The Winds of Change

Wheat and WindsScripture Text:  John 12: 20-36 (Holy Tuesday)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.  “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

And now the conversation turns to this talk of death and loss.  We’d like to run now, to hastily make our exit back through that heavy gate behind us.  We’re not sure that our journey really prepared us at all.  But it is too late.  The hour has come. 

The reading starts by telling us of the arrival of some Greeks. Now this may seem to us to be sort of periphery to the point of the story but it’s not. For you see, this arrival of the Greeks is something new. It marks the beginning of an entirely new section of the Gospel. These are not merely Greek-speaking Jews, but Gentiles who have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. These are non-Jews, Gentiles from across the sea who wanted to meet the Hebrew holy man. This is the beginning of the world seeing Jesus and knowing who he is.  They approach Philip and request to “see” Jesus, to have a meeting with him. Perhaps they want to know more of who this Jesus is. Perhaps they just want to talk to him. Or perhaps they want to become disciples. But regardless of why they are here, their arrival points to the fulfillment of the church’s future mission—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world. This is the decisive dividing line between Jesus coming as a Jewish Messiah and Christ, through his death and resurrection, fulfilling God’s promise for the renewal and redemption of all of Creation. Now is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Jesus did not just come to save you and me.  Remember, Jesus is the Savior of the World.  Jesus has begun to draw the world into the Cross.

Change is all around us.  Our world is beginning to shake a bit.  Sure, we could run, go back to our old ways, to the comfort and safety of home.  We could yell and scream and demand that someone put it back the way it was.  The problem is that nothing stays the same.  Even if we could return, it would not feel like home.  For you see, this journey has changed us.  We have lived this season of clearing and surrender.  We are different.  We don’t look different but we do see differently.

But what is this thing with wheat?  (OK, to the end, Jesus seemed to continue speaking in confusing parables!)  Well, wheat is a caryopsis, meaning that the outer “seed” and the inner fruit are connected. The seed essentially has to die so that the fruit can emerge. If you were to dig around in the ground and uproot a stalk of wheat, you would not find the original seed. It is dead and gone. In essence, the grain must allow itself to be changed.  So what Jesus is trying to tell us here is that if we do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully thwart change, avoid conflict, prevent pain—then at the end we will find that we have no life at all.  He goes on…”Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. And whoever does this, God will honor.” This is the only time that the Gospel speaks of God honoring someone. And we begin to see the connection unfolding. Whoever follows Jesus through his death, will become part of his everlasting life.

You see, we can’t go back to what we know because it is no longer ours.  The Light has become part of us.  Jesus wanted us to understand not just that he was leaving, not just that his death was imminent, but that this journey to the cross was not just his to make, but ours. This lifting up and this drawing in is all ours.  We ARE the Children of the Light.  Now is the time to walk with Jesus to the cross.

Discipleship is not limited to what you can understand – it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own understanding, and I will help you to comprehend. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. In this way Abraham went forth from his father, not knowing where he was going. That is the way of the cross. You cannot find it in yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire – that is the road you must take. It is to this path that I call you, and in this sense that you must be my disciple. (Martin Luther)

This Lenten journey was not preparing us for this by building us an armor to protect us.  It was preparing us by stripping away all that we know, all that we have planned.  It was preparing us to truly see Jesus and to realize that the journey to the Cross is not something that we watch, not something that we just walk along offering Jesus moral support; rather, the journey to the Cross is ours.  What does it mean to you to die to self?  Of what do you need to let go?  What must you put down so that you can pick up the Cross?  The air has changed.  Jesus is walking to the Cross.  Where are you?

Grace and Peace,


Seeing What is Hidden From View


The Wizard of Oz (Revealed)

Scripture Passage:  John 9: 1-12 (13-41) (Lent 4A)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.  The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

Go and wash.  It sounds so simple.  So there must be something fishy about it, right?  Inherently, we are just distrusting creatures, are we not? It’s interesting that the first thing that people address here is sin. The man has been apparently blind from birth and their first thought is sin? Did he commit the sin? What an odd question! Was he supposed to have committed some sin in the womb that was apparently terrible enough to blind him for life? Or did his parents sin? It’s an odd line of questioning to us. They see a man that has missed out on so much of what life holds, that has never seen what you and I take for granted every day, and they immediately want to know what he did wrong or what his parents did wrong to deserve that.  (Ok, now don’t get too self-righteous about our own reaction.  We do the same thing.  I mean, what went wrong in that person’s life?  It must have been SOMEONE’S fault.)

But Jesus doesn’t see a sinner; Jesus doesn’t even see a blind man; Jesus sees a child of God. And so he reaches down into the cool dirt and picks up a piece of the earth. He then spits into his hand and lovingly works the concoction into a sort of paste. And then, it says, he spreads the mud into the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. And the man’s eyes were opened and he saw what had been always hidden from his view.

We love this story.  But there are so many that ask why we don’t hear accounts of healing such as this.  Maybe it’s because we’re looking for miracles with ordinary eyes, with the eyes of our world that need to explain and extract.  Maybe it’s because we do not see something new.  At the risk of destroying the story for you, does the blindness have to be physical?  It never says that, nor does it say that the blind man was “fixed”‘ or “cured”.  If it wasn’t a physical healing, would that lessen the story?  How miraculous it is for someone to see in a different way, to open one’s vision to what God has envisioned for us.

I couldn’t help (again) but think of the Wizard of Oz.  You see, everyone imagined what they would find–courage, heart, mind, and home–imagined what it would look like, how it would come.  But the curtain was torn back and revealed that the miracle-worker was part of this world.  He was just an ordinary person.  So how could he give them courage, heart, mind, and home?  It had to do with seeing what is hidden from view.

This season of Lent is as much about showing us our blindness, our darkness, as it is about bringing us light. For that is the way we see as God sees. It is a way of seeing anew, seeing beauty we’ve never seen before, seeing the Way of Christ. Rainer Maria Rilke said that “the work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.” That is the work of Lent—to release us from our spiritual blindness, from our old way of seeing, frozen in time, and to light the way for a vision of eternity.  We are called to see that which is hidden from view.  It is the work that allows us to see, finally, what has always been hidden from view.  You see (pun intended), it is time for the heart-work.

There are two ways to live:  you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)

Much of this Lenten journey is about seeing, about seeing through our spiritual blindness, our own often self-imposed darkness.  Now is the time for our heart-work.  What does that look like?  What heals you from your won spiritual blindness?

Grace and Peace,


The Unmasking

UnmaskingScripture Passage:  2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So what does that mean to no longer look at others or even Christ from a human point of view?  I mean, how can we do anything different?  We ARE human.  And we are meant to be human, human as Christ was human, fully human. It means that, once again, we are called not to jump away from this world but to look at things differently, to bring this perspective of this “new creation” into not only our lives but the lives of others as well.  We have been reconciled with God through Christ, according to Paul.  The Divine presence of God has come to dwell with humanity for all.  We have been given that which will sustain us beyond what we perceive as our wants, our desires, and even our needs.

I think that most of us sort of pretend to be human.  We know what is right and good and we try but fear and our need for security seeps in when we least expect it.  So we once again don our masks so that we will look faithful and righteous and more put together.  But we read here that we are called to look at everything with a different point of view, something other than a “human” point of view.  It’s about a change in perception.  That’s what this journey does.  It changes our perspective.  Where we once believed in Jesus as the one to emulate, the one who came to bring us eternal life, we now view Christ as the Savior of the world, the one that has ushered the Kingdom of God into everything, even our humanness.  It changes not only the way we view Christ, but also the way we view the world.  We live as if the Kingdom of God is in our very midst–because it is. Our change in perception means that we unmask, that we find our real self, that self that sees Christ’s presence even now and sees all of God’s children as part of that Presence.

Andre Berthiame once said that “we all wear masks and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.”  In other words, sometimes it is hard and perhaps a little painful, but it is the way to reveal who we are called to be.  No longer do we live our lives with some faint vision of a “someday” or a “somewhere” that is out there and to which we’re trying to journey.  God’s Presence, God’s Kingdom, is here, now.  And as God’s new creation, we see that the air is thick with its presence.  And as God’s children, our very lives are so full with God’s Presence that we can do nothing else but journey with it.

In his book, “Simply Christian“, N.T. Wright contends that “Christians are those who are already living “after death,” since Christ has raised us from the grave.  We ought more properly to speak of the world to come as “life after life after death.”  This is the change in perception.  It is looking beyond, living “as if” the Kingdom of God is here in its fullness, because that is how it will be.  It means that we live open to what God is showing us rather than walking through life with our eyes masked because we already know the way.  There is a story from the tradition of the 4th century Desert Mothers and Fathers that tells of a judge who goes into the desert looking for Abba Moses, who could provide him spiritual direction.  But he returned disappointed, complaining that the only person he met was an old man, tall and dark, wearing old clothes.  And he was told, “that was Abba Moses.”  He had been so affected by his perceptions, his view of what he should find through his human view–perhaps looking for a more “cleaned up, appropriate teacher”, that he wasn’t open to all that the Kingdom held for him to learn.  That is what we are called to do on this Lenten journey–change our perceptions, unmask, begin to view our life “as if”, as if the Kingdom of God were already in our midst (because it is.)

There is no creature, regardless creature, regardless of its apparent insignificance that fails to show us something of God’s goodness. (Thomas A’Kempis)

As you journey through this Lenten season, begin to look at things differently.  Rather than limiting yourself to a human view with your pre-conceived perceptions, open yourself to what God is showing you and begin to live “as if”.

Grace and Peace,



RoundaboutScripture Passage:  Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17 (Lent 2A)

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness…For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

We are creatures of habit.  We cling to our patterns of life sometimes for our very identity.  And it is no different with our faith.  Our ways of believing, our ways of worship, our ways of practicing our faith are, for most of us, virtually untouchable.  (If any of you have ever tried to make any changes in a worship service, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about!)  We are open to change as long as WE don’t have to be the ones that change.  We are open to doing things differently as long as it doesn’t affect us.  Does that sound a little bit uncomfortably familiar?

The audience to whom Paul was probably writing were really no different.  They had grown up with norms of what was “right” and “righteous”, what made them acceptable before God and as people of faith.  For them, their revered patriarch Abraham was blessed because he followed God and did the right things (which also happened to of course be the things that they were doing or at least thought they were doing).  And now here is Paul daring to write that that’s not what it meant at all, that it had nothing to do with what Abraham did or whether he lived and practiced his faith in the right way but that he had faith in a God that freely offered relationship, in a God that freely and maybe even a little haphazardly offered this relationship to everyone (whether or not it’s actually deserved–go figure!).  Faith is not something that you define or check of your list of “to do’s”; faith is something that you live.

In this Season of Lent, we talk a lot about giving up old ways and taking on new patterns in life.  Lent is a season of re-patterning who we are and how we live.  Maybe it’s a time to let go of the things that we assume, those habits that are so ingrained in us that we don’t even realize that they are there, things that have somehow become so much a part of our lives that they have by their nature changed who we are.  Think of Lent as the season that asks us to drive on the other side of the road.  I remember the first time I did that.  It was in New Zealand.  Now if you’ve been to New Zealand, you understand that the miles and miles of rolling hills patterned only by sheep farms is a good place to learn to drive on the other side.  There is lots of room for “correction”, shall we say.  That wasn’t the problem.  The problem was the more heavily populated areas where we had to deal with other people’s habits and ways of being.  (As in when you had to worry about other people on the road, all of whom were driving on the “wrong” side of the road!)  And in the middle of every town was what they call a “round-about”.  It was sort of fun to get on but getting off was a completely different story.  My brain did not work that way.  I couldn’t make myself turn the right way (or the wrong way) while I was driving on what was to me the “wrong” side of the road.  (So, needless to say, we would just drive around that circle several times until I just took a breath and sort of went for it!)  It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

Paul was trying to get people to look at things differently, to think differently, perhaps even to drive on the other side of the road.  “Leave the old patterns and the old rules and the old ways of thinking behind,” he was saying, and get on.  It’s a little scary and you might have to drive around it a few times just to re-pattern your brain.  But just do it.  Open your eyes and look at things differently.  Open your lives to faith.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, our rules and our patterns can help us at times.  They give us foundations, sort of a tangible guide to support us on this journey.  They are necessary.  They are a means of grace.  But the passage reminds us that these rules and foundation are just that.  They are not an end unto themselves.  It takes faith to breathe life into them, to make them come alive.  It takes faith to give us the ability to back away from ourselves sometimes and figure out in what ways our life needs to be re-patterned.  (Otherwise, we just keep driving around in circles!)  Lent calls us to look at all of our life with a critical eye, to discern what is purely habit and what is truly a way of living out our faith.  Lent calls us to look at things differently, to really see rather than just assume.  Lent calls us to have enough faith to drive on the other side of the road.  So, just take a breath and go for it!

In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t. (Blaise Pascal)

As we continue on this Lenten journey, take a look at your habits, at those things that you just take for granted.  Which ones are life-giving?  Which ones hinder faith and openness?

Grace and Peace,


Seeing in a New Light

Reflexion of a lunar path in water.Scripture Text:  Psalm 85: 8-13

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.


We’ve talked a lot about waiting and preparation, about opening ourselves to what God holds for us.  For what are we preparing though?  Well, of course, for the coming of God’s Kingdom in its fullness.  But what does that look like.  Today’s psalter is a good depiction–steadfast, unconditional love intersecting with faithfulness, becoming faithfulness; righteousness and peace being so close that they touch, linking and embracing.  The fullness is pervasive–from the ground to the sky.  The land, all of creation, will finally be what it is meant to be and the way, already prepared, will be found to be paved with righteousness.  So how does that fit into today’s world?  In this world filled with heartache and poverty, with the recent race riots exploding throughout our nation, with the fear of war or terrorism all over the globe, and with humanity’s fear of deadly disease as it leaps the oceans’ edges, how do we see love and faithfulness, peace and righteousness.  How do we see that pathway on which God can break through?


The truth is, a good part of faith includes a little imagination.  It has to do with letting ourselves look beyond where we are, with learning to see things in a different light. The French Impressionist painter, Claude Monet, is probably best known for his incredible landscapes and works of nature as well as for his paintings of those things that were a normal part of his own life. But the most fascinating part of Monet’s work are those paintings that he did as part of several series representing similar or even the same subjects—his own incredible gardens, poppy fields, a woman with a parasol, and those unusual haystacks.


The paintings in this series of haystacks were painted under different light conditions at different times of day. Monet would rise before dawn, paint the first canvas for half an hour, by which time the light had changed. Then he would switch to the second canvas, and so on. The next day and for days and months afterward, he would repeat the process. In each painting, the color of the haystack is different not because it is a different haystack, but because the amount and quality of the light shining on the haystack is different. The subject is the same but the perspective from which it is viewed changes with the light.  Up until this time, color was thought to be an intrinsic property of an object, such as weight or density. In other words, oranges were orange and lemons were yellow, with no variation as to the lens through which they were viewed. But with Monet’s studies in light and how it affects our view of life, that all changed. As Monet once said, “the subject is of secondary importance to me; what I want to reproduce is that which is in between the subject and me.” Monet’s study was one in seeing things differently.  Beyond just painting the subject that was in front of him, he began to paint the light that illumined it.


You see, as we walk through the Advent, the light changes.  The dawn is just beginning to break.  Can you see it?  Aren’t things beginning to look a little different?  That’s the whole idea.  Maybe rather than waiting for the glory of God to come, we are called to begin to see the world as it is illumined by the coming light.  God is in our midst.  God’s glory surrounds us.  What would it mean for us to begin to imagine the world bathed in its light?


For the enlightened few, the world is always lit. (Scott Russell Sanders)


FOR TODAY:  Look toward the light.  See the world differently.  Be light.


Grace and Peace,



Holy Patience

PatienceScripture Text (Advent 2B): 2 Peter 3:8-9

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.


I must admit that I am not the most patient person I know.  I think it’s safe to assume that, really, few of us are.  The world just moves too fast.  The patient ones, the ones who wait, tend to get left behind.  And yet, those of us of us who are always on the move don’t really get there any sooner.  What is that about?  And then we read this passage that describes God as patient.  Have you ever thought of the Divine, the Holy, the Creator, the One who is always and forever on the move, compelling us to go forward, to live into this glorious Vision that God has, as “patient.”  I suppose the impatient ones of us want God to get this show on the road, already.  After all, where IS peace?  Where IS righteousness?  Where IS this promise of no poverty, no hunger, no suffering?  But wait, it doesn’t say that God is sitting back on the holy laurels and being slow about things happening.  God is not slow to fill the world with glory; God is waiting for us, patiently waiting for us, to catch up.


So perhaps our impatience, our living life full-throttle, without stopping, just stopping to see what God is doing, to hear where God is calling, is what is slowing this whole thing down.  After all, God knows where God is going.  God is waiting for us, waiting for our response, waiting for us to perhaps wait to see, wait to hear.  Oh, shoot!  It’s back to that waiting thing.  We CAN’T hurry this along.  We CAN’T live for the next thing.  We CAN’T live as if we are in a season that is not quite yet.  God is waiting for us to stop, to wait on God, so that we can catch up to what God envisions us to be.  It’s back to the Sabbath ideal.  God created times for us to stop, to wait, to let ourselves sort of regroup so that we could move forward down the way we are called to go.


You’ve heard the story of the American traveler on safari in Kenya.  He was loaded down with maps, and timetables, and travel agendas.  Porters from a local tribe were carrying his cumbersome supplies, luggage, and “essential stuff.”  On the first morning, everyone awoke early and traveled fast and went far into the bush.  On the second morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far into the bush.  On the third morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went even farther into the bush.  The American seemed pleased.  But on the fourth morning, the porters refused to move.  They simply sat by a tree.  Their behavior incensed the impatient American.  “This is a waste of valuable time.  Can someone tell me what is going on here?”  The translator answered, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”


This Advent time is a time of waiting for God.  But it is also a time when God waits on us–patiently and lovingly waits for us to awake to God’s Presence, awake to God’s beckoning, awake to finally see where we were meant to be all along.  We cannot do that if we are too busy impatiently moving through life, always reaching and grasping for the next thing and missing that God is waiting for us now.  If we would be a little more patient, if we could just for a moment stop and breathe in that Holy Patience of God, perhaps God would no longer have to wait another day or another thousand years for the promises to come to be.


Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only [they] who see, take off [their] shoes—The rest sit round it and pluck blueberries. (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from “Aurora Leigh”)


FOR TODAY:  Stop moving so fast.  Be patient.  Look.  Listen.  Take off your shoes and be.  God is waiting.


Grace and Peace,



When Doubts Seep In

Seeing Through the FogScripture Text:  John 20: 19-29 (Easter 2A)

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he 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 will not believe.”  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Well, it’s the 2nd Sunday after Easter, so it must be Doubting Thomas Sunday!  We read it every year.  We read of the disciples in hiding and the return of the Risen Christ, offering them the chance to see.  And part of the story is Thomas refusing to believe, refusing to accept that this really WAS Jesus.  You have to wonder what the disciples were thinking locked behind the door of their house. Was their grief just so unbearable that they couldn’t do anything else?  Were they afraid that they would be next? Were they disillusioned that things had turned out that way? Were they feeling remorse or guilt or shame at the parts that they had played (or not played, as the case may be) in the Passion Play? I suppose it’s possible that they were a little afraid of the rumors that Jesus HAD returned. After all, what would he say to THEM?  I mean, it wasn’t like they had been stellar examples of devoted followers the last few days!  But that’s not what happened. Things were going to be OK. Jesus was back. The disciples rejoiced. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them. They were sent. They became the community of Christ. And so I supposed they went off merrily praising God and being who they were called to be. This is a premise for discipleship. Jesus offered light and truth through his relationship with God. Now the disciples are called to offer light and truth through their relationship with Christ. All except Thomas. Poor Thomas. He wanted to see proof. Why couldn’t he just believe?

Personally, I think we give Thomas a bad wrap—after all, for some reason, he missed what the others had seen. (It is interesting that he was apparently the only one who had ventured outside!  It appears the others were just hiding out.) He just wanted the same opportunity—and Jesus gave that to him. He wanted to experience it. The point was that the Resurrection is not a fact to be believed, but an experience to be shared–whatever that means for us. And perhaps, part of that experience is doubt. Constructive doubt is what forms the questions in us and leads us to search and explore our own faith understanding. It is doubt that compels us to search for greater understanding of who God is and who we are as children of God.

Hans Kung is a Swiss-born theologian and writer. He says it like this: Doubt is the shadow cast by faith. One does not always notice it, but it is always there, though concealed. At any moment it may come into action. There is no mystery of the faith which is immune to doubt. Isn’t that a wonderful thought? Doubt is the shadow cast by faith. Faith in the resurrection does not exclude doubt, but takes doubt into itself. It is a matter of being part of this wonderful community of disciples not because God told us to but because our doubts bring us together. Examining our faith involves doubts, it requires us to learn the questions to ask. And it is in the face of doubt that our faith is born. God does not call us to a blind, unexamined faith, accepting all that we see and all that we hear as unquestionable truth; God instead calls us to an illumined doubt, through which we search and journey toward a greater understanding of God.

Frederick Buechner preached a sermon on this text entitled “The Seeing Heart”. In it, he reminds us of Thomas’ other name, the “Twin”. It was never really clear why he was called that, but Buechner says that “if you want to know who the other twin is, I can tell you. I am the other twin and, unless I miss my guess, so are you.” He goes on to say this: I don’t know of any story in the Bible that is easier to imagine ourselves into that this one from John’s Gospel because it is a story about trying to believe in Jesus in a world that is as full of shadows and ambiguities and longings and doubts and glimmers of holiness as the room where the story takes place is and as you and I are inside ourselves…To see Jesus with the heart is to know that in the long run his kind of life is the only life worth living. To see him with the heart is not only to believe in him but little by little to become bearers to each other of his healing life until we become fully healed and whole and alive within ourselves. To see him with the heart is to take heart, to grow true hearts, brave hearts, at last. (“The Seeing Heart”, by Frederic Buechner, in Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons)

The truth is, doubt is a normal and expected part of faith.  Our faith is not a list of checkboxes that we just check off as we believe.  It is not a static list of what we should think or what we should know.  There is always another question after the answer or the answer just falls flat.  The questions make the answers come alive.  The questions are what open our eyes to see the Risen Christ.  And that sight is not some sort of pat, boiler plate type of sighting.  This passage shows us that Jesus shows us what we need and that we need what Jesus shows us.  It is different for everyone.  So Thomas needed something a little more tactile, something he could really hold.  Is that so bad?  I think most of us would have to admit that that might make this whole thing a little bit easier to grasp for all of us!  But maybe it’s not supposed to be easy.  Maybe faith is such that the questions should never end.  So what do we do when doubts seep in?  Go with it.  Ask more questions.  Live into the doubts.  Maybe the Truth is not in front of our face but just beyond the fog.

Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them. (Thomas Merton)

Journey with your doubts and keep asking questions.  Faith is not about certainty but about the journey toward meaning and Truth, a journey with God.

Grace and Peace,