Doubting Thomas

The Reverend Sonia Waters
Christ Episcopal Church

I really like Thomas.  There is so much in this gospel reading that amazes me, but I always seem to come back to Thomas.  I think it’s  partly because when I was growing I was usually the only girl in the whole class who kept on raising her hand and asking “Why?”  I was the one who would say, “but I thought you said,” or “but that doesn’t make sense,” or “but I thought the author said exactly the opposite ”

And I was also the child who tortured her parents by critically analyzing their orders, pointing out the inherent contradictions and the breakdowns in their logic, until they finally had to say, “I don’t care that it doesn’t make sense. I told you so.  That’s why!”

I was the thorn in the side of any unprepared teacher.  Maybe that’s why now I get so nervous when I teach, fearing that I haven’t prepared or learned enough and it’s going to come back and get me.  All throughout the Lenten program  I kept telling Felicia I just don’t feel prepared enough tonight, and she would say, “Again? Pastor Sonia didn’t you say that last week”

But  you know what? There is always more to learn.  So I like Thomas.  Thomas is the disciple (which in Greek also means learner or  student) who questions what he is told.   He is the practical one who raises his hand in John chapter 13 when Jesus is waxing poetic about there being many mansions.  “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus says, “and you will know the way.”  And Thomas says, “Uh, Jesus? – excuse me – we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way there?”

Thomas is the demanding one today  who, while the other disciples are excitedly claiming they saw Jesus,  says – “Umm excuse me – Unless I see him/touch him/put my hands in his wounds I will not believe it.”

Thomas was not going to be passively taught.  He was not just going to take anyone’s word for it.  It mattered enough to him to want a personal encounter with Jesus.

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We are often hard on ourselves when we doubt. Or worse, we can be hard on other people when we see them as doubting students and ourselves as teachers, with all the answers in the faith.  But Jesus said we only have one teacher, one Lord, and one master.

Doubting and questioning are good.

Doubting for Thomas did not mean he was not seeking Jesus.  It didn’t mean he had stopped believing in the Jesus he had known and loved.  Instead it meant that he wanted to see Him—to have his own encounter with this new risen Jesus himself.

And Jesus gives him what he needs.

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SO doubting is good, when doubting leads us to learn more, to search more, to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus.  And questioning is  good.  Because students and learners have to ask questions if they are going to know the risen Jesus more deeply from year to year.

It is of course true that sometimes doubting is a kind of defense, like when people think they have found the one question, the one earth-shattering doubt that stops them from giving their hearts over to Jesus that somehow also stops them from working through that doubt into new understanding.  So doubt, when it is more about avoiding the vulnerability of a relationship, is not so good.  Certainly, there is “lazy doubt” that basically prevents us from the hard work of opening our hearts to something bigger than ourselves.  Or the hard work of getting out of bed in the morning and making it to church.

But still, real honest doubt and questions are what make us demand, as Thomas does, a personal encounter with Jesus.  After all, we are disciples, we are learners, we are students.

If we think we know it all and believe everything perfectly, that also gets in our way of seeking the resurrected Jesus in new ways.  That also gets in our way of being open to the possibility that we have more to learn about the Jesus we know so well.

So that’s no good.  We become dreary people, very sure of the answers,  without any curiosity about the faith.  We are not disciples or students or learners of the faith anymore.

SO today—doubt!  Question!  Demand deeper experience from your faith!

Doubts and questions are  not a litmus test for whether or not you belong here in church or whether or not you believe in Jesus.  Absolutely not.  You can know and believe in Jesus and still have doubts.   Doubting gives us the opportunity to not be passive about the faith.  Doubting gives us an opportunity to be good students of this gift of salvation, to learn more, to go to a new, deeper place in our relationship with Jesus

After all,  Thomas certainly knows who Jesus is.   His doubt does not make him love Jesus less. He loves and has a relationship with Jesus.  And from that place of love he can ask for anything he wants.  In fact his love of Jesus is so important to him that he wants more.  Thomas doubts what others are telling him because Jesus is just that important to him.  He questions the disciples who want to teach him what to believe because he wants his own encounter with the risen lord.

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So whether we are new to the faith or have been at it for years, we are called to be life-long learners of our faith.

And I’ve really felt the pull here in the Spirit that we are meant to start committing ourselves to discipleship, to learning more about the story, more about why we are here.

I want to encourage you to think about what your questions are, what you would love to explore.  And maybe also “what  can you commit to” this summer or this year to grow as a student of Jesus.

It’s interesting that our newly recommitted  members David and Sean knew that faith led to discipleship, almost instinctively.  They’re the ones who have said to me okay, what now?  I want to learn more—let’s do a Bible study.

True disciples.

So we are starting one this Tuesday if anyone is interested in joining us.

Or maybe you feel called to find God in the renewal of our healing prayer ministry, learning about healing prayer and intercessory prayer, because if anyone was here on Good Friday, you know the SPIRIT  is at work here, and that is another kind of encounter and knowledge we need to embrace.

Or choose a book of the bible to read this summer alone or with a few other members.  There are DVD series about the stories of the faith.  There are commentaries and devotional books.  A little light beach reading this summer.

But the point is:  like Thomas don’t just take anyone’s word for it.  Find out how digging into your questions and demanding answers can lead to a new personal encounter with Jesus.