Delivered Sunday, April 23, at Walland UMC.
L: This is the day that the Lord has made.
C: Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Good morning! I want to thank David for letting me twist your Order of Worship up a bit this morning. I’ll explain later, but I wanted to follow the Order of Worship laid out in the front of your hymnals as close as possible this morning. That means this first portion of our service is all about praise, worship and proclamation! So let’s get to it, shall we?
Father God, who has given us Your only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our salvation, help us to put away thoughts of malice and wickedness. Purify us that we may serve You fully with our lives and the truth of your Word. We humble ourselves before you to give You praise and to worship You in the name of Jesus Christ, Your son and our Lord. Amen.
Most Holy God,
We are a people who need you in your fullness
— as Creative Father, Redeeming Son, and Sustaining Spirit.
Our lives have complications and pain,
our world has war and despair.
But we were made in your image, and
your Spirit was breathed into us
that we might experience hope in your goodness.
There are situations that make it hard to be aware of that goodness.
We pray now for those whose lives are affected
by the negativity in these circumstances:
When bombs and terrorist and military attacks kill and injure innocent people around the world . . . (brief silence)
When storms and hurricanes are so strong they destroy even the homes designed to withstand them . . .(brief silence)
When political battles bring out pettiness over issues too important for bickering . . . (brief silence)
When our hearts ache, hurt by broken relationships and unmet expectations . . .
When we are exhausted emotionally from illnesses in ourselves or those we love . . . (brief silence)
When we are overwhelmed by loneliness and isolation even though you are always with us . . . (brief silence)
Gracious and Merciful Lord, our church is working to hear the words of your Spirit.
Our desire is to learn what and who you are calling us to be in your world.
We call out to you that we might have the courage to give to you whatever burdens we entered with today so that our hearts and minds can be open to you, to your Word,
and to your Spirit — your Ruach*
— the same life-giving breath from the first of creation.
Christ challenges us to know you, God,
as one who would search us out if we are lost.
But we must also know that when we are not the “one,”
we are members of the 99 waiting together for your guidance.
So it is together that we use our breath to pray the words Christ taught us:
“Our Father . . .”
As Ms. Buchanan provides our special music this morning, please continue to give silent praise and worship to God and our Lord, Jesus Christ, by thinking about and giving thanks for our many blessings and also for grace, healing, and strength for all those lifted up today.
Proclamation & Responsive Reading:
May the words of our mouths, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
1 Protect me, God, for the only safety I know is found in the moments I seek You.
2 I told You, Lord, “You are my Lord, for the only good I know in this world is found in You alone.”
3 The beauty of faith-filled people encompasses me. They are true, and my heart is thrilled beyond measure.
4 All the while the despair of many, who abandoned Your goodness for the empty promises of false gods, increases day by day.
I refuse to pour out blood offerings, to utter their names from my lips.
5 You, Eternal One, are my sustenance and my life-giving cup. In that cup, You hold my future and my eternal riches.
6 My home is surrounded in beauty; You have gifted me with abundance and a rich legacy.
7 I will bless the Eternal, whose wise teaching orchestrates my days and centers my mind at night.
8 He is ever present with me; at all times He goes before me. I will not live in fear or abandon my calling because He stands at my right hand.
9 This is a good life—my heart is glad, my soul is full of joy, and my body is at rest. Who could want for more?
10 You will not abandon me to experience death and the grave or leave me to rot alone.
11 Instead, You direct me on the path that leads to a beautiful life.
As I walk with You, the pleasures are never-ending,
and I know true joy and contentment.
All things come from you, O God, and with praise and thanksgiving we return to you what is yours.
You created all that is, and with love formed us in your image.
When our love failed, your love remained steadfast.
You gave your only Son Jesus Christ to be our Savior, that we might have abundant and eternal life.
All that we are, and all that we have, is a trust from you.
And so, in gratitude for all that you have done,
we offer you ourselves, and all that we have,
in union with Christ’s offering for us.
By your Holy Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Message: Proof Is Easy …
There’s a line from one of my favorite TV shows that has stuck with me for weeks now, and I’m pretty sure it stuck because of today. The episode is about an aging magician facing a 99% chance that he has cancer. This magician has absolutely bullet-proof faith, both in his skills as a magician and that he does NOT have cancer. On the other hand, one of his doctors, Dr. Noa Kean, is the ultimate doubter and non-believer. She’s certain of the 99% odds against him.
At one point, the magician does a card trick involving Dr. Kean. When the card she picks – the Queen of Hearts – doesn’t come up like it’s supposed to, she’s convinced her doubt is more right than his faith.
At the end of the episode which is several hours, patients, and emergencies later, the magician asks Dr. Kean what’s in her front pocket. She reaches in and is shocked to pull out … the Queen of Hearts.
“How’d you do that?” she demands.
“Why’d you ask that?” he says.
“Because I want to know how it works,” she quips.
He says to her, “No, you don’t want to know. You want proof! If I don’t tell you how I did it, all you’re running on is faith. Proof is easy. Faith is hard damn work.”
Our passages today are about Doubt, too, but also about Faith.
In John 20, Thomas doubted Christ’s resurrection unless he could see and touch the risen Christ himself. Unless he had his own proof rather than the word of the others. It isn’t like Thomas didn’t know the dead could rise. He was around for Lazarus.
But Jesus was the one who raised Lazarus. And Jesus was dead. There was no one to raise him the way he raised Lazarus. So Thomas doubted.
Where were the doubters in our passage from Acts? If you read several verses before our passage, you learn that it was Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit had just been visited upon the Disciples, that “Every God-fearing Jew from every nation under heaven” that’s in the area – hears the same thing: “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind” coming from heaven, and then the disciples suddenly speaking in the languages of everyone from every nation present in the crowd … and yet, even having witnessed this amazing sign, “some in the crowd doubted”; declared the disciples were just drunk … at 9 in the morning. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but 9 would be a bit early for me to start drinking anything but my second pot of coffee. But still, some doubted …
If you think about it, some of the greatest heroes in the Bible were doubters. For example:
• Moses doubted he was capable of leading an entire nation out of Egypt.
• Gideon doubted his ability to save Israel so much, he actually tested God not once, but twice to make sure God was right.
• Sarah and Abraham doubted God when he promised to give them a son. They doubted what they were hearing so much, they actually laughed! At GOD!
Now, Thomas got his proof when Christ appeared before him and the other disciples a week later. Moses got his proof when they finally reached the Jordan River. Gideon got his proof when he defeated the Midianites even after God sent away all but 300 soldiers from his army. And Sarah and Abraham got their proof when Isaac was born.
Proof, while not always immediate, is easy …
But Faith? That’s hard work. So, Faith must then be the opposite of Doubt, right?
Faith is good, and true, and – if practiced steadfastly – brings blessings and protection and the Love of God …
Doubt, on the other hand, is dark and suspicious and joy-stealing. It’s the enemy whispering in our ear to throw us off track. It comes creeping in like the Angel of Death in Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments, licking at our heels, wrapping around our ankles to try and trip us up, sometimes even covering us like a cold, grey shroud.
So surely Doubt has to be the opposite of Faith. Right?
Or is it? Theologian Paul Tillich wrote that “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” And, the poet, Khalil Gibran (a Lebanese Maronite Catholic), wrote, “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that Faith is his twin brother.”
I think the reason it seems so opposite to us is that it’s easier to give in to doubt than it is to step out in faith.
At my age of nearly 60, I “doubt” I’m going to lose the 10 … okay, 15 … okay, 20 pounds I need to lose.
I doubt my 15 year-old is going to be un-grounded before she graduates in two years if she doesn’t clean her room.
Those are just the small doubts. I have some bigger ones.
I have, as I’m betting at least some of you do, a lot of doubt about our country right now, about the future as a citizen of this country, and even about the world as a whole. Instead of praying my great-grandson has a better life than me, I’m just praying that there’s something good of this country left for him.
And, I have doubt about my own future.
At my age of nearly 60, I “doubt” I’m going to be able to find a comparable job to replace the one I’m losing at the end of December when my boss retires.
If I can’t find a comparable job, I “doubt” we’re going to be able to afford the major repairs our house needs any time soon.
I’m about three quarters of the way through the Candidacy process. It took three years to get this far, and it wasn’t easy to answer the Call I got in the first place, and all that’s left are one report from my mentor and the big interviews – the Psychological Assessment interview, the SPR & Charge Conference interviews, and the interviews with the District Superintendent and Board of Ordained Ministry.
But I find myself doubting with every step. Not doubting God’s call on me. When I finally let myself hear it, it was crystal clear. No, I’m doubting the people involved in those interviews will find me a suitable fit for the Holston Conference and Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.
• I’m only 12 years away from the mandatory retirement age for Methodist ministers. The majority of the candidates for Licensed Pastor are much … much, much younger than me. They would be a much better investment of time and resources in terms of career longevity.
• I’m a social and political activist and have been for a couple decades at least. It is clearly reflected in my personal social media posts.
• I have a past and, while I don’t live in that past anymore, others may not be able to leave it behind.
• I’m not good at coloring in the lines and I don’t do well when people try to put me in a box.
• I like diversity. I thrive in it. Racial, cultural, theological, economic, social diversity.
• I’m a woman and, while we all might want to think we don’t feel this way, a woman behind the pulpit can be a problem for some folks.
While, to me and with the possible exception of the age issue, those are traits that would make me well suited to being the pastor of a church, especially a church in an urban area with a broad mix in the community, my doubt lies in whether others will see them like I do or see them more as negative points.
So how do I deal with my doubts and not end up giving in to them? Well, honestly, sometimes I do cave in. But mostly, I face them with Faith. Conscious, deliberate, diligent Faith.
Thomas had faith in Christ, but not in the resurrection. He doubted it and declared he wouldn’t believe it unless he saw for himself. A week passed, Jesus appeared and showed him the scars and that’s when Thomas finally believed in the Resurrection.
But the lesson wasn’t just that Thomas got his proof and then believed. No, there was more – much more. Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed … or, as our magician friend from the television show said, “Proof is easy. Faith is hard damn work.”
So what did Jesus have to say about Doubt and Faith beyond what he said to Thomas?
One day Jesus’ disciples asked him to increase their faith. He replied, “If you have faith small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will be so (Luke 17:6).
Faith as small as a mustard seed isn’t much to ask of us. And it must be enough because it:
- Healed the woman with the issue of blood who didn’t say a word; she just believed and touched the hem of his gown.
- Healed the daughter of the Centurion who felt so unworthy of Christ that he wouldn’t allow Christ to visit her in person; he just said, “if you say she’s healed, she’ll be healed” (Luke 7:2-10; Matthew 8:5-13)
Countless stories of acts of faith are in the Gospels and yet, in almost every story, someone doubts.
And do you know who were the most likely to doubt him? The religious – the priests and rabbis that knew first hand the prophecies that had told of his coming! His own disciples often doubted. Men and women that witnessed the miracles that came out of those acts of faith, and yet they doubted.
Remember the story of the disciples and Christ crossing the sea in a storm? Jesus was sleeping and the disciples were frantic! Convinced they were going to be tossed in the sea and drowned. When they woke him, he asked them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Then he calmed the storm and stilled the sea (Mark 4:35-41).
Faith is hard work. It means believing in the unseen and trusting in the unknown. But if we do that … if we continually, consciously believe that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)” … if we trust God’s promise to Jeremiah – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)” … then eventually, consciously believing will become instinctive believing which becomes just knowing … KNOWING God is there. KNOWING Christ is ALWAYS right beside each of us. KNOWING that voice we hear guiding us in certain directions IS the Holy Spirit.
The little doubts, we can handle ourselves … like doubting we locked the door or turned the dome light off or unplugged the iron. But the big doubts, or even lesser doubts that require patience because we can’t deal with them immediately? Give those to God. Trust in His timing, His plan for you, His love FOR you …
Don’t let your doubts keep you from God. Christ meets us where we are – doubts and all. When you have doubts, give them to God and let it lead you to real God experience, to authentic spiritual experience that helps you to become more loving, compassionate, courageous persons and communities.
And, remember what James said in James 1:6: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
Proof is easy. Faith is hard work. But, the peace and resolution that are the reward of faith are worth it.
As Peter said in his letter, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
And all God’s children said, Amen.
As we sing our closing hymn, if you have doubts you’re struggling with or you just need to hit the reset button on your faith, come up to the altar and give it to God. If you need additional prayer, just give Don or I a nod and one of us will be there to pray with you.
Thank you, again, for having me here this morning. I look forward to seeing you again in June. And now, hear this benediction …
May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.