April 16, 2023
SERMON: ‘NO Way. WAY!!’ Rev. Jane Courtright
I once saw in the Christian Century periodical
a pretty clever advertisement for the Episcopalian Church.
It was a picture of a young man with
A VERY frustrated look on his face.
WHY was obvious:
He had a piece of duct tape across his mouth!
He couldn’t talk! Underneath that picture were these words:
“The problem with churches that have all the answers
is that you can’t ask questions.”
I suppose that most of you know by now
that I resemble Thomas in the questioning department!
I am & have always been/ the one to ask questions!
I think I drove my parents to distraction
with all my ‘whys & hows!’
I’ve talked before about the Assembly of God church
I attended as a 10 & 11 year old.
The biggest reason I left that church was because
my questions were not answered & in fact DISCOURAGED.
For example, when I asked the pastor why it was wrong
for me to listen to rock music, wear bell bottoms or dance, he replied,
“If you really love Jesus, it won’t matter why. You just won’t do it.”
Unfortunately, that church is not the only church which
discourages discussion, questions and doubts.
One man told the story of why HE quit going to church:
“I used to be a member of a church,
But they said it was a sin to doubt, so I left.”
He went on to say that the pastor not only discouraged his doubts,
But told him it was dangerous to doubt any part of Christianity,
and warned him that his doubts were like a virus
which would infect the entire church!
I wonder whether Thomas –
Doubting Thomas as we’ve come to call him-
would be welcome in the Assembly of God church I attended,
…..or the church that this man left. MOST LIKELY NOT.
A church that says that doubt is a sin would NOT welcome Thomas.
Isn’t it interesting then,
that Thomas was welcomed as one of the disciples,
& ironic, that Jesus himself picked Thomas – doubts and all!,…
to be one of his closest followers?
As we have just heard, Thomas got the name Doubting Thomas
because of something that happened shortly after that 1st Easter.
The disciples have all come together in a house in Jerusalem…
all except Thomas, who is not there with them.
Suddenly, the Risen Christ appears to them,
shows them the wounds in his hands & side,
breathes new life into their confused & grieved spirits;
then sends THEM to carry on his ministry.
Later on, when Thomas comes back,
they can hardly wait to tell him: “We have seen Jesus!”
But Thomas says to them,
“Unless I see for myself, I WILL NOT believe.”
Ever since, he’s been labeled: DOUBTING THOMAS.
But he’s not the only one!
Take for example Donald Coggan,
who was the 101st Archbishop of Canterbury. He wrote:
“I am more of an agnostic today than when
I was an undergraduate 45 years ago.”
He joked, “That would make a good headline in the newspaper,
wouldn’t it? “Agnostic Archbishop Sounds Off About Doubt!”
What he meant, of course, is that the more he learned,
the more he realized how much more he had to learn –
…how much he didn’t know.
I am currently reading ‘The Book of Joy,’ a week-long conversation
between long time friends
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
If you’d like to share thoughts, tears & laughs between these
openminded, questioning, learning, listening and faithful
human beings, I recommend that you read this book!
Or how about Annie Dillard, popular author and poet?
In her beautiful autobiography, ‘An American Childhood,’
Annie writes about how as a teenager she struggled with her faith
while she attended the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.
She was very critical of what she saw as the prim & proper ways
of that Presbyterian Church as a teen.
‘It wasn’t surprising, really, that I alone in this church
knew what the barefoot Christ, if ever there was such a person,
would think about things – grape juice, [elders in] tailcoats,
[the minister’s] British [accent], expensive clothes, etc….
After all, I was the intelligence around these parts, single-handedly.”
But one Sunday, as she looked down from the balcony, she noticed
the whole congregation bowing their heads in prayer.
Maybe they’re pretending to pray, she thought.
But then, she began to be critical of herself.
“I began to doubt my own ideas…I could feel, despite myself
Some faint, thin stream of spirit braiding forward from the pews…
the people WERE praying…to God, just as they seemed to be praying.
That was the fact. I didn’t know what to make of it.”
Today, Annie Dillard is an active member of the Roman Catholic parish.
Scott Peck, the Christian psychiatrist,
famous for writing the book The Road Less Traveled,
says that there is no such thing as a good hand-me-down religion.
Even if learned from others, we have to experience it ourselves!
Peck writes, “To be vital..our religion must be a wholly personal one,
forged entirely through the fire of our own questioning & doubting
in the crucible of our own experience of reality.”
It was like that for Thomas, and it’s like that for many of us.
Today’s gospel reading tells us
that Thomas was called ‘the twin.’
that means he was a twin and had a twin.
Even though we don’t know anything about that biological twin,
it’s not hard to imagine that he’s had a lot of
spiritual twins through the years; who also doubt,
ask a lot of questions, & find it hard to believe.
Doubting Thomas has many twins;
Maybe YOU resemble Thomas…as I’ve said, I KNOW I do!
If you do, you might find this detail of today’s story interesting:
The gospel of John tells us that the Risen Christ
appeared to Thomas in the middle of people – community.
Thomas wasn’t alone;
He was with people who had known and loved Jesus.
Can you think of how the community of faith – the church,
helps someone – you or me – move from doubt to faith?
*The Sunday School teacher who shares their own faith
To help others find their own?
*The sermon which seems to a first-time visitor or returning member
to have been written just for them?
*The singing of a hymn to which someone
suddenly hears the words afresh?
*The casserole, soup or cake that speaks of God’s love
to someone very vulnerable?
*The strong hug given during Greeting Time
– a much needed hug?
*The listening ear that hears the innermost feelings,
the legs that walk with someone on a hard path of life?
***I could look at each one of YOU & continue this list!
There’s probably no better Sunday of the year
to think about the relationship between doubt and faith
than the Sunday after Easter,
when the lilies are absent or have begun to wither.
We have more than enough!
Not only do we have the presence,
support & love of one another,
we also have the belief that
when 2 or 3 or more come together,
THE RISEN CHRIST IS WITH US.
THANK GOD! ALLELUIA!!! AMEN.