Meeting Christ in Our Fears and Doubts

Written by Pastor Mark

Theme Background

What a difference a week makes, or maybe a few years.  I’m struck by the difference between the disciples in the Gospel of John hiding out in an upper room because they are terrified, and the bold depiction of Peter and the others facing death boldly giving their powerful witness.  Which of these two is the honest portrayal of the disciples?  Were they bungling idiots who were shocked and amazed that Jesus rose from the dead, locked up and out of their minds with fear?  Or were they the guys who stood boldly and said, go ahead, take my life.  Maybe they were both.

When someone comes back from the dead and walks through a solid wall and says  “Peace be with you” it doesn’t really cause a peace-filled response.  If the disciples were afraid before Jesus appeared, they must have been terrified once he is with them.   I also find it interesting that Jesus’ wounds are mentioned.  His scars are important.  The disciples want to see them.  We apparently are not resurrected without them.

Now to the heart of the Gospel, my man Thomas.  I like to see things, to experience them.  It is how I learn.  At times this can be very painful, like when I learned not to sand a piece of wood by pressing it down onto an upside down belt sander.  When the wood shot off into the distance and my hand got caught in the sander it was a painful learning curve.  But I don’t do it anymore.  I haven’t even been tempted to try.  Thomas wants to see, to feel, to touch.  Don’t we all?  Wouldn’t we all love to have that experience?  Aren’t you glad there is one character in the resurrection story who feels a bit like we might?

The good news for Thomas is that Jesus does do a curtain call.  He doesn’t write off Thomas, but tells him: “Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”   So, that would be us, right?  (Any of you out there seen the re-animated body of Jesus?)  How in the world are we even more blessed when we manage to believe without seeing?  It doesn’t feel all that blessed.  Faith is a messy and difficult business.  Even the people who saw and heard it all had a difficult time believing.

Sandy DeMaster and Lumen Christi brought us a wonderful speaker during Lent this year.  His name is Michael Morwood.  I got to hear just a bit of his presentation, but I was fascinated.  Here is a quote from his book, Is Jesus God about doubts and belief:

“Many Christians become disturbed by their doubts, thinking they are ‘losing the faith’ when in fact they may well be on a personal journey to a far deeper Christian faith.  What they may find on the journey, though, is that the Christian institution to which they belong is not itself moving with them or is not helping them to engage the questioning and the challenge of a personal, contemporary articulation of faith.”

How do we let people know that it’s OK to have doubts, and even good to reframe our beliefs based on “reason, tradition, and experience” as well as scripture?  While the process may feel disquieting, it is the exact work we need to be doing.  God’s word is not static, it must be reinterpreted in each place and each generation.

Quotes for the Week

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother”  Khalil Gibran

“Faith and doubt both are needed – not as antagonists, but working side by side to take us around the unknown curve.”     Lillian Smith

“Take faith, for example.  For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt.  But faith and doubt aren’t opposites.  Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it’s alive and well and exploring and searching.  Faith and doubt aren’t opposites, they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners.”         Rob Bell

“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”    William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

“If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”        ― Yann Martel, Life of Pi

“When in doubt, don’t”      Benjamin Franklin

“When in doubt, make a fool of yourself.  There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth.  So what the hell, leap.”      Cynthia Heimel

1st Lesson Acts 5:27-32 (NRSV)

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Gospel Lesson John 20:19-31 (The Message)

Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.

20-21 The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”

22-23 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

24-25 But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

28 Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

29 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

30-31 Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

Questions for the Week

When was the last time you went through a crises of faith and doubt?

How might our doubts be good for our faith?

How do you feel when you hear people talking who have absolutely no doubts about faith?

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