The first church began with a struggle between doubt and faith. But by this very same spirit we begin our journey onward and upward.
Yesterday was Earth Day, which was celebrated around the world with a massive March for Science. On it’s website, the event is described as “the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies and governments.” But what if we replaced the word ‘science’ with the word “God?” and imagine the impact would that too could have on our health and well-being.
Some may disagree with me. After all, there has been some bad theology practiced in the world. But hasn't science also has a dark history. at times? What science teaches us however, it that through our mistakes, we hopefully evolve or advance forward.
Theology and Science should not be at odds. In fact, they share many similar traits. Both begin with a big, fat red question mark. "Where did it begin?" and "How did it happen?" The who, what, when, where, how stuff. As a result, they each give way to some greater unknown and improvable mystery. And they both build their case on this thing called faith.
Last week I asked the question "Do you need to understand to believe?" If you were here, you might recall I described belief/faith as the gateway into an intimate relationship with our Creator. And it’s in our being present in that relationship that helps us to understand our faith better, which in theory should progresses towards making the world a better place. This week we return to John’s gospel to ask the question a little differently. (Reading: John 20:19-29) Does your faith need proof in order to understand? If so, what does that proof look like?
So let us go back inside the room where Jesus meets the disciples who have locked themselves away. Everyone is there, but Thomas. We don’t know where he is, only that he’s missing. Thomas isn’t one of the main characters as far as getting screen time in the gospel stories. However, he plays a pivotal role for our understanding of who Jesus is, and what his divinity means to all of humanity.
The first time we hear Thomas speak is when Jesus receives word about his friend Lazarus, who is sick and dying. While the other disciples are afraid to return to that area where a lynch mob is forming against them, it’s Thomas who says, “Let us go, so that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)
Later, when Jesus explains to his friends that he is going away “to prepare a heavenly home for them,” it’s Thomas who asks, “Where are you going? And how will we know the way?” (John 14:5)
Thomas is full of faith and full of questions. But unfortunately he is remembered as what? Doubting Thomas! “Unless I see the nail holes and touch his wounds, I will not believe.”
This is unjust and unfair. I mean, think about it. His friends are asking him to believe something that is hard to swallow. You don’t have to be skeptic to demand some proof to help you understand how a guy can be alive after being dead for three days. Like any good scientist, Thomas needed more than just the facts to believe; he wants proof that the facts are real. (btw: did you notice, God comes and gives him what he wants?)
I think Thomas gets a bad rap. I don’t think he “doubted” as much as he “wanted.” By that I mean he wanted what the others received. When Jesus appeared to them, they rejoiced. Their sorrow and sadness was lifted. Their pain and heartache soothed. On top of the good news, they also received the Spirit of God, which, like I said last week, moved them from being fearful to being faithful.
When Thomas returns he noticed the drastic change within his friends. Perhaps it was the way their voices sang with joy. Or their inner light was shinning just a little brighter. Whatever it was, Thomas could tell they’d been transformed, made alive in a whole new way. Thus, he wants what they have. I imagine I would too. The Holy Spirit can be infectious!
With a story like this, you don’t have to be a social scientist to know that some people are skeptical about the church, because they doubt God and don’t understand the transformative power of the resurrection. Many of us here still need hard proof or evidence before we would ever become a part of this weird thing called organized religion. I don’t blame you. In fact, I encourage you to wrestle with that doubt. Whatever you do, don’t dismiss it. Instead I invite you engage it…here in this sacred space…as well as out in the world where proof is king.
Thomas reminds us that it’s in our doubts that God comes to us, and meets us where we are, to give us the hope that move us forward. The first church began with the struggle between doubt and faith. But by this spirit we begin our journey onward and upward. I am not ashamed of my feelings, nor do I feel guilty for approaching God the way I do. I embrace my freedom to seek a deeper relationship with our Creator, in a way that is meaningful and life-giving.
If you believe like I do, that God is not just filled with love, but actually is love, then you will begin to understand that it’s in love we receive the grace and the space for our inquiries. In love, we come to understand that God came to be like us so that we can learn to be like him. Our God is an awesome God.
The more I wrestle with faith, …the more questions I ask… or the more ways I express my doubts,… the more answers I receive. It’s in this action that I spend more time in the company of God. And the more time I spend with God the easier it is for me to see…and believe… the answers which are right here in our midst. It’s in our intimate relationship with the Divine that the Spirit goes to work; shaping us, and transforming us into the proof others need to see and to believe.
Samuel Coleridge writes, “Christianity is not a theory or a speculation for that matter...it's a life. It's not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process."
We who boldly gather in Christ’s name are called to imitate him by being God’s love and grace in the world. Our life’s call and purpose is to act in the Name of Jesus by being in an intimate communion with him…to be just the proof people need to meet God on their own.
One final note: Like Thomas, the other disciples only recognized Jesus by his words of peace, and by the wounds he bore. What this tells me is that our own words and wounds are part of a much greater story…Jesus’ story. Each scar we bear is a testimony to God’s awesome, redeeming power…called love. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
It’s our words, and our wounds, that proclaim the Good News, and bear the good fruit. It is our words and wounds that are the blessing Jesus speaks of when he tells Thomas, even blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing. Blessed are you for seeking… for our eyes will be open to the Kingdom of God.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”