The Gift of Doubt
A sermon preached by Rev. Judy Dahl (MCC) at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA, April 3, 2016,
I offer these words to God and to us God’s people.
Years ago, late 70’s early 80’s, as I was traversing the new territory of feminist and liberation theology in seminary, I found myself really struggling with all this faith stuff. I had plenty of doubts… Still do… At the time, I was particularly upset about the patriarchy of the church.
In a guided meditation one day, the facilitator asked us to go on a path… Find a teacher… And tell them what we needed from them…
So… Off into my imagination I went…walking down a path with flowered meadows and birds calling, I ran into this fellow wearing a pair of 501 Jeans and a flannel Pendleton shirt turned up mid arm. Frankly, I was a bit miffed, I was hoping for some revolutionary woman who would shield me and comfort me, and march into the streets with me…for justice! ( it was exhausting).. But, there in my imagination, was a Rabbi. In my imagination, he spoke one word. Shalom.
What did I need from him then? I said, “I’ll tell you what, I don’t want to follow you, I want to hang out with my women friends, so, if you please, sit down on the Rock and let me go on about my own way” So, sure enough, he sat down on the rock… as I set off on my own path.
No doubt, all of us have experienced doubt in our lives. Times when confusion clouded even the mystery, when grief, or loss, or pain held us so tight it was hard to catch our breath.
We are not lacking in the craziness and mystery of existence. So, in the midst of political craziness, and global chaos. And grief and loss and challenges… Into that… Here comes…. peace?.. What are ya kidding me? Here in our own country we have enough weirdness to last a lifetime, just between now and November we can keep those tabloids filled. Don’t ya just wanna close yourself up in a room somewhere? And to look out’ beyond our own nation, into the rest of the planet, our fears, our doubts are legion. Then if we delve into our imaginations, only God knows who or what we will find there…and it is into this kind of place and time that a mystery is revealed…
Peace be with you Peace be with you And then more breath is given…, as the Great Spirit gives us life…
I like the fact that there is a story about Thomas in our Gospel lesson this morning. Nice to know we’re not alone in the doubting department. This text is read every year the Sunday after Easter. It is a text with some particular significance.
Right off the bat I have some serious questions. Just like Thomas, I doubt some of this story. For example,vs. 19,”they, referring to the disciples, hid in a room with a locked door, for fear of the Jews.” Really? Well, not only was Jesus a Jew, but most modern biblical scholars tell us so too were most of his friends. Truly need to put an eternal seal on that notion.
I found one commentary that made me laugh out loud… ” well, they were probably all Jewish to begin with but after their baptism, they were Catholics.” I bet you can tell me who wrote that commentary.
Being a follower with Jesus during his life on earth did not mean you were no longer Jewish. “People of the Way,” as they were known during the time of Jesus was an infant religion, Jews were and are a people.
Many biblical scholars believe the Gospel of John is anonymous. It is so different from the Synoptics, Matthew, Mark Luke… Synoptic means “seen together.” John is written like an editorial… It is not a historical gospel… It is a spiritual gospel.
And into this phenomena… Comes one of the followers of Jesus, Thomas, really the only disciple given a personality… He’s the doubter!
Fredrick Beuchner says of doubt…Doubt… “Whether your faith is that there is a God, or that there is not, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep.”
“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.”
So, when we are frightened, in doubt, when we find ourselves somewhere in a room with a bunch of others wondering what to do next… Like in a line waiting to cast a vote, or watching TV as refugees stream across the evening news, or like a parent or grandparent when their beloved is confronted with a bully…Like Thomas… Imagine someone coming to us in that locked room, in that place painted with fear…to bring Peace…and some breath because we’ve had the wind knocked out of us…
How do we know what we know? Not everything we know comes through our mind… We know through intuition… Standing on the edge of the sea looking out into the sun dipping into the horizon, we experience wonder… Wonder and mystery come through another channel…maybe that knowing comes from a soul, or an essence, or a sense, maybe it’s just a feeling. My dear friend and undergraduate college professor, Conway used to say, ” you can’t feel a think. Or think a feel, you can only feel a feel and think a think.” I really understand this around matters of faith, resurrection, some things are just tough to get our minds around… I remember holding my daughter when she came off the airplane from India, holding this little tiny 6 lb. baby girl looking into those sweet brown eyes… Nothing came through my mind. I was just one big blob of wonder and gratitude… And joy.
There are times when knowing falls short, when the mystery and wonder of life… teach us,… There are a million ways to bow and touch the earth.
We never know where or when or HOW the Great Spirit might show up. In January of 2014 our family traveled to India. Incredible India! That morning we visited a Hindu temple. As we were coming out a street person with a radiant smile… No teeth… Walked right up to me, “Jesus loves you.” Andy, my son, who, parenthetically reminds me, after embracing the Hindu culture, ” You can only have one God, I can have millions. ” this very same young man said, …”wow”… Took my breath away…Andy’s too… And then filled my lungs with sweet Shalom.
We have each lived in rooms filled with fear and doubt. What if it is time for us, whoever we are, wherever we live, whatever we believe or don’t, to move into the mystery. Maybe it is only in witnessing the wounds of each other that we will ever carve a way back in the path to peace. Years and years later, I went back to that rock… And there was that same teacher, same 501’s and a Pendleton shirt… Happy to see me with doubts and all…