Sunday, April 16, 2023
The Second Sunday of Easter

Doubt is not a bad thing!

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77450

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The story of doubting Thomas in John is always the gospel for the 2nd Sunday in Easter. Some even call this Doubting Thomas Sunday. Well, I for one believe that poor Thomas gets a really bum deal by that title. He shows up in several other passages, but we don’t refer to him as Thomas the Bold in the Lazarus story when he’s ready to go back to Judea where they just tried to stone the disciples for example. This certainly isn’t true of the disciple who is credited with taking the Good News all the way to what is now Madras India. He is the patron saint of the Christian Church in India.

Besides that, none of the disciples believed at first. If you look at all the passages nobody believes at first. Mary Madeline is probably the first to believe but even she mistakes Jesus for the gardener in John.

In Luke the women come back and say that the angel has told them that Jesus is risen. The reaction from the guys is, “And they thought it an idle tail and did not believe them.” Peter goes to the tomb, but it doesn’t say he believed In the Matthew’s account 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. . So that sort of makes all 11 guys as doubting somebodies.

Thomas’ statement of “My Lord and my God!” which I say with total astonishment, but also total belief is the last thing in the original gospel of John. Scholars pretty much accept now that verses 30-31 are the actual end of the gospel. Let me say these verses again.  “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

Now when I first learned this passage, I was struck by how final this all sounded. It does sound like the end, doesn’t it? I contacted my New Testament prof at the seminary and asked her about it. She was the one that told me that the final chapter which tells the breakfast with Jesus on the beach where Jesus puts Peter in charge of the flock probably was added on later. The most recent speculation is that the authors of John and the community of John needed Peter to play a more important role if the gospel was to be accepted into what would become the bible. Remember there was no formal list of scriptures for the bible until Constantine in the mid 300s. That means there were 300+ years for these scripture to come into their final form.

So why did John elect to end his gospel with this story and Thomas’ statement of belief. Maybe the clue is in Jesus’ statement, “Do you believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and come to believe. I think Jesus really understood just how hard it would be for future generations to believe this incredible act of God!

Doubt is not a bad thing in fact it is often a sign of growth. 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.

Someone came up to me one day a long time ago and said, “You’ve really made me think and I think I have more doubts than ever. I never questioned so much. I’m afraid I’m losing my faith.”

Now I didn’t say it but I did think, “Great you are final moving on to another stage in your spiritual development.” What I did say to them was, “Wonderful, now you are ready to open your heart to the fact that there are many interpretations of scripture, many images of God. God is ready to stretch you into a more open place. One that recognizes there are many paths to God. This stretch is never comfortable, but instead is challenging.”

Faith is not something static. There are several books and research studies about stages of faith. The one thing they all have in common is that for people to grow in their faith, their understanding of and relationship with God, they have to wrestle with tough questions ones that often raise what many call doubts. But rather than calling them doubts I suggest we call them deep questions. Questions about the most important things in our lives.

In a series of videos about the sacraments Rachel Held-Evans says this about Confirmation, “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]

One commentator said, “Faith is a mystery of the heart that the mind wants to solve.” [2] The problem is that these are not mysteries for our minds to solve. That is one of the reasons why our sacraments are all something we can touch, taste, see, hear in other words experience. They are something to be experienced in our hearts, in the core of our being. Sometimes I look at the little children who come up for communion with the hands eagerly stretched out for the bread. They know that this is something special and most want to be part of this sacrament. I do not know what they understand but I do know that they know that this is something special.

The Resurrection, Eucharist, and Baptism are all mysteries that are meant to be explored, but not necessarily explained. They are ways our hearts become connected with the divine, allowing the divine to connect with us, with the core of our being. You cannot explain this, you can only experience it.

This is the most important thing in today’s full passage. That even though we have not seen Jesus in the way the disciples did, we have experienced Jesus and if we pay close enough attention we will see Jesus. We just need to be looking for him, but more on that thought next week when we will be in Luke and on the road to Emmaus.

[1] From the video “Confirmation” by Rachel Held Evans. Available from Work of the People. com.

[2] Schmit, C. J. (2010). Homiletical Perspective on John 20:19–31. In D. L. Bartlett & B. B. Taylor (Eds.), Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A (Vol. 2, p. 395). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.