Sermon: Doubting Thomas (That’s me!)

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

This is one of the most fitting days for me to preach; because my name is Thomas, and I have a lot of doubts. The story goes that this Sunday is “doubting Thomas Sunday.” This is the day when we hear about the bad example of Thomas who doubted, when it would have been better for him to believe without seeing. I grew up hearing my namesake was the skeptic, the one who needs to see to believe. Thomas’s sin was that he demanded proof of Christ’s resurrection. The moral of the story was told to me, that doubt is bad, it is the opposite of faith, and blessed are those who do not need proof of God’s love. Thomases like me got a lot of bad press.
But is what Thomas did really that awful? If we read the story of Thomas in the larger context of John’s Gospel, we might want to stop waving our fingers at him and saying how bad he is for doubting. Thomas’s doubts would not be that different from what you or I would do in the same situation. David Lose writes that when we find ourselves face to face with the resurrected Christ, “doubt isn’t the exception [in John’s Gospel] but the rule. No one — even after all [of Jesus’s] predictions [of his death and resurrection] — no one [when they encounter the risen Christ] says, ‘Welcome back.’ Or ‘We knew it.’ Or even ‘What took you so long?’ No. No one anticipates Jesus return and when he shows up, everyone doubts. Everyone.”
Mary doubts and assumes Jesus is a gardener when he appears to her at the tomb, she asks him where he might have laid Jesus’ body, and if he had taken his corpse away. Then, after she realizes who she is talking to, she runs to tell the disciples “I have seen the Lord!” and even though they all hear Mary proclaim to them that Christ is risen, when Jesus appears to them, the disciples are still gathered fearfully in a locked room! Hiding behind a locked door in fear is not the behavior, of a group of people who are free of doubt! It seems the only thing the disciples were certain of was that they were all going to die! So, by the time we get to Thomas, he is not alone in his doubt. Doubt is not his bad example, but it is the reality of the day!
All of us doubt that Christ could actually have risen from the dead. I mean, we said “Christ is Risen! “He is risen indeed” how many dozens of times last week? The only reason we have to repeat it that many times, is because we doubt it so much! It’s just plain unbelievable that Christ rose from the dead.
I doubt that Christ is risen every time I think about my taxes. I doubt Christ is risen when I get stressed out and worried and I begin to think I am incapable of preaching, teaching, or leading in the Church. I doubt that Christ is risen every time I watch the evening news. The point is, it is natural to have doubts. Thomas is not the bad-guy of this Gospel story, and neither is doubt. Rather, both of them speak to our reality in the face of the resurrected Christ.
Realizing that faith and doubt go hand in hand, Anne Lamott writes that “the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, [the doubt], the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”  Faith, we learn from Thomas, is the ability to live with your doubts, not being free from them! The real bad guys are our certainty, and fear of death.
I am reminded of a moment in the movie Finding Nemo, where Dori and Marlin are trapped in a whale. And the water inside the whale’s mouth starts to drain back towards the Wale’s throat. Marlin hangs for all his life on to one of the whale’s taste buds, because he is CERTAIN that if he lets go and falls to the back of the throat, the whale will eat him. Dori tells Marlin to let Go, everything will be all right. Trust me! It’s what friends do. And Marlin asks “But how do you KNOW Dori, how do you KNOW something bad isn’t going to happen?” And Dori says “I DON’T!” ….Faith, see, in the Whale is living with the doubt of being eaten, and letting go of our certainty. It is Marlin’s certainty of doom that leaves him clinging and gasping for air.
So it is with faith in God, faith isn’t an absence of doubt, it’s the ability to live within our doubts and to wrestle with them!
Faith is the breaking open of our certainty by trust and love.
Perhaps, at this point, you are saying “Get behind me Thomas, I don’t have any doubts.
I’m a believer! That’s why I’m here at church, I trust in God, and I know God has my back.” We all do this. Even I do it from time to time. I get the idea that God has my back. I think that I am all good, and I have no need to doubt or struggle. We become certain, and walk around as if we were such strong Christians that we have no need of church or Christ.We say “God already took care of everything in Christ, so I can be certain that I am okay! I no longer have to doubt!” Now, it is okay to feel sure in your faith, and certain of God’s promises. But is OUR certainty always faith in God? Or can it sometimes be just certainty in me? Certainty that I will be okay. That I am covered, I am good even if I mess up. I I I, me me me…do you hear the Sin? When it becomes a certainty in MY lack of problems it is not faith, it’s numbness to the reality of the world. I don’t know if you’ve looked around recently, but the world is full of reasons to doubt!
When I think I have no reason to doubt like that, I say to myself: “you sinner, you should look down at your hands. See those fingers and palms? God made those hands. Now, just think for a moment the things that you daily do with those hands. Just think of the way we treat the world, and the things that God has made. Do you have any doubts yet?” Wrote Luther in his large Catechism: “If you could see how many daggers, spears and arrows are aimed at you every moment, you would be glad to come to [church] as often as you can.” If you could see just how much evil constantly lays in wait and attacks us, you would be knocking on the door of the Church every day of the week and you would just plain compel Pastor Bill and Pastor Jen to give you communion.
The life of faith is surrounded by doubts! Out there, alone, we are certainly doomed! The world will eat us.
And so we want to see Jesus! We want to see our Lord! Just like Thomas, when we are confronted with the certainty of our sinfulness and death,we long for the wounds in Christ’s side, and we need to hear again how in communion Christ promises to appear for us like he does to the disciples and to Thomas.
This is the truth of our Gospel lesson today: God does not remove troubles from our lives, but God makes it possible to live in response to those very troubles and doubts. God gives life, see. Because God’s love is something much more profound than simply “God’s got our backs.” Rather, God loves us despite our backs: those places behind us where we tend to hide everything we don’t like others to see. Here’s the cool thing: Jesus DOES appear again just for Thomas. And again and again just for us. Doubters and certain people alike.
When Jesus does appear, he doesn’t say “Get behind me Thomas you sinful doubter! How dare you!”
Instead, Christ appears in the midst of our doubt, loves Thomas and says “Peace be with you. Here I am, FOR YOU.” Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”And we never find out if Thomas ever actually gets around to reaching out his hands to touch the side of Christ! Instead he falls to his knees and all he can do is cry out “My Lord and My God.” Christ overcomes Thomas with love, and sets him free to doubt and believe!
Thomas wasn’t just a doubter, but also someone certain…certain that he had to see and touch Christ to believe. But Christ meets Thomas, and immediately he forgets this certainty and his doubt. Thomas lets go. You see, only believers get to let go and doubt! Only believers get to let go and be certain! Because without Christ, neither is possible, only death and fear in our certainty of ourselves and our sin.
It is then into that very crisis, where we are trapped and fearful, that time and again, Christ breaks into our locked rooms, and Christ overwhelms us with love until all that’s left is that sweet confession: “My Lord and my God.” There’s nothing you can do, but let go of the whale’s tongue. That is faith. It’s the one thing that’s left at the bottom of our doubts, when we stare into the face of God resurrected and we are overtaken by God’s love for us, and despite us. Is Christ risen? Alone, I have my doubts. But daily Christ breaks into my fearful life, and makes me forget my certainty until I cry: “My Lord and My God, he is risen indeed.”

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