“Less certainty, more doubt…” – Gospel and Sermon for Sunday, April 24, 2022
And because I have COVID, I was coughing throughout the sermon. If you prefer to read the text of today’s sermon, it is below for your benefit:
What’s the opposite of faith? Many people might say doubt. I disagree.
Christian theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”
The first sin in the bible is the sin of certainty. Humanity wanted to know for certain and so we ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We wanted to know. We wanted to be like God. In knowing we could feel like we are in control. Because certainty gives us a sense of control.
Just look at how the world has changed recently. And the response to the changes that are going on in different places. We want to know, be certain, and be in control, and we’re willing to do just about anything to make that happen. And willing to scapegoat or make an enemy of anyone who gets in the way of that control and certainty. We’ll pass laws, we’ll go to war, we’ll come up with all sorts of arguments why our being in control is so very important and why others are in the way of that goal.
Societies, organizational cultures, communities, organizations, and churches are all built on trust, not certainty. Because they are relational. And since people are involved, there will always be an element of uncertainty, not knowing, not understanding, seeing things differently that make no sense to us. When we try to make certainty the foundation instead of trust, we are actually dehumanizing things because we can’t ever be certain when it comes to people, we can only be certain when it comes to material things or things like math. But never people.
I’m sure you noticed that the Gospel reading sounded a little different than what is printed. Everywhere the English said “believing” or “belief” or some variation of it, I read “Pistis.” Pistis is the Greek word in this Gospel and can be translated as belief or faith. And it can be translated as trust as well. In fact, in the Greek, all three ideas – belief, faith, and trust are interconnected. You can’t have one without the other two. It makes no sense.
For too long we’ve made Thomas to be the bad guy in this passage. I mean, he’s doubting, so there must be something wrong about him, right? Doubting Thomas, as if doubt is a sin. But, it’s not Thomas who is locked up in a room out of fear, certain that the disciples would be hunted down if they were out and about.
And Thomas is the first to make a definitive declaration about who Jesus is – My Lord and My God. None of the other disciples make that declaration. And that declaration comes because of his doubt – Jesus gives him exactly what he needed so that Thomas could pistis – trust in Jesus.
Earlier when Jesus appears to the disciples, he greats them with the phrase “Peace be with you.” The word for peace here, E-ray-nay, goes way beyond just a simple greeting of hello. What the resurrected Christ is putting on them is the assurance of salvation or peace of mind. It’s exactly what they need at that time as they sit in fear and are feeling a lack of pistis.
You see, Jesus can handle our doubts and uncertainties. He knows exactly what assurances he can provide to us. God is big enough to handle all our doubts and questions. It’s usually humans that can’t. It’s our desire for certainty and knowing that usually causes us problems. That’s when we tell children and even adults to stop asking inconvenient questions – because we don’t know the answers. Oh Heavens! It might make us appear human.
Christianity isn’t about knowing all the answers and having all the correct beliefs. The desire for certainty closes our eyes from seeing the resurrected Christ in those around us in the world. The desire for certainty closes our hearts from loving others – whether they be neighbors or enemies. The desire for certainty closes our minds from encountering Jesus in ways that we may not have considered possible because we are certain that Jesus can only do things a certain way. The desire for certainty closes our hands to become fists that protect our certainties regardless of the cost.
There are no Scripture verses that cite Jesus demanding that you have the correct beliefs, have no doubts, or are absolutely certain and have this thing called faith all figured out. Thank God for that, because we’d all be in serious trouble. As a pastor, I’ve got plenty of doubts, questions, and uncertainties. Rather, there are several passages of Scripture that call on people to follow, or said another way – to learn, to be vulnerable, to trust, to let go of what we think we know for certain. Why? Because Jesus assures us and gives us what we need – peace of mind. That should feel like a lot of weight falling off our shoulders. Good News is supposed to be that way – a sense of relief. It’s a huge relief to know that we don’t have to know it all. And we don’t have to because Jesus gives us his assurance.
The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but our own certainty proved through our own means. You don’t need faith if you are certain and you can prove something. Certainty means you know. It’s proven and verifiable.
Jesus’ assurance is a different type of certainty. It calls on us to trust him. To pistis his E-ray-nay.
Our own certainty means we pistis that we are in control. I’m not sure how that matches up with what it means to pistis Jesus though – to be a follower of Jesus.
I’m not sure how we can be certain and follow Jesus’ way of peace. Peace requires a lot of doubt – doubt in the ways of war and violence, doubt that everyone will seek revenge. Doubt in the beliefs of the ends justify the mean, and that might makes right. Doubt that the ways of the world use to resolve conflict ever work.
It doesn’t take much to doubt that though when all we have to do is pay attention to what happens in the world and see that its ways aren’t working and never have.
I’m not sure how we can be certain and pray for our enemies and even love our enemies. It’s far easier to be certain when it comes to enemies. Then everything is set in stone. No questions, not uncertainty, not doubt, and no possible change of how we see our enemies or how they might see us. It’s far easier to be certain when it comes to enemies than to hold doubts about them. It makes it easier to try to defeat or destroy them, rather than see the image of God in them and see where that might take us.
I’m not sure how we can be certain and be a disciple. Being a Disciple means being a follower or student. Someone who is learning a way. If we are learning a way, then how can we be certain? Learning means we don’t know it all. That we have questions and doubts and uncertainties. Being a student means trusting the teacher.
And I’m not sure how we can be certain and love our neighbor who is different from ourselves and who might conflict with our own certainties of how we see the world.
Being uncertain isn’t comfortable. It can be very disorienting. Trusting is vulnerable. It can turn on us in a moment. But here’s the thing – the reason we can doubt, ask questions, and trust when we don’t know is because as followers of Jesus we don’t have all the answers, we have Jesus who has assured us and given us peace of mind.
Jesus gives us assurance and hope. And hope is related to that pistis that I talked about before. Hebrews 11:1 tells us “pistis” is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
The only thing I’m certain of, is that the world is broken and it needs Jesus, not more certainty. We need more doubt, more trust. More vulnerability, more not knowing. More willingness to ask questions, be perplexed, and be open to seeing the world and other people as Jesus sees them. Opening our ears to hear Jesus’ assurance and peace of mind. Opening our eyes to see the many other signs of Jesus in the presence of his disciples that aren’t written down. While the world is desperately hurtling downward towards certainty, I’m just not interested. We don’t need more certainty. We need more of what Jesus is offering – assurance. Thanks be to God.