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April 27/14 sermon- Doubt Deeper than (Dis)Belief

posted Apr 30, 2014, 8:59 PM by Wesley United Church Regina

We have entered the season of spring here in Southern Saskatchewan. Now I am aware that it might snow tonight but what’s a Saskatchewan spring without a little snow, amirite? But even if spring hasn’t quite sprung yet it is here and soon there will be visible signs. Buds will break the bark branches, flowers will force their way through the earth to the sky and we will proclaim that spring has sprung!

Spring is about new life. Spring is about rebirth. On this second Sunday of Eastertide it’s easy to see how images of spring rebirth and renewal lead directly to images of resurrection. As the sweet scents of spring assaults our senses it’s easy to conjure images of resurrection. Looking at new growth where we recently saw the sere deathlike landscape that winter displays it’s almost easy to believe in resurrection. Every spring we see life emerge from death so perhaps resurrection isn’t so hard to believe. Perhaps resurrection makes sense.

Thomas didn’t think so. Thomas the twin doubted. He was a doubter. That’s why we call him the doubting Thomas. This is where the term doubting Thomas came from. When his friends told Thomas that they had seen the risen Christ he was more than a little skeptical. They came and told him, “We have seen Jesus! He is risen!” Thomas was like, “Yeah right! Give me a break You guys must think I’m a dope!” And they’re all like, “No, no! Jesus isn’t dead! He’s alive!” But Thomas wasn’t convinced. He said to his friends, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger through the holes of jis hands and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas wanted proof. He wanted to put his fingers right through the holes in Jesus’ hands and stick his hand into Jesus side before he was gonna believe anything. Thomas wanted proof. And of course the next thing we know Jesus is standing right next him showing the marks of his crucifixion and telling him that he should just believe without proof or anything. That it’s better to just believe.

You know I always thought Thomas got a bad rap. When somebody tells you that your friend, who was brutally tortured and murdered, comes back to life who can blame you for being a little skeptical. But I also see why the author of John does this to poor Thomas. Don’t forget that that this account was written some 60-70 years after Jesus was crucified by someone who only heard about the Easter events second or third hand. Moreover, the fourth evangelist was part of a community in deep turmoil. For one thing, there was chaos all around them. It had been less than a generation since the Romans had smashed the temple and dispersed the Jewish peoples throughout the empire. Those remaining in Palestine were trying to figure out how to liv in trying circumstances. It was more like Afghanistan or Iraq than Canada. To make matters worse their local community was divided in two. It was a Jewish community, there was no such thing as Christians, but it was divided. Some of the Jewish people in the community said what about this guy Jesus there was something about him. He was different. Others in the community said Jesus was fine but let’s go back to our Jewish roots. It turned into a huge fight that split the community in two. So the author of John wrote this gospel, which was a kind of manifesto that said, “Hey! Jesus Christ is risen! No ifs ands or buts.”

So you can see why the author of John’s gospel wanted to enforce the belief in the risen Christ. But there is a problem with this. It’s problematic when we enforce beliefs too strongly. When we really put the force in en-force we cause harm in the world. And Christians have done that. We have insisted that unless you believe in the bodily resurrection, that unless you believe that Thomas actually stuck his fingers through the holes in Jesus’ crucified hands then you are part of the problem not the solution. We have created insiders and outsiders. This insistence on a very rigid set of beliefs this dog eat dogma has frequently led to a fanatical worldview that has encrusted the ministry and meaning, the teachings and tenets of the prince of peace into a prison of pigheaded presumption. All too often, we have taken the teachings, the examples and the life-giving vision of Jesus the Christ and overlaid it with a thick crust stifling Jesus’ message and meaning. We have overlaid Jesus’ message with a thick crust that doesn’t let the life out, that doesn’t let the love out.  We have turned Christ into crust.

It’s kind of like your garden before it becomes a garden. When you are ready to plant and you look out over your garden and it’s covered with this thick, hard layer of soil. While you have been waiting for the risk of frost to disappear, the topsoil has dried out and there is this thick, desiccated crust of soil that you can walk across without leaving a footprint. There is nothing growing, just a few weeds struggling through the concretion.

So what do you do? You take a pitchfork and you break it up. You take a pitchfork and drive it into the ground and turn over that hard encrusted soil and get into that moist black gold. That dark loamy soil that when you kneel down and pick it up and let it run through your fingers you can feel the life within, the life that is the basis for the miraculous growth that will bear fruit in the fall. You need to break through that crusty top layer to let the life out.

And that’s what we need to do our encrusted Christian beliefs. We need break the crusty concretized credos of Christianity. We need to take a pitchfork with tines marked alternately doubt and faith and take our foot and drive it into the scabby skin of life draining dogma. And we do this with doubt and faith. Thomas was right to doubt. We are right to question. We are right to push back. We are right to doubt. But we cannot live with doubt alone. We also need faith. Because the two go hand in hand. Like Thomas, doubt and faith are twins. Not identical twins but inextricably linked because you can’t have faith without doubt. As John Caputo says, “When is faith really faith? Not when it is looking more and more like we are right, but when the situation is beginning to look impossible, in the darkest night of the soul. The more credible things are, the less faith is needed, but the more incredible things seem, the more faith is required, the faith said to move mountains. Faith does not subsist in simple polar opposition to doubt but remains embedded in doubt all the way down.” Faith is what keeps us going, but we need doubt to crack the crust that covers the Christ.

And when we do this, when we take our pitchfork marked faith and doubt and we turn over the soil and plant the seeds of love and forgiveness we get something amazing! We get the Basilea Theou, we get the kin-dom of God! We release the life-giving message of Jesus Christ that frees us to love our enemies, to let oppressed go free, to co-create a world based on love and justice. When we crack the crust of certainty we release the kin-dom of God and we create the possibility of a world where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. We get the topsy-turvy world where Jesus dines with sinners and sex workers, where the first will be last and the last will be first, outsiders are insiders and no one goes hungry and everyone has a safe place to live. If we turn over the crusty soil of certainty and plant the seeds of radical hospitality we can have a harvest of the Basilea Theou, the kin-dom of God. We can have a new heaven and a new earth, where God has wiped away every tear. And all we need is faith…..and doubt. Amen.


John Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids), 2007.

Wesley United Church Regina,
Apr 30, 2014, 9:01 PM