Is it just me, or does anyone else think it’s kind of weird how we’ve named Thomas “Doubting” Thomas. We don’t give the other characters in the New Testament little nicknames…like needy Nicodemis or Co-dependant Martha. But poor Thomas is stuck with Doubting Thomas.
Yet the fact of the matter is this: when Jesus encountered Thomas Jesus didn’t label him doubting Thomas. He didn’t judge him. He came to Thomas just as he was, doubts and all, and offered him peace.
One of my favorite moments during Holy Week was when on Maundy Thursday we were singing a song that repeated these lines “Take O Take Me As I Am”. We sang this beautiful song over and over. But what made it so powerful was that we sang this while assembling bleach kits for the needle exchange. We sang Take O take me as I am while putting cookers and condoms and bleach in sterile kits for outreach workers to give to IV drug users on the Denver streets. Take O Take me as I am indeed. We took this action which says to active drug addicts “you are loved as you are” while we ourselves sang a prayer asking God to take us as WE are. Indeed, God does takes us as we are with or with our asking – we just ask in that song that we may believe it to be true.
I think our gospel text for today is about God taking us as we are.
See, a week before Thomas touched the resurrected wounds of Jesus, the other guys were sitting together in that upper room… it was the night of the first Easter, and I suspect that having denied, betrayed, and abandoned Jesus - the disciples were really wallowing in their shortcomings, wondering what had they done. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think they were perhaps passing around blame and justifications for the death of Jesus – it was the fault of the Priests who condemned him and there just wasn’t really enough room for them at the foot of the cross with all those women there and maybe if that sleezy Judas hadn’t sold him out this wouldn’t have happened to begin with… on and on. It’s kind of what we do when we know we’ve really blown it. Because the truth of our own shortcomings is often too much for us to bear. So we either tend to make our faults about someone else or we try to make everything about our faults. Either way it’s basically just narcissism. But anyway…. There they are in their cozy little locked room blaming themselves, blaming others, trying to figure out what in that crazy Mary Magdalene meant by “I have seen the Lord”.
And it is here, here sitting amidst doubt and Fear and locked doors, amidst blame and justifications that the disciples encountered the risen Christ. It is here that He chose to appear to his beloved Christ deniers – those he loved who abandoned him.
Because notice that the text doesn’t say “and when they had repented of what complete asses they had been; and when they had perfected their faith and the purity of their doctrine; and when they had achieved the right condition of personal morality THEN they were worthy of receiving Jesus.”
No. There they sat. Fear, doubt, betrayal and I suspect more than a little shame. But it takes more than locked doors and lack of faith and low self esteem to keep Jesus out. In fact; when we are at the point in life when our failings and shortcomings are so unfiltered…. when we are at the point in life when we have blown it completely, when we are so undeniably aware our need for God’s grace –it is then that God comes to us just as we are bringing us peace and forgiveness. It’s just like God to barge in uninvited through our fear and locked doors to remind us, whether we like it or not, that we are forgiven, that we are more than the sum total of our bad choices and more even than the sum total of our good choices.
This whole thing is an example of what My friend Kae says about God, that God is always saying an insistent “yes” to all our polite “no thank yous”
Because a week later their friend Thomas, who missed it all the first time, was with them in that same room again. He had said a polite “no thank you” to the news that Jesus has risen from the dead. It’s something we’ve all done and yet we call him the doubter. As though it makes him somehow distinct. As though Thomas doubts and we do not. The only way this would be at all fair is if we all shared this name like…oh, there’s Doubting Amy and Doubting Bill and I’m Doubting Pastor Nadia. Because the reality is that we are all doubters. But sometime doubting isn’t the opposite of having faith…it’s a component of having faith. Doubting can mean that we haven’t forgotten the story. Doubting means that we don’t have it figured out all on our own and the best thing about doubt is that at least it’s honest. So if that’s where you are…if you are a doubter like me, then it’s ok but you should be prepared for something. It’s a thing I never hear people in the church talk about but I know it exists because I experience it all the time: it’s called tests of doubt…not a tests of faith…but tests of doubt. And you should probably watch out for them.
See, when I was sure that this whole Jesus thing had nothing to offer me – when I had been so alienated by conservative Christianity and so clear about my dislike for organized religion… when I thought I had unwavering rock solid doubt, I wandered into a church that challenged all my certainties I had about the Christian faith. It was my great crisis of doubt. When I was welcomed into a little Lutheran parish in Oakland California and was so freely given absolution and Gospel and a literal chunk of bread which I was told was Jesus and that it was for me I slowly began to lose my doubt. So watch out for this brothers and sisters. watch out. Because I don’t think that faith is the biggest threat to doubt, the biggest threat to doubt a barging in God revealed in Christ.
So if you would like to protect your doubt I suggest keeping your distance from the following: avoid People who have heard the Gospel and actually live as though it’s true, avoid receiving the Eucharist or receiving forgiveness or receiving strangers and by all means don’t sing hymns for they are most dangerous. Politely say “no thank you”
But know this: whether doubt is something that you fear or something that you foster be prepared for it to be tested again and again by this God who rudely barges into your locked doors and offers you peace and breath and spirit and then sends you out to do the same for the world God loves enough to keep saying yes to all of it’s no thank yous.