22 Oct 2017
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

15 Oct 2017
This Too Shall Pass

8 Oct 2017
The Simple Truth: Head, Heart and Hands

1 Oct 2017
Humility – Staying close to the ground

2 Jul 2017
Welcoming the Silence

25 Jun 2017
Always Uniting…

18 Jun 2017
Are you ready for harvest?

11 Jun 2017
Don’t Blame it on the Snake

4 Jun 2017
Words Beyond Words: Breath Beyond Breath

28 May 2017
Seeing with new eyes

14 May 2017
Grace, Gracious and Graceful

30 Apr 2017
A Time for war and a time for peace

23 Apr 2017
Faithful Doubting

16 Apr 2017
God became human so that we could become divine!

12 Mar 2017
Wind of the Spirit

12 Feb 2017
From the Mountainside: The Impossible Dream?

22 Jan 2017
Grounding our Life and Faith

25 Dec 2016
That Humanity should become Divine

11 Dec 2016
Joy is for Everyone

4 Dec 2016
The Mingling of Water and Spirit

27 Nov 2016
Living Fully in the Present Moment

16 Oct 2016
Persistence and Justice

9 Oct 2016
Gratitude and Thankfulness

2 Oct 2016
Standing in the Tragic Gap

25 Sep 2016
Rich Man, Poor Man

4 Sep 2016
The Gift of Freedom

21 Aug 2016
A Hidden Wholeness

14 Aug 2016
We all need wise words to live by

31 Jul 2016
When Less is More

24 Jul 2016
Developing Healthy Relationships

17 Jul 2016
Died Wise

10 Jul 2016
Meeting Strangers on the Road

3 Jul 2016
On the Road Again

29 May 2016
Faith is the Answer

22 May 2016
The Way of Wisdom

15 May 2016
Icons and Stained Glass Windows – Inner light

8 May 2016
Unity and Oneness

1 May 2016
A Hidden Wholeness

24 Apr 2016
Lest we forget: What?

17 Apr 2016
God became human so that we could become divine!

3 Apr 2016
Thank God for St Thomas!

27 Mar 2016
Living life’s great contradictions

20 Mar 2016
Message of Peace

13 Mar 2016
Living Fully, Loving Wastefully

6 Mar 2016
Come Home, all is forgiven

28 Feb 2016
Simply, leave it alone

21 Feb 2016
Why do we “kill” our prophets?

7 Feb 2016
Keeping your Head in the Clouds

Sermons

Faithful Doubting

23 April, 2017 Psalm 133 & 134 and John 20: 19-31 Easter 2 By Rev Dr Christopher Page

“Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt,
I should not believe.” ~Henry David Thoreau

 

Introduction:
St Thomas has had a bit of a bad press over the years.  Early in Christian history his name became synonymous with the word doubt.  “Oh, you doubting Thomas,” one could say to someone who wouldn’t accept at first sight some premise or belief.  That association with Thomas and doubt comes from the story Lynette read this morning, where Thomas is told by the other disciples that they have seen the risen Jesus; and in the true spirit of 21st century scepticism, Thomas says to his fellow disciples, “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."

Now most of us would think that if that story had come from anywhere else other than the Bible, that would be a fair thing to say.  And if we think about it, for those of us in the 21st century, it is in fact the only thing we can say.  Our whole western thought and educational system is based upon enquiry, questioning and, to a large measure, doubt.  As the truly modern thinker, Henry David Thoreau said, “Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe.”

 

The Atheist and the Cardinal
I wonder if you saw the debate between Richard Dawkins and Cardinal Pell on Q&A some years ago.  I found it a rather unsatisfying experience.  It reminded me of the story of the two women who would always argue with each other over the back fence and who could never agree on anything because they were both arguing from different premises!

In the debate, what gave the atheist Dawkins the upper hand, and why he sounded more convincing than Cardinal Pell, was that he was a thoroughly modern man.  He is a rationalist and a materialist, “Don’t believe anything that you can’t see, hear, touch or taste,” or something like that.  In the debate it was Pell’s continual appeal to authority – the authority of the Church - that really got up Dawkins’s nose.  In the modern world - the age of reason - the world invented by Spinoza, John Locke, Sir Isaac Newton and Voltaire, the questions became as important as the answers and the answers could not be found anywhere else other than in the natural world; the world that we all inhabit and see and touch and taste every day.

To stay with that debate a little longer, Richard Dawkins’s catch cry was, “Don’t believe something just because an authority tells you; believe it because you can prove it yourself.”  Well that’s not quite so.  There are plenty of things in this world that I accept on the trustworthy authority of others.  I can question and ask questions but I often need to accept, dare I say, in faith, the truth of what others say. Perhaps where Dawkins is right is in the realm of religion where religious authorities say, “This is the way it is, thou shalt not question!”

Peter Kennedy, a retired Catholic priest in Brisbane, once said to me that the religious authorities in his church expected the lay people to “pray, pay and obey!” and to do it without questioning.

 

The Experience of Faith
Thomas needed more than the story of other people’s experience.  He needed the experience for himself.  He needed to see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands the presence of the living Jesus.  While some of the disciples may have been critical of him, I suspect most of us see that Thomas’ request was quite reasonable.  But that’s because of the cosmic shifts that have occurred in our way of being in the world in the last 2,000 years.  Hence someone like Thomas becomes for us a patron Saint, because he is one who experiences life in somewhat the same way we do.

Perhaps the most powerful thing here, and it is picked up in the last part of John’s narrative, is that Thomas wanted the experience of knowing that Jesus was alive.  It’s that word experience that I think resonates with us.  We live in an age of experience. In our spiritual lives we are often dissatisfied with just believing religious doctrines or beliefs.  You probably see that in the way I preach or talk about my Christian faith.  Last Sunday on Easter day I said, I am less interested in the how of the resurrection of Jesus, than I am in the “personal” experience of it. Has the life of Jesus risen in your life? Or how have you experienced resurrection today?”  The experience of new life is more important than the religious beliefs about it.  Now, perhaps not everyone will agree with that.

So Thomas, in a rather obtuse way, becomes a mentor to those who do not just accept what others say, but desire to experience it for themselves.  Here’s a naughty illustration that picks up an aspect of that. 

A Methodist, a Salvation Army member and a Presbyterian were together at a Pentecostal church service.  As the preacher got more and more fired up, the Methodist said “Amen!”, The Salvationist said “Hallelujah! and the Presbyterian said, “Point of Order!”

 

Oh dear, this was once a Presbyterian Church, wasn’t it?

The best of religion today is experimental.  And that doesn’t mean you have to be a Pentecostal.  It means that our faith, our beliefs, those things that we value and hold dear, are embraced with our whole being and not just accepted on the word of others or held exclusively in our minds. Harvey Cox, in his recent book The Future of Faith, suggests that the Christian Church has passed through three ages or periods.  The first was the age of faith or trust in which the life and message of Jesus was embraced and lived into, as a transforming experience.  The second was the age of belief when doubt was seen as the great enemy and was forcefully evicted from people’s minds and souls.  And now, he suggests, we live in the emerging age of the spirit in which it is more important to be spiritual and cultivate an inner life than it is to be religious.

 

Faithful Doubting
But remember, the story of Thomas is an illustration of what I have called“faithful doubting,”  and Thomas’s request to touch Jesus could only be fulfilled for a very short period of time, as was shown later in the story.  Jesus could come to the “doubting” Thomas and present him with the evidence he wanted.  John’s gospel, Chapter 20:

A week later the disciples of Jesus were again in the house, and this time Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."  Then Jesus 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."

Do not doubt.  The New Testament word for doubt is διστάζω - distazo- and it means “double-mindedness.”  The New Testament word for belief is πίστις - pistis - and is most often best translated as faith, or trust.  So the words John places on the lips of Jesus to Thomas are well translated “Don’t be double-minded but instead trust or have faith.”

There is an important place in the Christian Faith for doubt.  It is important because for us it is the way toward truth.  If we too quickly accept the testimony of others and fail to hold the truth and ask questions of it, then we will be like the seed that

fell on stony ground where there was not much earth; the seed immediately sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up the seed was scorched, and because it had no roots it withered away. (Matthew 13:5-7)

But it is also important that Thomas isn’t seen as the patron saint of sceptics.  In fact, he was true to what he had experienced; and when the evidence was shown to him he embraced with his heart the truth that stood before him. He should be known for his confession, “My Lord and my God!"  So in a significant way his path to faith had to wander through the valley of “double-mindedness,” of doubt and uncertainty, and for us that is a good thing. But he did arrive at a place where he could stand.  The encounter with Jesus was enough for him to confirm his trust in the life and message of Jesus and his place among the disciples.

I am sure I have quoted before the passage by Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet. Rilke picks up this need in all of us to question and not run too fast toward the answers.  He says:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

To live the questions is to be committed to “faithful doubting.” And to allow the spirit and the heart to live into the answers we seek.  Of course we don’t have to touch and see everything in order to believe or to live faithful lives; sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye. And within this story of Thomas is the recognition that the mere physical is not always necessary for faith. 

And Jesus said to Thomas, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

So the experience we have in the spiritual life is not a “physical” encounter with Jesus, but rather an inner awareness and opening of our hearts when we listen to the stories of faith and hope and love; and then they become for us a pathway toward the truth of life.  We don’t abandon our doubt or our uncertainty, that’s part of the way we find the truth. Rather we accept the old proverb that doubt is the beginning not the end of wisdom. And as the 20th century theologian Paul Tillich said, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one vital element of faith”.

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