Sermon, April 8, 2018
Tex: John 20
It’s time for a change. It’s time for a name change. People for 50 years we’ve called ourselves Village, but we are in a city, and over 30 years ago we moved away from the apartments of Juneau Village. So why in 2018 are we still Village people? I guess names tend to have a sticking power. But, it is time. So to save us energy discussing and debating our new name, I (as pastor acting like the leader I am) I have already picked our new name. Welcome to Thomas Church—the church for the Stunned, Stumped, Searchers, Seekers, and Skeptics. It’s a bit long, but it can roll off the tongue if you practice, especially the tagline: The church for the stunned, stumped, searches, seekers and skeptics.
You’ll notice that I did not include doubters in that list. It’s not that doubters are not welcome. In fact, I’m a pastor who is quite comfortable and familiar with doubt. It is instead, because it’s not just about time for name change for Village it’s also about time for Thomas. We should be done with “Doubting Thomas”. He’s done enough time with that title. For all these years, you would think that that’s all there is to this man.
In the three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke Thomas’s name only appears in the list of the 12. But in John’s gospel, Thomas appears several times. He is the disciple who calls Jesus’ followers to go with Jesus to Bethany to see Mary and Martha, and to raise Lazarus from the dead—saying “Let us go with Jesus, that we can die with him.” And then just a few chapters later, as Judas goes to betray Jesus, and Jesus is with his disciples having washed their feet, and Jesus is giving his farewell address to the disciples, Jesus says
3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Instead of calling him, Thomas the encourager, Thomas, with the good questions, the church has focused on these words from our story today naming him and labeling him “Doubting Thomas”. And no one has wanted to be called a “Doubting Thomas”.
But it’s about time that we own up how we have seperated, how we have segregated, and denigrated doubt, we have questioned questions and questioners. The church has we have created some false dichotomy placing reason, logic, science, on the “bad” side and obediance, faith, hope, trust on the “good”. You either have one or the other, and it better not be doubts.
However, as followers of Jesus, I would think that the church of all people would appreciate the dangers of blindly and stubbornly clinging to dogma. In his life and teaching Jesus questioned the inflexibility of faith leaders, the focus on doing things rightly instead of lovely. As theologian Edward Schillebeeckx wrote, “Christianity is not a message which has to be believed, but an experience of faith that becomes a message.”
And that is exactly what Thomas wanted. In his time of grief, as he grieved the death of his friend, teacher, death of his dream for a new world, a new life. The fear he felt earlier had become real, scarily, bloodily real.
His world came crashing down and Jesus’ life and love was not the only thing crucified at the feet of certitude. So Thomas wanted to experience faith, to see, to feel.
And Thomas isn’t alone. Life hurts us and haunts us and for a lot of us it punches holes into faith. I’m not just talking about certain doctrines; theological statements like virgin birth, miraculous healings, walking on water, turning water into wine, and even a rolled away stone and an empty tomb. I’m talking about that deeper sense of connection, of meaning, of trust.
But Thomas truthfully, more often than not Thomas speaks for me, when I just don’t feel faith-full, When a lot of us who may be acutely aware of, feel the absence of Jesus—the absence God, the absence of connection. Thomas says he not only wants to see, he wants to feel. Well Thomas, so do I. Yes, a pastor, someone raised in the church. I am seeking, looking, questioning. So did Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest, paleontologist, and philosopher, asked for such faith when he prayed, “In all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is you who are painfully parting the fibers of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance. . . .”
This is prayer; it is yearning for connection; it is yearning to when hearing the words peace be with you, to feel that peace, and that is what it is to be believing. It is connection, and Jesus reminds us in this story that when are not forgiving, the connection that God is making with us means that in holding on to sin, it clings to us, it becomes our responsibility, it becomes part of us, and when we forgive we are sending sin, guilt, shame it away, this is the power of the connection that the Spirit is seeking to incorporate the we share the peace, share communion, together as the body of Christ alive.
As Rob Bell who is in town here and spoke last night, has written: he says:
”Take faith for example. For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren’t opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it’s alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren’t opposites, they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners.”
And do you know what you need to dance. You need a body, and that’s what Easter is about. It’s about the body, not just the one we read about Thomas seeing and touching, but the body of Christ present and real. That body of Christ that is wherever people hide in fear and pain, where people struggle to connect life and faith, experience and belief.
The body of Christ is where we begin with the gift of grace, begin with the word of peace, with the word of welcome and affirmation.
The body of Christ is where wounds are not hidden and where faith and doubt dance together, when Jesus takes the first step with a word of peace, and offers himself in a dance of love to Thomas, to all those called Thomas’s, to all the people, Jesus invites people into the dance of faith and doubt, the dance of the Village people.