Sunday, April 19, 2020
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
April 19, 2020
Poor Thomas. Thomas the faithful disciple who is always referred to as Doubting Thomas because of these few verses. Has it ever occurred to you that Thomas was at least willing to express his doubts? I truly believe we would be in a better place if more people were like Thomas and willing to express and wrestle with doubts. In fact, I sometimes wonder if we should call him Honest Thomas. Honest because he does openly express his doubt.
What most people forget is that regardless of the gospel, NONE of the disciples believed at first. This week in reading daily morning prayer we heard all the gospel accounts of the resurrection. In the longer ending of Mark the disciples see Jesus and he is upset because they doubt. In Luke when the women come back from the tomb, they are not believed because, “They thought it an idle tail and did not believe them.” In the Matthew’s account where the disciples are gathered on a mountain in Galilee and Jesus gives the great commission to preach the gospel in all the world, baptizing in the name of the father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Yet just before that verse, Matthew says, “and some did not believe,” yet Jesus was standing there in front of them! Last week in John Mary comes back and proclaimed that she had seen the Lord and told the disciples what he had said, yet later that day in the passage we read today, they are all behind locked doors, frightened and confused. Yet poor Thomas is the one we all call doubting Thomas, it really isn’t fair or accurate.
Thomas’ story does not stop here with his meeting of Jesus at the end of today’s gospel. Nor does it start here. It is in the account of Lazarus that Thomas says “let us go with Jesus, even though they were returning to a place where they had just been attacked. Thomas goes on to be an important disciple. Legend has it that he traveled all the way to India and planted churches along the way and in India. The church in India today recognizes him as the disciple who brought the message to that part of the world and he is revered for that. Many believe he is buried in Madras, India.
The real problem is that somehow many people think that having doubts or questions about their faith is somehow a betrayal or an admission of lack of belief. There is nothing wrong with having doubts, having questions. Paul Tillich says that doubt is the consequence of a deep faith. What he means is that if we really examine the story, of course we will have questions for Jesus teaches us about the true nature of God and that is something our little brains have trouble grasping. The longer I work in the church and travel my own faith journey the more comfortable I am with acknowledging that there are parts of our faith I still wrestle with. When I find myself in that wrestle, I am comforted by all the mystics and theologians who also wrestle with the mystery. They all write that it is ok to wrestle with the mystery that is our faith. It fine to wrestle with those challenging passes. To accept that love that passes all human understanding without trying to understand it.
Some of you were in the adult Sunday School class on the Sacraments that I did and watched the videos by Rachel Held-Evans. She says “Confirmation isn’t about being certain about everything that you have been told about Jesus. It is not about being absolutely certain that you have everything figured out. Confirmation is about being willing to affirm that this story of Jesus, this story of Christianity is the story that you are being willing to risk being wrong about. It is a story that you are willing to wrestle with for the rest of your life.”1
We want certainty in our lives and for the most part are uncomfortable with mystery and ambiguity. I believe that is a primary stressor for us today, uncertainty. Part of our growth as Christians is to be willing to admit we do not have all the answers, but that what we do know and believe is enough. I know one of the great hesitations people have with talking about their faith is this feeling of not knowing enough, of not being completely certain about God. The more I read and study the more I find the great theologians all had their questions and were all seeking to know God better, to understand better. To be honest when I find someone who is absolutely certain they have God figured out, I start to worry. I worry that once you settle down with beliefs in concrete your growth as a faithful Christian also sets in concrete. I do not know of a single mystic who ever thought they had everything figured out. This is what Rachel spoke so eloquently about.
In the gospel from John that we read today we find the disciples huddled in fear on the evening of the resurrection. Mary Magdalene has come to them earlier in the morning and told them that she has seen Jesus, but they remain behind the locked doors. Jesus appears and says Peace be with you and shows them his hands and his side. Then he again says, “Peace be with you” then he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Just as the Father has sent me I now send you” Now first all please notice that this in effect Pentecost for John which doesn’t take 50 days to happen like it does in Acts. Now tell me, how many of you think the disciples felt, Oh great I get it all now and I will go out and preach the gospel to the world? I suspect that they had grave doubts and I’m sure they didn’t feel prepared, yet look what happened with them. Like Thomas they all went out and spread the gospel. Figuring things out as they went along. That’s all that God is asking because God knows that we are enough.
In fact in today’s story a week after Jesus giving them the Spirit they are still locked up in the upper room! If we continue to the next chapter we find out that the disciples instead of going out as Jesus sent them, they are back to fishing in Capernaum. Remember Jesus says, “As the Father sent me so I send you.” And he was not sending them to go back to fishing.
Now just because the disciples had initial issues doesn’t mean that eventually they figured it out and so shall we. We are all being sent into the world to proclaim by word and deed the Good News. That’s in those baptismal promises we repeated last week. We are all called to love and support each other and every person as Jesus’ hands and feet. We may not understand, but we can both accept that love that peace which passes all understanding and we can share that peace. As the Father sent Jesus, so he sends us, even in a time as bewildering as this. So as Rachel said, take the risk, be both willing to doubt, but also be willing to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. There is plenty of good news for us today in that truth.