Easter 2 C: Blessed Doubt
Dear Partner in Preaching,
The story of Thomas has always been one of my favorites. Of course, it’s not just a story about Thomas. It’s also a story about frightened disciples. So scared, in fact, that, they hid behind locked doors. And who can blame them? They had just witnessed the one they confessed to be the Messiah betrayed by one of his own, tried and convicted by both religious and civil authorities, and then brutally executed. Little wonder they were afraid, assuming that the next step would be to round up Jesus’ followers. But when Jesus comes on the scene, their fear falls away and is replaced by joy.
This, I think, is the way we assume faith should work. Yes, perhaps you’ve got doubts and questions and fears, but then God arrives and those all fall away, replaced by joy and wonder and, of course, unshakeable faith.
But that’s not the way it works with Thomas. He doubts. He questions. He disbelieves. He’s not satisfied with second-hand reports and wants to see for himself. And again I would say, who can blame him? He was, after all, one of those who saw his Lord and friend mistreated, beaten, and then crucified and has probably spent the last few days pulling the broken pieces of his life back together and trying to figure out what to do next. In fact, he might have already started getting on with his life – why else, I wonder, is he out and about when the rest of the disciples are hiding behind locked doors.
So here’s what I’m wondering a day or two after a joyous Easter service: do we make room for the Thomases in our world? Because I suspect that their number is legion, even among those who worshipped with us on Sunday and certainly among those with little or no familiarity with our congregation or faith.
Thomas does come to believe. He sees Jesus for himself. And after that experience he not only assents or consents to the witness of his comrades but makes the most profound confession of faith about Jesus contained in the New Testament, calling Jesus “my Lord and my God,” bookending the confession in John 1 where the eternal word that becomes flesh is not only with God but is God.
But all of that comes after he has a chance to voice his doubt. And sometimes faith is like that – it needs the freedom of questions and doubt to really spring forth and take hold. Otherwise, faith might simply be confused with a repetition of creedal formulas, or giving your verbal consent to the faith statements of others. But true, vigorous, vibrant faith comes, I think, from the freedom to question, wonder, and doubt.
Not for everyone, of course. For some, faith comes more easily. Maybe many of the other disciples were like that (although lets not forget that they got to see what Thomas asked for!). But for others it’s harder.
To tell you the truth, I have no idea what the other disciples thought of Thomas’ initial skepticism. Maybe they were scandalized. Or maybe they sympathized. Further, I suspect that John’s whole point in including this story in his Gospel is to affirm the faith of his community, a group of people who “had not seen yet believed.” But on this Sunday, I think it’s important to make room for a little doubt.
Indeed, I think that if we don’t have any doubts we’re probably not taking the story seriously enough. I mean, really – think about what we confess when we come together on Sundays: that the Creator of the vast cosmos not only knows we exist but cares deeply and passionately about our ups and downs, our hopes and dreams, and all the rest. This confession is, quite literally, in-credible (that is, not believable). And yet we come together and in hearing the Word and partaking of the Sacraments and by being joined to those around us through prayer and song, we come to believe.
For some it’s easy. For others, more difficult. For some, hearing the testimony of Scripture is enough. For others, they need something more personal and direct. This week, let’s preach for that other group, Dear Partner. Let’s tell folks it’s okay to have questions. Indeed, let’s commend them – even bless them! – for their questions. Because questions and wonder and doubt and even skepticism are signs of interest and curiosity and these, quite often, are the soil in which vibrant faith is born.
If you are willing, you might even pass out 3×5 cards and invite people to write down one thing they have a question about regarding the faith and to pass those questions in with the offering. Who knows, maybe the question asked will be something in one of the biblical readings. Maybe it will be something they’ve wondered about for years. Maybe it will be rather trivial (why did God create mosquitoes – something I’ve wondered about!). Maybe it will be something monumental – why is my loved one in such constant pain. No matter what the question, simply by making room for it you are taking that person seriously and creating the space for an authentic encounter with God.
I’ve invited this exercise before and each time preachers have told me that they were humbled and amazed at the seriousness of the questions and the insight they yielded into their people. (They also said it gave them lots of material in the coming weeks for adult forums, sermons, and private visits!)
Thomas comes to faith because he first has the chance to voice his doubt and questions and then experiences Jesus for himself. Perhaps the opportunity before us this week, Dear Partner, is provide the same opportunities for the many Thomases sitting in our pews.
However you decide to preaching this familiar passage, Dear Partner, know that God will use your words and faith (and your questions, too!) as the means by which the Spirit works to create faith that is itself a tremendous blessing. Thank you for your commitment to this task.
Yours in Christ,