The first church began with the struggle between doubt and faith. By the 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.
God Is Full Of Surprises.
Be faithful. Be present. And always be ready for God to reveal the truth, the light, and the way.
READINGS: Isaiah 53 and The Gospel of John 20:1-23
Years ago, when Kathleen and I were newly engaged we went out to the Cuban restaurant Versailles, to celebrate my birthday. When we returned home, I noticed there was someone in apartment.
For most people this might be cause for alarm. But this was the Formosa Ponderosa, a small community of like-minded people who lived and shared life together. Coming home to find someone in your kitchen borrowing food or grabbing a beer wasn’t that uncommon. Thus it wasn’t much of a surprise to discover that Kathleen and all my neighbors were throwing a surprise party for me.
I remember looking around the room and taking note of who was there and who wasn’t. I was quick to notice my dear friend Matt was absent. This was strange because he and I had plans to make smoothies that night because it was Lent, and I had given up drinking. Kathleen was also surprised to discover that Matt had not shown up because the two of them had spent the last week or so planning out the whole party.
The real surprise came when Matt eventually showed up with a bag of groceries, completely forgetting about the plans he helped set in motion. He actually was shocked, and was even worried he didn’t have enough fruit and yogurt to make smoothies for everyone.
Much like Matt, the disciples seemed a bit taken back when they stood in the empty tomb where just a couple of days earlier, their dear friend’s body had been laid to rest. They too had been part of the plan, but somehow they forgot.
If you know the story, then you’ll recall the disciples have spent the last three years walking, talking, and sharing life with this guy Jesus. By being in his presence, they learned how to use words of love and forgiveness, how to live and behave in a way that was faithful to God and one another. And even though Jesus told them point blank, “Here’s what’s going to happen,” they still stood dumbfounded at the tomb “believing but not understanding.”
We might be tempted to shrug these guys off as incompetent boobs or put ourselves above them. But an honest look would reveal that we’re no different. We don’t always understand the truth, even when it’s staring us right in the face. Here’s a question to ponder: Do we have to understand in order to believe? The Bible tells us that God wants our faithfulness. That takes believing in God first. Only then can we see God’s faithfulness, which leads us to our understanding and comprehending the amazing grace upon which it holds.
There are four different accounts of the resurrection. And between them only a few things remain constant. The first and most important is on a dark, cold morning, God threw the greatest surprise party of all; turning the logic of the world upside down. Another important and perhaps surprising thing, is that there is one person who is present in each of the accounts: Mary Magdalene.
I find it fascinating that God entrusted this less than holy, deeply wounded woman with such an important message as the resurrection. It would have been scandalous since women in the first century were not considered valid witnesses in court. Given her background, and her gender, who would believe? But God is full of surprises.
But God uses the most unlikely of people to do the most incredible things. God accepts us for who we are and uses us where we are to bring the world back to him. How or why, is hard to understand.
Again, Peter and John saw the empty tomb, and did not understand how this was possible, but they believed. They did not realize that Christ had broken through death and is alive; present with us today! Instead they did what seemed logical by societies standards. They ran away in fear; skipping out before they got accused of something they didn’t do.
Mary, on the other hand, stayed behind. Vulnerable and yet unafraid, she lived out her great faith in that moment… whether or not she understood, we do not know. What we learn from her actions is how important it is to live in the present moment, where God is right here in our midst. Mary sits in her pain and weeps; releasing her sorrows and fears to God, knowing and believing Jesus is who he claimed to be: The Messiah, our Emmanuel, God with us.
I will confess I wish I could always be like Mary…faithful, trusting, being present in God’s love. Most of time I am more like Peter and John…running, hiding, scared of what God is calling me to do. I’ll admit the idea of starting New Church terrifies me. I have no idea what to do, or what it’s going to look like, or why God is calling us together.
I feel like child out shopping with my parents, and all I want to run and hide under the suit rack. But just as I am ready to bolt, there’s a security guard standing in my way, ushering me back. I am scared…yet I am trying…trying to live out my faith, here and now.
It’s not always easy to see or understand God’s wonderful surprises when we’re struggling to keep our heads above water. It’s hard to feel love and grace, or relief from all your stress and burdens when the world is crashing down on you. It’s hard to see a rainbow in the sky when you’re looking down at a flat tire wondering how you’re going to afford to get it fixed. Then again, it’s hard to see good news on a blood-stained cross or an empty grave. But that is exactly where God is…fully present and fully alive! Even in the most unlikely of places.
God is full of surprises, and we have to be ready to see and understand them in the moment…wherever we are. Easter is our reminder that Jesus is alive… and with us now. Because Christ lives, we too will live. Because Christ is present, we too are called to be present and ready to receive God’s blessings and grace.
Jesus began his ministry by saying, “Come and See.” Now he calls us by name to “Go and Be.” Be faithful. Be present. And always be ready for God to reveal the truth, the light, and the way.
We may not know what God is calling us to do exactly, but we know what we need to be…not just “the Church” but “Christ’s church.” We hope that you will remain a part of this new beginning, and be present with us every Sunday, ready to embrace whatever surprises God has in store, and ready to receive the joy of God delivered in the most unexpected ways.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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