Today’s story from John
is both wonderful and aggravating.
Here is what is aggravating.
The author of John has laced a false dichotomy
into the lining of the Thomas story – as he often does –
that yells at us between the lines and says:
“Either you believe MY experience
and MY explanation of events
or you are a lesser human being.”
It is a straight jacket that makes us really uncomfortable
but we’re not sure why
until we dissect the dang story
and realize he is placing us in a bind
that we do not have to accept.
I’ll come back to that problem,
but lets think out loud together about doubt.
When a couple is pregnant
or planning an adoption,
or in some other way expecting the arrival of a child,
anticipation and hope
ripple along the lining of their stomachs –
our bodily conductor of emotional voltage.
But at the very moment of anticipation
doubt enters the body.
Doubt sends a current to the brain.
Doubt posts a blog in our grey matter.
Doubt stalks the corridors of the mind.
But expectant couples
are not the only ones to stand at the door
through which doubt enters.
Any of us who have ever received a promotion or
taken a new job or
been thrilled by a new opportunity
know the sensation of entering the shadow of doubt.
All the happy voices celebrating within us
cringe when doubt enters the body,
“Oh no, not him” they frown.
And the power of doubt is far greater
than its stature.
A doubt need not be very big at all
to wither a good mood
or bring down the party of good vibes inside us.
Doubt is like a facial blemish, even a small one.
Whether or not anyone else even notices
a little zit or scab on our face,
we feel as if it is huge.
The blemish can be covered up
but its presence is larger than the blemish itself.
Doubt is the same:
even a small doubt
will worm its way in
and chews a tunnel bigger than needed
to wiggle through brain.
Expecting parents cannot help but wonder
what kind of parent will they be?
What kind of child will their secret little stranger become?
Likewise, even the most confident among us,
when faced with a new job or promotion,
or a new marriage or partnership,
can become haunted by wisps of the “What ifs?”
Because it makes us uncomfortable,
doubt gets a bad rap.
Indeed, doubt is hard to enjoy and is like
a relative that gives us
great Christmas and birthday presents
but who is a little creepy just the same.
Here is the thing about doubt:
it is part and parcel of our spiritual muscle and sinew,
and it helps make possible the movements
of the Spirit in our lives.
We need doubt.
Doubt must be present
in order for us to be in good working order.
The thing to remember
is that the opposite of doubt is not faith.
Did you catch that?
The opposite of doubt is not faith.
In fact, doubt is reoccurring notes
in the musical score we call faith.
Doubt is integral to the faith experience.
Doubt is part of faith.
Exercising faith requires doubt as one of the agents
of maturity – a kind of yeast of the soul.
Doubt exercises and strengthens
We need it.
So we must lose the notion
that doubt and faith oppose each other
because it is simply not true.
The opposite of faith is cynicism.
Cynicism is an absence of hope
regarding God’s best dream for humankind;
or from a more humanistic point of view,
the absence of hope for any human effort
to build and sustain a better world.
On the other hand, as I have said before,
FAITH is not an idea or belief in something,
it is an experience or encounter.
The Biblical notion of faith
is always embedded in encounters with God,
experiences that particular people had
and then struggled to understand and explain.
FAITH is not about intellectual beliefs
or doctrinal formulas
that we believe or do not believe.
Those are from religion
and institutions of religion, which seek
to get the rest of us to go along
with a prescribed set of beliefs and ideas about God.
Instead, FAITH is a human encounter with the holy;
whether in the form of a wee small voice
whispering to us in the dark of the night,
or a blistering dream that shatters our previous plans,
or the warm depth of God in community
making itself known in the bread and wine.
FAITH is an encounter with God,
a personal or communal experience
with the actual presence of God in our midst.
FAITH is an experience that we engage or not,
rather than an idea or doctrine we believe or not.
Here is the take-away for me from today’s gospel:
the author of John takes a great story and both
mangles and interprets it badly.
For reasons we can never know
John is crippled by the idea that doubt
is some kind of horrid spiritual crime
embedding us with darkness.
It is very clear from the way John tells this story
that the story of Thomas
is an argument against his contemporaries
who questioned the claim of Jesus’ resurrection.
“Oh yeah,” John whines in a I’m telling mom kind of way,
“well Thomas didn’t believe it either
and let me tell you what Jesus told him:
‘Blessed are those who do not see
and yet believe.’”
Fast forward 21 centuries
and we know how John’s contemporaries
must have felt when pushed into outsider status because they chose
to respect their own reason and experience
over the claims of John’s story.
Many of us, like Thomas,
want to insist that we need
and think for ourselves
rather than believe the claims of others.
Being 21st century Christians,
we may need to do just the opposite
of what John wants us to do with his story.
Instead of suspending our own experience
because he told us so,
we can look back and say to John:
“Look, John, we were not there.
We cannot put our fingers in the holes,
so we reject your false dichotomy
that tells us we must either
believe YOUR experience and reject our own,
or there is something lesser and wrong about us.”
A big, fat question for us in the 21st century is:
Without the benefit of sticking our fingers
in the blood and pus encrusted wounds,
how do we discover the meaning and hope,
or even experience for ourselves,
21st century Christians need to change the question
from, “did it really happen” to
“how do we practice resurrection twenty-one centuries later.”
Believe it or not,
there is an actual answer to that question.
In fact, Jesus gave us a direct answer
for how we are to practice resurrection in 2016.
It is so obvious we look right past it.
Jesus invited us to pray a particular prayer
that we pray regularly,
and pray so regularly
that its like peanut butter on the roof of our mouth –
But if we think about it
and take it apart
we will discover an amazing
and radicalizing program for resurrection.
“Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
as it is in heaven.”
To practice resurrection
is to bring forth the kingdom of God
as it is in heaven –
on earth as it is in heaven.
That is as direct as it gets
from the horses mouth to our ears.
(No offense meant to Jesus).
But allow me to put it into a little less churchy language.
God has a dream for us,
a ‘best’ dream for us –
as a spiritual community,
and as a species –
and when we enter into that dream,
and midwife it from dream to actuality,
then we are practicing resurrection.
Thy kingdom come
on earth as it is in heaven
is not the tyranny of perfection
in which we are held liable
for making Trinity like new again
or for turning Geneva into the Garden of Eden.
It is not a tyranny of preservation either,
in which we are supposed to recreate the past
to conform to our idealized notions
or our inflated memories.
Thy kingdom come…
is not a tyranny of ego
in which real life with all its bumps and bruises,
cuts and wounds,
suddenly disappears and we get to swim
in a perfect 82-degree pool of peace and fulfilled desires.
What thy kingdom come IS…
is God’s best dream for us revealed and unfurled
one step at a time without a known end
and without a precise strategic plan.
Thy kingdom come…
depends upon the healing power
of our shared brokenness
at least as much as on our common strength and wisdom.
Thy kingdom come…
or God’s best dream for us,
is revealed when we discover points of intersection
between our common meaning and purpose
and our personal meaning and purpose.
It is the nexus of personal and corporate
that infuses the imagination
and points to a compelling point on the horizon
to which we simply must reach.
is the earnest attempt
to know God’s best dream for us,
and the patient, incremental
steps toward living out that dream
with the particular people
with whom we live and work and play.
Now, just to make sure we are drawing the lines
from A to B to C,
all of this is exactly what we claim about Baptism.
Some people have the impoverished view of baptism
as something that happens when you get
sprinkled or dunked
and then it is over.
That’s the magical-thinking view of baptism.
But in The Episcopal Church
we have a different take on Baptism
and it is voiced in the Baptismal promises
we are using for an Affirmation during Easter season.
Baptism is about doing our best to help one another
come to know God’s best dream for us,
as individuals and as a community, and even as a species.
But once we have an inkling of which direction to follow,
it is the doing of it that is baptism –
it is birthing that dream into this world
so that the kingdom is on earth
as it is in heaven, that is baptism.
which is another way of describing baptism,
is composed of actions,
personal commitments and behaviors,
all that help to build and sustain
God’s best dream for us
as it is in heaven.
As the Baptismal promises spell out,
baptism is about actually doing some particular things.
In fact, there are five promises about what we will do,
or at the very least, try to do.
First, actually explore and share together
the wisdom within the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
breaking of bread, and prayers –
Baptism is about actually DOING them.
Secondly, actually think about evil,
and even the lesser of multiple evils,
and what can be done to resist and undo them.
Baptism is about actually acknowledging evil
around us and within us,
and then actually challenging it.
Third, actually try to reduce the distance
between our talk and our walk
so that one reflects the other.
Baptism is about integrity between words and actions.
Fourth, actually seek God in all people –
actively seek out the divinity in every person
regardless of where they come from or what they believe…or even what they have done and left undone.
Baptism is about loving other people,
all other people, as we wish to be loved ourselves.
Fifth, actually think of ourselves as peace-makers
and make the dignity of every human being
the litmus test of our walk AND talk.
Baptism is actually about acting
in particular ways
toward other people
and both challenging and subverting larger systems
that erode the dignity of any person.
to earthy, practical, denim spirituality like this,
Baptism is what it means
to birth God’s best dream for us
and bring it to earth
as it is in heaven.
Faith is not – is not, is not, is not –
a matter of believing that Thomas
could put his fingers in those holes.
All that is, is to believe a story.
Faith is an experience.
Faith is an engagement.
Faith is a practice.
Faith is the practice of resurrection
that awakens God’s best dream for us on earth
as it is in heaven.
The End…or actually, just the beginning.