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Monday, April 24 2017

Randy Milleville

John 20:19-31

 

          Let me tell you the story about a young college woman named Jenny.  One day, she walked into her counselor's office and confessed that she didn’t believe in God anymore.  Her dad was a Lutheran pastor, and she had been spoon-fed the gospel all her life.  

          But now, in college, she was smarter than all that.  Now she trusted science.  Now she believed in bright professors and thick textbooks and knowledge and reason.  Faith seemed to insult her intellect. When she got up to leave, the counselor said the only thing he should have said when she first sat down.  “Jenny” he said, “God loves you, even when you don’t believe that God exists.”

          Tears filled her eyes, and she said “I know he does.”

          I want to welcome all of you here today, and thank you for coming.  This weekend after Easter almost always focuses on the story that we have come to know as Doubting Thomas.  I often wish that the crowds we had here last weekend would hang around for at least one more weekend to hear this story about Doubting Thomas.

          And let me tell you why.  Thomas’s story gives us preachers a prime opportunity to talk about what I suspect most people would really want us to talk about.  And that is, when it comes to faith, when it comes to God, when it comes to Jesus, when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead – what I suspect most people want help with is whether or not all of this stuff is true. 

          In other words, “Pastor, help ME with MY doubts.  I know the stories.  I’ve heard them since I was little.  I want to believe.  Help me with my unbelief.  Help me make sense of my doubts.”

          Fair enough.  And if you have come here today with your doubts in hand – or maybe you’re skeptical of all this stuff – you find it hard to wrap your brain around all this stuff – let me tell you – I’m glad you are here.  Thank God you are here.

          Listen!  Let me suggest to you that if you have doubts about God and Jesus and the whole resurrection of Jesus from the dead thing – then that’s a good thing. AND you’ve come to the right place. 

          One of the things we talk about in this place is faith.  By faith we accept what we hear in this place about things like God and Jesus and the resurrection.  But sometimes our doubts seem to get in the way.

          Well let me tell you something.  Doubt is not necessarily the opposite of faith.  I want to suggest to you that a healthy faith is sometimes fed by a healthy doubt.  A healthy doubt will cause the skeptic in us to question all of this God and Jesus and resurrection stuff.  And that’s a good thing.

          Because, you see, faith isn’t blind.  You can ask for and look for and find evidence to support your faith.  Hold on.  I’ll get to the evidence in just a few minutes.

          But first I want to put your minds at ease IF you came here today wrestling – doubting whether God exists.  Questioning whether or not the resurrection of Jesus is a real live, historical event.  And let me tell you – I am convinced that either now or at some time in your life – you would have to say that sometimes you have had your doubts about all of this God and Jesus and resurrection stuff. 

          And yeah, I know, it’d be a lot easier if Jesus would just show up the very same way that he showed up to his disciples.  You know, just show up right here, right now, right over here next to me in this spot….anytime now… 

          Many years ago, the husband of one of our Zion members – a woman who eventually moved away and is now deceased – but this man told me one day that he was a skeptic.  He was skeptical about everything.  AND – he told me – he was even skeptical of the skeptical position.  I’m not sure he knew what to believe. 

          But let me tell you this.  If I could give you any one thing – just one thing today – from everything I say to you today – it is this.  If you are not sure – if you are a skeptic – if you have your doubts – I would ask you to be skeptical of your skeptical position.  I would ask you to doubt your doubts.

          I’m sure most of you are familiar with the name Robert Louis Stevenson.  He wrote “Treasure Island,” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”   Like many young people in his early years Stevenson rebelled against his upbringing. He was raised in Scotland in a very strict protestant home.  As a college student he quickly shed his rigid upbringing, which he called “the deadliest gag and wet blanket that can be laid on a man,” and adopted a thoroughly bohemian lifestyle. He called himself a “youthful atheist.”

          As he became older, however, Robert Louis Stevenson began to have “doubts about his doubts.”  He came to see that for all its claim to wisdom, the world had no satisfying answers to the deepest questions of life. Later Robert Louis Stevenson would write, “There is a God who is manifest for those who care to look for him.”

          In the later years of his life Stevenson was a man of deep and profound faith. Toward the end of his life he described his religious outlook as a “cast iron faith.”  He had learned to doubt the doubts of his youth.

          The story of Doubting Thomas gives us permission to recognize that sometimes we too have doubts.  And I want to tell you today that that’s okay!  I am convinced that doubt is a tool that God can use to help us understand what it is that we do believe.  The person I worry about is the one who says, “I’ve never doubted what the Bible says for one minute.”

          Quite frankly, sometimes I have my doubts.  And do you want to know how I handle my doubts?  Some of you know because I’ve told you this before, and I’m going to tell you again.

          When I start to question things – when I have my doubts – I tend to doubt my doubts – WHEN I remind myself of two things.   

           Number one.  I ask the question, “How did we got here?”  Science can explain a lot of things.  Like Jenny in our opening story, she put her faith in science.  Science is a wonderful thing, but so far it cannot explain where the stuff of life – the stuff of the universe – comes from.  What does science teach us?  You can’t get something from nothing.  Nothing comes from nothing.  There can be no spontaneous generation of either matter or energy.  That’s what science tells us.  Therefore the stuff of the universe – the stuff of life – had to have had a creator – and quite frankly a master designer for it all to come together – for it to coalesce into what we experience with our senses.  It is complex – it is just too complex – RNA – DNA – and the precise sequencing of the amino acids that make up the proteins – it’s all just too complex for it to have happened by dumb luck or blind chance.

           To believe otherwise – that the stuff of the universe just kind of happened on its own violates every law of physics and chemistry that I’ve ever studied.  It takes a lot of faith to believe that the stuff of the universe came into being on its own.  And quite frankly – I don’t have enough faith to believe that.  But I do have enough faith to believe that there is a creator.  And that the universe has a designer.

           And then there’s the second thing.  Let’s call it “The Jesus Event”.  Most importantly – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  And the primary thing there that I have to go on is the eyewitness accounts of those who saw Jesus alive after he was crucified – who wrote about it – who proclaimed it – and who lost their lives because of it.  This is not something that could have been made up the way it plays out.

           So if the resurrection is a lie – then those first disciples are the ones who made it up.  And what happened to them?  Stephen was stoned to death.  James the brother of John was killed with a sword.  Peter and Paul are believed to have been executed in Rome.  Legend has it that all of the original disciples – with the exception of John – died martyr’s deaths.  And not one of them at the last minute recanted.  Not one said, “We just kind of made that resurrection thing up.”  Liars do not make good martyrs.   No.  They had nothing to gain either politically or financially by making it up – and it cost most of them their lives.

           And by the way – whatever happened to Thomas?  Legend has it that Thomas went as far as India and established churches – and the Christians there became known as Thomite Christians.  But eventually he too was martyred for his faith.

          So you see – something must have happened on that first Easter day to change the hearts and lives of those who knew Jesus best – those who had witnessed his crucifixion, death and burial.  And who also witnessed his resurrection.  These were changed men and women – which is another piece of evidence for the resurrection by the way.  And the amazing thing is – is that the resurrected Jesus – through the power and the presence and the person of the Holy Spirit is still touching hearts and changing lives today.  A dead Messiah – a Jesus who is still dead can’t do that.  

          I offer these things to you not as proof – but as evidence.  And there is more evidence to be examined.  And if I ever – no when I finish my book about the evidence for God and Jesus and the resurrection – you’ll be able to read about the other pieces of evidence there.  But for now, please know that faith is not blind.  Faith leaves room for doubts.  For the skeptic in all of us – all I ask you to do is to examine the evidence.   

          I hope that perhaps I have answered some of your questions, and given you permission to wrestle with your doubts and your faith today.  To give you reason to reexamine the evidence for this whole God and Jesus and resurrection stuff.  To examine the evidence – and arrive at a place where you can even doubt your doubts.  

          And what better place than here to do that!  What better place than this place – a place where Jesus is.  To hear Jesus say to you today, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”               Amen

 

Posted by: Randy Milleville AT 12:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656
Email:
zionoffice@zionclarencecenter.com

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