A St. Thomas Sunday sermon [2nd Sunday of Easter], 2017 - John 10:19-31
Jesus exists for your doubts. Jesus lives for them. He lives for the one who doesn’t believe. For the one who is looking but cannot see. The one who has ears and does not know what to listen for. Jesus exists for those people, and when I say those people, I mean you and me. He dwells there. He relishes the places where faith is not, in order to birth faith into you. To heal the blind, the deaf, the doubting and the stubborn.
I say this because doubt is normal. Doubt is part of our everyday lives because we have such an inability to trust. That is where Luther starts in the Small Catechism – We are to fear, love and trust God above all things. We don’t need the other commandments to tell us of our sin. Our lack of trust, our doubt comes from our own desire as the fallen world to control what we can, or think we can, and spreads to all the places we cannot know for certain the outcome.
Doubt is the realm of uncertainty. The uncertainty of what lies ahead, or the uncertainty that what is said is too good to be true. Either way, both give birth to fear. Fearing the unknown. Fearing the fact that our own little Kingdoms we work so hard to create and build are not as great as we think they are. Fear that those little kingdoms we make might actually not exist at all, as Christ steps in to turn our world upside down. Thus those fears give way to anxiety about what may or may not be. Then that leads to worry of what we can or cannot do anything about. All beginning with doubt.
Yet, doubt is there so faith might flourish. Our future that we think is in doubt is devoured by the future that Christ has given to us. A future that defines us, but in a way that completely destroys what future you think exists.
When I was in high school, getting near the end, every question was – where are you going to go to college? What are you going to do? I’m like, dude…I have to decide the next 60 years right now? Seriously.
Then you get to college and it’s like you are back in kindergarten – so Carleton, what are you going to be when you grow up? All this pressure to try and to matter. To try and set the course of your history to make the most of your life as soon as possible.
Add to that jobs. Trust me, I have had plenty.
Marriage. Carry and I married young and many said it wouldn’t last. That’s what we often say when people do something different. Some days I’m surprised she still will have me, but in the back of mind I think she sticks around just to give the finger to everyone who thought – you are too young.
Then children. God help me. No literally. That is my prayer every day. God help me. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals. And then the instructions we are given by the world tell us to have our kids in this thing, or that thing. This sport or that sport. Get them into preschool by the age of 3 or they will grow up to be idiots. I didn’t go to preschool so…wait. Never mind.
All of this work we do to try and control our futures. To lay the groundwork for ourselves and our kids. Told that it all has to be planned, when most of us have no clue what tomorrow will bring, but we’re sure our kids are going to be president of the United States or something. Then we look back on our lives, find that our children have left the church, left the faith, left us behind, and realize that nowhere in the gameplan was the work to actually pass on the faith at home, in the car, at the dinner table. Never knowing that spiritual growth is just as important, if not more important, than being the starting quarterback, volleyball captain, more than a six figure income, a picket fence and a dog.
I could talk even more about finding purpose. Purpose in life.
Or, talking with a friend the other day, what do you do when you are an empty-nester, and everything was the kids before that?
How about retirement? How’s that going?
Or the latest illness that calls you back to earth and reminds you that you are mortal and will die.
Could we even find ourselves talking about this whole death thing that Peter goes on about? The agony of death, and Christ as the victor over it. Seeing death as an enemy, as something to be vanquished, not celebrated or normal. Death as defeated, not our defeat.
All of this, the doubts, the fears, anxiety, worry, all of these are acceptable, because we are not fortunetellers. We are not soothsayers. No matter how good we think we are at knowing the certainty of the world beyond this moment, the only part of life that we can accept as fact sometimes is death. So doubt becomes normal for us. Doubt that even God can raise the dead. Put an end to death. To give life where only we see decay.
Yet, that is this story of Christ. This victory over the grave to grant us this living hope of resurrection from the dead. Then forgiveness of sin, the things we think disqualify us from either resurrection or Jesus, become voided by the finishing work of Christ and the cross.
Our purpose, our future, revolving not around our doubts because it is there in our doubt that Christ lives to activate faith in you. Faith with a purpose. A purpose filled with peace and forgiveness.
The disciples live in fear of death. The same death they saw Jesus be put to. Fearing the cross. Fearing what we could term today as martyrdom. They are hiding because of this. The doors are locked, and Christ breaks in without a key to rattle their conceptions of reality. “Peace be with you” he says. In your fear and doubt – Peace. Peace with me, in me, for you and in you. The peace doesn’t remove the fearful things, but gives hope in the fear.
Even after they abandoned Christ. He comes to them. When they doubted who this Jesus really was, he comes to them as who they are and there they handle him. Touching him. See the wounds, and he speaks again saying peace, but peace with a purpose – as the father sent me so I send you. Send the ones we would find to be the greatest doubters to be the proclaimers of a life-altering, death-defying faith. To send for the sake of doubt. Doubt in the face of death and fear, to find where doubt is and offer assurance for the unseen future in a hope of Jesus. And their first missionary call is to Thomas to bring him the news of peace, and it takes this Jesus I preach to bring a living faith where Thomas only saw absurdity.
Our brothers and sisters in the non-first world understand this. The places like Egypt, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, Libya, Nigeria. Where martyrs are a regular part of life. Where doubt is overcome by a true sense of the truth of this Gospel because it is a matter of life and death, both now and in the future. The people who live in such a lack of comfort and yet hold to this trust that there is a resurrection. Death is defeated. That our sins, the things that bring death and distance, doubt and distress, are vanquished. That this Christ now stands as the hero of your story, not you.
But that isn’t us, is it? If I am honest with myself and you, we enlightened westerners are Thomas. We see doubt in a way of almost worship. Thomas being the perfect example of our entire political and media landscape right now. Believing nothing. All of it is fake news. He could see the resurrection on YouTube and not believe it to be true. That is us. Not trusting even if it’s true. Facts have become meaningless. Doubt becomes our hallmark. A post-truth world is what we are told to herald.
But Christ actually loves that. He broke free from any chains of death, any sin of yours that weighed him down on the cross, and now comes to you in these words, the accounts of the Gospels; No, the gospel itself, to call you out from your grave of doubt like Lazarus, like Peter in his denial, like Thomas, finding us in our pride, our frailty, our doubt, to put those to death, laying them on the cross, burying them in the tomb and speaks to you – Peace. Peace through my blood. Peace through my cross. Peace through my death and life. Peace that comes from knowing that every doubt can be killed in him to be replaced by the life that comes as faith out of doubt. To realize the truth of this empty tomb as being emptied for you.
I’ve told it before and use the illustration often. On my internship. Confirmation class. Young woman says to me: What if you just don’t believe it? This whole God, Jesus, Cross, Easter thing? What if you just don’t believe it? I said to her, and say to you now – that doesn’t change a thing. It doesn’t change the fact that 2000 years ago, on hill outside Jerusalem, the incarnate Son of God died on a cross for you, was buried, and raised for you. All of it for you. To bring you life out of death. Hope out of suffering. Faith out of doubt. He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Thanks be to God. Amen