Second Sunday of Easter
16 April 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Rose Sapp-Bax+
1 Peter 1:3-9
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Anglican Church of Tanzania
Christ the King Church, Orlando
Church of the Ascension, Orlando
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Doubting Thomas - a term I would venture to say is familiar to most of the modern world - Christian or not. Thomas’ doubt and his interaction with the risen Christ has made him famous or perhaps a better term - infamous. He has even earned an entry in the Oxford Dictionary - ‘doubting Thomas’ a person who is unlikely to believe something until they see proof of it. Before this week, I, too, was among the many who have judged Thomas harshly. How could this man who has spent some three years listening to, even living with Jesus, now doubt the fulfillment of his pivotal teachings? Thomas, like the other disciples, has seen the miracles, watched Jesus feed the multitudes, cure the sick, expel demons, even raise the dead.
He has heard Jesus talk about his own death and resurrection - more than once. How could he doubt that Jesus did what he said he would do? Well, let’s start by realizing that Thomas was not the only one of the disciples that doubted Jesus’ resurrection. Luke’s gospel tells us that when Mary Magdalene and the other women came back from the empty tomb and told the disciples and the others gathered together all that they had experienced, ‘They did not believe the women, because their words seemed like nonsense.’
Poor Thomas, he seems he chosen to dramatize the doubt all the disciples experienced to one extent or another. Perhaps, our focus should not be on condemning Thomas, and the others, for their doubt, but rather on Jesus responds to that doubt. It begins in the garden, on Easter morning with the women - the first to witness the empty tomb. Confusion and doubt and fear overwhelm them - is Jesus truly risen or has someone stolen his body? Then Jesus appears. I love His calm, relaxed words - He simply says ‘Greetings!’
I can almost visualize him, standing there at the edge of the garden, smiling as he meets the women, as if to say “hi ya’ll - see, did I not tell you!” His very presence dispels their doubt and confusion! Then, in today’s gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples in the locked room - again, his simple greeting, ‘Peace be with you’. His very presence dispels their fear and doubt. Except. . . Thomas is not there - he has yet to experience the presence of the risen Christ. He refuses to believe until he, too, experiences the physical presence of Christ. Do you see a pattern developing here? Even those who were closest to Jesus, who had witnessed his life, his teachings, his miracles, doubted that what he promised would come to pass, until they experience his presence. Again, let us look at how Jesus responded to them. We might think he would chastise them - even lose his patience, but instead, he simply allows them time to recognize the truth - to experience HIM. His words for US at this time should be words of comfort and encouragement.
He states the obvious to Thomas in the form of a question, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” but to us, he says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” COME TO BELIEVE - not believe without questioning, not believed immediately, not believed simply because we are told to. Blessed are those who Come to believe! Does this mean that Jesus expects our doubt? Maybe even welcomes our doubt? If we are to ‘come to believe’ - where do we come from before our belief?
This doubt expressed by Thomas is by no means a new reaction to all that God has been, done and promised throughout all of scripture. Abraham, who is often referred to as the Father of Faith, displayed great faith when he left his home and followed God’s direction. Any yet, when God promised him and his barren wife, Sarah, a son, Abraham doubted. Yet, despite Abraham’s doubt, God fulfilled His promise. Abraham’s doubt did not lead him away from God, but strengthened his faith.
In Exodus, God calls Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery. Moses doubts his own ability to do what God has called him to do - “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” he responds to God’s call - doubting that God will provide all that he needs for the task at hand. God does not chastise Moses or choose someone else, but empowers Moses to perform miracles. Despite his doubt, Moses’ faith deepens with God’s actions through him.
Peter literally walks on water to reach Jesus, but begins to sink when his doubt overwhelms him. Jesus does not let him drown, but reaches out to him in love and concern. Jesus presence, walking on the water, ultimately strengthens Peter’s faith. Job is known for his unwavering faith, and yet, even he doubts God’s justice and questions why he is suffering. Even in his doubt, Job stays faithful and receives God abundant blessings. I could continue, but I think you get the point. If we were to take out all those in scripture who doubted, there would be little left.
There was a time when I would have said that doubt is the opposite of faith, but even in my own life, my periods of doubt, although difficult and often guilt producing, actually deepened my faith. We have heard that we should combat doubt by simply stopping our questioning. We know what is truth - so stop doubting. Simply take it on faith! Yet, scripture highlights those who doubt - God often calls them to do great and miraculous things, using their doubt to strengthen and deepen their faith.
Author Anne Lamott tells us “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”
The church has often portrayed doubt as sin. Doubt has been seen as sign of weak faith. But the Bible doesn’t condemn doubt and neither should we. Doubt is not the enemy and not something to be fought. It needs to be understood, expressed, and used to encourage us to find answers, to dig deeper.
God doesn’t condemn us for asking questions. Job wasn’t reprimanded for asking ‘why him’. And Abraham and Sarah still received God’s promise despite laughing in doubt. Jesus didn’t condemn Thomas for wanting to see the holes in his hands. God is interested in what is in our hearts, not a phony relationship that wears a mask of unwavering faith. If we are experiencing doubt, we cannot hide it from God, and that’s not what he wants. We shouldn’t be afraid to bring our doubts to God. He does not want to condemn us for our questioning. He wants to restore and redeem us. But that can only happen when we open our hearts, and our doubts to him.
So today, let us try to see Doubting Thomas in a different light, as one who used his doubt to come back - to search for answers to that doubt, and to discover a new, deeper relationship with God. As we hear him say My Lord and My God!
In her recent sermon, our rector invited us Come and See, and Go and Tell. Today, I again invite you to Come and See - and bring your doubts with you. Come and See the greatness of God - have your doubts answered by the very presence and experience of God and then Go and Tell - Tell others of how even with your doubts, how you (and they) can ‘come to believe’ and be truly blessed by God.
Cover Image: Photo by Paul Yonggicho on Unsplash