Sermons from St Faith's   

Faith and doubt

Revd Denise McDougall, Sunday, 8th April, 2018

As a community we journeyed through Lent and Holy Week and entered more and more deeply in to the confusion, despair and pain of Christ’s crucifixion. Of course because of the Scriptures we all knew what was going to happen next but just imagine the trauma and the devastation that the disciples must have experienced. They were a community of people who believed that they would never again see their beloved Lord and Master but then last week we heard about the empty tomb and Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene.  So on Easter Day we celebrated Jesus’ glorious resurrection, the fulfilment and triumph of our Christian beliefs. With great gusto we were able to proclaim: Alleluia the Lord is risen.

Alleluia the Lord is risen. ……… He  is risen indeed Alleluia

Yet as we move on today's Gospel highlights the traumatised disciples having difficulties and doubts about the Resurrection. It’s so easy to be sceptical or doubtful about something that sounds so very unlikely.

This stuck a chord with me last week when my 4 year old grandson told me that he had seen a weasel attack a rabbit, kill it and then drag it slowly and with great difficulty into some dense bushes, unfortunately the rabbit feast was too big for the gap but after patient determination the weasel won.  This all sounded like a wonderful bit of imagination but later in the day I was assured by others who had watched the scene unfold that it really was true and I felt very guilty.

From our own faith perspectives I don’t believe any one of us could say that we have never questioned our own beliefs, I know have said before that questioning is healthy and enables growth.  Questions such as, are we misinterpreting the evidence, did it really happen, is it an illusion of some sort?

When life hurts and we are totally confused few of us can claim to have unshakeable faith. George Carey, when he was Archbishop of Canterbury wrote that ‘doubt stirred him to greater faith’ and a Polish proverb states even more strongly that ‘To believe with certainty we must begin with doubting.’

Thomas can help us to understand that an open and enquiring mind can lead to a deeper knowledge of the truth. As we know Thomas was loyal but pessimistic and sceptical, but he went on to spend the rest of his life as an apostle, a missionary in India and a martyr, so it hardly seems fair that he is mostly remembered for his doubting. If we go back to last week’s Easter Gospel, Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty and when Jesus talked to her she assumed he was the gardener. Yet Mary has never been recorded as a doubter, she was the first to see the risen Jesus knowing her sins had been forgiven. But it wasn’t until Jesus entered that locked room, offered the frightened group his peace and showed them his wounds that they too believed. The peace they received was a peace that flowed through Jesus’ presence. A peace that the world isn’t able to offer.

There are times when we too hide behind the locked doors of our hearts, unable to reach out to others; yet Jesus will still reach out to each one of us at a level that is a million times deeper than all that is wounded and fearful in us.

Jesus provides an abiding and everlasting presence in our broken world. He does not stop the chaos and injustice, which is so often caused by our own hands but he is always present calming troubling hearts and offering us peace.

And when Christ does reveal himself we, like the disciples are transformed and filled with joy. But divine love isn’t a private possession, it is to share and Jesus’ command to the disciples was threefold; to be sent out as Jesus was sent, to receive the Holy Spirit and to forgive sins. The chain was established; from the Father to Jesus, from Jesus to the disciples and from the disciples to whoever they commission and the key to this mission is the capacity to receive the Holy Spirit.

It was a week later when Jesus appeared to them all again and this time Thomas was with them. Jesus invites him to touch his wounds, He encourages Thomas to reach for the divine life that flows through him. The Gospel doesn’t tell us whether he actually did touch Jesus but his cry, ‘My Lord and my God’ signals both the reception of divine life and the recognition that Jesus and the Father are one.

Thomas had now come to know Jesus at a level that eluded him when he knew Jesus in the flesh and his profession of faith was the most profound and explicit voiced by any of the witnesses of the resurrection. Thomas can give all of us such hope, we can confront our fears, move from darkness into light and let Christ take root in our hearts. We are all wounded by the burdens of life, our secret pains, our own sins and suffering but we are here in the presence of Christ, Jesus who showed his scars and who brings life from death and salvation from sorrow. Christ has the power to enter those locked doors of our hearts just as he entered into the upper room on that first Easter Day. I pray that we all come to know the joy, the love and the forgiveness that Christ shares with us is something inward and involves being at peace with ourselves and in harmony with the community; these  gifts are much deeper than any superficial or surface emotion.

Jesus loves us just as he did Thomas, he won’t criticise or judge us because of our fears or shortcomings. He won’t make us feel guilty because of our doubts. We are all God’s children and each one of us is precious and loved.  Jesus called Thomas from his doubt to belief and from his belief to missionary ministry to the poor, the lonely and the hurting.

The experience of the risen Christ is to be found in the community that shares his love and in a world of selfishness and greed it is up to us to reach out to the disadvantaged and marginalised. The risen Christ is evident in the way we visit our sick and housebound, support the aged and less able and how we comfort the bereaved. It is our responsibility to show God’s love to those who hold back their faith because they still need proof. As Jesus taught, those that believe the apostolic testimony without seeing will be ‘more blessed.’ The lives and preaching of those first early believers changed the course of human history and brought home to us that faith is not some cosy agreement with a set of intellectual truths but an absolute belief in the resurrection and that the good news needs to be shared.
Jesus is the messiah, the Son of God and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus’ wounds become his glory and through his wounds we are healed.

Today and every time we celebrate the Eucharist we meet the risen Lord, every breaking and sharing of bread is an invitation to give ourselves as completely as possible to God and surrender ourselves to the power of his love, forgiveness and healing. With willing and believing hearts and minds we can be touched and transformed into his likeness and into the Easter mode of being.

I pray that this Easter season we take time to reflect and allow our minds to open up and trust the presence of the risen Christ in our daily lives; may we reach out to those in need and show them the risen Christ walking among us. By virtue of our baptism we too add to the community of believers and so become part of the Easter mystery, sharing in Christ’s dying and his rising to new life.

‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe’

Alleluia Christ is risen. …. He is risen indeed Alleluia


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