RESURRECTION RAYS SHINING ON DAYS OF DOUBT
April 19, 2020
Then Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Well, Easter is over and done with for another year. I appreciate your tremendous efforts to make it a good day in spite of the coronavirus restrictions we are living with. Many of you tuned into our FB Live service. You kept alive great culinary traditions albeit on a smaller scale, such as ham, scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs and homemade rolls. You held backyard Easter Egg hunts for the kids.
I did hear of one instance where one family’s bowl of jellybeans got a bit tainted when the youngest child doused it with hand sanitizer! That’s ok. She thought she was doing a good thing!
And even after hearing the glorious announcement of Christ’s resurrection once again, I suspect this week was pretty much the same old, same old COVID-19 routine for you. Some of you were dealing with the demands of your job. Others were trying to figure out your plans after being furloughed. There were math lessons to be taught to the kids. Some of us were going stir crazy trying to observe the stay-at-home orders.
And yes, when it comes to matters of faith, perhaps we were still struggling with the same reservations and uncertainties we had before, and perhaps these have been magnified by what we are going thru right now.
I’m here to tell you this morning that that’s okay. The scripture informs us that you’re in some pretty good company. All the followers of Jesus faced unresolved questions of faith, questions with no easy answers. And when confronted with the news Christ had risen, they reacted with skepticism, contempt, even fear.
We learn from these folks, hunkered down like us, that there is a certain inherent value in doubt. Faith that is grounded and growing honors the value of doubt. Doubt can be a healthy thing, as long as it is a questing doubt, leading us to a deeper exploration of whom and what we believe in.
And standing at the front of the line of those whose heart was filled with doubt, who thought the news of Jesus being alive was just some idle tale propagated by a few grief-stricken individuals was a disciple named Thomas.
THOMAS, THE ETERNAL PRAGMATIST
Thomas loved his Lord enough to be willing to go to Jerusalem and die with him. And yet, the fury, the pain, the suffering of crucifixion has caused even Thomas to turn tail and flee like a coward. He was a man totally broken by grief and guilt, and these emotions were so intense that he withdrew from his friends.
Some of us can relate—when we’ve gone through a tough time—we have withdrawn from others rather than have to deal with the questions, the drama.
And so it was, when the risen Christ appeared to his fellow disciples, Thomas was nowhere to be found. When he finally did come out of isolation, he simply could not bring himself to believe what his friends were telling him. It was far more than too good to be true.
What we can learn from Thomas’ experience?
DOUBT FINDS ASSURANCE IN HONESTY
24Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
Thomas possessed an unyielding honesty about himself. He absolutely refused to say he understood what he did not understand nor believe what he could not see.
Thomas was not flippant about matters of faith. He never swept his doubts underneath the carpet. He took time to wrestle with, to struggle with matters of faith.
And thus, when confronted with the news that Christ has appeared to his fellow disciples, Thomas maintained, “You gotta show me something!”
The poet Tennyson once wrote, “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”
How true. From the Preacher’s Cheesy Humor Book, Vol 7, comes this timely gem: Little Preston lived in a very strict Christian home. Every mealtime, before he dug into the food on his plate, his mother made him get up from the table and go wash his hands. And then, once back at the table, she would make him put down his fork while the family said the blessing.
One day, all this cleanliness and godliness became more than Preston could handle. He exploded, “Germs and Jesus! Germs and Jesus! That’s all I hear about around here, and I’ve never seen either one!”
Isn’t it amazing how casually we take our faith? Unlike Thomas, unlike Preston, most of us don’t search and strive enough with what we believe. Some people are gullible enough to swallow anything hook, line and sinker.
Frederick Beuchner expressed it well in his book Wishful Thinking: “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or you are asleep. Doubts are ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving!”
Yes, doubt finds assurance in honesty. And yes,
DOUBT FINDS ASSURANCE IN OBSERVATION
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
This was no illusion, no apparition! This was a real person! Thomas spontaneously gave Jesus the loftiest title to ever come from human lips: “My Lord and my God!”
Sometimes we need to see Christ in person. And thankfully, his risen presence can be observed in the lives of many saints who surround us.
One such dear soul was Aurora Mae Ritchie. This woman of tremendous spunk and determination claimed the promise of the resurrection this past Thursday afternoon after a long, courageous struggle with cancer.
It was my privilege to have been Aurora’s pastor for over a decade. She was an amazingly positive woman of faith who had dealt with so many tough times in her life. I witnessed the constant care she gave to her invalid husband Dennis. They were two of our most faithful members as we restarted this church years ago. She would help him into back of the sanctuary with his cane, and he would sit and tap it on the hardwood floor, keeping beat to our music!
She was a loving mom, a super-cool grandmother, a surrogate parent to many EMU students in the cafeteria where she worked.
I was often the recipient of her encouragement. If I was ever feeling discouraged or frustrated about something, Aurora had a way of listening objectively but caring intensely. To be in her presence was to have your spirits lifted.
Over these past several months, I met many of Aurora’s dear friends. She had mentored dozens of folks in the local AA community dealing with the struggle of addiction. She held you accountable with love. And you returned that love to her.
These past several weeks were especially hard as she was quarantined and could not receive visits from her family and friends. She told me again and again over the phone how much she missed seeing everyone.
God answered many prayers this past Thursday. Aurora did not leave this world alone. Two of her favorite nurses were by her side, and they made it possible for Lisa and the family to be present with her utilizing Facetime. She heard their words of gratitude and comfort as she let go of the tether of this world and took hold of her Master’s hand, crossing over Jordan to God’s eternal Promised Land.
I’m sure you’re wondering what this motorcycle is doing here this morning. It belonged to Aurora. When she realized she was in the twilight days of her life, she commissioned her good friend John Evans to sell the bike. She hated to part with it. She loved and lived to ride. It was her favorite pastime. Praise God, her spirit is now free to roam once again on heaven’s glorious highways!
Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants!”
Aurora Mae Ritchie was such a giant in our lives. Whenever we found ourselves down with doubt, we could look to this remarkable woman of faith and behold clearly the light and love of the risen Christ.
Friends, the resounding hope of Easter, the resounding hope that has hugged the life of Aurora Ritchie and many other dear saints who have gone before us is this: Christ is alive! And because He lives, we shall live also!
Thomas surrendered to this hope. He made the leap of faith. He had fought his way from viral doubt to vibrant conviction that Jesus Christ was the risen Lord and God over his life and his future. He learned to trust the Master who gives life both in this world and in the world to come. And so can we.
In these tough, tedious days, don’t give up! Don’t quit on hope! Like our dear friend, Aurora Ritchie, look to Jesus, our resurrection and our life! And may his presence lift you and hold with abiding strength, now and forevermore!