Sermon Archives

Thomas and the Doubt of Desire ~ John 20:19-31

To be honest, until this week, I never felt much sympathy for “doubting” Thomas. Give me ‘denying’ Peter or ‘laughing ‘ Sarah, or that prostitute Rahab, or the adulterous murderer/song writer King David. I like the naughty lusty sinners best!

Even Judas, whose premeditated betrayal led to our salvation.

If God can choose and love these people then there may be hope for me; and for even some of you! Truly, I just don’t think that anyone is ultimately outside of God’s power to redeem.

But Thomas – pedestrian, a little bit of a whiner?

I mean he is a disciple, one of the inner-circle. He hears the same reports, not only of the women but now of the other disciples. He refuses to accept the accounts.

Reminds me a bit of climate change deniers.

But Thomas gets his experience – Jesus says; “you want to see the marks on my hands and my side and put your fingers in them? Go ahead.”

Thomas can’t doubt now, now that he has had his experience. Like it will be hard to doubt when Miami is underwater.

But I had a change of heart about Thomas this week.

I want to talk a bit about doubt and Jesus’ call to us as “doubting” disciples this morning.

We all have doubt.

Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Fear is the opposite of faith.

As Frederick Buechner wrote,
Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.

I don’t believe God wants us to be zealots for narrow-minded certainty – leave that to ISIS. Rather God wants us for broad-minded faithfulness – willing to take chances and even be wrong as long as we are seeking after God. So we hold all things loosely, and stay open-minded, open hearted and curious. A certain amount of faithful doubt is a good thing!

I read an article by William Irwin in the New York Times entitled “God is a Question, Not an Answer.” Irwin writes and I agree with him:
People who claim certainty about God worry me, both those who believe and those who don’t believe… they are too ready to impose their views on others.

And then Irwin describes two types of doubt – almost like good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.

The two types of doubt that Irwin describes, which I found helpful and shone a new light on “doubting” Thomas, are the “doubt of indifference” and the “doubt of desire.”

Irwin defines the “doubt of indifference” as “simply a matter of not caring.” This is a cynical doubt, lazy doubt – it is the “whatever” response – dismissive doubt. An excuse making doubt: “I doubt it will make any difference, so I won’t do anything.”

Then there is the “doubt of desire.” According to Irwin, “a doubt of desire approaches the question of life (or is there a God, or what does it matter?) with the hope…” that there is more: a higher power, a sense of right, a value to human existence.” The doubt of desire is really a yearning for engagement!

Thomas’ doubt is not of indifference. Thomas deeply yearns to have an experience of the Risen Christ.

He doesn’t want to take the other disciples’ word for it. It is not because he thinks the disciples are lying or doesn’t trust them – he deeply desires an experience too.

I resonate with that. I think every one of us wants an encounter; wants to experience love, hope, joy, value. Experience matters.

Our hearts follow our hopes like the sunflower follows the sun. Your doubt can be the place of your yearning, you see.

And church, right here, is the place where we bring our doubts and yearning for more and actually experience something transformative. Or we should. If you are not experiencing the love of Jesus Christ here – then go find it someplace else – let your doubt of desire lead you – like Thomas demand an experience.

Year after year our confirmation class comes to the podium and the young people confess: “I don’t know what I believe, but I have experienced love and acceptance … here. This is home and this is family.”

Those who have completed Faith Leader report, “I still have questions, but I find fellowship and I pray and think about my life and call in ways I have never experienced before.”

Those who have become involved in Greater Cleveland Congregation or the Food Pantry, or Labre – “I don’t know what I believe, but I serve and it changes me.”

I really think that this is where our Christian faith – which is an expressed “doubt of desire” – makes sense: Faith not as the end of the road, but the start of the seeking and finding.

This is where our faith intersects with the world, and can encourage us in evangelism – spreading the good news of the Gospel in word and deed. We have to identify in others and ourselves the “doubt of desire.” And then engage our desire around action.

For we will find our faith not in location but in locomotion!

Jesus shows his wounds. Perhaps that is where you should start too.

We can’t answer every question. We don’t know every Bible verse. We certainly aren’t perfect. But your life speaks, your choices give witness, and your words and actions reflect your deepest yearning to be connected and to experience for ourselves a truth beyond our doubts. This is what Thomas wanted. This Doubt of Desireis what Thomas teaches us.

Don’t worry about what you don’t know, or haven’t experienced – go with what you do know and have experienced.

It isn’t about what you know or don’t know – it is what you are willing to give your life to. Are you willing to follow your doubts into action?

You can all exists on the continuum of doubt – you should, frankly. You shouldn’t be scared of doubt. However, you shouldn’t give more power to your doubt than your hopes. Or belittle your experience.

Thomas wanted an experience and he placed his fingers in the open wounds of Jesus and he saw and knew.

Well, let me tell you; Jesus is still showing himself, showing his wounds, asking us to touch them: The wounds of Jesus are everywhere to see – everywhere there is injustice, bleeding in the streets, poverty and lack of education and health, mistrust, racism, ignorance and hatred, closed minded certainty, pain and suffering – and indifferent doubt that leads to cynicism…. Oh, the wounds of Jesus are still before us – they are within each of us. For we are all wounded, showing scars.

That for which Christ died is still in process; Sin and evil is everywhere around – we don’t doubt that, so why should we doubt the divine power of good to change lives, institutions and systems?

Jesus invites you to touch and see, to see the pain and feel the pain, your own and others, and seek to move the pain towards paradise, fear to forgiveness, impotence to real spiritual power.

And in the doing you find meaning, in the pressing onward you find the strength, in the risk you find new worlds.

There is something deeply faithful about doubt that drives you to commitment and risk. As Jean Shinoda Bolen has written in Gods in Everyman:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation),… that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred…Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

Thomas asked for an encounter – he got it. Thomas followed his doubt of deep desire and it changed him and it moved Providence – for Jesus came to him.

Follow your desire. Step after your deepest yearning. Doubt everything. Demand an experience. Put God to the test. Then keep your eyes open! You may not get what you want, but you just might find you get what you need, what you really yearned for.

There Jesus is standing offering himself, inviting you beyond the doubt of indifference to the doubt desire.