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Message for Sunday 28 April 2019: “Don’t Doubt Thomas”

Easter is the preeminent miracle of Christianity and perhaps you’re still basking in its glow. Lent and holy week culminated in Easter, the end of a tremendous build-up. It can be easy for enthusiasm to wain after all the excitement. It’s as if the energy of holy days risks emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Some folks seem to feel this way when they say to themselves “I’ve done my duty by coming to church on Easter; now leave me alone until Christmas.” This odd statement is not simple cynicism because it reveals the thinking of alarming numbers of people toward church, many of whom never attend.

On a cultural level, America’s impoverished spiritual status has many potential sources. The challenge of disinterested and hostile attitudes toward church underscores the escalating need to help people cultivate a healthy spiritual life. Are you prepared for this task? Are you willing to embrace God’s ongoing transformation to help you outreach more effectively?

If you struggle with your spiritual life then consider that people inside and outside the church can face doubt, the highlight of today’s message from John 20:19-31. Doubt can be a problem when it interferes with faith. Doubt is also harmful when it promotes a feeling that a relationship with God isn’t worth the trouble. Feelings about God can wax and wane along with the seasons of time and tradition. Sensing God’s redemptive presence is desirable yet trying to force or artificially maintain a spiritual high isn’t a remedy for doubt.

The mission and mandate of your church involves overcoming anything that stands between you and spiritual vitality. Therefore God invites you to rally your resources and counter negativity both inside and outside the church walls. There’s enough blame to go around for the problems in many churches but rather then pointing fingers it’s more helpful to fight a more pernicious enemy, the slow death arising from apathy (which is related to doubt). Even people who’ve grown up in the church are not immune from a spiritual lethargy or the corrosive fatalism of a defeatist attitude.

To achieve all that God has for you join your sisters and brothers of faith and rally behind a unified, enthusiastic message, one which communicates to the world that we have priceless spiritual gems to share. Even skeptical people can enjoy a better life by accepting God’s redemption. We must raise our morale while helping those who either have no healthy faith or who are slipping away and need assistance restoring their faith. We must work tirelessly to help all sorts of people draw closer to God.

The Christian life is not without questions and doubts. Enter doubting Thomas, that early disciple and friend of Jesus who didn’t believe that his Lord had returned after the resurrection. Jesus came back one day but Thomas wasn’t convinced because he was out of the house and hadn’t yet seen Jesus. Aside from giving Thomas a title such as “Doubter-in-Chief,” Thomas might also be labeled an empiricist, which refers to someone seeking verifiable evidence through observation. Was Thomas completely wrong in his attitude? Not necessarily. Consider how facts, observation and maybe just a little doubt can play a positive role in spiritual development. As for Thomas, Jesus came and presented evidence—himself—and Thomas believed. Thomas had finally experienced Jesus directly rather than inheriting others’ perceptions.

Perhaps like Thomas you have also doubted. Doubting isn’t all bad, such as when you ask legitimate questions leading to increased understanding. In this way, doubt is productive and can motivate you to catch errors before they catch you. Doubt can function as a stimulus to inquiry and it can help you grow. Doubt turns sour when it undermines love and truth. Doubting can be an excuse by cynics who reject God. People who seek justifications for abandoning spirituality can produce all sorts of creative excuses. There’s always been a bunch of fake news and alternative facts about God which undermine spiritual health.

Thankfully, Thomas wasn’t hardened because he responded positively to Jesus, who reminded Thomas that persons who keep the faith without direct observation are blessed. Jesus did not condemn Thomas’ doubting, yet Jesus praised those who were willing to believe without seeing. This is a tricky balance, and Thomas cannot be faulted for using his mind to help sort fact from fiction. Religion often coerces people to believe fantastic lies, and within the marketplace of religious ideas love and truth are under constant attack. People are assailed by competing beliefs and conflicting evidence, which is why reasoned doubt is so valuable.

Did Thomas have it easy compared to us? Perhaps. Jesus literally stood in front of Thomas as the doubting apostle gazed in wonder.  We don’t have Jesus making a command performance, swooping into church sanctuaries so that we can observe his wounds. Perhaps we possess something more permanent and pervasive than a body: God’s spirit. Yes, the most compelling evidence of Jesus is God’s essence of love which is always present and felt if you are open to it.

Many of God’s people have doubts, which can have various sources. Evidence for many religious beliefs may come and go along with the ebb and flow of history and science; doubts also fluctuate. Thankfully you are invited to embrace something more than just what you see. You are faithful as you believe in something greater than yourself, surpassing even the shimmering veneer of physical reality. Got love and truth?  If you can embrace these twin pillars of the spiritual universe then you’ll have all the evidence you need to accept God and the wonderful life that follows.—Reverend Hoxey

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