A Sermon Preached at Skipwith UMC on April 3, 2016

A Sermon Preached at Skipwith UMC on April 3, 2016


A sermon preached at Skipwith UMC on April 3, 2016

By William A James

John 20: 19-28

Scars! We all have them. Some are visible, as from a surgery or from a wound. Some of us would rather they be concealed; some like to compare them, as in a competition. These are the physical scars that we bear. If we were to look at a particular scar on our body, it’s probable that we could offer a story about how the scar came to be. i.e. I have a small scar on my right hand. Beneath the skin is a dark mark, which is actually a piece of pencil lead. In the fifth grade, a friend threw his pencil to me while I was at the pencil sharpener. I caught it by the point (I don’t think it needed sharpening). A piece of that pencil lives on. I have a nice scar on my chest; my souvenir from heart surgery.

These are physical scars, but then there are emotional scars that most of us carry with us as well. You know, like when your heart was broken by someone you loved. Or when you lost a loved one. These unseen scars are often far more painful than the physical ones.

I have only to touch or see one of my scars to remember how it came to be. When we hear the name of, or see a picture of a loved one we’ve lost, it’s like touching a scar on our heart.

A couple of years ago, the Reuters News Service carried a story about a Russian teenager who survived a lightning strike which was so powerful it vaporized a gold cross on her neck.

The bolt hit this young woman on the top of her head and seared through her body into the ground. The necklace she had been wearing was “atomized,” leaving burns in the shape of a cross


on her neck. Only a couple of links of the chain could be found.

A doctor at the local hospital who treated her over a period of two weeks said: “It is a miracle she survived.” She did survive and is fine now but, says the report, “she will have deep scars on her neck where the cross was for the rest of her life.”

Our scars are “proof” of things that happened. No one who ever sees the scar on that girl’s neck will doubt that she was struck by lightning.

When Jesus joined the ten disciples the night after His Resurrection, he still bore the scars from the torture and from the cross.

Judas, of course, was not there. Nor was Thomas. When the rest told Thomas that they had seen Jesus and he was alive, Thomas adamantly stated that he would not believe it unless he could


put his finger in the nail holes and his hand into the wound on Jesus’ side.

“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.’

“Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” Thomas saw and touched his scars and no longer doubted.

Poor Thomas. He was not the only one who doubted that Jesus could be raised from the dead; yet, Thomas has come through history as the epitome of doubt.

Why is doubt such a bad thing? It is NOT a bad thing! In fact, I believe that, without doubt, there would hardly be a church today. (4)

In our judicial system, a person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Strong, grounded faith comes from dealing with doubt. When Thomas saw and touched the scars on Jesus, he believed and professed, “My Lord and my God”. Only after confessing his misgivings did he come to have faith. Faith often, if not usually, comes as a result of doubt.

Throughout my ministry I was gratified when a young person would be brave to offer his/her doubts, or question something that was said in church. Occasionally, in adult Bible Study, someone would question something from Scripture. It was always an opportunity for us all to learn. Constructive doubt always plays an important role in faith development.


The least used words in the vocabulary of the church (all churches) are: “I Don’t Know”. Some churches and church leaders will not use those words for fear of appearing ignorant or unsure of what they “profess” to be the Word of God. When you claim to have all the answers and/or claim a special knowledge of Scripture interpretation that surpasses all others, you are effectively taking the humanity out of faith. Why is it that these “know-it-alls” forget that Jesus was created wholly divine AND wholly human?

I remember the first time a young man in youth Sunday School asked me the question: “O.K. Adam was the first man; Eve the first woman. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel. Cain and his wife had Enoch. There was no other woman. Who was the mother of Enoch?


It was a thoughtful question. Had I answered that God provided that which we can’t understand, the young man would have heard it as a cop-out. This is what happens so often in church. If we are honest with each other and everyone, we will all learn more and our faith will INCREASE.

I really struggled for the first two years of my theological studies. I didn’t have a strong background and was relying on my (woefully inadequate) understanding of the Bible to get me through. Then, I came before a certain professor who taught us to read the Bible as it is written – never adding to it, never taking from it. BUT to read with curiosity and the desire to understand. I learned to ask certain questions before studying any book in the Bible: Who wrote it? When was it written? Towhom was it written? What was


going on at the time? Following that guidancebrought me from fearing a discussion of Scripture to a hunger for more knowledge of what has brought us to this point in time. You cannot place a 21st century overlay over a book or letter written in the first century. It’s the heart of the teaching that can inform us today. When Paul wrote to one of his churches and chastised them about the head coverings they wore in church, Paul wasn’t writing that letter to you and me. BUT, we certainly can glean from his teaching that there are proper and improper ways to present ones’ self in the church today.

The Shaker religion in Kentucky, under the leadership of Mother Ann Lee, who believed in celibacy. She understood when God created man in their own image, to mean that man and woman could exist in the same body. She instituted her


belief in the Shaker life style. They built their village on that premise – men lived in one building, the women in another. Where were the children, you ask? There were none (save some rescued orphans), they could no longer get together and they disappeared.

Can the church of today not admit that we may not always know where Jesus is leading us, but the belief that He is always with us provides faith for the journey? If we demand tangible reality, can we not meet our doubts with the resurrected Jesus and Thomas story?

God doesn’t meet our doubts and questions with chastisement and punishment, but with grace.


I know from my own experience and from mistakes I have made as a leader and teacher, that when a seeker dares to question something and that person is made to feel inferior for having asked, that seeker is not likely to become a believer.

So I have to wonder – what if the church changed its view of and teaching about Thomas, began to picture him as one who had the courage to admit his lack of understanding. What if the church began to celebrate the willingness of Thomas to express his honest doubts? What effect would that have on the public perception of the church? Could it be that the church could then begin to help people see that Christian faith is a belief that exists in the presence of doubts rather than a belief that has to remove all doubt in order to exist? Could we in the church begin to believe


that faith is actually strengthened by an honest acceptance and open discussion of doubts?

Maybe then the church would be seen by unbelievers, those unchurched folks we’re trying to attract to our churches, not as people who think they have all the answers, but as people just like themselves – people who cling to their faith IN SPITE OF the uncertainties of life. In other words, people who are just as human and fallible as anybody else?

We need to learn the benefit of the doubt. We need to embrace the truth learned from the example of Thomas that doubts may not always lead to answers, but they almost always lead to spiritual growth. And we need to respect our scars! When our heart was broken and left us emotionally distraught, what was it that brought us around? Was it criticism or was it grace?


Perhaps Frederick Buechner expressed it best. In his book Wishful Thinking, he wrote: "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 asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving."

May this day be a time when we are honest about the weaknesses of the church, the fact that we don’t have all the answers but often want to pretend that we do. But may it also be a time when we are hopeful about the potential of people who have been visited and blessed by the Risen Christ. We are church, not because we have all the answers, not because we have a beautiful, well-cared-for building, not because of the choir, or the preacher, or the various activities and programs we provide. We are church because Christ has


come to us and has given us His gifts of Spirit, mission, and forgiveness, commissioning us to pass the gifts along to the whole, wide world in His name. AMEN