Believe

Good Morning.    Rev. Chris has assembled links to the music planned for this mornings service and they are linked below in the appropriate order.  Watch – listen – and even sing along if you wish.  When you find the sermon words further down, scroll back up to the top to click the play button on the audio bar and then scroll back down to read along if you wish.  We know that this is not the same as being in church with each other but for today this is safer.  We would all appreciate your comments at the very bottom of this page.

(Your webmasters apologize for the delay in posting today’s message.  We were trying some new things this morning and ran into a few glitches.)

This is today’s Minute for Mission

Believing is seeing                                       

Good morning everyone!  I hope everyone is warm and safe at home, in the midst of this storm.  As the weather report warned on Friday, and as we watched the precipitation map change from blue to red on Saturday, we doubted …more and more… that we’d have church on Sunday…and lo and behold, our doubts were met with confirmation – a good thing because we’re talking about Doubting Thomas today!

In her book, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris recounts a time of when she came to

“… a Benedictine abbey where…[she] was surprised to find the monks so unconcerned with [her] weighty doubts and intellectual frustrations over Christianity. What interested them more was [her] desire to come to their worship, the liturgy of the hours.   [She] was a bit disappointed—[she] had thought that [her] doubts were spectacular obstacles to … faith and was confused but intrigued when an old monk blithely stated that doubt is merely the seed of faith, a sign that faith is alive and ready to grow.” (page 63)

Then why does Thomas get such a bad wrap?

I remember way back in Sunday School when we were taught about Thomas.  Don’t be like Thomas, as I remember the wagging finger of my teacher punctuating each word.  Instead believe without seeing, forgo any physical evidence for the resurrection, and merely trust in the stories of Jesus passed down over the centuries.  Doubt was not a part of faith, I was taught, it was seen as a weakness.

But Thomas doesn’t doubt as much as he merely wants to experience the same things the other disciples had.  Thomas wanted to experience the resurrection for himself.  It is part of our human nature to not want to be told of something, but for us to want to see it with our own eyes, touch it with our own hands, to add it to the unique experiences of our own lives.

Because having something described to you isn’t enough.

Last summer, after a day-long storm filled the sky with storm cloud after storm cloud, with the air dense with humidity, the skies parted just to show off the sunset.  It was almost like magic, how a day that was wasted by the rain, revealed such a magnificent beauty for those able to see it.  It was a perfect sunset, one that just hung in the air as the sun lazily lingered on the horizon for what seemed like hours, patient enough to let the beauty of that moment captivate as many people as it could.  Thinking of it today, I can still smell the rain as my face reflected the pinks, and oranges, and violets of the heavens.

You may be able to picture it, even with my limited words, or draw yourself back to a moment when you witnessed such a beautiful sunset (more than this grey ice storm currently hitting our area)…but without that shared experience, if you’ve never seen a sunset for yourself, if you’ve never smelled the earth after a midsummer rainstorm, it’s difficult to fully understand or feel what I felt in that moment.

It’s why Thomas couldn’t relate to the disciples when they shared their experience of the Risen Christ.  He couldn’t understand, nor feel what they felt.  While Mary shared of her experience, and the other disciples shared of theirs, Thomas wanted nothing more than his own experience.  He wanted Jesus to appear to him.  He wanted to believe, doubting only his friends, and not the potential of God.  As one preacher said:

Thomas asked for concrete proof of Jesus’ resurrection, [] essentially ask[ing] for intellectual proof. He needed tangible, real evidence. Contrary to popular belief, most people in the first century didn’t believe people just rose from the dead.[1]

And the written down stories of a two thousand year old prophet haven’t made the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection any more believable.  We want our own experiences of God.  We want God to touch our lives, as real as Thomas touched Jesus.  We want to touch miracles to see them to be real, to see them with our own eyes.  We don’t just want to rely on the stories, which have been carefully passed from generation to generation as something that happened once upon a time, as some of the Biblical stories of Palestine seem more other worldly than real.  Contrary to popular belief, most people in the 21st century don’t believe people just rise from the dead.

Why then do people come to church?  Why did Thomas return to that room with his friends?  Why didn’t he just walk away?[2]   I mean, his friends didn’t even seem to understand it, or even believe the women…because as our scripture starts

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews (that is the Jewish Authorities)…

If those disciples actually believed the stories of resurrection, if they believed Mary, why would the doors be locked?  Their Messiah was raised from the dead, why be afraid of anything in this life?  Why be afraid of Jewish, or Roman authorities when clearly Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 18).

Yet that moment seems very familiar, very human.  We as human beings, even in the midst of miracle, are share moments which tie our hearts together.  As the disciples stood by helplessly watching the death of their friend, so too has our nation had to stand helpless as the stories have unfolded about the Humboldt Broncos over this past week.  After a tragic accident claimed the lives of half of those in their bus, this country has come together by giving over 11 million dollars to support those affected by this crash, putting sticks outside by lighted candles, or wearing jerseys in support.  And it isn’t because we have an unnatural love for hockey in Canada, it isn’t because the victims were predominantly white, or male, it’s because when we heard the story, we saw our own children, parents, friends, ourselves.  Death unites us all.  It is the shared experience which terrifies us, trying to trust in millennia old stories of resurrection.  I’m reassured that even after Mary came and told of her experience, with that first hand sharing of faith, the disciples hid behind locked doors.

Into that moment of heartbreak, Jesus enters.

As the chaplain for the Humboldt Broncos shared at the vigil last week[3], in the midst of the darkness of caring for the families in need, people reached out to him, the presence of Jesus, through scripture, was shared with him, the presence of peace surrounded him.

To the hurting disciples Jesus prays, ‘Peace be with you,’ as if those words, and his face, might undo the horrors they witnessed.  As if that peace might heal the disciples of their grief.  As if that peace might replace the fears that kept them behind locked doors, behind locked hearts, behind blocked ears unable to hear the good news that the women brought from the tomb.

And it’s no surprise that

A week later [Jesus’] disciples were again in the house, …[and] the doors were shut…

Still afraid, still unsure, still hoping for one more word of peace, one more miracle to outweigh the doubts and the fears of their hearts.  What more could they need?  Or want? The power of death, and the fear of it, is enough to keep people behind locked doors, off busses, and locked away sure that there is no God if tragedies exist.

Yet Thomas, a man full of doubts, is found among the faithful, not because he doubts Jesus, but because it might… just… be true…because he didn’t doubt enough to stay away, as much as he so deeply wanted it to be true.  He (and we) cling to these stories because of the outlandish love of God that makes these might just be possible.  That in the face of bus crashes, and killed Saviours, of attacks in Syria, and terrorism around the globe, that it is not just death that unites us, but life.  It is the lives we share, and the love we experience which truly pulls us together.  For we are moved not only by the deaths of the Broncos but moreso as we dwell on the story of their lives, such as the story of Logan Boulet[4] who was an organ donor, and who ended up saving lives, even though he died.

We may call him Doubting Thomas, but he had more faith than Peter to not give up on Jesus’ words, more expectation than Mary who went to the tomb expecting death, because this Doubting Thomas is given exactly what he needs:  Jesus enters the room, speaks peace to their fearful hearts, and before Thomas opens his mouth, Jesus takes his hands and places them in his wounds.  Thomas is given what he needs to believe.  Thomas is accepted and loved, doubts and all, for this grieving soul is desperate enough to want the resurrection to be true.  Doubting Thomas is called such not to malign him, but because in our faith lives, there is room for doubt.

Lesley Hazleton in a TED talk entitled “The doubt essential to faith”[5] says that as a culture,

we’re protected from real awe…we close the doors, and hunker down, convinced we’re in control or at least hoping for control…we do our best to ignore the fact that we don’t always have [control], and that not everything can be explained…

[When we]…abolish all doubt and [we find] what’s left is not faith, but absolute heartless conviction…you’re certain that you possess the truth…inevitably offered with an implied uppercase T…and this certainty quickly devolves into dogmatism and righteousness…pride…in being so very right…

If you eliminate all doubt, you don’t have faith, but certainty… absolute heartless conviction as Lesley Hazelton calls it.  Yet, to hang around in locked rooms like Thomas did, to wait, hope, pray, yearn for an experience of the risen Christ, this is what it means to be a person of faith.  Some of us may have experienced Jesus enough to have that certainty, but for the rest, in our doubts, may we have the courage to unite our struggling hearts as one.  Because in the sharing of those doubts, in reaching out to one another when our hearts ache, when offering the broken experiences of our lives together, we become whole.  We learn to trust in a Saviour who heals, by showing the scars[6] which unite us all.

Lesley Hazleton reminds us that

… despair is self-fulfilling. If we call something impossible, we act in such a way that we make it so.
… I, for one, refuse to live that way. In fact, most of us do, whether we’re atheist or theist or anywhere in between or beyond, for that matter, what drives us is that, despite our doubts and even because of our doubts, we reject the nihilism of despair. We insist on faith in the future and in each other. Call this naive if you like. Call it impossibly idealistic if you must. But one thing is sure: Call it human.[7]

May we insist on faith in the future, and in in other, in all we do, in all we say, may we bear the hope of the Risen Christ.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-jonathan-weyer/dialoguing-about-doubt_b_821988.html

[2] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/actsoftheapostasy/2015/04/12/why-did-doubting-thomas-hang-around/

[3] http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/humboldt-pastors-anguished-speech-where-was-god/

[4] https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/broncos-player-who-donated-organs-celebrated-as-a-hero-at-service-1.3885482

[5] https://www.ted.com/talks/lesley_hazleton_the_doubt_essential_to_faith?language=en

[6] http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/humboldt-pastors-anguished-speech-where-was-god/

[7] ibid

 

3 Comments

  1. Paulette Brenner

    Thank you! I appreciate your concern for our safety and offering us the service from home. It helped feed my soul this Sunday. Especially as I missed last week and have to work next Sunday. God Bless St. James Rosemount ➕ ♥

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