Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Doubt Is Good for Faith

I saw this TED talk on YouTube a couple of months ago by Lesley Hazelton. ( /lesley_hazleton_the_doubt_essential_to_faith)
In her talk she makes the argument that doubt is essential to faith.
She tells a story about Muhammad, who she wrote a biography about.
After Muhammad went into a cave near Mecca in the year 610 the angel Gabriel appeared to him and gave him the Koran.
Now that is a miracle.
An angel of the Lord appears and tells you a sacred and holy text.
What do you think Muhammad would do?
You would think he would run down out of that mountain and start proclaiming to all who would hear the great and marvelous thing that had just been told to him.
But instead he only told his wife.
Muhammad at first believed that what had happened couldn’t have been real.
He believed that it was either a hallucination or a worse that he was possessed by and evil spirit.
He was overwhelmed not with conviction, but with doubt.
For Hazleton this is an important moment that all faith starts with doubt.
We are confronted this morning by what we usually refer to as the story of doubting Thomas.
And in the past we may have heard sermons about not being like Thomas, but believing in Jesus.
However, I want to encourage us to be more like Thomas.
I want to encourage us to doubt more, to question more, to wonder more.
Because I believe it is in the question, in the doubt, in the wonder that we find true faith.
We find a real living faith, a real living engagement with Jesus and in our spiritual lives.

Last week was Easter, and it was a wonderful glorious time here at Concordia.
The Church was packed, the choir sang wonderfully, and we ate a delicious breakfast together.
One could really feel the spirit.
But now it is this week of Easter.
It is at the end of a vacation week for kids in school.
The church is less packed this morning.
We are back at it.
And the question that I think we must wrestle with is what does it mean now?
What does it mean to have faith in the resurrected Lord this week?
Because I will admit for me it is easy on Easter morning to feel the excitement of Jesus being raised from the dead, but this week…I have questions.

And this is why Thomas should be our hero.
It was not enough for him merely to hear the tail from the other disciples.
He had to experience it himself.
“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.”
I think we all feel this way about our faith life that we need to experience it to believe it.
We need something that will tell us that what we are being told is not merely the fantasy of those around us.
More than this we need to question things so that we can grow in our beliefs.
When we are children and are being taught about things it is fine for us to have a faith were we are told something and we believe it.
But there comes a point in all of our lives when merely being told by others is not enough.
We have to explore it for ourselves.
We have to go through the process.
We have to ask difficult questions.
We have to develop our own relationship with Jesus.
We have to believe on our own in the resurrection.

My favorite thing about being a teacher is the questions.
I love to ask them, I love when people wrestle with them.
If you are ever in my confirmation class, or my Bible study, or my adult forum, you know that I don’t allow people to get away with easy answers.
I will ask the question, I will take the opposite point of view.
I do this because doubting is important, exploration is important in a life of faith.
I love it when kids in our congregation ask me questions about the sermon.
One it means that they are listening, but more importantly because they are engaged in the process of developing their own faith.
They are struggling with what it means to believe in Jesus Christ.
And all of that is good.
We all should be in some stage of questioning and wondering.
No matter what age we are we should be stretching ourselves to grow in faith.
Because here is the truth no one, but God, knows it all.
And if you think you know everything then I would say that there is something wrong.
Because being a “know it all” in religion makes you a fundamentalist.
And being a fundamentalist leads to all kinds of unchristian things.
It leads to hatred of people different than you.
It leads to disengagement in the world.
In the worse cases it leads to violence.

What is great about the Biblical story this morning is that Jesus comes back for Thomas.
He comes back a week later and makes another appearance just because Thomas needed him to.
Thomas needed more than the words of others, and Jesus gave it to him.
I believe deeply that Jesus does the same for all of us.
Jesus comes at us again and again, gives us what we need to hear or see.
Shows up in our locked rooms where we are huddled out of fear, out of hopelessness, out of anger, and comes in and offers us peace.

This is important for me to say, that Jesus is bigger than our doubts.
Jesus can handle our doubts.
Jesus can handle the questions we have, the struggles we have.
And that is good news, because we often have a lot of them.
I think the best thing our congregation can do is admit that we don’t know everything.
There are whole subjects that I don’t know for sure about.

For example, people will often ask me, “Is everyone going to heaven?”
My first response is, “I don’t know”.
I am not God.
And anyone who tells who they know for sure is lying.
They are lying to manipulate you by making you afraid.
Or worse they are lying to make themselves feel really special.
But here is the thing to have faith is to ask the question.
To have faith means to wonder about God and about us as God’s children.
It is to join with Thomas when he asks Jesus in another part of John’s Gospel, “But how will we know the way?”

Easter is not over.
It goes on because we are here this week needing/wanting another encounter with Jesus.
We want to touch his wounds.
We want to ask tons of questions.
We want to know more.
And the good news is that Jesus will show up.
And then we can with Thomas and all the other saints fall down and say, “My Lord and my God!”
We can believe because we have had an experience with the living God, and we can go back out and doubt and question some more.
And in that doubting and questioning grow so that even though we don’t see we might come to believe.

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