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Faith, Doubt, and Laughter

John 20:19-31 (CEB)

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”

After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

A word of God for the people of God…Thanks be to God.

April 23, 2017
John 20:19-31
“Faith, Doubt and Laughter”

The headliner in our Gospel story today is the disciple Thomas, who has ever since his encounter with the resurrected Jesus, been known as “Doubting Thomas.”

We sometimes talk about being in the right place at the right time. Have you ever not been in the right place and not at the right time?

That’s where Thomas finds himself…not in the right place and not at the right time to see the risen Christ. Scripture does not tell us where he was…had he gone home to rest after all that had gone on during the week of the crucifixion? Had he simply gone out for a latte or cup of coffee to wake up and clear his head? Or was he trying to get back into the rhythm of his own life again?

We don’t know…all we know is that he was not with the other disciples when Jesus made his resurrection appearance.

So Jesus returns a week later…entering through the closed doors of the house to offer Thomas the greeting of ‘peace,’ and give Thomas what he needs in order to believe. Jesus did not reprimand or give Thomas an “I told you so” attitude.
Then the gift of all gifts…Jesus gives Thomas the opportunity to touch his hands and side.

That encounter with the risen Christ gives Thomas the courage to offer an affirmation of faith that simply says, “My Lord, and my God.” Unfortunately, time has remembered Thomas only as a doubter. Yet, doubt, that asks honest questions, is not a bad thing on our faith journey.

Our faith and doubts can also include healthy laughter. In our Gospel story, when Jesus walks into the room through locked doors and says to the disciples, “Peace be with you,” the Scripture says that the disciples “were filled with joy.” I have to believe that their joy must have included laughter that broke through the sadness, fear and doubt.

This second Sunday in Easter is often know as Holy Humor Sunday, which dates back to the middle ages as a time to celebrate God’s triumph over death by laughing as a way to recognize this unexpected and totally surprising reversal of events that God did by raising Christ.

So, in the spirit of Holy Humor, I want to tell about a message that God sent to earth. You see, one day, God was looking upon the earth and saw all the evil that was going on and decided to send an angel to check things out.

God called one of the best angels and sent the angel to earth for a time. When the angel returned, she told God, “Yes, it is bad on earth, 95% of the people are bad and 5% are good.”

Well, God thought for a moment and said, “Maybe I had better send a second angel to get another point of view.” So God called another one of the best angels and sent him to earth for a time also.

When the angel returned he went to God and said, “Yes, the earth is in decline; 95% of the people are bad and 5% are good.”

God said this is disappointing. So, God decided to E-mail the 5% of the people that were good in order to encourage them and give them a little something to help them keep going.

Do you know what the E-mail said?? What??

You didn’t get one either, huh??

Today, we have the privilege of confirming nine of our young people into the Christian faith. I, along with nine wonderful adult mentors, have walked this confirmation journey with our ninth-graders since September. In that time, we have wrestled with questions of faith, we have shared our doubts and we have done a good share of laughing.

We have learned that it is o.k. to question and have doubts about life and faith and even about God.

We read some of the work of author Fredrick Buechner, who has said, “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it alive and moving.”

I think if we are honest, we have all doubted what Thomas doubts and that is Easter. This story of Thomas appears in the Scripture readings of the Lectionary every year on the Sunday after Easter.

Maybe that’s because just like we need to hear the Easter stories on Easter every year, we need to hear that it’s o.k. to have questions and doubts on the week after Easter.

Wrestling with our questions and doubts in confirmation this year put us together on our journey of faith and in our learning. That was an essential part of our confirmation experience…the understanding that we are all journeying on this road of faith and life together and learning from one another.

Each of our journeys of faith will have its ups and downs and doubts along the way. We are not always going to have a clear destination, but we can be faithful on the journey. Also on our journey of life and faith, we are not always going to be sure of ourselves, but we can be sure of God.

Our Gospel story today has Jesus meeting Thomas in his need and in the process, Thomas’ heart was changed and his eyes were opened.

According to the writer of John’s gospel, that is the way Jesus handles doubt…he meets us where we are at in our life and faith and make Easter real. Like he did for Thomas and the other disciples, Jesus walks through locked doors we hide behind.

Jesus seeks us out despite the barriers we might build out of fear and doubt. Jesus breaks through and fills our hearts with the promise and power of the resurrection.

It is my hope and prayer for our confirmation students, for our mentors, and for all of us that what we need for living our faith, even with our doubts, includes four things that we can pull from our Gospel story today:

The first is honesty and openness. Be honest about your doubts and questions and stay open to God’s presence breaking in all around us.

Second is curiosity and courage. It took courage for Thomas to stand up and say what he needed; that he needed to see before he could believe. Like Thomas, have the courage to voice the things you need and the things you question and are curious about in your faith. Never stop asking questions.

The third is guidance. Trust that the Holy Spirit who lives in your heart will guide you on your journey of life and faith. Jesus was a guide for Thomas to see God’s presence. Accept the guidance of mentors, parents, and trusted others who can guide you to seeing God’s presence.

And finally, it is essential to see things in life and faith as having many possibilities, which means recognizing that things are not just black and white, but that there is a lot of gray…there is contradiction and confusion, but there is always the gospel truth of God’s inclusive, expansive love for us and all people.

We know that the voices of exclusion, fear and hatred are loud in our world. We need to articulate an alternative. And the wonderful alternative we can learn from Thomas is that when he had questions and doubts, and when there was confusion and fear all around him, he did not run from God…he sought after God. Never stop seeking God.

The good news is that the risen Christ cannot be stopped by locked doors. God comes to us just as Jesus came to the first disciples, right in the midst of our questions, fears, pain, doubts, and confusion. Jesus comes speaking peace and offering the Holy Spirit into our anxious lives.

I hope you will always remember that there is no sadness, grief, or pain so deep; and no door so locked that our living God through the risen Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit cannot walk in and resurrect hope.

This is the Good News of God this day.

Thanks be to God.