Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church

Unless I See

John 20:19-29

This is the story that gave Thomas his reputation... one that has stayed with him through the years! We still call him doubting Thomas... and we would like to think that we are not like him. We, of course, are among the ones Jesus called blessed... the ones who "have not seen yet have believed." Or are we? Can we see ourselves in this story? Are we among the disciples who have seen the Lord... or are we in the company of Thomas?

I would like to suggest to you this morning that there are a lot of us... and I count myself in that number... who have met the risen Savior... and still doubt. Oh, we don't necessarily doubt that he is risen... or that he is our Savior. Those of us here today have accepted him as our Lord and Savior... just as Thomas did that day. But doubt still lingers in our hearts and minds... a fear deep inside... that God may not be what we need... or want him to be.

What about those who have been deeply hurt by their past experiences... the wounded walking? I imagine there are a lot of those people in Littleton, Colorado today. Going to church this morning... filled with pain and suffering... perhaps not as confident that God loves them as they were before the events of last Tuesday. It is difficult for us to imagine what they must be feeling... and yet... each of us has gone through our own times of grief... and wondered... even demanded to know... where God was in all of this! Doubt creeps in when the circumstances of our life make no sense to us.

Some of us suffered severe wounds in childhood... and have been wounded walking most of our lives... and now it feels like that is who we are... and we have doubts about God's love for us. Mixed in with our doubt there may still be fear that he is a vengeful god... one who requires his "pound of flesh."

I think perhaps I fall into this category... because it is difficult for me to believe that God will let me have what I want... and what I enjoy in life. Consequently... I don't always bother to check with him before I rush head-long into my own plans... and justify my actions by pretending that this is my ministry... what God has called me to do for him. Perhaps... in reality... I am afraid that he won't allow me to do what I want to do if I ask him first! Can anybody here identify with this kind of doubt? I am slowly beginning to accept that God does want me to be happy and enjoy myself... but there is still a lingering question in my mind. Am I doing this because I want to... or because God wants me to?

Perhaps you doubt that God will provide for you... and for your family. Some of you have stepped out in faith... even with that nagging feeling of fear that just won't go away. But what if God fails to provide... what then? Perhaps you are overly cautious... saving religiously... counting the pennies... finding it difficult to share what you have. Or maybe... like me... you spend willy-nilly... just daring God to fail us... testing him at every turn in this regard.

It's a question that the elders of this church face constantly as they strive to keep it financially sound. Do we hoard our income... or do we spend it freely... or do we seek a happy medium? Believe me... these are not easy questions... and they relate directly to our faith in God's willingness to provide for this us.

How many ways are there to doubt God? Well... probably as many as there are people alive on the earth! Perhaps you have an analytical mind... and what seems illogical is difficult to accept. Perhaps you have a scientific mind... and what seems supernatural is difficult to accept. Perhaps you feel self sufficient... and depending on God seems unacceptable. Perhaps you have a rational mind... and things need to be clear and sensible. Perhaps... like Thomas... you just need proof!

Is it normal to doubt? Well... I suspect that doubting... like fear... is one of our God-given protective mechanisms. We should have a lack of confidence in some situations... in some people... and when in doubt... pay attention to your gut! Yes... it is human... and normal... to doubt. Thomas was not alone in that regard. Obviously he thought that someone rising from the dead was highly unlikely... and perhaps a god who is rejected and snubbed by humankind... and who continues to love us anyway... also seems highly unlikely.

And yet... isn't that what this whole thing is about... the highly unlikely truth of the matter is that God does not want to simply see justice done... in which case we would get what we deserve. God doesn't simply want to exercise mercy... in which case we would not get what we deserve. God wants to extend grace... God wants us to have what we do not deserve. And that is so unlikely... that our natural tendency is to doubt! Humanity has understood this about God for nearly two thousand years... and yet we still find it highly unlikely... and we continue to doubt.

What does Jesus have to say to us... we who continue to be doubting Thomas's in our own right? According to John... his first words to them... as he appeared among them inside a locked room... were, "Peace be with you." That probably was equivalent to "don't be afraid." And we can certainly understand that the disciples might have been afraid... after all... we would be afraid if we saw someone whom we had buried return to life!

Did you notice how often this morning we have equated doubt with fear? There are many things in this world for us to fear... and rightly so... when our children are being gunned down by other children in their classrooms... when people are being eradicated simply because of what they believe... when we feel unsafe in our homes because there are desperate people willing to take desperate measures to get money for their drug habits. Fear is a way of life in our culture... and yet we too hear Jesus say "Peace be with you"... do not be afraid... do not doubt... only believe.

And what is it we are called to believe... what has been revealed to us about God in Jesus Christ? That God is powerful enough to raise the dead... that God loves us so much that he was willing to pay the price for justice... not just to get us off the hook... but to give us what we don't deserve... forgiveness... a new opportunity to relate to him in this life... and in the end... life everlasting spent with him in eternity.

It sounds highly unlikely, doesn't it... to our human way of thinking... but Jesus... our Risen Lord... says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Stop doubting and believe!" May it be so for each of us. Amen.

A Sermon Preached on April 25, 1999
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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