“Faith, Doubt and Everything in Between” – Sermon for May 1, 2011

John 20:19-31
20:19 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.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

20:25 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.”

20:26 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.”

20:27 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.”

20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

20:29 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.”

20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

We all have doubts. We don’t talk about that much in the church, but it’s true. Even the most devout person you know has questions and wonders sometimes, “Is this really true?” I wouldn’t trust anyone who told me that they’ve never had a moment of doubt.

It’s always been that way in the church. Even from the very first community of faith, the disciples. Even after the resurrection.

The disciples are sitting around the table in a locked house. They are afraid of the crowd, and they are hunkering down together. And all of a sudden, Jesus is there. And he tells them “peace be with you”. He shows them the wounds in his hands and in his side, and breathes upon them, and they receive the Holy Spirit. And they believe.

There’s always one guy who is late to dinner, though. Thomas. Jesus comes and he is not there. By the time he gets there, Jesus is gone and despite the story he hears from the other disciples he says “unless I see it for myself, I don’t believe it.”

That would be my luck. The one day I was late for dinner, Jesus would just drop by. I’d imagine that if I got there I’d say something to my friends like, “I don’t believe you. Come on…I’m not that gullible.” I wonder if Thomas thought his friends were playing a practical joke on him.

The next week, though, it happens again. Thomas has learned his lesson and gotten there on time, and Jesus shows up. And even with Jesus right in front of him, Thomas is still on the fence. So Jesus tells him, put your hands to my hands. Put them on my side. Believe.

And he cries out, “My Lord and my God.” And he believes.

Sometimes don’t you wish we could do that too? Sometimes, when our doubt is getting the best of us, when we are wrestling with the demons of doubt, don’t you wish that Jesus would come and physically stand in front of you and say “take my hands…believe”?

Jesus asks Thomas, “Did you believe because you saw me?” And then he says, “blessed are those who don’t see me, but who believe anyway.” And what he’s really saying to all of us who believe, no matter how imperfectly, is “blessed are you”.

Today is confirmation day. Two of our youth are making a thoughtful commitment to confirm their baptisms and become full members of our church. John and Anna have made a thoughtful, prayerful decision and are ready at this point in their lives to claim this faith, and to commit to walking on this journey with us. We are all so proud of you.

But you need to hear, John and Anna, that even if you hadn’t made this decision, God would have still loved you. God’s love and God’s grace exist even if we don’t acknowledge them. But almost as much as you need to hear that God still would have loved you, you need to know that we would have loved you too.
A friend of mine from seminary interned in a fairly large Presbyterian church in Atlanta. They had a big confirmation class one year. Over 30 people. And her son was in it. He had doubts, and she rightly said the decision to be confirmed was his. All she asked was that he go to all the confirmation classes first.

At the end of it, he alone out of all the students in the class, chose not to be confirmed. It caused a bit of a ruckus in the church. The seminarian’s student didn’t get confirmed. The pastor, the church leaders, all weighed in.

The day of the confirmation all the other youth were confirmed, and they went out afterwards to celebrate with their families. My friend took her son out too. Not to celebrate confirmation, but to congratulate him on making his first adult decision.

This week Dorie’s son will graduate from the Citadel, a military college that places a high premium on integrity. He will be commissioned as an Army officer this week as well. I told Dorie that her son’s decision as a teenager not to be confirmed was a good indicator of the man of integrity he would later become. One who could not make a commitment he didn’t believe in. He is still unsure of the specifics of his belief, but he is loved by God none the less.

You don’t get confirmed to please other people. You don’t do it out of fear that God won’t love you anymore. You do it because it’s the decision, and commitment, that you have made. And Anna and John, you have made a decision to publicly say “this is what I believe”. You may not have every theological detail worked out in your minds yet, but you know enough to say this is the road that I will travel.

I told the youth that one thing that would happen after confirmation is that they would have full membership in our church. They would be eligible to sit in all the leadership roles we offer, and they would have a vote at our congregational meetings.

I’m not sure the prospect of voting on church budgets was all that exciting for them. But there was something that was. And that was that they are now in a position where they can help to shape the direction of this church. They can help us to envision the church that needs to be here for their generation, and they can bring the light that God is giving to new generations into our church. Listen to them. They know more about God’s plan than we realize.

And we have already influenced them more than we know. Anna sent me her confirmation paper yesterday, and she told me I could read you a passage. I’ll share it with you now:

Confirmation can mean a lot of things. To me it means confirming my baptism. It means the start of adulthood. It means gaining responsibility and leadership. And most of all, it is a new start in a church that I love.
Confirmation means to me that I am confirming my baptism. I am saying that I agree with my parent’s decision to let me have a Christian life. I see it as a commitment to Christianity and to my church.
I also feel that confirmation is a good way to start having a voice and an opinion, not only in church. When you learn to do something it’s best to learn to do it surrounded by people who love and support you. That way you can be helped along the way without worrying about doing anything wrong. Our church is the perfect place to start trying to be a leader and having a voice.

I especially love that last paragraph. The part about, “when you learn to do something it’s best to learn to do it surrounded by people who love and support you.”

I was thinking about that. I moved here to West Dover a year ago today. Tomorrow is the anniversary of my first Sunday with you all. I had been ordained for a few years before I met you all, but this was my first parish. My first time being a pastor. And I was both hopeful and afraid. And Anna’s words are true, “When you learn to do something it’s best to learn to do it surrounded by people who love and support you. That way you can be helped along the way without worrying about doing anything wrong.”

Thank you for helping me along the way. And thank you for helping them along their way. And thank you for helping each other. Thank you for being there when we come to one another like Thomas did to Jesus, cautiously, doubtfully, yet hopefully. In many ways, we are the ones who show each other the signs of Christ’s return. We are the ones who hold out our hands so that others may believe. We are Christ’s body shown to the entire world. And we are called out for all the world to see, now more than ever. Amen.

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