Saturday, April 26, 2014

I Believe?

Tomorrow, I'm supposed to be preaching about Thomas, the
disciple we've tagged with the sobriquet, "Doubting Thomas"...
as if the other ten guys didn't doubt. After all, the story in John's
gospel takes place on the evening of the day of Resurrection...
the women had visited Jesus' tomb and were told by an angel,
no less, that Jesus had been raised, was no longer there. And
Peter and John, two of the inner circle, had checked it out for
themselves and found that the women weren't suffering from
hysteria- the grave was indeed empty. Good news, right? So
why are they gathered together in a locked room, shaking with
fear?

Afraid, perhaps, that Jesus' fate awaited them? Afraid of how
they could go on without their leader, teacher, friend? Or
afraid that if Jesus really were alive and showed up, he would
be totally pissed off at their desertion and denials and all-round
cowardice? That he would ream them out royally for their
failure of faith? Behind closed doors they stood, sat...shaking,
quaking with fear and uncertainty and shame...and doubt. Yes,
indeed...doubt that the resurrection had even really happened.

And let's be honest...when life throws something at us that
totally knocks us for a loop, that tosses a monkey wrench into
the works, that hits us in the solar plexus and makes it hard to
catch our breath, our first reaction is usually fear. We want to
hunker down and lock the doors, to keep out what we fear-
forgetting that the fear is right there inside of us, with us. Like
those earliest disciples, we feel ashamed of ourselves for our
doubts, our fears, our pain, our disbelief. After all, haven't we
been promised Jesus' presence? So, where is he, we wonder.
Has he left me to handle this by myself, all alone? What's all
this stuff about him being a savior? Well, I could use a little
saving right now...couldn't you? Doubt, doubt, and more
doubt...

So let's not be so hard on poor Thomas who, for some reason
was not among the other disciples and so missed Jesus' totally
unbelievable appearance in the midst of his cowering friends.
After all, I suspect that none of them would have believed
the story if they had not seen Jesus with their own eyes...
if he had not come to them in their locked room, if he had
not entered into the place of fear with them, speaking words
of peace. If another one of them had gone out to get the food-
or whatever errand Thomas was on- if it had been Peter or
James or Matthew or Philip, we would today be recalling him
as "Doubting Matthew or Peter, etc."

And there are definitely days, weeks, months, when I would
have to add my own name to the list..."Doubting Linda".
It's easy to believe when all is going well...or perhaps at
those times, faith doesn't even get a second thought. Life
goes on smoothly, without a wrinkle or a hitch...the sun
shines and skies are blue. But when times get tough- when
hard and terrible and painful things happen- the loss of a job,
the end of a marriage, the death of a child, the diagnosis of
cancer, fear sets in, accompanied by doubt, and the hope and
reality of resurrection seems highly unlikely. Retreat into that
locked room seems the most desirable, easiest way to endure...
just crawl into bed and pull up the covers. Maybe it will all just
go away...fade away like a bad dream.

But into the locked room of our heart Jesus comes...always,
ever, reaching out to us through the caring phone call from
a friend...through the spontaneous hug of someone at church...
through meals prepared lovingly by friends and colleagues...
through the words of scripture haltingly remembered...
"The Lord is my shepherd..." even when other prayers seem
out of reach.

It's easy for us to forget, in the midst of this season of
Easter, with the flowers and music and celebration still fresh
in our memories, that nothing about that first Easter was
lily-scented or lovely. It was about fear and doubt and
amazement and disbelief...it was about Thomas and Peter
and John and Matthew and all the rest doubting and fearing
and then, responding...slowly...haltingly, I'm sure, to the
presence and peace of Jesus.

So, on this second Sunday of Easter, perhaps what we
should be confessing together is our faith in what we don't
know for sure...for isn't that really what faith is? Belief
with doubt as its flip side. Perhaps you will join me in
confessing, on this second Sunday of Easter, "I believe;
help my unbelief." For me, those are the most honest
words I can say...and they are from the heart.

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