Brave Enough to Doubt

Good Morning and peace be with you!

I am Pastor Melinda Gapen, your Lutheran sister in Christ residing in Arizona.

I do have two disclaimers:

  1. The average Lutheran sermon is about 12 minutes, but my average is closer to 9 minutes; and
  2. Lutherans, myself included, tend to preach from the Revised Common Lectionary which is a three-year cycle of Scriptures.

The morning of the Resurrection (Easter) emphasizes Mary Magdalene and additional women arriving at the tomb of Jesus the Christ to anoint his body per custom. These women were expecting to encounter his corpus, but instead are greeted by the Risen Lord. He commissions them to bear witness to and share the good news of his resurrection with the others, including the inner-most circle of the eleven disciples.

These other disciples, except Thomas, are fearfully hidden in a dark room behind locked doors. These other disciples did not believe these witnesses of the Risen Lord until Christ appeared within their dark room. These disciples share their experience with Thomas, who similarly does not believe them.

Interestingly, the Revised Common Lectionary includes ‘doubting Thomas’ the Sunday after the Resurrection every single year. It is an annually opportunity to explore the relationship between ‘doubt’ and ‘faith’.

Thomas was a straight-shooting realist (Jn. 11:16).

Thomas sought to understand through his inquisitive nature (Jn. 14:5).

Thomas, similar to the other disciples, did not believe the reports of the Risen Lord.

As a straight-shooting realist with an inquisitive nature, I also would not have trusted the disciples.
The truth is that the probability of one returning from the death is extremely low, if not impossible. 

Similarly while on internship in Olympia Washington, my immediate family visited from Arizona to celebrate Easter. After the Easter celebrations, we explored Seattle for a day and were approaching Pike Place Market.

My sister, Amanda, was a smoker and proclaimed ‘I have to smoke before getting into THAT crowd’. Meanwhile, the rest of us thought ‘Amanda you JUST smoked’ and begun to walk toward the original Starbuck’s location to cross it off the ‘wish list’ of her significant other at the time.

As we walked, we noticed a man attempting to take a selfie with the unique Starbuck’s logo. We noticed him, however, not because of selfie taking skills but because he reminded us of my cousin Mikey. Mikey was raised in Indiana, lives in Connecticut, and is employed out of New York City. 

My mother, Tonya, decided to call out his name since the worse thing that could happen is a few funny looks.

However, he spun around and shouted “Aunt Tonya” while coming over to hug us all.

He is a professional model and actor, who was in town briefly for one day for a photo shoot.

He only had enough time to spare before the airport to probably get a beer OR a coffee and he was unable to ignore the siren of the original Starbuck’s location.

There are moments in our lives that if we are not present to bear witness to the event, we would not believe it  for it is too improbable. In fact, I have been asked if I fabricated this story for a sermon illustration but I do have photographs to prove it.

It is sort of like your Rabbi (teacher) returning from the dead.

Paul Tillich, a 20th century Lutheran theologian, lived during World War II. He was a German who taught at a university and was vocal against the NAZI party. Once Hitler and the Nazi party were in power, he became unemployed, his wife left him, and he had nowhere to turn. He immigrated to the United States of America, learned the English language, and begun to teach in our seminaries.

Tillich became known as a theologian in the ‘gray’ that exists between ‘black and white’ designations, which is expressed in his infamous quote:

“Doubt is not the opposite of faith; doubt is an element of faith”. (The Dynamics of Faith, 1957).

Doubt is not equal to faithless.

Doubt, instead, is a necessary and dynamic element of our faith journey that calls us more deeply into relationship with the divine through our skepticism and its sidekick of being inquisitive. For it is within these moments of doubt that we are called to engage and wrestle with the difficult questions, including:

  • Who is God?
  • How is God active in our life?
  • How is God active in your community, the Church universal, and the world?

For within these moments of ‘doubt’ we can experience significant spiritual growth, if only we are brave enough to:

  • wrestle with the uncertainties and improbabilities;
  • ask the challenging questions; and
  • create peace with doubt understanding it is neither weakness nor the opposite of faith.

May we be brave enough to be a straight-shooting realist.

May we be brave enough to wrestle with the uncertainties and improbabilities.

May we be brave enough to be inquisitive and not shy away from the challenging questions.

May we be brave enough to ‘doubt’. Amen.

Scripture was John 20: 19-31.
Originally Preached via Zoom on 11 April 2021 (Valley Christian Church, Birmingham, AL) 

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