Sunday, April 23, 2017: "The Faithful Doubters" Fr. Carey Stone


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 Easter 2A’17

23 April 2017
John 20.19-31
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone
 
O God of our understanding, who knows our needs before we ask: Provide what we need to make our faith strong and enable us to hold to your promise that you are with us always, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 
For centuries in the Church calendar the Sunday after Easter has been known as “Low Sunday.” The reasons are fairly obvious. As you look around you don’t see quite as many people as you did last week, there are no brass players and the liturgy is less embellished. The gospel reading is always the same, the story of the Apostle Thomas who over the centuries has carried the dubious nickname, “Doubting Thomas.” He is the disciple that doubted the resurrection. 
 
I used to wonder about the framers of our lectionary as to why they picked this Sunday for the Thomas reading. It seems that a lesson on doubting would be better suited to a Sunday service that would be filled with those less faithful in their church attendance and may even have a few atheists. Why pick a Sunday when we’ve mostly got the core group of the faithful? Perhaps it is precisely the faithful who struggle the most with doubt. The Southern writer Flannery O’Connor said there was “no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe.” It stings to admit that someone who is a frequent churchgoer or a priest struggles with doubt from time to time. 
 
The current archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby recently told a group at Bristol Cathedral that there were moments where he wondered, “Is there a God? Where is God?” Then, asked specifically if he harbored doubts, he responded, “It is a really good question. ... The other day I was praying over something as I was running, and I ended up saying to God, ‘Look, this is all very well, but isn’t it about time you did something, if you’re there?’ 
 
To quote a former archbishop of Canterbury on the subject, William Temple, “The opposite of faith is certainty.” You probably expected the quote to use “doubt” as the opposite of faith, but when you think about it, faith’s opposite isn’t doubt but certainty, for with certainty none of us would ever need faith we would just know everything was going to turn out all right. 
 
As we take a closer look at the scripture we see that Thomas was not the only doubter: Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb but did not believe until Jesus appeared and spoke to her directly. When she went and told the disciples that she had seen Jesus they didn’t believe her and they all went into hiding behind locked doors. Jesus met all of these doubters, doubting Mary, doubting Peter, Doubting James, and doubting John right where they were and gave them what they needed in order to trust him once again. 
For Mary Jesus appeared and spoke her name, for the disciples Jesus walked through walls appearing right in the middle of the room with the doors all still locked and shows them the nail scars and then they rejoice. 
 
Thomas shows to us all not the curse of doubt but it’s necessity. In order for Thomas to ever have a true faith of his own he would have to be honest with his questions and ask for what he needed: ”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.”  Thomas was around the next time Jesus showed up and Jesus meets Thomas right where he is and says: “Put your finger and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 
 
Jesus granted Thomas’ request and was eager to provide what Thomas needed for his faith to be strengthened and to enable him to continue on the path of fulfilling God’s purpose for his life. After touching Jesus’ scars and only then comes one of the strongest declarations of faith that we have in the whole of the New Testament: “My Lord, and my God!” He would have never reached such a bedrock of faith unless he had first wallowed in the sands of doubt.
 
Do you struggle with doubt? If so, you are in good company. Ask the Lord to show up in your life – that’s what resurrection is all about. Jesus is alive and well and active in our world he wants to give us what we need so we can walk by faith and trust in him and fulfill our divine purpose on earth. 
After touching Jesus’ wounds Thomas’ story of faith continued. After continuing to inspire the church in the Middle East he is believed to have sailed in the year 52 to what is now India taking the gospel of Christ and founded seven churches there. Today there is many churches in India named after him and later he was made the patron saint of India. His remains are reportedly buried there.  
 
Thomas was not content with a secondhand faith and on this Low Sunday let us not be content either - let us ask for new eyes to see the resurrected Christ in our midst walking among us and to have a real encounter with him. Alleluia! The Lord is risen, the Lord is risen indeed!