April 11, 2021 - Sermon - Rev. Mark Simone

This service was livestreamed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Sermon Text

Scripture:  John 20:19-31

Scripture Reading                            
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus and Thomas
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah,[c] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Doubt. noun
a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.
"some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of this account"

    Doubt - An expanded definition. Doubt is a mental state in which the mind remains suspended between two or more contradictory propositions, unable to be certain of any of them. Doubt on an emotional level is indecision between belief and disbelief. 

    So, we understand doubt to be found in those feelings when we are not sure of what is being said, or what we are reading, what we are suffering, so conclusion is fleeting. We experience doubt frequently not only in our world, but in our faith.


    For example, daily we see and feel the doubt in our nation in reference to the Covid vaccine. In our family we have discussed and weighted the potential costs and benefits of being vaccinated. Some of us already have had the double shot and are in the “done group”. Others in our family are still deciding and a couple hold their up hands and say, “no way.” I did enjoy interjecting into one conversation in which the family member was hesitating based on not knowing exactly what is in the vaccine. Having been to Indian’s games with this person, I reminded him/her that we also have no idea what is in a hot dog, but I remember buy two for them. 


    Our most famous biblical doubter is, of course, Thomas, whose story we just heard. Thomas has lived in perpetuity because of his determination that he would only believe once he saw the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and the cut made by the spear in his side. And just to make the whole thing just gross, Thomas said just seeing is not enough. He also had to put his finger in the hole in Christ’s hand and insert his hand in the slash in Christ’s side.


    In truth, we can sometimes we find Thomas reassuring as we face our own personal doubts. A disciple and follower of Jesus having some questions and concerns. Yes, that sound like me. But poor Thomas has not been spared the critique of those who draw comics.


(Watch video for images used here.)

    I recently became aware of the ministry of Colby Martin. Colby is an author, speaker, pastor and theologian who wrote a book called or of “UnClobber: Rethinking our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality”. His second, soon to be released book is, “The Shift: Surviving and Thriving after Moving from Conservative to Progressive Christianity,” Colby has emerged as one of the leading voices of the Progressive Christian movement. 


    Together with his Co-Pastor and wife, Kate, they founded and lead Sojourn Grace Collective in San Diego, CA, while enjoying life with their four sons. 


    On his webpage Colby shares about a service he once held at this church. It was a service that looked at and almost celebrated doubt. He called it A Liturgy on Doubt. At one point in the service, he asked his congregants to text him, live – right there as he was setting up the service for the sermon. He told the worshipers, “I'd love to hear your thoughts about doubts. Have you ever had seasons of doubt? If so, how did you handle it?” Then he invited folks to text him. This was his introduction for his sermon and the rest of the service. 


    As he described on his webpage how he moved into the sermon, he writes, “I explained how we were going to look at the idea of Doubt and create a safe space to express those doubts. How Doubt is completely normal and natural for people who live by faith. You can't have one without the other, regardless what Joel Osteen tries to say.” 


    As you may know, Joel Osteen is a very popular evangelical pastor who has one of the largest congregations in the country. He has written many best sellers and is known for the staggering amounts of his weekly collection of tithes and offerings bring in. He has been criticized about his theology which has been described as “Jesus light.” I have watched Joel on TV and find him to be an interesting communicator, but we are not theologically attuned. 


    One of Joel’s positions is that doubt is solid negativity and should be purged. He tells a story or a woman who was an atheist and cursed God after her daughter died in a car accident. “God, I hate you, I hate you!” the woman screamed out to God. 


    When asked about the experience she said that God spoke back to her and said, “That was the first time you've ever spoken to Me, and I want to tell you how much I love you." 


    The woman gets all excited and all of her doubt is washed away by the peace she feels. All is kissy-kissy and good to go and she becomes a believer and yada – yada. And all that needed to happen was her daughter had to die so she would finally say hello to God so God could make it all better. 


    When I read the sermon, my stomach clenched, and I became enraged. The subtext is that God might just have to kill off our kids if we are atheists so that we will call out to God and become saved. Banish doubt, believe now, and don’t risk losing a kid. 


    To quote Colby Martin again, “Doubt is completely normal and natural for people who live by faith. You can't have one without the other.” 


    I discovered, while looking for hymns for this service, that there are few songs in our faith that give voice to our doubts. It seems that the historic and current expression of Christianity portrays doubt as a negative thing. There is shame in doubt because it kills our faith. Joel Osteen says cut out the negativity and ignore doubt. Don’t feed it. It will ruin you. 


    Colby Martin says something a bit different, “Doubt is not something you do TO your faith, rather it is an integral expression OF your faith. Much of Christianity gives no room for doubt. It is seen as a betrayal of God. It is feared and to be avoided at all costs.


    “When we engage God with our doubts, when we open up the depths of our souls to the darkness that overshadows us in our times of suffering, sorrow and doubt, we then find ourselves in a unique opportunity to participate in the crucifixion” Colby believes that is doubt being integrated with a living faith. 


    Colby continues later, “Something profound happens when we engage with the Divine Absence, when we suffer the Dark Night of the Soul, when we lean into our doubts and let them fully develop. We find that as we begin to come out of it, after being confronted by the full trauma of doubt and despair, we discover
that that which pushed us there, no longer has power over us. 


    While in college at Kent State, I had an opportunity of a lifetime to hear Elie Wiesel speak to a group of about 300 students.


     Elie Wiesel was a Romanian-born writer, professor, political activist, Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor. He authored 57 books, including “Night”, a work based on his experiences as a Jewish prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. You may remember his famous quote, “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.”


    In researching for this message, I came across something that Wiesel wrote concerning the issues of doubt and faith. Reading this took me right back to that powerful evening at Kent State. 


    Wiesel writes that when he is asked to describe his faith, uses the adjective "wounded." "My tradition teaches that no heart is as whole as a broken heart, and I would say that no faith is as solid as a wounded faith." 


    Another honest believer writes: "It's not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." 


    I heard someone give an illustration once about a wooden well bucket he came upon. He thought it was useless at first, because it had been sitting next to a barn in the sun, unused for a long time. He could see daylight between the wooden slats of the bucket. Certainly, this thing would never hold water again. 


    But an older man with him tied the bucket to the well rope and let it drop into the water below. In a couple of days, they came back and turned the crank to draw the bucket back up. It was full of clear, cool well water and was not leaking a drop. The water had re-hydrated the wooden slats until they fit together as originally designed, and the bucket was useful again.


    And that is part of the secret to working with doubt in our lives. We must come to the waters of life that we can only find in Christ. As Jesus himself proclaimed in John (John 7:37-39) 37 On the last day of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”[a] 39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given,[b] because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)


    The goal is not to somehow live in fantasy with no admission to being doubtful upon occasion. The goal is to seek answers from a God who loves all and accepts all. An implicit in that loving acceptance is the reality that growing as a Spirit-filled Christian who comes to the water will find their doubts bringing change and faith formation.


    I have a friend in the youth ministry world, Ben Johnson, who wrote an article with a title so perfectly complete that one need not read the article at all to know what Ben wanted to convey. The title was, “To greatly doubt, is to greatly believe.” Repeat. 


    And I think I’ll just leave it at that.