Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133 Page 787; BCP, 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus and reported it to the disciples, but they were skeptical. After the crucifixion those who saw his miracles, heard his preaching, and sat at the table with him were cowering behind locked doors. Thomas, or “Doubting Thomas” as he has been sometimes nicknamed is one skeptic who became the focus of today’s story. From our Sunday school classes, we were taught, do not be like Thomas, because he was suspicious, wary, and doubter. We may have been trained to believe that Thomas didn’t have faith as solid as a rock, and thus, we may have grown up believing that Thomas was an unworthy, faithless, and imperfect disciple. Are we all unworthy, faithless, and imperfect followers of Jesus sometimes?
MONDAY MORNING CRITICS
We can be pretty hard on those early followers, because we were not there with them, and because we stand on the other side of the story. We can be like Monday morning quarterbacks after the Super Bowl who at the water cooler says, “Those Jesus followers locked in the upper room were just a bunch of cowards, and they should have done this or said that.” You know, we faithful and confident disciples can look back and think we can call the right plays, or take the ball down the field better than that misfit band of followers.” It is easy to be spectators on the sidelines and pass judgment.
Some of us might believe, “If I had been there, I would have been out in the street proclaiming, ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen!’” Really? Would we? I can tell you right now, I probably would have been right there with them, scared to death, cowering in that safe, protected, secure room just as dismayed as the rest of them. There are times today I imagine that many of we Christians find it easy to proclaim our faith in safe groups inside the church walls, but being a Christian in our daily lives, at the office, golf course, or with our secular friends, we live in a perpetual fear of living the resurrected.
ANXIETY IS THE ENEMY OF FAITH
Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Fear is the enemy of faith. Likewise, absolute factual certainty can be the antithesis to faith. We probably hear Jesus’ words as a cutting and terse admonishment to Thomas. We may even hear his words as a chastisement, for folks like us whose faith journeys often times include moments of doubt. But, I believe this is less of a reprimand for so-called failed disciples, and it is more of an encouragement to many of us, who often struggle with occasions of doubt. We are called to try and trust in God’s promises, even when we do not have visible evidence that supports the trust that we believe we have.
Thomas gets a bum rap my friends. Doubt is not sin! Uncertainty and skepticism are not disqualifications for faithful discipleship. Having moments of doubt is a natural facet of faith. I will say, “It is ok to have moments of doubt as a Christian!” There is a caveat to that statement though. We run into problems when our doubt emerges, and we allow the associated fear to paralyze us from recognizing the work of God’s Spirit in our lives. Living in fear is different from living with doubt. Fear keeps us from trusting God. Trust requires us to move forward hoping for the best, and expecting God’s presence no matter what happens.
ENCOUNTERS WITH CHRIST
Mary Magdalene proclaimed the resurrection to the other apostles, but nothing initially changed in this little community of followers. The doors remained locked, and then suddenly Jesus showed up. He burst into the room and proclaimed in the midst of their fear, “Peace be with you!” In a flash, they had encountered the Risen Lord right there in their very midst and from that point forward, everything changed. I am sure that this was not the last time there was doubt and uncertainty among Jesus’ followers. Just read some of the Apostle Paul’s letters and you will from time to time, hear a little weariness and doubt, but even so, he remained faithful. We do not need to dismiss doubt as faithlessness but rather; we should embrace doubt and let its presence become for us, an awareness that we must seek encounters with Christ, in order to walk the Resurrected Life.
Thomas wanted more than just an assurance from someone else; he wanted an intimate encounter with Jesus, so that he could trust. This Christian journey requires us to trust even when doubt creeps in, because our renewal comes from those moments when we experience an intimate encounter with Jesus. Faith is not merely an assent to a particular fact or truth alone, it is experiencing Christ every day. We need to encounter the Risen Lord, in order that our faith might be renewed and strengthened. Each week we encounter Christ in the Eucharistic meal, bread and wine become Body and Blood, and through this sacrament, we encounter the Risen Lord. Our trust is renewed.
Is it enough to enliven our faith and strengthen our trust, to merely gather and say; “He is risen?” Can we be mere hearers and not doers of the word? What good is the resurrection and the Good News of Christ, if we are unchanged by it, if we choose to hide it, if we fail to share it, and if by our very lives, others are unable to see the Risen Lord in us. If we trust that Jesus is Lord, then we should live transformed by the power of the resurrection and live as if joy, reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and mutual love mean something every moment, every day, every week.
PRACTICAL WAYS to ENCOUNTER CHRIST: pray, study, gather, and share
You know, there are some really easy practical ways to live the resurrected life and by doing so, we can encounter Christ, just like Thomas did. Here are just few: (1) Pray daily, (2) Study, read, and inwardly digest scripture, (3) gather with other Christians, (4) serve in the Kingdom, and (5) share the Good News.
Pray not merely for your own needs, but for the needs of each other and the needs of the world. We need to carry in our hearts the burdens of our sisters and brothers both here, and beyond these walls. Sit in silence with God and let the awareness of God’s presence fill you. We will be amazed how fear will subside and trust will grow when we pray.
Study, read, and inwardly digest scripture and commit to growing in your walk with Christ. We need to stretch our minds through the study of scripture and the reading of good theologians and writers who share their faith through story and devotionals. Scripture study may seem daunting, but it can be as easy as taking a journey through the Psalms. Consider reading one chapter a day and the habit will feed your soul. Read “Forward Day by Day,” a great little devotional published by the Episcopal Church. You will be amazed how fear and doubt will subside and trust will grow when we study God’s word.
Gather with other Christians. We need the faith of our sisters and brothers to strengthen our faith. I encourage you to join a small group and seek a mentor to walk the journey with you. If there is not one here already that interests you, come see me and we will start another one. Gather with other Christians, immerse yourself in fellowship, study, and prayer you will be amazed how fear and doubt will subside and trust grows when you gather with others.
Serve in God’s Kingdom. Search your heart for your God-given Spiritual Gifts and put them to work in God’s Kingdom. Do you sing? Do you play an instrument? Can you teach? Are you an organizer? Do you have great leadership skills? Have you ever wanted to serve at the Lord’s Table on Sunday mornings? Whether you serve the community in some way on Sunday, or whether you serve in some way through Outreach and Mission, each one of us has been gifted by the Holy Spirit at baptism, to serve. If you don’t know what your gifts are, call me and let’s go get a cup of coffee or have lunch together, and I will help you unpack your gifts for ministry. Serve in the Kingdom and you will be amazed how fear and doubt will subside and trust will grow as you serve Christ and his Kingdom.
Share the Good News. Do not, I repeat do not, go buy a bullhorn and stand on Immokalee Road and shout “Jesus Saves.” This is not evangelism. What you can do is live your faith every day with everyone you encounter. Be aware of God’s presence and just love deeper, speak sweeter, and give the forgiveness you may have been denying. In each encounter you have with others, whether in the store, at the golf course, or out at dinner ask yourself this question, “Is this encounter the only one today by which, this person may see the face of Christ?” Then let your life speak the Gospel to them. Share the Good News and you will be amazed how fear and doubt will subside and trust will grow when you share your faith.
FEAR AND DOUBT AHEAD – OPTIONAL
It is time for us to open the lock of fear, to throw open the doors of skepticism and encounter the Risen Christ we all proclaim. Pray, study, gather, serve, and share … this is how we can encounter the Risen Lord each and every day. This is how we have an intimate encounter with Christ. Our faith will be strengthened, our souls will be renewed, and the Gospel will be shared. You see, we really have nothing to fear, unless we allow the Good News to be silent because of our fear, our indifference, or our lack of commitment. Just as the early disciples wrestled with their doubt and fear, we too struggle with ours. “What good is the resurrection and the Good News of Christ, if we are unchanged by it, if we choose to hide it, if we fail to share it, and if by our very lives, others are unable to see the Risen Lord in us?” Fear and Doubt will always be just ahead, but remember, the choice to allow it to paralyze us is optional.
(1) Hunter, Amy B. “The Show-Me Disciple.” Christian Century 119.6 (2002): 17-22. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 14 Apr. 2012.