The Gift of Doubt
Based on Acts 5:27-32 and John 20:19-29
Mostly I want to focus on the gospel of John this morning, but I invite you to turn aside for a moment and look at this passage from the book of Acts.
Imprisoned Peter in Acts 5
Here we find Peter, in particular, speaking out and challenging the rule makers, healing people and sharing his understanding of what God has been up to in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Peter and other unnamed apostles, have fallen afoul of the Jewish authorities by proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, and God at work through the life and now the Spirit of a man who had been crucified about two months previously. They were imprisoned, but apparently an angel let them out.
They show up and preach some more and are ordered to give an account of themselves before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the supreme council and tribunal of the Jewish people during this time and was headed by a High Priest and had religious, civil, and criminal jurisdiction. In response, “Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”
Peter’s Life-changing Experience
In the Easter season, what is the last thing you remember Peter doing? After Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter denies even knowing Jesus. Then on what we now call Easter Sunday, he goes looking for him at the tomb, because he didn’t believe the women’s testimony. He decided to check it out for himself.
Whatever you may or may not believe about the Easter story, it is clear that whatever happened, it profoundly changed Peter and he stayed faithful to that change for the remainder of his life.
I saw a wonderful little quote that said: “Don’t judge me by my past, I don’t live there anymore.” We need to free people from who we think they are based on who we once knew them to be. And we must never assume that God judges people based on our judgements.
Or as author Anne Lamott says, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Resurrected Jesus Shows Up
Well, let me say a little bit about John 20:19-29. Here we read that Jesus just shows up on the evening of that first Easter Sunday and says to the assembled disciples, “Peace be with you”, and he says some other important stuff that is the subject of another sermon, but what I want to talk about briefly is that Thomas wasn’t there, when Jesus showed up.
We don’t know if he was out getting some groceries for the evening meal, or if he was depressed and just wanted to be alone. He gets back and the others say, “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.” For Thomas it was important to touch the one he loved.
Touch, Thomas’ Language of Love
Jim and I hold hands when we walk around the lake together. It’s not because we fear the other will wonder off into traffic, or that we won’t love each other if we don’t hold hands – but `touch’ is our love language. For others it might be with words, or with acts of kindness, or with gifts of `things.’ Or some combination of the above. Touch was a love language for Thomas. The gospel continues…
26 A 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.” 27 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Jesus invites Thomas to touch him. “Have you believed because you have seen me, Thomas.” It feels a bit `judgey’ doesn’t it? But what if we said it differently. Not in an accusatory tone, but in a tone that says, I recognize what you need, Thomas, and I honour that. Your doubt will help you grow. Yes, he says, `Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.’ Because he knows he will not be physically present to them. He cannot stay.
New Perspective on Easter
This year I see Easter a little differently. I see it through the lens of my own father’s death. When my Dad died on June 29th last year, my daughter knew before I did. She knew because she felt his presence, but as she related to me – I wish I had been more open to that experience, but my predominant thought was, “Oh Grandpa, wait for Mom to come home.”
My Mom wears a necklace that for her symbolizes my Dad. On April 3rd, which would have been their 66th anniversary, she told me, “Your Dad still doesn’t like me walking in the bush on the walking trails, but he was with me at church this morning, when I went in, and when I shoveled the snow off the walk.”
On March 25th I got a Facebook message from my daughter-in-law. She said, Juanita do you believe in spirits? Yes, I responded. What’s up? “I think Athena got a visit from her great grandpa last night. I saw a large spirit orb above her crib and, with a swooshing motion that even my camera detected, it vanished in the ceiling.”
I of course cried, and I called Tiffanie and heard a bit more about the experience. I called Mom and told her. She touched the necklace mentioned before and asked, “Did you go visit little Athena?” “Yes,” was the response.
Connecting With Loved One’s Spirit
I, like Thomas, want to say, What about me? Why am I not seeing and feeling these things? I did go to the hospital, when I got to Ft. Nelson, and I did go and physically touch and bless the body of my dad – because I needed that. The closest I can get to that touch now, is through this little bear that Adele made for me, made from my Dad’s favourite clothes. But I know my Dad’s spirit lives on. Sometimes, I think I catch a glimpse of my Dad dancing… Is it wishful thinking? Is he really present? Does it matter?
The disciples soon realized that the spirit of Jesus was alive and well – it changed them. It changes us still. It’s appropriate to doubt, and ask questions. It’s appropriate to be open and then live in a way that reflects the highest, the most beautiful values of our beloved.
What If We Are Wrong?
Richard Wagamese, an Ojibway writer (died in 2017 in Kamloops) wrote in a little book of reflections, called “Embers.” What if we are wrong?
Me: What if we are wrong?
Old Woman: Wrong about what?
Me: All this ceremony, prayer, meditation.
What if at the end of it, all there is is nothing?
O.W. Then we still come out better people.
O.W. Can you think of a better way live than in gratitude? Can you think of a better way to be than to be kind, loving, compassionate, respectful, courageous, truthful and forgiving? Even if we are wrong, can you think of a better way to breathe than through all that? … I couldn’t. I can’t. I continue… p. 139
(Message by Juanita Austin – April 24th 2022)