Doubtful Prayers

Easter 2A’20

19 April 2020

I Pet.1.3-9; Jn.20.19-31

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

(Live on Facebook)

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

O God, grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

– from Prayer 58. For Guidance, The Book of Common Prayer p.832

Alleluia. Christ is risen!                                                                       

That’s how our services will begin for the next several weeks of Eastertide, but in honor of St. Thomas we should really begin our service for the second Sunday of Easter this way:

Alleluia. Christ is risen!

(Followed by the resounding response): “I doubt it!”

This day in the Church Year is traditionally called “Low Sunday,” partially due to a liturgy that is slightly lower key, and with an attendance that’s usually lower. It is also the day that we remember Thomas, better known as “doubting Thomas.” He gets his unfairly critical nickname due to the fact that he refused to take the word of his fellow disciples who told him that they had seen the resurrected Christ. His infamous and resounding words were: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.”   His bold confession of doubt echoed in the ears of his fellow disciples; and it has since continued to echo down through the ages, even to today.

Now prior to my becoming an Episcopalian I am not sure I ever heard a sermon on Thomas. The only mention he ever got to my memory was that he was someone that should serve as an example of who we shouldn’t be, and that anyone caught doubting the claims of Christian faith should be derided as a “doubting Thomas.”

Those Episcopalians! Leave it to them to give someone like Thomas a place of honor in the church calendar – right after Easter. But I will say they did pick a day when attendance was much lower, so maybe that was the compromise. None the less, Thomas sheds valuable light on the path to the experience of genuine faith.

This is one of the reasons the introductory classes to the Christian Faith and the Episcopal Church are called “Inquirer’s Classes.” The very nature of genuine faith is based upon the total freedom of inquiry, with an honest appraisal of our doubts, as well as our beliefs, and an openness to questions. 12th. Century French philosopher and theologian, Peter Abelard underscored this: “The first key to wisdom is frequent questioning. For by doubting we come in enquiry and by enquiry we arrive at the truth.”  

There are so many in our culture today who aren’t willing to do the hard work of doubting. They would rather take the easy way out by taking someone else’s word for it. The problem with this approach besides putting ourselves potentially in the wrong, and in harm’s way, we rob ourselves of having a first-hand experience. Only by confronting our doubts is it ever really possible to experience the joy of truly discovering for ourselves.

How much courage it took for Thomas, in the face of so much certainty, to get honest and to voice his doubts. The voicing of his doubt was in fact the perfect prayer – honest and to the point. He had missed the first Jesus sighting after the resurrection, but there would be a second sighting, and this time Thomas would be there for it. Seven days later, Jesus appears in the center of the room where the disciples were, and shows that he was not only alive, but that he had been listening to Thomas’ declarations of doubt. Jesus, the Son of God heard Thomas’ doubts for what they really were – prayers! Jesus wastes no time and directly addresses Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”  Rather than receiving a rebuke, or scathing words of shame for doubting, Thomas is directly addressed with an invitation to a direct experience of truth: “Put your finger here…”

Thomas was not content with a second hand faith or a second-hand experience with God and made his bold declaration of doubt. Because Thomas dared to doubt, dared to question, and dared to inquire, he received the ultimate blessing - a direct and personal experience with the resurrected Christ. Not just something he had heard about, or he had read about but something direct, personal, and real! Thomas then makes his bold declaration of faith – “My Lord and my God!”              Only a faith worth doubting is a faith worth sharing, for it is only by doubting and questioning that we can ever arrive at the real experience of a truth we no longer need to be convinced of.

In 21st cen. poet, David Whyte’s poem “Second Sight” he shows us the invitation on our journey towards faith:

Sometimes you need your God

to be a simple invitation,

not a telling word of wisdom.

 And then there are times                                                                          

you need to be brought to ground by touch

and touch alone.

The truth has nothing to fear from our doubts. Let us not despise them, but let us see them for what they really are - our prayers, and our invitation to experience the Living God – for ourselves. Amen.

 

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