Into Our Doubting Hearts

02
May

A sermon preached by Bob Keller on May 1, 2011 based upon John 20:19 – 31.

Play theme from CSI: Miami – Won’t Get Fooled Again (The Who 1971 – Who’s Next?)

Anyone recognize that?  That’s the theme song from CCSI: Miami.  That’s part of the very popular CSI franchise playing on TV.  There’s CSI, CSI: New York and CSI: Miami.  CSI stands for Crime Scene Investigation.

Basically, the shows use advanced forensics tools to solve crimes.  The shows have a basic formula – the shows open with a murder having been committed and the CSI tem is called in to find the “bad guy.”  All of the obvious clues usually point in one direction.  But there’s always something that pops up that makes one of the stars of the show question the consensus.  In CSI: Miami it’s usually David Caruso; that is, once he takes time out from lifting his sunglasses up and down.  There’s always some overlooked evidence that’s only found by using highly scientific tools, that changes minds and points to the real “bad guy.”

And that’s why I played that theme song this morning.  One of the lines in that song is: “I get on my knees and pray, won’t get fooled again.”

I think that’s maybe where Thomas was.  Thomas had been one of Jesus’ best students.  He looked forward to following Jesus.  He listened attentively to the teacher and he asked questions in a desire to learn more from him.  He believed in Jesus.  But now the teacher was dead.  Thomas knew that dead was dead.  Sure, he had witnessed Jesus raise people from the dead, but Jesus was the only one that could do that.  His teacher, his leader, the one that he gave up everything to follow, was in the ground.

And yet, there he was, listening to his friends prattle on about seeing and talking with Jesus.  Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples.  We don’t know where he was, but he came back to join his friends and they’re telling him that that the man that was dead isn’t really dead after all.  Why didn’t Thomas just jump on the disciples’ band wagon and accept what they said, say “Yea, God!” and move on?

Turn your clocks back.  If you were there, would you have believed that Jesus wasn’t dead?  Or could John, when writing this story, have just as easily substituted our names for Thomas’s?

You’ll find Thomas’s name in two places in the dictionary:  first under “d” with the word “doubt.”  Then search for “Thomas” and you’ll find “doubting Thomas.”  “Doubting Thomas” is defined as one who is “habitually doubtful.”

People today can really, really like Thomas.  He was a skeptic.  And we have to be skeptical today, don’t we?  There are all kinds of people out there just waiting to take advantage of us if we let our guard down.  We’re all cautioned, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”  You have to “show me” that it’s real so I can believe in what you’re saying.

I did a lot of reading when I was preparing our stewardship program.  One of the things I learned was that churches can no longer say, “we need your money and we’ll do good things with it.”  That may have worked in the past, but no more.  Today, people want to know what giving their money means.  We started practicing that here by introducing the “Moment of Gratitude.”  By taking those few minutes on Sunday morning to hear how this church being here is changing lives, we can know that our giving means that this church means something to people.

We’ve learned that this church provides a safe place to love people and to be loved by them.  And we’ve learned that this church has meant the very difference between spiritual life and death.

And that has presented us with the proof that we need to make us do everything possible to keep this church alive and strong.  Its very presence, and your presence, is the grace of God apparent.  It’s the proof that our skeptical natures need.

So why do we look at Thomas with disdain?

If Bob, or Connie, or Fred, or Betty, or anyone one of us had been in Thomas’ sandals that day, would we have just accepted the resurrection news or would we have said, “I need to see it!”  Do we see too much of ourselves in Thomas?  Is it just too painful to recognize that we have doubts?

When you’re swimming in a sea of doubt, it’s hard to not get wet.  Many in the church will tell you that doubt is wrong and that you’re less than faithful to ask questions, to need a sign, a touch, a vision or a personal encounter.  If we ask the hard questions, we’re labeled a cynic, a skeptic, or, heaven forbid, a liberal.  Why is it wrong to not understand everything?

The Bible is loaded with people that are full of uncertainties, complaints and questions.  Just read Job, or the Psalms or about Abraham.  Even Jesus questioned while dying on the cross when he said, “My God.  My God. Why have you forsaken me?”  Thomas is just another of many that ask questions.

Thomas, and we, asks questions in an attempt to understand.  Thomas embraced his doubt.  He asked the questions.  And, was he ready to accept the answers?  He certainly wasn’t afraid to try.

Remember, Thomas was with his friends for a week.  It was a week from when Thomas first returned and heard the tale of the undead Jesus to when Jesus himself presented himself to Thomas.  Why did Thomas hang around?  What was said during that week?  Why didn’t Thomas throw up his hands and run?

Did Thomas remember the words of the man with the troubled child who said, “Lord,  I believe.  Help me in my unbelief”?   Nothing is cut-and-dried in the Christian faith.  That faith is believing in something that is beyond our ability to comprehend, but our faith is not afraid to try.

Thomas had doubt.  This story is about God’s ability to change that doubt into belief, into faith.  The doubt was not erased, but it was overcome by an irresistible encounter with the impossible.  When we can see the impossible through our own disbelieving, sometimes tear-filled, eyes, we can see the world of possibility far beyond what our doubt would allow.

God overcame the grave.  He is Risen!  And he can overcome the things that lead to our death – things like disbelief, fear, hatred, bitterness – yes, even doubt.

We all have our questions and our doubts.  It’s into our doubting hearts that Jesus presents himself.  Just like with Thomas, God knows our need for a first-hand encounter.

That’s why God became flesh in the person of Jesus so that we could hear him, touch him, see him and be touched by him.  He invites us to share in that body by partaking of his body and blood today.  It’s an opportunity to encounter him, symbolically, just as Thomas did.

Doubt, like the doubt that Thomas had, is OK. Ask the questions, but be prepared for answers.  Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

That stone couldn’t hold him in the grave and the locked doors didn’t keep him from his disciples.  Asking the questions and allowing him to overcome our doubt, to break in to our hearts, just as the light overcomes the darkness, breathes life into our faithless hearts.

And with that overcome, we, too, can kneel with Thomas and say, “My Lord and my God.”

 

 

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