cannot see or feel that will sustain us when we take that step forward.
In a sense, we are sometimes like blind people groping in the dark, trying to understand who and what God is in our lives. We make our guesses. We see God as we want to see God. We often form God into our image when we can’t do anything else. And when we do that, it’s easy to say that God of our own perceptions doesn’t exists because…that God doesn’t exist.
There’s a great quote I once heard:
“The same God many atheists don’t believe is the same God I don’t believe in either.”
That god is often a god of our own perceptions,a god created in our image. And I do not believe in that god. If that were THE god, then I too would be an atheist.
But it isn’t that easy, sadly. Now, for Thomas, he saw. He touched. It was all made clear to him. We however don’t get that chance. We are often just groping about in the void, trying to make some sense of who this God is that we follow and love and worship.
“Blessed are those who believe but don’t see,” Jesus says this morning in our Gospel reading.
We are those blessed ones. We are the ones Jesus is speaking of in this morning’s Gospel. Blessed are we. We believe, but don’t see. Yet.
We are the ones who are able to look into the void, into the very depths, and, unable to see God with our eyes, we somehow still have faith. Seen or unseen, we know God is there. And our faith is not based on seeing God here. Because we have faith that one day, yes, we will see God. We have this faith because the one we the follow—Jesus—showed us the way forward. He stepped out into that void and was held up by God. He still motions to us to come forward, to step into what we think is a void. Because Jesus did what he did, we know we too will be held up by God. And because he died and was resurrected, even though we might doubt it at times, even though it doesn’t make sense to our rational minds, we know—deeply—that this is what awaits us as well. And, on that glorious day, we will run to God and see God face to face. And in that moment, our faith will be fulfilled.
Blessed are you who believe but don’t see now. The Kingdom of Heaven is truly yours.