Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, January 21, 2022
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Doubt and Faith

1 Peter 1:3-9 and John 20:19-31

 It occurs to me that this might be a very timely message.  We are living in an age of “fake news.”  People “spin” the news.  Or they “selectively report” the news in order to try to influence other people.  Or sometimes they just plain make things up.  The technical term for this is propaganda.  The word lying also comes to mind.  

 But this is nothing new, right?  As Solomon wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  After the resurrection, the disciples went out and joyfully proclaimed, “Jesus is risen.”  Meanwhile, the Sanhedrin, the Jewish authorities, spread the report that the disciples came during the night and stole his body.  Only one of them can be true.  Which one was it?  

 Sometimes, if we want to know the truth, we can’t just accept what other people tell us.  We have to go out and seek the truth; ask the questions.  

 The story begins on the first day of the week, Sunday.  This is, of course, the reason why the early Christians who came out of Judaism, that celebrated a Saturday Sabbath, began to worship on Sunday.  It was the day of the resurrection.  

 The disciples are still in Jerusalem, and not by choice.  They can’t leave.  They couldn’t leave during the Sabbath; traveling was forbidden.  And they can’t really leave on Sunday either.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread is still going on.  If they leave, it will attract attention.  And they’re trying to avoid attention.  They are afraid the Jewish authorities are going to arrest or even kill them just like they did to Jesus.  So it’s better for them to wait until the festival is over and then they can slip back to Galilee with the crowds.  Not to mention the fact that some of them have already seen Jesus risen from the dead and told the rest.  

 In fear, they are meeting behind locked doors.  They are likely still in the “upper room” where they celebrated the Passover.  It appears that room continued to be the meeting place of the first disciples.  And if it’s the same place where they are still meeting in Acts 12, this is the home of John Mark and his family; that would be Mark who wrote the second Gospel and was a traveling companion of Paul, and later, Peter.  

 Suddenly, Jesus is with them.  It seems that he just comes through the locked door.  And of course, this tells us there is something of a mystery to the resurrection body.  Coming through a door would suggest the resurrection body is less than

corporeal, not entirely physical.  It sounds like a ghost.  Most people in the first century believed in ghosts.  

 But then again, people touch Jesus.  Jesus eats food.  Those are not things that a ghost body would do.  So there is a mystery here.  Some theologians suggest that maybe rather than Jesus’ body being “less real” than the door, Jesus’ body is “more real” than the door.  Certainly, there is a mystery we aren’t going to solve today!

 Jesus’ body also still bears the scars of the resurrection, the wounds in his hands, his side, and so on.  Will that be true of all resurrection bodies?  That doesn’t make sense.  If someone loses a limb, they certainly wouldn’t want to be resurrected in that form.  Not to mention all the other terrible things we could imagine; like being eaten by a shark or something.  

 Perhaps Jesus’ resurrection body still bears these scars because they have such significance.  In the book of the Revelation, chapter 5, Jesus appears as “a Lamb that was slain.”  These scars are part of Jesus’ glory.  They show his loving sacrifice.  

 “Peace be with you,” he says.  The presence of Jesus brings peace, even in the midst of fearful circumstances.  

 “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”  We are given authority.

 “Then he breathed on them.”  This recalls Genesis 2, where God brings Adam to life by breathing life into him.  Also, Ezekiel 37, where the breath of God brings back to life a valley full of dry bones.  The breath, that is the Spirit, the same word in both Greek and Hebrew, the Spirit of God gives life, even life after death.  “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit is our source of power from God.  

 “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.”  Now, we don’t have the power or authority to forgive sins.  Only God can do that.  But we are authorized to speak on God’s behalf.  We proclaim the forgiveness of sins that is available through Jesus Christ.  

 The Church needs Jesus.  Jesus gives us the power and the authority to do God’s will.  But likewise, Jesus needs the Church.  The Church is the Body of Christ, the visible, earthly presence of Christ to the world.  

 The last two verses of the chapter are, in many ways, the conclusion of John’s Gospel.  Yes, there’s chapter 21, but that really reads as more of a “postscript.”  The

summary statement of John’s Gospel is the last verses of chapter 20:  “These things are written so you may believe,” and I would add to that, believe even without seeing, “that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.  And by believing, you may have life.”  

  1 Peter said it this way, “Without seeing, you believe, and so you have glorious and inexpressible joy.  Your reward is the salvation of your souls.”  

 But, of course, we find out that one of the Twelve was not there.  Thomas wasn’t there that first Easter Sunday.  Poor, doubting Thomas.  That’s all we remember him for!  

 Thomas did seem to be something of a natural pessimist, someone who always saw the worst possible outcome in any situation.  In John 11, as Jesus is headed up to Jerusalem for the last time, the disciples are afraid of what will happen.  And Thomas says, “Let’s go with him so that we can die with him.”  That’s kind of pessimistic.  But he was not without courage.  He was the one who pushed the rest to go and face their fears, even if it meant death!

 He wasn’t with the others.  Many of us withdraw from other people in times of sadness or difficulty.  We should not!  That’s when we need others the most.  And we especially shouldn’t withdraw from the fellowship of believers because that is the Body of Christ, and that’s where we are most likely to see Jesus.  Remember, he said, “Where two or three gather in my name, I am there.”  

 When he hears this news from the other disciples, he won’t believe it.  “I won’t believe unless I touch the wounds.”  He doubts.  

 Here’s the thing about doubts; they are inevitable.  We are going to wrestle with doubt at some point in our faith journey.  The real question is not “Will we doubt?” but “What will we do when we doubt?”  Where will our doubts take us?  Doubts can take us in one of two directions:  On the one hand, our doubts can harden into skepticism, stubborn resistance to a message.  On the other hand, our doubts can lead us to questions; to seek for the truth.  

 Think about contemporary issues.  One of the things I see in our society is that people on both sides of the political spectrum doubt claims made by the other side.  Some people on the right side of the aisle say, “I don’t believe in global warming.”  Some people on the left side of the aisle say, “I don’t believe there’s any risk or any cost to illegal immigration or refugees.”  

 Here’s the thing about doubts:  Regardless of what your beliefs are, they don’t change reality.  If global warming is real, it’s real even if you don’t believe it.  If illegal immigration is harmful to our society, that’s true even if you don’t believe it.  And no, I don’t want to argue about either issue.  Instead of our doubts leading to stubborn resistance, they should lead us to question, to see out the truth.  And there is a big part of the problem in our society; we don’t want to seek out the truth if it makes us uncomfortable.  We should listen to what the other side has to say.  But most of us only want to hear from people who agree with us.  There’s my thought on politics for the month.  Don’t hold your breath for the next one.

 Eight days later they are back together.  Eight days in the Jewish reckoning of time would be the next Sunday.  If they were talking about the day after tomorrow, they would say “three days from now,” counting today, tomorrow, and the next day.  We would say “two days from now.”  

 This time Thomas is with them.  In spite of his doubts, he is there.  He came back the next Sunday to see what would happen.  He sought out the truth.  And when he saw Jesus, he believed.  And after he believed, he spent the rest of his life telling others Jesus had risen and Jesus is Lord.  

 What should we take away from this?  

 First, are you coming to the Church, the Body of Christ, expecting to see Jesus?  Second, if you do see Jesus, are you telling others what you’ve seen?  And third, if you don’t see Jesus, are you going to come back the next Sunday to see what happens?  

 Doubts are inevitable.  What we do with doubts is our choice.  Doubts can make us resistant to the truth.  Or they can push us to seek out the truth.  And that’s what they should do.  

Verse of the Day...