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Doubt? Ask and Seek

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Our text this Sunday is a common and familiar one, which is read each year the Sunday after the Resurrection. We know this story as “Doubting Thomas”.

On Palm Sunday, I talked about we all have had our moments when we have been Judas (the betrayer) and Peter (the denier); well, we all are “doubting” Thomas.

My question is, who is Thomas before the Resurrection, during this account, and afterwards?

Well, Thomas (according to John) is one of the twelve disciples of Christ, who prior to the Resurrection [Doubting Thomas] story we have two lines from him. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2021 in Sermon Summaries

 

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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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Posted by on April 12, 2021 in Sermons

 

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“Doubting Thomas”: Science & Religion

I have a deep appreciation for our scripture, known as “Doubting Thomas”.

The disciple Thomas is forever identified by this moment of so-called ‘doubt’ that is often embraced as a simple narrative about a contentious relationship between said doubt and faith.

And yet, it is not. The narrative before us is more complex and layered. It echoes with a truth that our world, our lives, and thus our faith does not exist in black-and-white alone, but rather upon an infinite gray-scale.

This complexity, and my appreciation, is rooted in a respect for the disciple named Thomas.

One. Thomas is practical and willing to speak difficult truth.
After the death of Lazarus, Jesus decides to return towards Jerusalem, and thus his own passion, crucifixion, and death. Although the disciples attempt to discourage Jesus, he is determined. It was Thomas, perhaps mimicking Eeyore, who said “Fine. Let us go to Jerusalem and die with him”.

Two. Thomas is not too proud, or ego-sensitive, to admit a lack of understanding and to ask questions.
Prior to Jesus’ arrest, he foretells of his death, resurrection, and ascension to the disciples. Although the disciples are confused, it is Thomas alone who raises his hand to pose questions; thus confessing his own lack of knowledge and further seeking to understand.

Three. Thomas does not demand more than the other disciples. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2020 in Sermons

 

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A Different Easter

Alleluia! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

This is our proclamation of the Resurrection on Easter morning!
And yet, this Easter is different.

  • We postponed the Community Easter Egg Hunt.
  • We postponed the Congregational Breakfast.
  • We are not gathered together within the church building adorning our Sunday best, including Easter dresses and suits, for an elaborate worship experience adorned in lilies and tulips.

Perhaps, you are in comfortable jammies, drinking coffee, and listening along.
I hope you are.

And yet, THIS might be the most authentic Resurrection morning of our lifetime.

As read on Facebook:
“Maybe, for once, we celebrate Easter differently. Maybe, we celebrate the Resurrection just as the Disciples did: Alone, in the silence, hoping the faith outweighs the fear.” (Casey Kerins).

After the arrest, passion, and crucifixion of Jesus the Christ, the disciples are frightened.

We are frightened Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Easter Vigil: What? Why?

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb… 6Then Simon Peter … went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple … also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20: 1-18)

 

The Easter Prayer Vigil is conducted on Saturday evening within darkness, recalling Jesus’ frightened disciples gathered in despair and hidden within a dark room.

However, the Easter Prayer Vigil begins with the blessing and lighting of the (large) paschal candle which symbolizes Jesus’ journey from death into life. This paschal candle will be lit throughout the Easter season and on Sundays with baptisms. The reason is that baptism is our death to sin and the old self, in order to be raised into new life with Christ.

The Easter Prayer Vigil continues Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2020 in Devotions/Reflections

 

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Curiosities, Questions, Doubts?

Earlier this week on Facebook, I saw a cartoon that was perfect for this morning.

It depicted three disciples standing together.
The middle disciple says “Am I ever going to live it down?”.

Another disciple says, “Thomas, are you still on it?”.

Thomas replies:
“I don’t get it. We do not call Peter ‘Denying Peter’ or Mark ‘Run Away Naked Mark’. 

There must be a reason that this ‘doubt’ remains central to Thomas’ character as we have and will continue to forever intertwine ‘doubt’ with ‘Thomas’.

There must also be a reason that this is one of a few scriptures read in church EVERY SINGLE YEAR and always the Sunday after the Resurrection (Easter).

I think this reason is that it speaks to our own journeys of faith as well as our own faith development and formation, but also our natural human character.

Please raise your hands:

  • if you were or continue to be the inquisitive one?
  • if you were or continue to always ask questions?
  • if you, perhaps, got into trouble for asking ‘too many’ questions?

Although I see a few hands, these are slightly lifted and hidden as though there is shame.
There is NO SHAME in being the ‘inquisitive one’.

We misunderstand ‘doubt’ as the opposite of ‘faith’, or even ‘belief’.  Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Believe It or Not…

“Doubting Thomas” is perhaps one of my favorite Sundays, which is always the Sunday after Resurrection/Easter morning.

Thomas is forever remembered for a single moment of doubt.

At times I wonder if we too are not remembered more for our moments of doubt than we are for our moments of faith. But doubt is an important part of our faith.

There are moments that happen in our lives that cause us to question because it defies our known reality and logic. Thus, we question our encounter.

“Doubting Thomas” always causes me to think about an Easter a few years ago.

I was serving as an Intern Pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Olympia, Washington. My mother, step-father, sister, and her significant other were visiting from Arizona to celebrate Easter with me.

The following week, we decided to explore Seattle. After a walking tour in Pioneer Square, we decided to walk to Pike Place Market. My sister, Amanda, is a smoker and as we approached Pike Place Market she said “I have to smoke before getting into THAT crowd”. While the rest of us thought “Amanda, you JUST smoked”.

Note: Amanda was laughing because she knew it was true.

Amanda’s significant other was in a Starbuck’s phase at the time AND the original Starbuck’s is located in the Pike Place Market area. Therefore, we decided to walk to Starbuck’s so Amanda could smoke, he would see the Starbuck’s, and we all would have drinks for the marketplace.

As we walked to Starbuck’s, Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2018 in Sermons

 

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Wild One: the Holy Spirit and Its Gifts

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Its Pentecost!! Yahoo!!

I was talking earlier today about how we focus on Pentecost as this festival day, where we get to wear red and we get all excited about it. We get all excited about the Holy Spirit. Yet, it seems so odd to me that we do this; Pentecost seems like an odd thing for me.

We struggle with the Spirit and what the Spirit calls us to do. So, I want to talk about how it influenced the disciples.

Do you remember last week?
Christ has ascended back to the Father. The disciples were hidden in an upper room, praying ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done’. But the truth is, Christ had already sent them into the world to carry on his mission.

I talked about how we are invited, encouraged, and brought into that same mission through our baptismal promises; nurtured by the faithful, nurtured by Word and Sacrament. We are called to proclaim the Word in word and deed. We’re called to seek justice, to act with mercy and compassion, to love, and to serve.

But, the disciples are in an upstairs room praying ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done’. Where is the action?

The analogy I used last week was the relay runner, because we are called to get a head-start while the one running up behind us is bringing us the drive or motivation to continue.

That motivation, that drive happened at Pentecost. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2017 in Sermons

 

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Doubt: Necessary for a Dynamic Faith

 

The celebration of Easter in the Church is 50 days beginning with the Resurrection and concluding with the Holy Spirit poured out onto the people at Pentecost. This Easter season recounts the post-Resurrection accounts of Jesus the Christ, our Risen Lord.

 

The morning of the Resurrection 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.

 

We always wrestle with doubt and its relationship to faith the first Sunday after the Resurrection through the narrative of “doubting” Thomas. But, who is this “doubting” Thomas? Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2017 in Newsletter Articles

 

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