Sunday, April 23, 2017

2 Easter

April 23, 2017

John 20.19-31

+ I am a very weird priest. I know this doesn’t come as a surprise to many of you. I really am. While some clergy people I know, try to avoid discussing issues like doubt or atheism, I actually gladly welcome the challenge, as you very well know. You know how I feel about atheism and agnosticism. I truly believe they are very valid religious expressions.  And important ones. And I respect and admire many atheist people in my own life and in society.

I have also been very honest with all of you about my own doubts at times.  I was an agnostic at one point in my life.

Doubt is an important and essential part of our faith life. We essentially can’t have real faith without real doubt. We need that tension in our faith lives to make our faith valid to a large extent. And to deny doubt in our lives is to deceive ourselves. We do doubt.

I remember once meeting a young, very devout Roman Catholic woman, with whom I always enjoyed have lively conversations. At one point in a conversation I had with her, I said, “well, surely there are some things about the Roman Catholic Church you disagree with. Certainly you doubt certain aspects of the Roman Catholic faith.”
She became very serious—very solemn—and very emphatically said, “I believe in every aspect of my Catholic faith. Without doubt.”

I wish I had faith like that.  I wish my faith was not pocked and spotted with doubt.

But, to be brutally honest,  it is sometimes. I do doubt sometimes. We all do. And I am wary to some extent of those who have no doubt. Yes, we struggle with these issues of belief in our lives.

Let’s face it, we don’t get the opportunities that Thomas had in this morning’s Gospel. Thomas refused to believe that Jesus was resurrected until he had put his fingers in the wounds of Jesus.  

You know what. I’d be the same way.  Well, maybe I wouldn’t insist on putting my fingers in a wound.  That’s a bit extreme.  But, certainly, if someone I knew and cared for died and suddenly everyone is telling me that person is now actually alive, I would definitely doubt that. And if I knew that person had died and was now standing in front of me, I would still be skeptical. Skeptical of my sanity, if nothing else. Or my eyesight.  

So, for Thomas, it wasn’t enough that Jesus actually appeared to in the flesh—Jesus, was no ghost after all.  He stood there in the flesh—wounds and all.  Only when Thomas  had placed his finger in the wounds, would he believe.

That’s great for Thomas.  But, the fact is, for the rest of us, we don’t get it so easy.  We will struggle. We will struggle with things like the Resurrection.

Sure, we understand “resurrections” in our lives. We’ve all known what it is be reborn, to feel joy after bad things happen. But to believe in this event in the life of Jesus—this Resurrection. The Resurrection. He died, he was buried, and now, all of a sudden, he is alive. And is still alive. For us. Right now.

It’s hard. Our rational minds rebel against this. And for those of us who have studied systematic theology and have studied those German Biblical scholars of the Tübingen school—the so-called “High Criticism”—for those of us who studied Schliermacher and Feuerbach and Schweitzer, we especially find it all somewhat fantastic.   

It’s easy to doubt. But faith, that’s hard. It’s not easy to have faith. I don’t have to tell anyone here this morning about faith. We all know how hard it really is It takes work and discipline.

More likely than not, we can all think of at least one or two things we’d rather be doing this Sunday morning than being in church.  We could sleep in.  We could have a nice long breakfast with our families.  We could be reading the newspaper.  We could watch TV while lounging on the couch, or we could be sitting at the computer.

But instead, we made the choice to come to church.  We made a choice to come here this morning, and worship a God we cannot see, not touch.  We made a choice to come here and celebrate an event that our rational minds tell us could never have happened. And not just celebrate. But to stand up and profess belief in it, even if we might have struggles with it.  But even if we struggle with it—it’s all right. It’s all right to struggle and doubt and wrestle with it.

A strong relationship to God takes work—just as any other relationship in our life takes work. It takes discipline.  It takes concentrated effort. Being a believer in God does not just involve being nice on occasion and smiling.  It means living one’s life fully and completely as a believer.  And being a Christian believer is even more refined.  As Christians we are committed to follow Jesus.  But it’s even more than that.

Last Sunday I preached that our job as Christians is to BE the Resurrection. Right now. Right here. And I believe that.

Yes, rationally it might all seem very difficult. But if we just live as though the Resurrection didn’t happen only to Jesus but us too-if we believe that God has and will raise us up just as God raised Jesus—then, that covers so much of that doubt.

Sometimes we just have to square our shoulders and move forward as best we can. We just need to live into it, fully and completely, and let our doubts take care of themselves.  Certainly we cannot let ourselves wallow in doubt.

If we’re going to wallow in anything, we should wallow in the Resurrection and life and light and God.  The best way to overcome doubt is simply to get up and go out and just strive to be the best Presence of Christ we can be in this world.  To simply BE a reflection of God’s all-encompassing love and goodness in the world.

The key words here are “love” and “goodness.” Yes, things like the Resurrection and the Incarnation are hard to wrap our minds around.  They don’t relate well, sometimes, to our day-to-lives.  But, loving God and loving one another does.  

Of course, that isn’t that easy either.   But when we do this, we are encompassing every possible thing that the Resurrection means in our lives.  When we do that, we are doing what the Resurrection tells us to do.  By doing so, we bring the Easter joy and light to a world that seems out of control, a place wherein hatred and violence and utter stupidity seem to reign supreme.

It is difficult to be the conduit of the Light and Presence—the love and goodness—of Christ when others are shouting in hatred in the same name of Jesus.  It seems impossible when we realize that what we are asked to do is love and serve even those other Christians who are acting so stupidly un-Christian. It is hard to truly respect the worth and dignity of all people and their religious views and to recognize in them that they too are strivers after God, they too are strugglers in their relationship with God and that the God we are all striving after is the same God who, for us, remains cloaked and invisible.

Now, for Thomas, he saw.  He touched.  It was all clear to him.  But we don’t get that chance.

“Blessed are those who believe but don’t see,” Jesus says this morning.

We are those blessed ones.  All of us. Our belief—our faith—doesn’t have to be perfect. We will still always doubt. Will still always question. And that’s all right.

We are still the ones Jesus is speaking of in this morning’s Gospel.

Blessed are you all.

You believe—or strive to believe—but don’t see. 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 will, on some glorious day—in our own Resurrection—run to God and see God face to face.  And in that moment, our faith will be fulfilled. Doubt will die for good.

Blessed are we who believe but don’t see now.  The Kingdom of Heaven is truly ours.

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