Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter, Year A-
Preached by Suzanne G. Roberts
April 23, 2017
Acts 2: 14a, 22-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31; Psalm 16
Prayer: “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.” Psalm 16:8
People call him “Doubting Thomas” like doubt is a bad thing. For many of us who grew up in the church Thomas was held up as an example of a person with poor faith. He was the disciple who wouldn’t believe in the Resurrection until he had seen Jesus with his own eyes and touched him with his own hands. He was the disciple who had let Jesus down, certainly not someone that we children were taught to emulate. Well, I hate to contradict my Sunday school teachers, but I firmly believe that they were wrong about Thomas. He was not a failure as a disciple. Thomas was a perfectly normal human being and his faith was strong; as a matter of fact, his doubt was proof of the strength of his faith. His doubt was proof of the strength of his faith because doubt is not the opposite of faith—instead doubt is an essential ingredient in faith.
Many of us misunderstand the nature of faith. Many of us were taught that the more faith a person has then the fewer questions he or she would have. The unspoken Sunday school message was: “If you had more faith—-if you truly believed in Jesus—then you wouldn’t be asking these annoying questions!” We internalized this message, and later, as adults struggling to work out our relationship with God, we are quick to label our questions and doubts as bad things, as proof that we don’t have enough faith. We might even be ashamed of our questions and doubts and reluctant to speak about them, especially around other Christians who appear to have no doubts and are, of course, “better Christians” with stronger faith. The truly sad thing is that this shame is completely unfounded, because doubt is not a sign of lack of faith.
I said a moment ago that doubt is an essential ingredient in faith; this is true because doubt is a sure signal that faith is alive. At some particularly difficult and dark points in our faith journey our doubt might be the only signal that our faith is alive—I picture doubt as the heartbeat in an otherwise still body that inspires the medical team to keep working. Sometimes doubt is the only vital sign still present in our otherwise weakened faith. So don’t see doubt as a sign of failure; instead see it as a sign of seeking to understand, a sign of struggling to stay in relationship with God, for struggle is necessary for growth in any relationship. Think of it this way—if you didn’t have faith you wouldn’t care enough about God to doubt, and you wouldn’t care enough to question; the very fact that you doubt and struggle and question means that your faith is alive and growing stronger and healthier. Thomas doesn’t give us an example of someone who failed at following Jesus, he provides an example of someone who confronted his doubts, continued to seek and to question, and, as a result was the first disciple to truly recognize Jesus as his Lord and his God.
I would like to send you out today into God’s world inspired by an image that comes out of Jesus’ interaction with Thomas. Jesus invited Thomas to touch him, he said to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” This is a powerful image—not only did Jesus asked to be touched, but he asked to be touched in the places where he was wounded. So today, even though I have just told you that doubt is normal and healthy, I don’t really want us to leave this Cathedral with all of our energy tied up in our head spaces, thinking about doubt and what we believe and what we don’t believe. I want each of us to leave with our hearts just as engaged as our heads, so I want each of us to leave here asking ourselves “Where is Jesus asking me to reach out my hand and to touch him? Where do I see Jesus’ wounds in the world outside the Cathedral and how can the touch of my hands be helpful?” Doubt will be with us always, but our wounded world will be with us always as well. Sometimes the best cure for doubting is doing—doing God’s work to ease the pain of those wounds to the extent that we are able.
Finally, did you catch the blessing directed at you in today’s Gospel? Jesus said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Blessed are you, blessed are your doubts, and blessed is the work of your hands, for you have not seen and yet you have come to believe. AMEN