Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Growing Doubts... Shrinking Faith

Sermon Preached for Easter 2 on Sunday, April 11.

   Life has a way of growing your doubts and thinking your faith.  Think how you were as a child.  You instinctively believed your parents and nearly all adults.  You believed what you were told – not because you were naive but because you were trusting.  It is this childlike trust that Jesus commends (unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God).  But as you grew up you learned to be suspicious of others and distrustful.  Your parents broke down this trust because they thought it necessary to prepare you for life in this sinful world.  But the effect of it all is that you learned not to be believe.  As an adult you believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.  What happened to that trusting child, so optimistic, idealistic and filled with hope.  I’ll tell you in one word – LIFE!
    Life has a way of stealing your hopes and dreams, of turning you cynical and hard, and of growing your doubts and shrinking your faith.  The life that sin made it to be is unfriendly to the childlike trust which Jesus holds up and which we were created to know.  But shrinking trust and growing doubts cannot be undone without the help of God.  Only God can break down the walls of our hearts and rebuild them in trust.  That is what Thomas found out just a week after Easter.  The rest of the disciples had seen the Risen Lord but Thomas found it hard to believe them.  They were people he had known for a long time, with whom he had seen the miracles of Jesus, but now he doubted them and found it impossible to trust their report that Jesus was not dead but alive.  What grew these doubts in Thomas?  What changed Thomas over the course of a week or so, stole his trust, and left him embittered, doubting, fearful, and immovable in this unbelief?
    First, Thomas was not there when Jesus first showed Himself to His disciples.  Thomas was gone when the rest of the disciples saw the proof of Jesus’ hands and feet, when He spoke to them the greeting of peace, and when He spoke to them the Word of life.  Thomas was not there when Jesus first called them witnesses and sent them out to tell others what they had seen and heard.  Thomas was not there when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon them and ordained them as Pastors with the authority of the Keys.
    So Thomas doubts had some time to grow and overcome the trust within his heart.  The bitterness and doubt and fear grew within him.  They made his unbelief bold and they diminished the faith which had been nurtured by three years of ministry at Jesus’ side.  He began by dismissing what others said and what He know from His own experience until his heart was empty of faith.
    When Jesus’ appearance called out these doubts and fears, Thomas became embarrassed and ashamed.  In his unbelief and fear, his doubts grew and multiplied as they always do when starved of grace.  His anger, jealousy and fear conspired against what little faith there was living in his heart.
    When finally he could no longer deny what he saw with his eyes and heard with his ears, only then did the doubts shrink away and faith restored. You know there is no record that Thomas ever touched Jesus hands and side as our Lord has invited him to do.  It was not the touch that convinced him but the power of Christ’s Word spoken directly to him and his doubts and fears.
    When Thomas’ faith finally woke up from its slumber, there was nothing he could do except confess Jesus Christ.  Yet even this confession could not wash away the stain of his unbelief.  Jesus gently admonished Thomas by reminding him how blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.  In other words, "Thomas you have been a fool.  Stop being the fool and be the man of faith I have called you to be and given you the Spirit to become."
    It is no different for you or me.  Starved of grace by staying away from God’s house, distanced from Jesus by failing to be in His Word, disconnected from the Lord by prayers we never prayed, we become just as doubtful, just as empty, and just as fearful as Thomas was.  And faith becomes oh so hard!  It does not take long.  A week, a month of Sundays, six months or a year and faith withers and soon dies within us.
    Life has a way of corrupting us, of stealing away our trust, of turning us bitter and fearful, and shrinking our faith while growing our doubts.   It is what sin does.  We live in a sinful world, as sinners at odds with God and His purposes, and fearful of Him and His will.  It is not because Thomas was bad or we are bad.  It is the work of sin.  So what shall we do?  We see in Thomas what happens when you stay away from God’s Table, when His Word becomes foreign to your ears, when prayers falter, when you are distant from your Christian friends, when you no longer trust those of the household of faith, and Christian service becomes a burden.  Faith dies.  Period.
    Why does God call us here that we might know Him in the breaking of the bread and hear Him in the sound of His voice in His Word?  Do you think it is for the vanity of Pastors that we want you here?  Or is it God's vanity that He cannot stand the thought of an empty church?  No, it is not for vanity but for the health of your faith and the vitality of your spiritual life as a Christ that He calls us here.  He bids us come to challenge us and the doubts and fears that creep up on us; to feed us on the food of life; to shrink our doubts and grow our faith even in the midst of questions and trials.  It is not as simple as being in the right place at the right time but that is where we need to be.  Or is that part of it?  Here is the right place.  Now is that right time.
    The Church is the place where Christ comes to us, where doubts are challenged and faith is fed.  Thomas learned this too late to avoid the shame and embarrassment of his refusal to believe his friends.  Every Sunday I look out into the pews and see people who are missing.  And I am grieved -- not for me but for those who need to be here and are not.  For those who tell me they still believe but their faith has become distant from everyday life.  For those who allow life troubles and questions to dominate them instead of drive them into the arms of their Savior.  Every Sunday our Lord Jesus Christ is here showing us His body and blood, calling us to faith, confronting our doubts, forgiving our sins...  You can stay away but at what cost?  We will most certainly end up like Thomas, trapped in doubts we cannot shake and looking for a faith we can no longer find.
    So come... the feast is ready... come to the feast... the good and the bad... Come and be glad... greatest and least... come to the feast... that God may shrink our doubts and grow our faith... that the ancient song that once echoed loud and long might be taken up again... a trumpet of faith none can silence or mistake, sounding once more, for us and all the world to believe.  My Lord and My God.  Christ is Risen!

No comments: