Between Doubt and Faith: Peace

John 20:19-31
2nd Sunday of Easter
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Andrew came home from school Friday and said to me, “Mom, in English class we’re reading a book about the Holocaust called Night.” I said “Very significant book, Andrew. What do you think of it?” And though he’s only read two chapters, the book has affected him, as it has so many others. He hit the nail on the head when he asked, “How can you keep your faith in God when you see babies and small children being thrown into the furnace?” Yes, how?

How can you believe in the day when it is night all around, endless night? Great question. Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day and we pray for all who continue to struggle to believe in the goodness of the God of Israel because of the horrors of Holocaust.

Today is also the second Sunday of Easter. How can you believe in the Resurrection when all you see is death all around? Some of us have trouble believing, and all of us have doubts sometimes. Every year on Second Sunday of Easter, we are invited to live in the tandem of doubt and faith with Thomas. Doubting Thomas is called, but he is also the one who said, “My Lord and my God!” All of us appreciate first-hand experience, not just hearsay. “You might have seen Jesus, but I haven’t and I will not believe until I do.”

There are many people these days who find themselves caught between faith and doubt. Questions about the existence of a loving God raised by the Holocaust and other tragedies. Disillusionment about the hypocrisy and the cover-up of sinful behavior in the church - especially among church leaders. Concern about how live respectfully with persons of other faiths while still having confidence in your own faith.

This narrative of John helps us to touch and see Jesus and to know that between our faith and our doubting, Jesus is extending peace to us, is blessing us, not condemning us. Blessing us with peace, calling us to be filled with Holy Spirit, to believe and to live.

Hear the word of the Lord:

NRS John 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 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples ejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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." 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." 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." 28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"
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." 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.

Our business cards say “Peace to you” Our signs say “Peace to you.” Our recycable grocery bags say “Peace to you” I hope this community all around us is getting the message that we are a congregation eager to extend the peace of Christ -not a peace blessing that is contingent upon have like-minded faith, but a peace that goes beyond having a similar faith, a peace that goes beyond having similar socio-economic or educational backgrounds, similar nationality or ethnicity or anything else which we use to define ourselves. Jesus extended peace to all people, and only offered challenge or rebuke to those who would mistreat or take advantage of others, those who thought too highly of themselves and those who would cling to tightly to bitterness or to money.

One of the most frustrating things about being in professional ministry is this: I cannot identify myself as a pastor early in a conversation with a stranger without risking being identified with all kind of things with which that I don’t intend to associate myself – judgmental attitudes about people’s lifestyle, rigid
exclusivism - you know thinking we are the only ones on the true path to God. And lest I really feel sorry for myself, I should remember how much worse it would be if I were a Catholic priest. There is an enormous tide of doubt about Christians, imperfect as we are, sinful as we are. Much of the skepticism about us we have earned, but some of it is just by unfair association, prejudice it is sometimes called.

Our job to is find a way through the closed door of the public’s heart, where people are hiding in fear and doubt. We scare people. They are scared we will judge them, scared we will betray them, scared we will ask too much of them, maybe scared that their questions will scare us.

I may have told some of you this story before, but I’ll must tell it again. Richard and I were leading our first worship service with the Immanuel New Church Development – first worship for the congregation, first worship we had ever led. I wasn’t even finished with seminary yet. Richard preached a compelling sermon on Easter Sunday. And at the end of the service as we welcomed everyone, octogenarian Civil Rights leader Virginia Durr, who had bailed Rosa Parks out of jail raised her hand and said, “May I say something?” I said “sure” and she said, “I don’t believe in the Resurrection.” Without hesitation, Richard said something like, “Okay, Virginia. Thomas had his doubts too. Let’s talk about that in our adult class after worship.” It is crucial for the church to give people space to ask their questions, to share their doubts and fears, to honestly struggle together between doubt and faith in the peaceful and open Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Christ said that as his Father sent him, so He sends us. And he breathes into us his Spirit and calls us to forgive others and to extend his peace and his Spirit of love, his life to all the world.

We cannot convince the skeptics of the world that this news of Jesus Christ is good, but we can only do our very best to live a Spirit-filled life in the midst of faith and doubt – theirs and sometimes our own – and watch for Christ’s appearance and his message of peace to all of us. The risen Christ says “Receive the Holy Spirit” and I do believe that our receptiveness to the Spirit in every area of our lives, in every cell of our body, in every neuron of our mind, and in every fearful, dark corner of our soul is the key to living the peace-giving life for the world.

“Peace to you.” For Jesus and the disciples, this was a common greeting among the Jews. Shalom. Deep peace, wholeness, health, well-being rooted in God. Christ enters through locked doors twice in this story. He says, “Peace to you” three times. He is not the least bit put-off by Thomas’ desire to touch and see his real body with its real wounds. Think about this risen Christ having a real body with visible signs of his real death. I wonder what that means about our bodies when we are raised with Christ in the final days. Will we be physically recognizable? Will our wounds be healed yet still visible as scars, as Jesus’ were?

Christ invites the intimacy of Thomas’ touch, allows him to satisfy his need for evidence. But he encourages his trust. “Do not doubt but believe.” And Thomas now believing says, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas announces that Jesus is his human master and his divine God. His disbelief becomes a confirmation, a profound affirmation of faith. And what is most amazing is that Jesus then says that we are more blessed than Thomas who had this amazing moment of seeing Christ. We who believe now are MORE blessed than they who saw and touched the real evidence. How could Jesus possibly say such a thing? We are more blessed? He anticipates the generations which come after the eye witnesses.

Faith without evidence. That’s trust. We have two daughters in college. We cannot see what they are doing on a daily basis. There is no evidence, other than end of semester transcripts, a few friendly phone calls, and a reasonably sound bank account – that they are living responsibly. But we trust that they are. If you need evidence for believing in someone, then you have no trust in the person. Faith without evidence is a deeper trust than faith with evidence.

How does one build trust in a person? By spending time in the person’s presence, getting to know the person’s true character, and then practicing that trust by exercising it. Now translate that to your relationship with Christ. Spend time in Christ’s presence – worship. Get to know Christ’s true character – read the scriptures and pray. Practice trust – live according to Christ’s teaching despite your doubt. Yes, don’t wait for doubt to go away. Engage the faith with your doubt.

With peace engage the tandem of doubt and faith together. I doubt I’ll have enough time for all I need to do, but I’ll serve others first anyway. I doubt I’ll have enough money this year, but I trust in Christ enough to keep giving generously. I doubt that the principles of loving enemies and praying for those who persecute you really work in international affairs or my own personal, but I believe in Christ enough to try. I doubt that the church can help the world overcome the big issues of poverty and injustice, but I have faith that every effort is worth improving dignity of one person. We may not see evidence that our efforts make a difference, but we keep doing what is right because of our faith.

What evidence do we have that someone who dies is not gone forever? What evidence do we have that we will be reunited one day? No hard and fast evidence – the kind the world likes. But we are blessed, ever more blessed to believe in the Resurrection of the body and the life everlasting with no evidence but the witness of scripture, the church through the generations, and our faith. In the tandem of our faith and our doubt, in the darkest nights of separation and fear, we have peace because Christ is here among us, even though we cannot physically see or touch as Thomas did. Nevertheless, we hear his truth, we feel his Spirit, and we taste his goodness. And we believe, and in believing we live. We really live here and now and we live with Christ into eternity. And that life overcomes all deadness.