I don’t know for sure, but I think some people around here may see me as an overgrown kid, especially after last week, when many of you saw me ride Joe Joe’s scooter back and forth, down the street, while wearing my clergy robe, on Easter Sunday. Maybe people are right, I’ve often been heard to say that growing older is inevitable, but growing up is optional.
I still do a lot of the same things I did when I was a kid. Something I loved to do with my friend, who was also named Matt, who lived across the street from me when we were growing up together, was to sit in my room (he shared his room with his little brother – and he was really annoying – so we didn’t often go over there), but we liked to sit in my room and play our favorite records for each other.
I still do a lot of the same things I did when I was a kid. Something I loved to do with my friend, who was also named Matt, who lived across the street from me when we were growing up together, was to sit in my room (he shared his room with his little brother – and he was really annoying – so we didn’t often go over there), but we liked to sit in my room and play our favorite records for each other. We would hang out in my room, cd player lit up, record player spinning, listening to our favorite music and talking, way too late into the night.
It was a great way to share new music that we had discovered. And we were often excited to share something new that we had found, something that we thought the other would love. We were pretty tuned in to each other’s musical taste so, often, it wouldn’t be long into the record before the other person’s eyes would close and his head would begin to bob and he’d get that little “not bad” lower lip curl:
and the one who brought the record would shout out, “Right?!?! Right?!?” Now we’d have to add the record to our favorites list.
I have to admit that so often, as life has gone on, this has not gone as well with other people as it did with my friend Matt. I’ll find myself turning on a record for someone, and it gets to my favorite part, my favorite line, and realize that it’s not hitting the other person like it does for me. Instead of seeing the head start to bob or the little lip curl, there’s a dispassionate, blank stare on their faces. It’s so disappointing. I feel like screaming, “DON’T YOU GET THAT THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER?!?!”
In fact, Jesus has to go find them. They’re locked away in that dark, depressing room, the place where they were staying. They have given Jesus up for dead. Even the two who saw the empty tomb are hidden in that room because they’re still afraid. Then Jesus breaks in. The doors are locked. I imagine the shades are drawn. They’ve done their security sweeps, but Jesus pops up, into the room, and shows them that now everything is changed.
I wonder which of these people from the story of the resurrection we are today. Are you the one whose heart is locked away, like the disciples, afraid of the good news that resurrection life is for everyone – even for you? Maybe you’re Mary, looking around telling everyone how Jesus has changed your life, but no one is listening and you’re waiting for them to see for themselves. Or maybe you’re like the one who we haven’t talked about yet. Maybe you’re like the one who wasn’t even in the room when Jesus came to prove it. Maybe you’re the one who, when everyone was receiving faith in miraculous ways, you were left out. There is one in this story who was not there, in that room, when Jesus came and visited the disciples. That one is Thomas.
When the disciples came to him and said, “You’ll never believe what happened!” He acted just like they had when Mary said the same thing to them. Mary said, “I have seen the Lord” and the disciples kept themselves locked away because they had not seen for themselves. This time, they have seen Jesus, with their own eyes, and Thomas keeps his heart locked away, like they had, and shouts back with an emphatic, “I will not believe until I have placed my hands in the scars.” There is an implicit part that we often forget in this story. As he shouts so emphatically, he implies, “I will not believe until I touch the scars (like you have).”
We forget, especially when we’re trying to share our faith – we forget that others have not experienced Christ as we have. It may have been a long time ago for us. We may have forgotten how it even happened. I know that for some of us, we grew up in church and never grew out of it.
The disciples acted like they had always been there also. Yet, unlike them, we have to find some patience for people to experience Christ in their own times and in their own ways. I mentioned last week that John Wesley would end his sermons with an “if you heard something that touched your heart, keep seeking” message. What I didn’t mention was that his buddy, George Whitfield, would always end his sermons with “Make a decision. Right now. Make a decision for Christ.” Wesley and Whitfield were close friends and deeply disagreed on many points, including this one.
Wesley thought that being awakened – that is, an initial recognizing the need for God – and finding faith through our doubts takes time. Definitely more time than just one sermon. He thought that we had to share life together, sharing our story of faith in scripture and the story of faith that lives in each of us. He thought that a person should have enough time to ask questions, enough time to be steeped in the answers and in scripture before they made a decision toward Christ. But Whitfield would see 30,000 people choose Christ from one sermon, and for most of their ministries together, Whitfield was seen as the more successful minister. The sheer numbers were staggering.
At the end of his life, Whitfield ended up agreeing with Wesley. He saw that the ones who made a quick decision were the same ones to give it up just as quickly. There’s a saying, “Beware the one who befriends you quickly because they will be the first to betray you.” I don’t necessarily agree with that truism, but it speaks to what was happening with Whitfield and Wesley. Before he died, Whitfield said, “My brother Wesley acted wisely, the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in societies, and thus preserved the fruit of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.”
A rope of sand! What an image. There’s a lot to look at and not a lot to hold on to. You wouldn’t want to rely upon a rope of sand to pull yourself to safety. But, Wesley’s movement, the one we are a part of today, Whitfield saw a heavy corded rope to rely upon because we learned and shared together; we rely on each other.
This is where we have a lot to share at this church. We have classes like the Thursday Bible Study that has been going on for a long time. We have our Discipleship classes on Monday nights that one part lecture, one part discussion, one part questions, one part socializing. We have small groups, both in East County and here in 92104. We have all kinds of places to ask each other “How is it with your soul?”
So Wesley would ask, “Have you faith?” Do you have faith in Christ? And if the honest answer is, “No,” (which he would want to hear the honest answer, not just want you think he’d want to hear) he wouldn’t say, then get it together, “DON’T YOU GET THAT THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER?!?!” He would say, “Keep seeking.” But don’t just do it on your own, share your story, share the version of you that is hoping to find resurrection life living in you. Share the version that includes your doubts, the things that are standing in the way of your loving and serving Jesus. Keep seeking. Until you have faith, keep seeking. And Christ will show up in your life.
So… doubt. Doubt as much as you need to. But doubt together. Doubt in classes, in small groups, doubt in whatever it is you want to call our discipleship courses. Doubt, but doubt together. Doubt faithfully. And Christ will show up.
Grace and peace to us as we doubt in this life of faith together.