Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
April 15, 2012

Scripture:

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

All of you, or most of you anyway, come to Sunday worship here fairly regularlyósome more regularly than others, but still, most of you come more or less regularly. You are all, most of you, friends or members of this Christian church. I imagine that if I asked each of you if you believe in God and in Jesus Christ most if not all of you would answer yes, I believe in God and in Jesus Christ. But let me ask you something. Though you may say that you believe in God and in Jesus Christ, do you sometimes have doubts about that? Or do you always have doubts about that? If you doóand frankly I think that if weíre honest we all have to say that we do, at least timesódoes it bother you that you have doubts? Do you wish you didnít? I suspect that we all wish we didnít have doubts about God and about Jesus Christ. In the story of ďDoubting ThomasĒ that we just heard we hear the risen Christ say to Thomas ďdo not doubt, but believe,Ē and we feel guilty because of our doubts, donít we. At least I know I do. We wish we didnít have doubts: Is God real? Is Jesus really the Son of God? Did he really rise from the grave? We wish we could answer all of those questions with an unqualified yes, but in our hearts we know that, at times at least, we canít. We know our hearts and our minds have doubts about those things, and we wish they didnít. Those doubt that I am pretty sure all of us have are what I want to talk about this morning.

The first thing I want to say about those doubts that we have is: Donít let them bother you. Having a doubt about something means that we arenít certain about it, but faith isnít about certainty. No less an authority than Paul Tillich, the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century, has said that doubt and faith necessarily go together. Without doubt you have certainty, and faith isnít about certainty.

Then let me ask you another question. When you hear Christ say in the story of Thomas ďdo not doubt, but believe,Ē what do you understand the words ďdoubtĒ and ďbelieveĒ to mean? Do you understand ďbelieveĒ to mean take as fact things you canít prove to be fact? If so, youíre in good company. Thatís what most people today take ďbelieveĒ to mean. When we say we have religious doubts we probably mean that we canít always take the things Christianity says about God and about Jesus Christ as true, as factual. We arenít sure they are true, that is, factual, so we say that we have doubts.

Well, hereís something that might help. In the Greek original of Johnís Gospel the words that get translated as doubt and believe donít really have anything to do with taking as true facts that canít be proved. In the Greek original of John these words mean more something like ďdo not be untrusting, but be trusting.Ē Throughout the New Testament, the Greek words that get translated as believe, belief, or faith are some form of a Greek word that means to trust, or to be faithful or loyal, more than it means accept questionable facts as true. Thatís really what Jesus is talking about when he tells Thomas, in our English translation, not to doubt but to believe. Heís saying trust me, be faithful to me, be loyal to me more than he is saying take facts about me to be true.

Now, it certainly does seem that in Johnís story Thomas is concerned about the facts of the matter of the risen Christ. He says he has to see and feel the wounds of Jesusí crucifixion on the body of the one his friends say is the risen Lord before he will believe it. He wants information. He wants to be sure of the facts before he will accept his friendsí claims about Jesus. Yet, as we have just learned, when Jesus speaks to him he speaks not of facts but of trust, of loyalty, of fidelity.

It seems to me that Jesus is changing the question on Thomas. I hear Jesus saying to Thomas go ahead and convince yourself of the facts if you must, but thatís not what really matters. What really matters is your willingness to live trusting God and trusting me. I hear Jesus saying Thomas my friend, youíve asked the wrong question. Youíve asked about facts. The real question isnít about facts. Itís about trust. It is about loyalty. It isnít about what facts youíll believe, itís about to whom you will entrust your life. Whom will you follow, who is your Lord, meóJesusóor someone or something else? Thomas, I believe, was asking the wrong question.

My friends, Iím afraid that we often ask the wrong question too. We ask: Am I certain of the facts? We say we need to know that this stuff about Jesus is factually true before we can follow him. Before we can trust him. Before we can be loyal to him.. And I am thoroughly convinced that when we approach faith that way we are making the same mistake that Thomas made. We get it backwards. We want knowledge before discipleship. We want truth before commitment.

And really, thatís not how faith works. Faith actually works the other way around. The truth of any religious tradition is not, after all, a mental truth, it is an existential one. It isnít a truth that we know as much as it is a truth that we live. The truth of any religious tradition, ours included, canít be known from the outside. From the outside we can study what a religious tradition says. We can learn facts about it, but thatís all. We cannot learn the truth of it. The only way to know the truth of a religion is from the inside. The only way to know the truth of any religion is by practicing it. By living it. By trying it out in your own life. By participating in its worship. Experiencing its community. Following its precepts. It is by doing the religion that we may come to believe the religion. We may come to accept its factual claims as factual or not, but more importantly we will come to know its truth as our truth, its life as our life, its God as our God.

So let me suggest something. If your doubts about Christianity are bothering you, try pretending. Role play being a Christian. Act the part of being a Christian. Donít believe it, live it out. Donít get hung up on thinking, enter into the faith heart and soul. If you will do that, the truth of Christianity will reveal itself to you. If you will do that you will come to know itís truth. Not its factual truth perhaps, but its existential truth. Not its truth for your head but its truth for your life.

And you may well ask: How do I do that? Well, all of you here this morning have already done one of the most significant things you can do to role play being a Christian. You have come to Christian worship. Have you ever noticed yourself having less doubt about Christianity when youíre participating in Christian worship than you have at other times? I have. Thatís because in worship we donít so much think about the faith, although we may do that as well, as we enact it in prayer, music, and hearing the word.

Which is all very good, but of course we normally come to Christian worship for an hour, or a little bit more, on Sunday morning. What about the rest of the time? Well, the rest of the time we can do over and over some of the things we do here on Sunday morning. We can pray. We can sing hymns. We can read the Bible. If it will help we can use a daily devotional guide like the one our womenís fellowship provides. If youíre technically oriented you can find a wide variety of devotional aids and meditation guides on line.

Beyond that, we can serve others. Service to others is after all the hallmark of the Christian life. We can volunteer at the food bank or at some other worthwhile organization like Take the Next Step. And we can practice asking different questions about the choices we make every day, choices about what we buy, for example. Are our purchases supporting the exploitation of labor or the degradation of the environment somewhere in Godís world? And our political choices. Do our political choices further the coming of Godís Kingdom of peace and justice, or do they prop up systems of violence, privilege, and oppression?

In other words, we can put our doubts aside and enter into the Christian life. We can practice being Christians. I can tell you because Iíve done it myself that when we do, the truth of the Christian faith will appear to us. You wonít think its truth, you will feel its truth. You wonít think its power, you will feel its power in your life. You may never arrive at factual certainty about it, but that wonít matter. It wonít matter because you will know the truth of the faith at a level so much deeper than mere factual certainty. You will stop asking the wrong question that Thomas asked: Do I know for sure? You will start asking the right question to which Jesus pointed Thomas: Do I trust God? Do I trust Jesus Christ? Do I trust my life to the God I know in Jesus Christ? And you will answer not with your head only but with your whole being: Yes! Yes, as Thomas confessed, Jesus is my Lord and my God. Thatís what matters. Thatís what makes all the difference. Thanks be to God. Amen.