The Path of Life

Erasing DoubtsEaster Week 3

The Path of Life

Scripture Reading

Psalm 16
John 20:19-31

         “If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is a kin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

These words are from Yann Martell’s book Life of Pi. I have owned a copy of the Life of Pi for about a decade. But after spending one solid afternoon trying to get into the story, I gave up. (it was one of those books for me… most people loved it and fell right into the story… but it was exhausting for me) my copy of the book at one time was repurposed to help prop up a very tippy ficus plant in my old apartment. I used Life of Pi, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (two books that were frustrating me) to keep this thing from falling over. But years later, after Hollywood let it be known that they got their hands on Martell’s tale and were about to make a movie out of it, I rescued my soil ridden book and gave it another go.

And what I found was a story about doubt and fear and the importance of believing in something greater. Which led to the ultimate struggle of all human kind, which is to surpass that fear that we all seem to come engrained with… to seek after a better life, and life with God.

Martell says, “To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is a kin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.” Doubt is what will make us stagnate, make us stop and drop dead. Doubt is that which strips meaning or direction from our life.

How true do you think that is for the Christian people? What do you think doubt does to the children of Our God? What do you think doubt does to the work of the church?

It is this idea that is addressed in our Gospel reading today, here we find a story about doubt and fear and believing. We meet the notorious “Doubting Thomas.” Also known as Didymus (which, fun fact, means Twin). It was rumored that Thomas looked a great deal like Jesus… So he inherited a nickname from all his disciple buddies… (How very relatable of them?). Anyway, Doubting Thomas.

Calvin, one of our great Protestant forefathers and theologian referred to Thomas in his writing as ‘downright obstinate”, he said that his stupidity was “astonishing and monstrous”, and that Thomas was “proud and insulting towards Christ.” Yikes. Needless to say, Calvin was a little harsh in his thoughts of Jesus’ must loved disciple, Thomas.

But, if we look at the whole of the Gospels, Thomas is otherwise portrayed as a rather strong figure. Back in the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John (near the story of the raising of Lazarus) Thomas’s courage stands out when he urges the other disciples to travel with Jesus to Judea so that they all might die together in support of Christ. But you don’t find us calling him Courageous Thomas? No, Doubting Thomas.

And even years later, Thomas would go on to be respected (and even revered) by many early Christians as he traveled on to evangelize in what was Persia… and then on to India, where he established the Christian faith there…

So, Thomas kinda gets a bad rap. It is through his doubt that Christians (for 2000 year) have learned about what it is to act in faith.

This scene begins on the same day as Glorious Easter morning. The day of the resurrection. And the news of the appearance of the risen Jesus has been spreading among Jesus’ friends and followers (Mary Magdalene made sure of that as she ran through the streets shouting “I have seen the Lord!”).   You would think this would be a time of great celebration for the disciples. They should be passing out the champagne and throwing a party. But we find them closeted away, hiding, in fear of their lives.

If I were a disciple in that moment, I would be there too, locked away. If I were one of Christ’s 12 disciples… the past couple of days would have really shown the rough edges in my character. The disciples had not only walked into the political hornets nest that was Jerusalem at the time, mutinously announcing the reign of their Messiah, Christ. But when things got rough, and when their Messiah was arrest and beaten… they all fled, betrayed, or denied him… and Jesus knew it.   To top it all off, their Lord was executed and then came back to life. So, not only would I be cowering in fear of the authorities along with the disciples… but I might be a little scared of Jesus as well. They are hiding from the authorities of the day, and they are hiding from their Lord.

Clearly, none of them were feeling bold enough to venture into the streets and share the good news of Christ raising! But, into this climate (what was probably a very tense room)… in walks Christ. Scars and all!

But, shockingly, Christ first words to them are “Peace be with you.” They are words of forgiveness and restoration. “Peace be with you.” It is then that they rejoice! Once Christ frees them from their guilt and sins and fears… then they cracked open the champagne

And over this celebration, Christ teaches them about forgiveness. He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

This lesson, was Christ restoring their relationship. Disciple and Savior. There is no reason to fear anymore, there is nothing that is standing in the way of our relationship with Christ. Because of what our Psalm reading of this morning referred to as the Path of Life. Which is forgiveness. Being demonstrated by Christ in this scene.

Have you ever been to a church, where they have a time designated for “passing the peace”? yeah? That is not just a “Hey, how are ya doing?” “Good morning! Good to see you!” kind of moment. To “Pass the Peace” within a congregation (or anywhere) is to issue forgiveness. So really to wander around the sanctuary passing the peace is to shake hands with all of your church family members and gift them with a new restored relationship between each other. Exactly what Christ is doing here – Restore relationship through forgiveness.

Forgiving someone of any sins or wrongdoing they may have done against you is a “passing of the peace.” So remember, if you are ever feeling particularly irked by your church family… embrace this tradition.

But, notice, in this moment, that Thomas, was not there! He did not get to experience this great and profound moment of forgiveness! He is locked away and cowering on his own apparently.

Now, King George of the 5th century, had one personal rule, and it was this: “That if he must suffer, he wanted to be left alone. For alone is to suffer like a well-bred animal.”

Perhaps Thomas was like King George in that he wanted to suffering in solitude. Not solidarity (or together) like the others.

So, later after Christ leaves, his disciple/brothers caught him up on what he missed. And it is truly no wonder that he said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” He was the only one left grieving… that would be very lonely. And in the Greek here, there an emphatic negative. It really says, “I will not, no I will not believe.” Very passionately. And he carried on like that, in his solitary suffering, for a whole week.

It seems that Jesus let him stew and pout for a bit, but then Christ goes after him personally. Jesus goes directly to Thomas and says, “Peace be with you… Stop doubting and believe.”

Perhaps Christ meant simply believe. Believe in God, believe the miracle of Easter (the Risen Lord!). But maybe Christ meant, believe that you are forgiven. Believe that Christ loves you enough to seek you out personally to extend to you the Peace of Christ. A restored, healed, whole relationship. The path of life!

I’d like to read to you again that quote from Yann Martell’s Life of Pi. “If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is a kin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

We call him, Doubting Thomas, because he refused to believe in a resurrected Christ. Because a resurrected Christ was too good to be true. It was too much for his fearful, and troubled heart to take in.

Because a resurrected Christ, means restoration. It means healing. It is everything.

And, doubt (sticking passionately to his disbelief) truly caused him an immobility. He wanted to stay in his fear, hanging on to his sin, hanging on to this denial of forgiveness. Because anything but that… means that they world is not longer the same.

“Peace be with you… stop doubting and believe.”

That is the Path of Life.

Now, you may have noticed that I was not here last Sunday. Rev. Hilary VanUtt, led worship last week, while I was in Adrian, Michigan, for the Minister’s Convocation. This event is hosted every year after the busy season of Lent and the Easter holiday to offer clergy an opportunity to rest and recover a bit (thank you Jesus!) and also to provide us a place to do some continuing education. Our classes this year were on how to align the systems of the church in order to make our ministries stronger and more intentional in an intergenerational/ multi-cultural world that we are becoming. A modern world

You can look around here in this sanctuary and notice that we have people from the Builders generation, the Baby Boomer generation, the Gen X generation, the Millennial generation, and a few little ones from the upcoming un-named generation. This is a pretty diverse sanctuary age wise.

Now, the Christian church, on a national scale, is shrinking and becoming generational-ly segregated. This has led to having some unhealthy, inwardly focus and patchy faith communities. We see a Baby Boomer church here, and Gen X church here, a Millennial church here… And all of them have a different feel and emphasis… and these segregated churches are either dying out or struggling in their cultural context.

So the Christians church as a whole is having to look at overcoming our age and cultural segregation. But, Hampshire Colony Congregational Church is actually ahead of the curve in some ways in regards to this! Because we are naturally becoming an intergenerational worship community.

The “church of today” is one that looks fairly similar to this. Lots of different ages all worshiping together. And one that reflects the culture of the town and the neighborhood directly around it.

But, in order to thrive and grow… this must be on purpose. It has to be intentional. And the church has to be looking to God to grow and direct it… and to give it a clear ministry.

There are things that we can do (some simple and organic… and some that take some work, and may come with growing pains) to make our church welcoming to this intergenerational/ multi-cultural era.   It is really encouraging to know that there are steps we can take to make the church and the movements of our Lord more accessible for the upcoming generations of Princeton. Hampshire Colony is in a great position to be a thriving ministry again.

A church with open doors, a church that is welcoming and hospitable, a church that is happy and healthy and eager to grow… will take work and willingness. And that is the task ahead of us.

I’ll be talking about this in more detail at the next Church Council meeting. If you are curious and want to get started down this road, remember that these meeting are open to the whole congregation!

I mention all of this alongside a sermon on Doubting Thomas because of the person of who Thomas was. He was courageous, innovative, and a great evangelist. But he had moments of doubt and of fear.

Some of you may be sitting out there with your fair share of doubts about the future of the church… And to open this church up to the Lord’s movement, to be a great beacon for God’s work and ministry… that is going to take us all overcoming those fears and all of that skepticism.

I encourage all of you to be thinking about and be involved in making this all happen.

“If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is a kin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”



One thought on “The Path of Life

  1. I have always had 2 thoughts about Thomas moniker that history has pinned on him. First that we are the twin to Thomas in that we all have times of doubt. But the other thought is that the twin to doubt is what? “Belief” And didn’t Thomas demonstratethat when he spoke up saying “let’s go up to Jerusalem and die…”, agreeing to Jesus next steps towards the cross. Way to go Thomas!

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