The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204 704.333.5428 www.stjohnsbaptistchurch.org
LIVING HONESTLY WITH YOUR DOUBTS AND BELIEFS
Gospel of John 20:19-31
Second Sunday in Eastertide, April 28, 2019
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Earlier this month, another bridge collapsed in our nation; this one in Tennessee.
It raised new alarms about the state of infrastructure across all 50 states.
Recent reports suggest that at least 47,000 bridges across the U.S. are structurally deficient.
Why am I talking about bridges?
After celebrating God raising Jesus from death last Sunday, what bridge do we take forward?
The Gospel of John bridges us into the future with this story of Thomas and his doubt.
To some, focusing on doubt after Easter Sunday may seem like a structurally deficient bridge.
However, I offer Thomas is the perfect bridge into the future following Easter Sunday.
For followers of Jesus, the most sound road to the future is always honest faith because….
Thomas expressed HONEST FAITH.
People of dishonest faith are troubling to The Living God.
Scripture begins with God asking Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” desiring an honest answer.
When God asked, “Who told you that you were naked?, Adam gave a dishonest response.
After Cain killed Abel, his brother, the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother?”
Cain answered dishonestly; envy, destructive plans and murder are all rooted in dishonesty. Contrasts between honest and dishonest faith also show up in the stories of Abraham and Sarah; Isaac and his two sons – Esau and Jacob; Joseph and his brothers; Moses and the
Israelites; King Saul; King David; and on and on.
In the Psalms, Proverbs and Lamentations, we bump against this theme of honest faith.
In the ministry of Jesus, he was often rebuking dishonest faith and affirming honest faith.
On one occasion, a frightened father said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
That father was a proclaimer of ‘Honest Faith.’
It is no surprise for ‘honest faith’ to surface in the days following Jesus’ empty tomb.
This morning, you will find note paper at the end of your pews. Please pass it along the way.
These are for you to write a question or a doubt you have about faith – OR
For you to write a question or doubt someone has shared with you that you would
like to address with them with some additional clarity.
At the end of worship, if you want to fold your paper and place it in the offering plate,
your ministry staff will review the notes and provide opportunities for us to discuss
your questions and I will address some of your questions and doubts in my messages.
In today’s world, we need an increasing number of people living with honest faith.
We need to be people of honest faith helping people express their doubts and beliefs.
As many of you know, we have a Sunday Small Group named for Thomas (Didymus).
And I am proud of you, St. John’s, for being willing to nurture honest faith.
During this next year, we will take additional steps in nurturing honest faith.
Also, later this year, we will hang a banner reading,
“St. John’s Encourages Your Questions of Faith & Expects Your Doubts.”
A few years ago, Time magazine carried a story entitled, ‘Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith.’ In her diaries and letters, she reported long seasons of spiritual dryness, loneliness and darkness. She reported doubting the existence of God. She admitted that the smile she wore in public was often a mask. One Jesuit priest wrote, “I’ve never read a saint’s life where the saint has such an intense spiritual darkness.” Of course, any person investing every day in caring for infants, children, youth and adults dying in poverty with leprosy would have many days when and doubt and belief could not converge.
Another person who expressed seasons of spiritual darkness and doubt was Martin Luther, the person most responsible for the Protestant Reformation. In various places, Luther identifies these experiences as times when he learned more about the God of grace.
What doubts do you carry along with your beliefs? Be honest!
How do you relate with the Thomas people in your life?
How do you communicate with people who question God and doubt the resurrection?
I offer two important spans on this bridge we know as the story of Thomas.
1. NOTICE THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING A COMMUNITY OF WITNESSES.
Think of someone who needs a community of faith like St. John’s and invite them.
Evidently, Thomas was away during spring break on Resurrection Sunday.
When they gathered on the evening of the resurrection, Thomas was marked absent.
The other disciples told Thomas of their experience; but Thomas needed his own experience.
He refused to commit himself to Jesus based on the experience of someone else.
The community of honest faith drew Thomas inside the circle of hospitality.
Because he was included, he could have his own unique experience with Jesus.
Western culture over-emphasizes individualism and under-values community.
If we are not careful, we will make this story all about Jesus and Thomas.
But, that would be an error; this story is about a person in the midst of a community.
Imagine how many conversations happened between Sundays for Thomas.
How many times do you think Thomas heard the community of witnesses encourage him?
That next Sunday, Thomas, this example of honest faith, was among them.
Thomas trusted his community to be people of honest faith.
They were just beginning to practice Jesus’ teaching of the previous week, ‘love one another.’
We should remember that community is unity through diversity and never uniformity.
Some suggest there is a crisis in today’s Church.
Liberals and progressives say it is the fault of the conservatives and fundamentalists. Conservatives and fundamentalists say it is the fault of the liberals and progressives.
I offer it has more to do with the Church being less welcoming and less loving.
I propose this crisis is caused by people who are no longer shaped by their baptism and
commitment to express the love of God incarnated in Jesus.
I agree with the diagnosis of Walter Bruegemann who suggests we have settled for an Americanized concept of Church and Christian which is “based in part on patriotism, in part on consumerism and in part on violence, and in part on affluence.”
Jesus said we MUST LOVE ONE ANOTHER; we are still learning how to pull this off.
People are searching for communities of faith where their honest approach to questions and doubts will be welcomed by people of honest faith.
Just as Thomas’ experience with Jesus was unique to him, yours is unique to you.
Your experience of the power of God revealed in the risen Jesus is unique to you.
You may have been overcome with burdens and despair and Jesus love transformed you;
You may have needed hope or forgiveness and Jesus message of grace reached you;
You may have needed purpose or a vision that inspired your commitment; or
You may have needed to be embraced by a community of compassion walking with Jesus.
Whatever you needed, God raised you up in Jesus to be a joyful witness of new life.
As a community of witnesses, tell Thomas people how the risen Christ is transforming you.
Your witness builds a bridge for them.
2. EXPRESS YOUR IDENTITY AS THE WOUNDED BODY OF CHRIST.
Notice that Thomas did not ask to touch Jesus’ wounds.
Jesus invited and welcomed Thomas to touch his wounds.
Jesus knew Thomas’ faith was wounded and Thomas needed to touch the wounds of Jesus.
Beloved, you are the wounded body of Christ.
In your own unique way, each of you has experienced the risen Lord.
And, most of you have Thomas people in your life; people who need to touch your wounds.
You are witnesses of the resurrection; you carry the wounds of suffering within you.
Somewhere in your life, there is a Thomas person saying,
“If they only knew how hard I try to keep up this image.
If they only knew I am hollow inside.
If they only knew I am living a lie.
If they only knew that behind this confidence is a deep fear.
If they only knew how unimportant I feel.
If they only knew how fragile I am.
If they only knew; if they only knew.
I remind you, honest faith is a spiritual journey based upon experiential evidence.
The life of honest faith is not based upon historically tangible evidence.
The life of honest faith is based upon historically spiritual evidence;
There are millions of lives offering historically spiritual evidence of changed lives.
Almost every week, you come across persons who are honest inquirers or seekers.
Some of them seem to be entombed in doubt and are searching for God’s Light.
When people ask, ‘what evidence can you show me of God’s resurrection of Jesus,’
I offer every person and every situation that reveals new life.
Take note of what Jesus did to these insulated afraid people locked in a room;
Jesus allowed his wounds to witness. Do not cover your wounds.
Have you been betrayed? Let your wounds witness.
Have you been pierced with bitter injury? Let your wounds witness.
Has God given you peace in the midst of suffering? Let your wounds witness.
Has God transformed your grief into joy? Let your wounds witness.
Has God raised you up after you had fallen into sin? Let your wounds witness.
One man went to his minister and said,
“I wish I could still believe God can use me. But I have made decisions that have broken my influence. I have tried to make amends and show people that I have changed, but they still see me as the person who cheated them or manipulated them or deserted them. I was wrong; terribly wrong. They say they have accepted my apologies and they tell me they see evidence of change in me. Yet, I just don’t know how God can use a broken person like me.”
The minister leaned forward in his rocking chair and said,
“There is a difference between being broken and being broken open. God uses broken things every day. When the clouds are broken, God provides rain. When the soil is broken open, God provides seed. When the seed is broken open, God provides bread. And when the bread is broken open, God provides strength. And when strength is broken open to break bread with others, God provides communities of love to be broken open for the world.”
Beloved, you are witnesses of God’s power of resurrection.
You are living witnesses of the new life God gives.
Sometime in the year 52 AD, Thomas built a bridge between the love of God, the message of Jesus and the people of India. Today, approximately 28 million Christians live in India because Thomas started building that bridge. A woman we know as Mother Teresa followed walked across that bridge with doubt as a dimension of her honest faith.
Beloved, we live not by sight, but by honest faith including our doubt as part of our belief.
Day by day, we welcome one another into the faith community and touch the wounds of the living body of Christ.
One day in a park, a little girl was holding her arm in the air and there was a string attached that disappeared beyond the clouds. A passerby smiled and asked her, “What are you doing?” The girl responded, “I am flying a kite.” The adult asked, “I don’t see any kite. All I see is a string. Maybe you are just flying a broken string. Why do you think the kite still there?” The girl said, “Sometimes I can feel it tug and it’s like it is pulling me up.”
Amen and AMEN.