Liz Neumeyer's Sermon on the Patronal Feast of St. Thomas
Updated: Dec 23, 2019
On this Feast Day of St. Thomas, I celebrate doubt. Yes, celebrate! Real Christians doubt. It is not a threat to faith. It is part of our journey. In Thomas’s case, it reinforced faith and led to truth, to his powerful declaration: “MY LORD AND MY GOD.”
I always quoted the historian Herbert Muller to my students. In his book Uses of the Past, he said: “Doubtless we suffer from too much doubt, but we are likely to suffer more from being too sure of ourselves.” He used many historical events as examples but the one that stays in my mind is the Inquisition in Europe. People of the Inquisition were so sure of their beliefs that they tortured people physically in order to save their souls, a twisted logic that I cannot fathom. This terrifying certainty is the opposite of doubt. The view that one is always right leads to self-righteousness and dogmatism, excessive pride. It leads to a refusal to think, to question, to reason.
Some work hard to explain away Doubting Thomas but we should do the opposite. We should question, be perplexed.
Thomas had bad PR. Doubt was a constant in the Gospels and the writers surely saw it as part of the human condition. In the Episcopal Church, you don’t have to check your brain at the door. Questioning, doubting, wondering are all part of a stronger road to faith.
As some of you know I went to a Missouri Synod Lutheran Elementary School and we were not encouraged to question. A major 3rd grade theological question was (and remember we were farm kids) how could only eight people on the Ark handle all that manure. Our teacher said you just have to believe. My parents on the other hand were willing to entertain wonder. My Father said maybe Noah built chutes to empty it out.
It was good my parents were like this because by college, I had a crisis of faith when my father was diagnosed with a severe form of MS. I asked myself the question I am sure many of you have asked: “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” It took me many years to work this out and a fear that I might wind up an atheist if I pursued it too much.
Interestingly now that I am an Episcopalian, one of the works that helped me was by an Anglican priest named J.B. Phillips and his book, Your God is Too Small. He said that the images of God that we learn as children are distorted, static and inadequate for real crisis of faith. He had many examples: God the Resident Policeman, The Grand Old Man, the Managing Director and others. In reading him, I realized that I was asking the wrong question. It is not God that lets bad things happen to good people or the reverse.
He said we need a focused God, focused through Jesus Christ. Only in that way can we move forward as we see Jesus cope with suffering, with pain, disease, justice, evil. Christ accepted these things and dealt with them.
Look at Thomas. He asked questions. When Jesus talked about the Way, Thomas said “Lord what is the way?” and Jesus said: “I am the Way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except by me.” Indeed, as Phillips said, a focused God through Christ. When other disciples feared Jesus going into Jerusalem because they thought he would be killed, Thomas says boldly: “we will go and die with him.” So when Thomas wants to see the resurrected Christ for himself and reestablish a relationship with him in the most concrete way, by touching his wounds, it makes sense to me.
I found myself thinking somewhat enviously that we can’t do as Thomas did and then I realized that we can. The wounds of Jesus are still here. In our baptismal vows, we say “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”
When Jesus told his disciples that they could help him, they were puzzled and said but Lord How can we help you? And Jesus said “Give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those who are in prison. In as much as ye have done this, you have done it unto me.”
Here at St. Thomas, we work to live up to our namesake by doing these things, touching the wounds of Jesus. We do these things together as a congregation helping our parishioners and our community. Sometimes we doubt that we can do it, that we do enough but we move forward and as we do, we join with Thomas in declaring: “My Lord and My God.”