Hancock Church Sermon  http://youtu.be/bYHQuoehBMY

Becca Lockwood

April 7, 2013

John 20:19-31

Embracing Uncertainty

    What if I told you that Thomas is a faithful disciple. What if I told you that the title usually given to Thomas, “Doubting Thomas” is a potentially inaccurate interpretation of this text? What if I told you that Thomas is brave. What if I told you that the author of John is actually lifting up Thomas? But who am I? Why would you take my word for it? What does the text say?

    When Jesus appears to the disciples the first time, Thomas is not among them. Notice how the disciples are huddled in a room behind a closed door. Jesus enters and says, “Peace be with you.” And what do the disciples do?

    Do they jump up and embrace Jesus? No. When this scene plays in my head I see the disciples sitting right where they are staring in utter bewilderment at Jesus. And then Jesus shows the disciples the holes in his hand and the cut in his side. And then the disciples rejoice. Notice how it took some convincing for the disciples to believe.

    Thomas comes home after Jesus has left and the disciples tell him the good news. “We’ve seen the Lord!” they say.

    I can hear Thomas saying, “I’m sorry, what?” Thomas then says in effect, until I’ve had the same experience, the same advantage as you have had, until I see the Lord and can put my finger through his hole and side—only then will I believe what you have said. Thomas isn’t about to take their word for it.

    And Jesus appears, and says, “Go ahead, Thomas, put your finger here.” But instead, upon seeing Jesus, Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God.”

    Jesus then goes on to say, “Even more blessed are those who will believe without seeing.” Implying that Thomas must be blessed in his believing.

    Now the last bit of this scripture reading tells us that the author John is using this story rhetorically: he knows that whoever reads this later will not be able to have the same experience that Thomas and the other disciples had. He knows we will have to believe without seeing. We wouldn’t know what to do if Jesus did walk through the front doors right now. We don’t even know what he would have looked like. The ones who knew him most intimately couldn’t recognize him, would we be able to?

    So how do we recognize the risen Christ without the same opportunity to see the holes in his hands and the cut in his side? Are we left with taking someone else’s word for it? Thomas wouldn’t settle for that. Thomas didn’t settle for anything less than Gospel. Thomas never doubted God. Thomas doubted the other disciples. He was waiting for his own personal experience of the divine.

    Thomas was secure enough in himself and his beliefs to voice his reservations. Jesus doesn’t reprimand Thomas for saying I want the experience for myself. I think, in fact, that is part of why Jesus returns to show Thomas. Jesus and Thomas have this intimate experience. And I think this is a point that John is trying to make. Faith is an experience. It is not something you can be convinced of. I can talk to you until I’m blue in the face and try to convince you that chocolate is the most delicious dessert, but until you taste it for yourself, you won’t really know.

You should want the experience for yourself! Don’t take someone else’s word for it; eat the chocolate!

    Even after you take the first bite, the first step into faith; there are plenty of unanswered questions. Will chocolate always taste like this? Are there other kinds of chocolate? Or, will Jesus appear every time? Will my experience with God always be this way? What about when I have some doubts about what Jesus was saying? What if I don’t really know if I can believe that death isn’t the end as Jesus proclaimed?

    Well about a month or two ago HYG, Hancock’s High School Youth Group, had a meeting called “Faith and Politics.” A rather misleading title, as the discussion has nothing to do with Capitol Hill politics. A more accurate title could be “The Politics of Faith.”

    During our meeting those gathered asked questions like, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” “What do I have to believe in to be considered a Christian?” “Do I have to believe in God?” “Where does Jesus fit into all of this?” “Is God gendered or beyond gender?” “Is being a Christian just believing in God and Jesus and what Jesus taught, or is it about doing something, behaving in a certain way?”

    It was a profound evening. These high school students are wrestling with their faith, struggling to define it, trying to own their beliefs.

HYG is an open and safe space to ask these questions. These are hard questions, these are lifelong faith questions. There is no easy one-time answer to the questions asked that night. The answers are in a lifetime of experience.

    Doubt is not the opposite of faith; they are partners. We need doubt in order for our faith to grow. We need the space for questioning and wondering and searching for truth in our faith. Faith is not something that can be empirically proven, if it could be, it wouldn’t be faith. Faith is embracing uncertainty. It is learning to be comfortable with mystery and the unknown.

    There are some things in this world that can be tested and proven. And while science is much fuzzier than it would let on, there are certain things that we now take for granted as true. There are rules such as gravity. If I drop this piece of paper, I can be fairly certain that it will fall to the ground. And by doing that I have in essence “proven” that gravity is not just a theory.

    But not everything is as easily proven. Can I prove to you or myself that God loves me? No I can’t, but I believe it to be true. I live as if it is true.

    Here we had this man named Jesus, who preached blessed are the poor, and yet the poverty is still present, he said blessed are the peacemakers, and yet how many civil rights leaders have been assassinated? He said that might does not make right (find another way to say this) but oppression still exists. He said that violence does not bring peace, and yet how many wars are raging for the sake of peace or religion or democracy? He said that death is not the end.

And then Romans took him and killed him. And he died.

Faith is living as if he rose from the dead. And said, put your finger here and believe.

Faith is not about empirical proof.

Faith is living as if the things we believe in are true.

Faith is living as if love is more powerful than hatred.

Faith is living as if God loves me exactly as I am.

Faith is living as if those who hunger for justice and righteousness will be blessed. Faith is living as though might and power do not always win.

Faith is living as if death is not final. Faith is living as if death is not certain.

Faith is living as if these things we believe in are true.

    Faith is a gift, a doorway into this wholly other world. All we have to do is say yes and walk through the threshold.

    The Gospel is an invitation into living in a new way. It’s a lifelong invitation. When the gospel of John says, “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,” he is saying for those who live as if Jesus is the Messiah, the Risen Christ, you will know a life that is different. You will know a world where love reigns, where death is not the end. I don’t believe that John is saying only through Christ can a person live a life of faith or live into this wholly other world. I think given John’s context he is trying to distinguish the to-be Christians from the other sects of Judaism.

    All John is saying is faith is a personal experience. It is not something that we can be convinced of, which is why Thomas refuses to settle for the disciples’ word. He isn’t being obstinate or faithless. He is doing the exact opposite; he is demanding his own experience. Thomas isn’t going to say yes to anything less than the Gospel; he won’t say yes to anything less than God himself.

    Say yes to this new world. This is where love reigns down, where justice and righteousness fall into an ever-flowing stream, here where the captives go free, where the poor are blessed, and the peacemakers live into the Kingdom of God.

    And thanks be to God, you don’t have to take my word for it.

    Be open, be brave and walk through the threshold.

Say yes to this new world.