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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

2009-04-19 Jn 20 19-31 Doubting Thomas


Doubting Thomas

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian
Church (USA)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mark 11:23 "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.

Scripture is tough on doubters. Not as tough as it is on, say, Philistines, Pharisees, and Sodomites. But it's tough. It's easy to get the idea that doubt is evil. If you question God, or doubt God's commandments, or worse yet, wonder if God exists or cares - stand back, lighting's going to strike you. Or someone you love. Which is really hard for people who live in this day and age. It's hard to think of a leader, or an institution, that we don't have doubts about. And that's not always a bad thing. Human leaders and human institutions are human. So we know they're not perfect. A little doubt about hedge fund traders and Rod Blagojevich is OK. But to doubt Jesus... to doubt God... the moment we start doubting them, we turn it back on ourselves. We start having doubts about our doubts and beat ourselves up for being doubt doubters. Doubtable doubt doubters. Who are this close to good smiting.

Lectionary of scriptures always gives us Thomas in the week after
Easter. Every year, we get Thomas. Doubting Thomas. In the Gospel
According to John, which is the only gospel that tells this story,
you go from Mary Magdalene's Easter proclamation of doubtless
faith, “I have seen the Lord!” to Thomas's,
“Wellllllll... I don't know.” Mary says she's seen the
Lord, now ten other disciples say they've seen the Lord (all at the
same time, in a locked house), but Thomas, he's just not so sure
about all this.

like Thomas. He's probably my favorite disciple. Jesus nicknamed him,
“The Twin.” We guess this is because he had a twin
brother, but the Bible never says that. What would his brother's
nickname have been? “The Other Twin?” That might have
worked for their mom when she was mad and didn't care which one she
was yelling at. But if Jesus nicknamed Thomas in order to remember
which one was which, he could have picked something more
distinguishing. Like, “The One With More Freckles.” I
wonder if Jesus nicknamed him, “The Twin,” for another
reason. Not because he looks like someone else, but because he
thinks like someone else. Someone like, me. Someone like, you.
Someones like pretty much everyone around us when we try to think
about miracles the size and scope of Easter. If that's the case, then
Thomas is, “The Twin,” and all of us are, “The
Other Twin.”

started growing up in the 1960's. I say, “started,”
because I'm not finished. I hope I've still got some growing left to
do. I hope I'm smarter, and better, and more faithful ten years from
now. Do you hope that, too? For yourself, I mean. If you think like
that, you're modern. You're modern. Tell that to your kids. Modern
people – people of this modern era - believe in progress.
Modern people use science to make progress. Modern people believe
that we have the right to test reality, for ourselves, and to learn
what's true, for ourselves, and by this scientific process of testing
and learning we can become smarter and better when we grow up.

that definition, Thomas was the world's first “modern”
disciple. Think about Thomas, and what he wanted. “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.” That's
modern thinking. It's the scientific method: you test the
hypothesis in order to learn and when you learn you make progress.
Thomas wasn't content to rely on someone else's knowledge. That's
pre-modern thinking. Thomas wanted to see, for himself. He wanted to
prove the facts, for himself. He wanted to use science to test what
other people were telling him, so then he could learn and grow and
create his own progress. Which is pretty much how we all think, even
today. We expect progress. We rely on modern, scientific thinking.
Thomas is The Twin, our twin, maybe now more than ever.

we know Thomas better by his other nickname, “Doubting”
Thomas. And we say it like doubt's a bad thing. But if you look at
the history of this modern age, doubt is an incredibly powerful
force. The power of doubt drives us to test reality, to engage in
scientific experimentation, to discover the truth. Doubt –
and the science it produces - have given us so much. Anybody remember
Polio scares, when your parents didn't let you out of the house? Most
kids today have never even heard of Polio. All the modern miracles we take for
granted - medicine, microwave popcorn, electric light, cars, cell
phones with personal ringtones – all of this modern world is
the product of minds like Thomas' – doubting
testing, thinking together, working together to prove
the truth and improve life. At least, that was the modern

when we used to look ahead at the distant future and think, “Man,
the year 2000 is gonna be so... far out.” We used to say, “The
year 2000,” with wondrous anticipation, as if we'd all have
flying cars like George Jetson, and robot maids, and a boy named
Elroy. We just knew that by the year 2000, the miracle of progress
would eliminate world hunger, wipe out disease, and give us some kind
of Star Trek-ian utopia. You remember the movie, “2001, A Space
Odyssey,” with moon colonies and space stations, and HAL, the
psychotic computer? That was how the year 2000 would be. Well, it's 2009 and we have computers
that make us psychotic. That's progress for you. And that's
the problem.

For all the benefits of
the power of doubt, after all our modern proof and progress, is life
really qualitatively better? We talk about progress – you know,
how am I going to improve myself this year? - but the majority of the
world couldn't care less about improving themselves by next year;
they care about being alive next year. Or next month. Or tomorrow.
Existence is the primary concern of most of the people on earth.
Progress has failed them, or at least passed them by. And what about
us? Well, yeah, we have genetically engineered boneless chicken
breasts grown on boneless chicken farms. But we also have to think
about Bird Flu. And Salmonella. And what all that modified chicken
DNA is doing to our DNA and if our great-grandchildren will have boneless chicken breasts.

Progress was supposed
to make our lives better, but I don't talk to many people who feel
“better” than they did ten years ago. I don't know many
people who feel more peaceful, more relaxed, or less worried than
twenty years ago. If modernity works
for you, great. If all it takes to make you happy is an iPhone, great. Go get one. For most of us, even if the modern world isn't great, at least we have some really cool distractions. But I
also think most of us know enough to worry, like no generation has
worried before, that the gifts our doubt has brought us could go up
in smoke in a nanosecond. Instead of a space odyssey, 2001 brought us
a terrorist nightmare – remote controlled on modern satellite
phones by pre-modern pirates standing in a primitive country.

Modernism looked great
in the brochures, and of course we have more conveniences than the
people of Jesus' time. We sure have longer life expectancies. But are our long, cool lives really
better than theirs? Is our world in better shape than theirs? Are we
really happier, less stressed, and more faithful than they were? I
hate to sound so skeptical, but if you think life is so much better
and the world's in such great shape, you're going to have to prove it
to me. I'm going to want to see some pretty sound, historical
evidence before I believe you.

Because, I am
Thomas's twin. I'm so embedded in the power of doubt, I don't even
know any other way. What about you?

This is why I think we
always get Thomas one week after Easter. It just so happens that we
read about Thomas while sitting in the greatest, most advanced nation
on earth. Maybe the Christians in Ethiopia get something else out of
the story. But here we are: modern Christians reading about a
modern-thinking disciple, dealing with the news that the modern,
George Jetson dream hasn't exactly come true. Here we are, the week
after Easter, still driven by doubt, just like Thomas. Here we are,
in the 21st Century, waking up to the knowledge that the
dream of the future makes us more anxious about the future than any
previous generation. In spite of all our progress, we're not
peaceful. Despite the power of doubt, we feel powerless. Our souls
are increasingly restless. What do we do? And by that, I don't mean,
“What's the world going to do?” That's for world leaders
and scientists and people way smarter than I am to figure out. I
mean, what are WE going to do? What are you and I going to do to use
the gift of doubt to help us find peace?

You might think it's
weird to hear a minister saying doubt's a gift. We usually think of
it as the opposite of faith. Gift or not, doubt's a reality. It's
part of us, part of the DNA we share with Thomas, our twin brother.
It appears to be part of our God-given humanity. We either use our
doubt as a tool to motivate us, or it uses us. Doubt isn't
necessarily bad. I mean, look at what it got Thomas – a live,
personal appearance by Jesus himself. That's pretty good. What could
you discover by using your gift of doubt?

We get Thomas in the
week after Easter. Was Easter really just last week? Did Easter
really happen? Did Jesus really rise from the tomb and did the world
really change because of this? Did you change because of Easter? God
says yes, yes, yes and yes. If you doubt anything about Easter, if
you doubt anything about how Easter has changed you, use your doubt
to test this reality. Don't settle for my answers, or the church's
answers, go find your own answers in the faith of your own heart.
Take your doubts and your questions to God. Challenge God like your
twin did. You're not going to hurt God. Your doubt can't hurt Jesus.
He's already died. And risen. Doubt doesn't have any power over him
anymore. So reach out your skeptical hand. Probe the scars your God
keeps. It's OK.

The apostles were
hiding in a house of anxiety. And Thomas was with them. Although the
doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace
be with you.” 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.”

Doubt isn't the
opposite of belief. Doubt can actually be a part of belief if it
makes you want to reach out and touch the hand of Christ. Can you
believe that Jesus has so much faith in you, so much love for you,
that he'd let you touch his scars? Maybe you doubt that. But that's
what he offered Thomas, your twin. Jesus looked Thomas' doubt in the
eye, and Thomas “got it.” “My Lord and my God!”
he cried out. He saw the power greater than any doubt. He saw the
hope greater than any imagined future.

Here, a week after
Easter, when Jesus offers you his hand, what are you going to do?