Last Sunday was Scene I in the great drama of Christ's Resurrection Story.
You remember Scene I. Mary goes to the tomb in the predawn hours of Easter. The tomb is empty. She runs to tell the others. They outrun her coming back. She returns in tears and meets the gardener whom she accuses of stealing the body of Jesus, only to find out it IS Jesus - her teacher!
Today the Resurrection Story enters scene II in John 20:19ff. It is now Easter evening. The Risen Christ appears to the disciples, miraculously entering through locked doors. He greets them with the sign of peace and shows them his hands and feet. He blesses them with the Holy Spirit.
His first lesson as a Risen Teacher is about the need for forgiveness. Everyone in that room stands in need o forgiveness. Some abandoned him in his final hour of prayer. Others hid while he was persecuted and executed. Peter denied knowing him three times. There is shame in that room and the Risen Christ brings forgiveness and love to everyone there. All, but Thomas. Thomas is not around. We have no idea where Thomas is - perhaps he went out to get some food for everyone. Upon returning, Thomas refuses to believe his friends declarations of resurrection unless he touches the nail wounds in Jesus' hands and feet and puts his fingers in his side. Thomas won't buy what his brothers in Christ are selling.
Eight days pass. Scene III. Christ appears again through locked doors. This time Thomas is there and Jesus tells Thomas to put his fingers in Jesus' hands and his hands in Jesus' side. We assume that this happens, for now Thomas declares his belief even louder than he declared his unbelief eight days earlier. Jesus Christ lifts up and blesses those who have not seen and yet believe.
Those who have not seen and yet believe are all of us! That's right. We believe what others have seen and to which they have borne witness. We are the believers of the post-Easter experience.
So, I ask you, what kind of believer are you? Are you a "CSI" believer? You know, the three CBS TV shows - CSI - Crime Scene Investigation. Are you a CSI believer? Are you one who believes (along with Gil Grissom)"the evidence never lies?" Do you need physical evidence of the physical resurrection to believe Christ was raised from the dead or can you believe this without seeing it?
I believe, one of the great paradoxes of Christian faith is this: there is a place in faith for those who doubt before believing and those who believe before doubting. In a nutshell: Faith and Doubt are twin truths.
There are "double stories" in the Resurrection of Christ and in our faith walk. In John 20:1-18 and again in 19-31, there are witnesses of resurrection who see and believe right away - Mary and the ten disciples. But, there are also those who, upon not seeing, don''t believe - the two disciples at the empty tomb and Thomas. In Christ - there is a place for Faith and there is a place for Doubt. Throughout the Gospel of John, the Evangelist shows there is faith based on signs and wonders AND there is faith that needs none; there is faith weak and faith strong; faith shallow and faith deep; faith growing and faith faltering.
In the Gospels, faith is not a decision made once but a decision made anew in every situation. And Thomas is a classic example of this. He is already a disciple. He is one of the chosen twelve. But, as we see, he is the last convert to Christ in John's Gospel.
There is, in my mind, a Faith-Doubt Continuum. You know, a line stretching from Ultimate Faith to Ultimate Doubt. We all move around on that line throughout our lifetime - sometimes throughout the day!
How many of you are really good doubters? You know . . . you doubt . . . the strength of your faith . . . Christ's physical resurrection . . . eternal life . . . what''s been cooked into your dinner . . . what your next-door-neighbor is really like?
How many of you have felt guilty about your lack of faith? How many times have you felt that way? Have you found yourself at work or home (or at church) struggling with a "dark night of the soul" in which you are moaning and groaning about life? Have you found yourself in situations where you were doubting and questioning the people around you? There you are - silently (or out loud) complaining about how hard your life is - and just then - some super-hero of faith (who usually goes to a fundamentalist church) walks in the room and says something so amazingly faith-full that you now feel even worse about your doubt? Maybe it's just me . . . but I find the "faith-doubt continuum" an often difficult tightrope to walk.
On any number of occasions, I have found myself doubting something or someone. Or, I have found myself lacking the faith I needed to get to and through a decision. Depending on how I have felt, I have found myself wondering why and how I should go on to the next step. While it is not my current tendency to drag God into the malaise of my mind and spirit, I am able to spiral downward in doubting times and question others around me who have been "created in God''s image." In other words, I don't so much doubt God, but the ones God has created? From this rut, I am usually about to rise, to see how Doubt such as this, is really unproductive.
However, doubt about truths that are presented to us as facts can be very productive. For example, talk radio is really good at this. Whether left or right, the talksters will blast out their case about how heinous the other side is on any given issue. Whether prayer in school, abortion rights, immigration rights, gay marriage, the case will be made loud and long that the other side is foolish, crazy, and wrong-headed. I know, because I have been blasted in such forums. Lies and half-truths are spoken which bear no resemblance to what is actually the case. They embed Doubt in the minds of people for the purpose of creating Faith in their point of view and their case. It harkens to political ad campaigns and dirty tricks politics that plant seeds of doubt with no basis and questions about the character or belief system of another with no grounding. This groundless, divisive approach to information gathering and sharing has no place in church or society.
There are actually paradoxical truths in life. A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true. For example, it is true that America is a nation of immigrants who have landed on our shores from every corner of the earth. With this foundation, I find the desire to end or stem the flow of immigrants to be paradoxical. In this belief system, Emma Lazarus' poem "The New Colossus" is for yesterday's tired masses yearning to be free, not for today's seekers of freedom and hope. But, I ask, isn't the American house a house for ALL peoples? And isn't our the biblical call to welcome the sojourners and to open our doors to the outsiders? The paradox is this: we are the new colossus and we welcome the tired and the poor, but we also struggle to do it well and effectively.
The paradox of twin truths plays itself out in the forum of faith and politics as well. In his new book, American Gospel, Jon Meacham talks about the battles over faith and freedom are struggles which have been in our life blood since the beginning. He writes:
America's first fight was over faith. As the Founding Fathers gathered for the first inaugural session of the Continental Congress on September 6, 1774, at Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia, Thomas Cushing, a lawyer from Boston, moved that the delegates begin with a prayer. Both John Jay of New York and John Rutledge, a rich plantation owner from South Carolina, objected. Their reasoning, John Adams (a Congregationalist, I might add) wrote to his wife, Abigail, was that "because we were so divided in religious sentiments" - (the Congress included Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and others) - "we could not join in the same act of worship." The objection had the power to set a secular tone in the public life at the outset of the American political experience. (Quoted in Newsweek, "God and the Founders," April 10, 2006, p.53).
The story goes on to say that next day, September 7, 1774, Psalm 35 was read calling the Congress into session. The Psalmist's words, according to Mr. Adams, empowered the Congress to move boldly forward in their resistence. "As it was in the beginning, it has been ever since: God in the public sphere, with men of good will struggling to be reverent and yet tolerant and ecumenical." (Ibid).
We struggle with twin truths. We know that faith belongs in the public sphere. But, we also know this faith must always be tolerant, ecumenical and now - interfaith. In church and society, in our personal lives and in our public lives, we live in the balance of paradoxical truths. Such paradoxical existence is the nature of faith (and doubt) itself.
Today, we baptized twins - Emma and Thomas. Their faith gives us hope. Yesterday Emma and Thomas turned 11. Today, they stood before us and said "yes" to following Jesus. No one spoke for them. They spoke only for themselves. They took to the tightrope of faith and doubt and danced across it. With their "yes," faith took center stage today for them - and through their inspiration - for all of us. On the tightrope of faith and doubt, let us remember this paradoxical truth of Christ's resurrection - there is place for faith and for doubt in this church and in our lives. Today, let us learn from our twins the truth of faith. Amen.
Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church