Lectionary Scriptures and Comments

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio....

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Su2         Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Psalm 16

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 22“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. 27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 28You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ 29“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

Psalm 16

1Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

2I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

3As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

4Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.

5The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.

6The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

7I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.

8I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

9Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.

10For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.

11You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

1 Peter 1:3-9

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

John 20:19-31

19When 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.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.”

26A 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.” 27Then 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.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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.

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Doubt as Growth 050111

 

Today’s sermon is titled simply enough ‘Doubt as Growth’. Our primary scripture from John 20:19-31 and is the story of Thomas, or ‘doubting Thomas’, or Thomas Didymus, which means ‘the twin’. Even the word Thomas comes from an Aramaic word meaning twin.

Some stories identify Thomas as the twin of James, and one source identifies Thomas as Jesus’ twin brother. The remainder of the information we have about Thomas concerns Thomas’ journey to India, as early as 52 AD. In India was a community of diaspora Jews, whom Thomas wished to convert to Christianity. Thomas was somewhat successful and Christianity spread to India, and several large churches survive there still, as descendants of Thomas’ mission to India. When Portugese Catholc priests arrived there on Portugese ships of exploration and conquest, they found a thriving Christianity, but a Christianity that had evolved differently from the Western Roman Catholic tradition.

Thomas may have has theological differences with Peter, Paul and James, the brother of Jesus, that led him to travel outside of the Roman Empire, and also led the passage in John we read for today to cast Thomas as doubting Jesus, which was seen as negative—to doubt the holy son of God! Outrageous.

Thomas was seen as standing somewhat apart from the other disciples, and the event that leads to the story of Thomas demanding to touch the crucifixion wounds on the living Jesus before he believes Jesus has risen begins with Thomas not being with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them.

Today, Thomas’ skepticism and doubt are perhaps seen as more positive than at the time of Jesus. We hear phrases such as ‘approaching something with a healthy skepticism, and so on. But we may also question the devotion or faith of someone who doubts their faith, or has doubts about scripture, or has doubts about the truth of a Biblical event. Religion causes more doubt than any other subject, because religion and spirituality are matters of faith, of belief, and not of absolute moral certainty. You cannot completely reason through to a proof of God in the world, or of Jesus by logic alone. Faith is necessary for the development of faith.

But what about doubt in your spiritual life? I would suggest that as we encourage spiritual formation in our church and focus upon it, we should also include as a spiritual discipline, the practice of doubt.

In every spiritual practice, whether coming from an Islamic, or a Buddhist or an Hindu tradition, there come moments of doubt, when faith leaves one and only a dark doubt remains. Perhaps it is a moment of crisis, or the ongoing crisis called life. But we all are subject to dark times in our soul or just plain doubt arises and is not easily resolved.

Sometimes, church members will tend to view doubt as something that is bad-even evil, or at least evidence of spiritual weakness. Sometimes they will even talk about doubt as sin, as something to be avoided at all costs, something to be repressed or denied.

But doubt sometimes is like spring cleaning. We hope to go through our house and property and clean and organize and pare down our possessions—to simplify our life. Doubt does the same—with doubt we go through what we really believe, and clean out what is superfluous and extra. We organize our beliefs, and clean out the unnecessary and beliefs that may relate to old notions of life and culture that may have little to do with our core beliefs.  When religions or people forbid any doubt or see doubt as evidence of sin, it is perhaps a sign of unhealthy relations or control.

Doubt sometimes is more serious than just cleaning out the unnecessary in our beliefs. It is sometimes a crisis of doubt—when an event or a thought becomes so powerful that we question the nature of our very soul, we question the existence or nature of God, and we question every relationship and activity we’re involved in. These are dark times indeed, and everyone has them.

Understanding that these moments of existential doubt are universal among spiritual seekers is important, but it is also important that we remember the importance of community. When Christ walked the earth he emphasized the community of believers and empowered his disciples to be in one community with one another. The reason is that these dark moments of doubt can lead to even more darkness and doubt, unless someone is there to help us understand that despite doubts, trials of the soul and darkness, there is still a God who loves, and Jesus, who talks of himself as being the light of the world.

Doubt is natural, and to experience dark times of the soul is natural. Just remember, when those times come, that there is a community here to talk things over, to help you in prayer. And going through such times of doubt or despair will make you a more devout Christian in the end.

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