SERMON 5/1/11 Easter 2A
John 20:19-31 We all have had doubts. I am sure that at least once in our lives, each of us have proclaimed, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” or “I doubt that,” or “The proof is in the pudding.” Thomas the Twin, the disciple in today’s gospel has been called “Doubting Thomas,” despite the fact that many theologians think that label is a misinterpretation. Thomas was not a doubter; he was a realist. As the narrative goes, a few days before the gathering in the locked room, Thomas had witnessed Jesus being nailed to the cross and faced the reality of his death. When he asked for proof of Jesus’ scarred hands, Thomas was not a doubter; based on his experience, he simply did not believe that Jesus had been raised.
There is a subtle, but distinct difference between unbelief and doubt. Doubt is a status between belief and disbelief. Doubt involves uncertainty, distrust, or a lack of sureness about something. When in doubt, the mind remains suspended between two polar opposite conclusions, and the people who find themselves in this place, may not be able to commit to either assertion. Thomas was not in the place of doubt, he did not believe. Doubt on the other hand, is a part of life and it may very well be a part of faith.
In addition to Thomas’ misidentification as a doubter, some interpret the story as if Jesus chided or shamed Thomas for his unbelief. Jesus did not shame Thomas for unbelief; he helped him come to belief. Throughout his ministry, Jesus gave people that which they needed in order to come to faith. He did this with countless other disciples: Peter, Mary Magdalene, the blind man, the lame, and so many others who had doubts. Through Thomas’ experience, John the gospel writer shows us how the process of faith emerges, grows, and transforms.
When Thomas came to belief in Christ, his heart was changed. Thomas not only acquiesced to his newfound knowledge, that knowledge led him to a faith proclamation. The seed of faith had been planted and he responded in turn, with TRUST. This unbeliever, in a pivotal moment, was able to proclaim that Jesus was “My Lord and My God.” When the evidence of the crucifixion became evident in Christ’s resurrection, Thomas did not jump on the fence and say, well, maybe Jesus arose and maybe he’s God. No, Thomas jumped over the fence and he became a believer. Thomas not only believed in the reality of the resurrection that took place in Jesus Christ, but he came to acknowledge Jesus Christ as God Incarnate. Suddenly, Thomas’ belief reframed his whole life, and he put his trust fully in God. Thomas had faith.
A biblical scholar Rex Chaplain once offered that there are several elements of faith. He said, “Christian faith involves an assertion of the truth of what is believed (the faith), a personal experience of that truth (trust in God), a kind of loving that flows from it (faith in action), and a constancy of approach (faithfulness).” (Rex Chapman [Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1983], p. 144)
Faith begins when we affirm our belief that Jesus is Lord of our life. In other words, we recognize that in Christ, we are in a loving relationship with God. That acknowledgement though, does not deny that there may be times of uncertainty and doubt. Remember, doubt is a part of any relationship, because love comes with its moments of doubt. Ask anyone who has forgotten an anniversary or birthday and afterward, faced the wrath of their loved one, you will know the feeling of uncertainty in a relationship. Skepticism is a part of the human psyche, but on the journey of faith, doubt is not failure. We have to remember that living in faith is a marathon, and not a 100-yard dash. Many saints through the ages have lived a lifetime of believing and proclaiming, as well as doubting and questioning. For us, our mere presence here today acknowledges that endurance in faith is the key.
Faith transforms us and it moves us to express that transformation. When we proclaim Jesus as Lord, we acknowledge that we are adopting a life of love, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. Our faith should change how we live. The Spirit working in us, giving us space for grace, transforms us so that we can give space for grace for others.
The Church’s mission is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. We gather, but we are also sent out to be reconcilers and restorers in the world. As the co-missioners with Christ, we are sent out to heal, we are sent out to restore, and we are sent out to show others that Christ frees us from the hold our failures have over us.
Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Sin is missing the mark thus, missing the lofty goal of loving God and loving neighbor. God restores us when we fall short. The question for us then is, do we restore others when they fall short? That’s what we are sent out to do. If we forgive, they are forgiven; if we retain, they are retained.
Jesus sends out all disciples, to engage in his ministry of reconciliation in the world. Our belief that Jesus is Lord of our Lives means we embrace his ministry of love, peace, reconciliation, and restoration. Through that ministry, we become instruments of God’s love in our relationships with those closest to us, in our relationships with each other in the church, and more directly, in our witness of God’s love in this community and beyond.
Our mission has been given to us and its life-changing power continues to this day. Our mission of love is made possible because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; God’s reconciliatory love that overcomes death. Despite the scars of our lives, we through our baptism and by the gift of the Holy Spirit breathed into us, we can go out carrying on Christ’s mission of love in the world. By loving those who are broken, those seeking God’s love, we are revealing the grace that transforms scars into Good News for all.