Going Deeper 4-29-19

From our Gospel reading: “Do not doubt but believe.”  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Thomas gets a bad rap, don’t you think?  The story from our Gospel reading reveals that the other disciples who were gathered on that first Easter evening were behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” But not only were they fearful, they also were proving to be doubters.  
In the verse just previous to this morning’s text we hear that “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.”  Evidently these fear-filled disciples had doubted Mary’s story.  They needed to see for themselves.  So why should we expect anything different from Thomas?  And why should we expect anything different from ourselves and from one another?
Do you ever have your doubts?  Do you ever wonder if all of this is really true?  Is it true that there is a God?  Is it possible the atheists are right… there is really no God, and this world and the life upon it are all just the result of some evolutionary accident?
Do you ever have your doubts about this Jesus stuff?  Do you ever wonder if maybe he was really only a man… or perhaps just a popular prophet? Could it be that he was put to death and his followers actually did steal his body and spread a false report of his resurrection? Or might it be possible that the skeptics are right… those who claim that a man named Paul made all these stories up in order to start a new religion, carrying off the greatest hoax of all time?
Well, my answer to all the skeptics and their questions is an unequivocal “yes.”  It is possible there is no God and that all of these stories were made up, or at least greatly exaggerated.  Yes, it is possible.
Shocking, isn’t it, to have a pastor say he thinks it’s possible that all of what he teaches and preaches about is a big hoax, a big lie.  Well, it is probably even more shocking for me to admit that there have been times when I have had my doubts.  There are times when I look at the man so often referred to as “Doubting Thomas” and say, “Hey, that’s me!  Sometimes I have my doubts, too!” But, before you throw me out the door or start looking for a new church, please hear me out.
First of all, here is a quote attributed to a woman named Anne Lamont (I know nothing about her)… a quote that I heard years ago that struck a chord for me: “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty.” In others words, given that faith is—according to Hebrews 11:1— “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…” why do many Christians some-times speak and act as though faith is equivalent to certainty? Faith is an assurance of things hoped for, it is believing in what we cannot see. We believe in what we cannot prove.  And if we cannot see or touch or prove something, how can we avoid times of questioning and doubt?  
Maybe some people can.  Perhaps some of you can.  But, honestly, I haven’t always been able to… as evidenced in this poem I wrote a few years ago called: WITHOUT A DOUBT?
Count yourself as blessed, I guess, if God makes Himself clear to you.
If through some special way He reaches out to take your hand in His,
And whispers to you of His love.
I catch only glimpses and hear mostly just echoes.

To know Him so well must be quite a thing; to dwell in His presence and sit at His feet, 
To feel his breath upon you and hear His voice assuring you of how He feels.
I usually see only shadows or foot- and finger-prints left behind.

But somehow I find this all to be a grand design... 
almost like a game of hide and seek, taking turns!
My heart yearns to touch Him, but at a point near despair, 
somewhere I catch a glimpse and I smile.
All the while I wonder– and at times I doubt.  
But without the questions, would there be a quest?

I do not doubt the reality of your experience, or even think it odd, 
for God is certainly big enough to come to us in different ways.
Some days, to some children, He comes to embrace, and to grace them with an obvious presence.
For me, some days at least, it is a chase, sometimes pursuing and sometimes pursued.
But one thing I have noticed is that He never quits... and He always leaves clues!

Now I need to be clear about this: doubt is not a good thing.  Jesus chastises his disciples for doubting and not having adequate faith when he calmed the storm and their fears in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.  And in today’s story he tells Thomas, “Do not doubt but believe.”  
With that being clear, it would obviously be wrong for me to encourage doubt.  But I will encourage doubters.  I aim to encourage those of you who sometimes go through periods of varying length and intensity where doubt comes and pays a visit.  Doubt, while not a positive thing, is a reality for many of us… and I believe that good can actually come from it.
So… I want to encourage my fellow doubters.  While I will admit that there are reasons to have our doubts, I believe that there are very strong and compelling reasons to believe… more than I can even begin to list and explain here.
There is an abundance of reasonable and very intelligent people, including many renowned scientists, who strongly believe that the complexity of the universe points to divine design.  This is true from the vastness of space to the intricacies of human DNA. While I’ll admit to the possibility that this could all be the result of some random evolutionary accident, I would much more strongly promote the likelihood of a divine creativity evidenced throughout creation. 
I will repeat a quote I have used often, from Dr. Charles Eliot, past president of Harvard University: “If you say there is no God, I can only ask how you-- a speck of mortal living for a moment of time on an atom of an earth in plain sight of an infinite universe full of incredible beauty, wonder and design-- can so confidently hold so improbable a view."
Much has been written by way of Christian apologetics, or the defense of the Christian faith.  C.S. Lewis wrote a couple of such books: the well-known Mere Christianity, and the lesser-known but easier to follow The Case for Christianity. Another book that I found powerful in terms of apologetics (and also a very moving story) is A Servere Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken.  More recently Lee Stroebel has written books defending the faith, including The Case for Christ, which was made into a movie a couple of years ago.
But some have doubts simply based on their observation of (and too often personal experience with) the chaos, heartbreak, and brokenness of this world.  The age old struggle and question can be framed this way: If there is an all-powerful and loving God, then why does he allow the pain and the suffering and the violence?  How can he allow disease and so-called ‘natural disasters’ to claim the lives of so many people on so many occasions… people he says he considers to be his children?
Those are the toughest questions of all, don’t you think?  And I know a lot of people have used a lot of words trying to give adequate answers and to adequately defend their faith.  But in truth it is nearly impossible to provide fully satisfying answers.
I don’t want to give the impression that I can either.  There are things way too big for my tiny brain to wrap itself around.  All I can do sometimes is to cling to a somewhat simple faith and try to encourage others to do the same.
And please listen carefully: We must never rely solely on our abilities to reason ourselves into belief and faith. And we must realize that the forces of evil in this world want to sow and grow seeds of doubt among God’s children. That’s why it’s important to do what you’re doing right now, and to be in the Word and partake regularly of the sacrament. We need to have the Holy Spirit continue to nurture, strengthen and, when necessary, replenish our faith. We need help!
This I believe: God is love, and it is a vitally important part of his loving nature that he created people in his image and gave them the freedom to walk in his ways, loving and serving him and one another.  And he also gave people the freedom to reject his ways in favor of loving and serving self.  The inspired story of the original sin-- the decision to opt to become our own gods-- points to the very root of all brokenness, all violence, and sickness and death.
Story after story throughout Biblical history—throughout world history—portray consequences of sin.  And yet there has always been, and continues to be, a subplot.  Well, actually it is really an overarching theme: God brings about healing.  God brings the gift of grace to his world, a gift ultimately revealed in the sinless servant life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.
Inspired by God, John—and others—recorded the stories and the signs that lead us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that through believing we might have life.  It is not always clear and simple, and it is seldom easy, but we believe.  And may God help our unbelief.  Amen.

   May 2019   
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