Touched By Grace In The Face Of Doubt
"Touched By Grace In The Face Of Doubt"
Dr. Martin Marty tells about a summer day when he was a boy. It was one
of those days when a grand miracle of childhood happened. A watermelon truck overturned right in front of his house.
The uninjured driver jumped out of the truck and watched helplessly as scores of neighborhood children from everywhere raced to the scene of that blessed event and dove into the spilled and cracked cargo of delight for a sticky sweet picnic on the pavement. And it all took place right there in front of Martin Marty's house.
That was the good news. The bad news, though, was that Martin Marty was out of town that day visiting his grandmother. He'd missed one of the most important days of childhood in that neighborhood.
We all know how he felt don't we? Life is like that sometimes. We're where the action isn't. While all the other folks were catching watermelons, we're miles away. I know just how he felt. I've got a friend back in Groesbeck who was always telling me how many fish he was catching or when they were running. Don liked to just stand around and rub it in. I usually don't have any trouble catching fish but every time I found the time to go fishing with Don, we didn't catch anything. Then he would complain and tell people that I was bad luck, that I had killed the fishing. When I went with Don, I was always where the action wasn't.
I. BAD LUCK:
A. Well, that's the sort of luck Thomas had, too. It was Easter evening. The disciples were still disturbed by the events of the weekend and the message of Peter, John and the women that the tomb was empty and that Jesus had been raised from the dead. They were so upset, that they were still in hiding. The doors were locked and they were waiting for the smoke to clear. And right into the midst of them came Jesus. He just suddenly appeared like Spock and Captain Kirk beaming down from the Enterprise or like Jeannie appearing out of her bottle. He stood there and talked to them.
And the scripture says: "But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came."
The watermelon truck of Easter had overturned right in front of Thomas' house and all the children of God were feasting on the sweetness of the resurrection of the savior. But Thomas was where the action wasn't. When he got back to town and the other disciples, their chins still sticky from the sweet goo of God's glory, told him what had happened, Thomas wouldn't believe it and said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I won't believe. I'm not buying any of it until I can see him and touch him myself."
Well, God overheard what Thomas said and a week later, while Thomas was there, the watermelon truck of Easter turned over again and Christ Jesus, alive and raised from the dead, stood in their midst once again. Thomas looked and Thomas touched and Thomas tasted the sweet goo of God's glory in the Resurrection of Christ. Thomas tasted and believed. Not only did Thomas touch the glory of God, Thomas was touched by the glory of God. Thomas was touched by grace in the face of his doubt.
B. For years people have belittled Thomas for his doubt. He has been known as Thomas the doubter for centuries. But we need to remember that this event was only one facet of his character. Prior to the raising of Lazarus, Jesus' triumphal entry, unjust trial and crucifixion, Jesus tells the disciples that he must go back to Judea. They object saying that's where the Jewish leaders were trying to stone him and to return there would be certain death. In John 11:16 it says, á‚Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
I don't care how you read it, those aren't the words of someone who was uncertain of who Jesus is. Those aren't words of doubt. Those are the words of certainty. Those are words of faith. So why this sudden change? Well, first of all, the events of that particular weekend were pretty shattering. The movement had been brought to a screeching halt. It's leader was dead and its followers were devastated. No wonder Thomas doubted.
II. OUR DOUBT:
A. And we're no different. In the same situation, we probably would have doubted too. We think, "Oh, I wouldn't have doubted!" But we're looking from this side of Easter. You see we've read the last chapter. We know how the story ends. Thomas is still in the middle of the story. Thomas was in crisis and needed answers. Whenever we find ourselves and our lives in crisis through disaster, trauma, tragedy and despair, we begin to doubt too. We doubt God, God's call and claims on our life. We doubt our own self- worth. We begin to question the truth and validity of our faith. At times we even question the existence of God.
In the book CHILDREN'S LETTERS TO GOD a little boy writes: "Dear God: Are you for real? Some people don't think so. If you are, you'd better do something quick!"
That's exactly how we feel in the midst of crisis and tragedy. First, we wonder why God is doing this to us or why God let this happen. But then we realize that God isn't some great puppeteer pulling all the strings. God could do that if God chose but God loves us so much that God allows us to have control of our own lives. And sometimes our choices and our freedoms run head on into the laws of nature or someone else's freedoms. And when that happens, sometimes tragedy occurs. We know that on one level, but we still doubt.
B. Doubt is natural! We're born questioners. That's how God created us. Look at the wonderment of life in a little child's eyes before it can even speak. As they grow, a child's greatest word, even though at times it drives us crazy, is "why?". Every child is full of every kind of question, about every kind of thing that moves, and shines, and changes in the world in which we live. Doubt isn't something thing to be crushed. Doubt is a part of the way God created us. It's something inevitable. We need to respect doubt for its origin. Doubt is the prelude of knowledge.
What we need to remember is that doubt is very much a part of faith, too. Frederick Beuchner in his book, Wishful Thinking, wrote: "Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith, it keeps it alive and moving."
You see, faith without doubt is gullibility. God doesn't call us to be gullible. God calls us to be faithful. And faith isn't easy. Having faith and being faithful is a struggle. Unbelief puts our circumstance between us and God, but faith puts God between us and our circumstances. True faith comes when you have exhausted all of your doubts, and have gotten to the place where you have doubts about your doubts. Faith is the struggle to put God between us and our circumstances.
And that's really what Thomas was doing. Thomas really had faith. He doubted because he wanted answers. He struggled and wanted to believe but he didn't want to rush blindly into belief just because he wanted to believe. Sometimes faith looks like doubt. Thomas was cautious and doubted because the Good News just seemed to good to be true. And don't you remember your Mom or Dad saying: "If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is." Thomas had the same parents.
III. TOUCHED BY GRACE:
A. But, through Thomas we find out that the Good News for us is that Jesus always invites the suspicious to touch and be touched. Jesus always allows for Show-and-Tell Time, Look-and-See Time. Now don't get me wrong, it's not always what we want or expect. Woody Allen once said, "If God does exist, why doesn't He give me some sign, like depositing a million dollars in my name in a Swiss bank?" God may not give us our every desire but God always invites the suspicious to touch and be touched. Jesus always allows for Show-and-Tell Time.
Ours is NOT a hope-so faith. Ours is a know-so faith. Jesus knew the doubts Thomas was having and a week after his first visit, this time while Thomas was there, the watermelon truck of Easter turned over again and Jesus, alive and raised from the dead, stood in front of Thomas and said: "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas touched and was touched by the grace of God in the face of his doubt.
B. And the Good News for us is that God touches us and allows us to be touched by grace in the face of our doubts as well. God lets us taste the sweet goo of God's glory in the Risen Christ. God lets us taste and believe.
Maybe you remember a report which the news carried just about this time, two years ago. The report came from Big Valley, Pennsylvania. About a month before the report 6 barns in the Amish community there, were burned one night. It was the work of arsonists and for no other reason than an act of blatant prejudice and hate, simply because the Amish people are different. The families involved and the whole community were shocked and devastated. Some, I'm sure, were even doubting and questioning God. Due to the number of barns burned and the fact that the Amish choose to live a different lifestyle, it caught the medias' attention and they reported it all across the nation.
As a result, there was a spontaneous outpouring of people to show the Amish community that not everyone believes like the arsonists. Over 6,000 people, none of which were Amish, voluntarily took the time and came to this community to help rebuild those barns, bringing tools, material and food. They came in trucks and cars and even by the chartered busload. One group came in two chartered buses. The buses pulled up in front of one of the sights and the people started getting off, each of them equipped with a carpenter's tool belt. And in less than a month, all six of those barns had been rebuilt.
The Amish community said that they were overwhelmed by that outpouring of love. You see, God does allow us to be touched by grace in the face of our doubts. God lets us taste the sweet goo of God's glory in the Risen Christ. Like Thomas, those folks have touched and been touched by God's grace.
C. A man, who had never heard the story of Christ, was walking down the street when he saw a very beautiful picture of the crucifixion in a store window. As he gazed spellbound at the vivid picture, he suddenly became aware of a young boy standing at his side. The boy was gazing at the picture, too. The man could tell by the expression on the boy's face that "The Crucifixion" had really gripped that little boy's soul. Touching the boy on the shoulder, the man said, "Son, what does it mean?"
"Doncha know?" the boy answered, his face full of the marvel of the man's ignorance. "That there man is Jesus, an' them others is Roman soldiers, an' the woman what's cryin' is His mother, an'" he added, "they killed 'im!"
The man didn't want to move from in front of that impressive piece of artwork but he had other things he had to do, so he turned and walked away. A few moments later he heard footsteps on the street behind him, and that same little boy came rushing up, out of breath. And he said, "Say, mister, I forgot to tell you, but He rose again. He's alive!"
Through that boy, that man touched and tasted the sweet goo of God's glory in the Risen Christ. That man had touched and been touched by God Grace. He tasted and believed.
And that's the Good News. God touches us and allows us to be touched by grace. God lets us taste and believe.
Look around you in our church. You'll find folks who'll tell you of crises and tragedies and problems they've gone through. And there's not one here who won't tell you, "I couldn't have made it if he weren't at my side." Look at the good folks all around you, the neighbors and friends on every side who will tell you that everything they have and everything they are they owe to our Savior. They've touched and they've tasted the grace of God.
Not too long ago, I read about a man who stopped his car in front of a house that had been built by Habitat for Humanity. The man knew that Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter had actually helped to build this particular house. A little boy, who was probably five or six years old was standing in the front yard. The boy ran out and put his hands on the side of the man's car, and said, "Man, you sure got a pretty car."
The man in the car replied, "Well, you sure got a pretty house. Which one of these houses is yours?"
The little boy's eyes lit up and he said proudly, "That one right there."
The man in the car asked, "Young man, who built your house?" He thought the little boy was going to say, "President Jimmy Carter built my house." But, instead, the young man gave a big smile, and said, "Jesus built my house."
And that little boy was right. He had been touched by God's grace. And I believe if the Carter's were here this morning or anyone else who has ever worked on a Habitat for Humanity project, they would gladly testify that they do their good works because once upon a time Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God, touched their lives and continues to do so every day. The Good News of Easter is that Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is very much alive and in our lives today. And even though there are times when we have our doubts, when we seem to give up on God, we have to remember that God never gives up on us. I've often wondered how many times Jesus would have kept coming and appearing to the disciples if Thomas hadn't been there again on Jesus' second visit. Three? A dozen? Seventy times Seven? There was once a woman who lost a coin and she lit a lamp and started to sweep. And she swept and she swept, until she got tired, right? No, Jesus says she swept until she found the coin and then she rejoiced. Christ Jesus, the Son of God, is the same.
You see, there is no door so locked that God cannot pick the lock. There is no heart so dead that God can't massage it back to life. And there is no Thomas so absent that God will not continue to overturn the watermelon truck of Easter in the neighborhood until God finds Thomas home.
I can't think of any better news for the Thomases of the world or those who love them. And believe me, there are Thomases everywhere.
Are you one of those Thomases? Then reach out and touch the nail prints, reach out and touch the wound in his side. "O taste and see that the Lord is good." Taste the sweetness of God's glory in the Resurrection of Christ. Taste and believe. Touch and be touched by the glory of God in Christ.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.