First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
Date: April 28, 2019
Sermon: “I Doubt That”
Albert Einstein ~ “The important thing is not to stop questioning” “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the answer, I would spend the first 55 minutes figuring out the proper questions to ask. For if I knew the proper questions, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes”, “Question everything”, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”, “Never lose a holy curiosity”.
What are you willing to question? In life? In faith? What are you willing to not question? Maybe here in this context that would be a more appropriate question? Maybe we can take from Einstein his words as this topic applies to the journey of faith and encounter with the Spirit, to … “never lose a holy curiosity.” Maybe that is one of the childlike qualities we lose as we grow older to our own detriment, a holy curiosity.
It drives me crazy though I suspect I did it when I was that age too. Sometimes when I am around little ones I think it is sure part of the human gene…not particular to a single family but one of those things that we all have in common. I suppose it shows itself at different levels amongst differing children but it is almost certainly a part of the growing and maturing process. You know what it is… that incessant “Why.” That just keeps coming until we are tempted if we do not finally succumb and simply say…“Because I said so that’s why!” The process of learning by answering questions…perhaps that is a key component in the imago Dei… the image of the Spirit in which our faith tradition says we are created… the willingness…the need to doubt, to question, to learn… Why?
In my opinion, I believe in our society and culture we have an epidemic of certainty. It is an epidemic that has spread across our land and country consuming all who will give themselves over. It is an epidemic which removes the willingness to question, to doubt; removes the ability to admit one does not know. All we have to do is listen to the news, read the papers. We see it too often in our government processes…Our own lawmakers come to an impasse knowing they are right…on both sides. The process simply illustrates once again, this plague and epidemic of “rightness” and to heck with those who disagree. In our government it is an epidemic that knows no party or political persuasion… it inflicts itself on both sides of the aisle.
And it is no less infectious in the religious world. This insatiable need to be right, and to be right at someone else’s expense. And this need excludes an openness to being questioned or doubted and squelches that “Holy Curiosity” of which Einstein spoke.
There are so many questions to be so certain in my opinion. But it seems in so many ways we have lost that posture of “what can I learn from this person?” to a posture of “I have the answer and they need to change” In our faith tradition and I am sure in others… there are so many religious platitudes that offer a quick answer that rarely go into any depth. It is kind of like that parental answer to the child’s incessant “why” … “Because I said so, that’s why.” An answer that is really not an answer at all.
I have seen it on bumper stickers, posters, t-shirts, and in a whole host of venues… that kind of statement that puts forth that “non-answer, answer.” Jesus is the Answer, now what is the question? Even if there is some truth to that “answer” it is not that simple. Unless one goes into depth of discussion and consideration.
I have had good and faithful friends that have lived this out with depth and compassion…. Who did not just say the words but lived them out in helpful and compassionate ways. I have also had friends who simply believe those are the only words that need to be spoken with on action or depth of conversation.
So, what are we willing to question? For how long are we willing to ask the question “Why?” What are we looking for? I have for a long time enjoyed the song by U2, I still haven’t found what I am looking for. I think it is because it speaks to where I have been, even I would venture to say… where I still am, and where I hope to remain… in that constant search and journey toward the More in whom I believe I am immersed. Sitting on the balcony on a crisp 11 degree mornings in Avon Colorado with a cup of coffee and feet propped up on the railing gazing at the falling snow and the not very distant mountains the words to the song came wafting through my mind….
I have climbed the highest mountain, I have run through the fields, I have spoken with the tongue of angels, I have held the hand of the devil, you have broke the bonds and loosed the chains, carried the cross… you know I believed it…. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
This searching, for me, is not a sign of weakness, or a sign of a lack of faith… but rather a sign of strength in a willingness to never be satisfied with where I am on the journey toward the Ultimate Reality, a journey in and with God, the Spirit, that connection, that great mystery that is more than I can ever know … yet worth the struggle to find more. A willingness to question everything, even if I stay with what I do know and have. A willingness not to let the doctrines and dogmas of the way things have been for 100’s or 1000’s of years be enough… but to seek out more and better understandings if they are to be had. To return to that childlike holy curiosity of… “Why?” To embrace a dogma of doubt…if you will.
As I was re-reading the Huffington Post the other day, I ran across a writing by Steve McSwain… Author, leader, spiritual teacher who says there are six things Christians must stop saying…. There may be more than six… but these are the six he speaks of…. 1. The bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God. 2 – We just believe the Bible. 3 – Jesus is the only way to heaven. 4 – The rapture of Jesus is imminent. 5 – Homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle and is a sin against God. 6 – The earth is less than 10,000 years old.
Now he goes into depth as to why Christians need to stop saying these things. And admittedly as you might guess, I agree with him. He does a good job of answering the “Why?” question for himself. It is the why question I want to be able to address and articulate when someone asks the question of me. Just like when I want to ask it of another.
When my colleague or friend states, “There is a hell beyond this life,” I want to learn why that is important for them… to them… for their journey of faith…. AND to be able to articulate why I do not need that concept to live out a faithful following of Jesus. Or when my friend says, “Jesus is the only way.” I want to ask “Why?” Why is that important to you….and your journey of faith. Why does that help you live out your following of Jesus here and now? And conversely, I want to be able to articulate why I do not need that literal reading to make a difference in the world through my following of Jesus.
Too many times we allow our fear of challenging long held beliefs to go deeper into that More of the Spirit… Somehow as if we cannot know more, understand more, that they knew and understood 2000 years ago. And our texts do not always help us let go of that rigidity that can or has set in. It is like the scripture passage from John today.
In our story Jesus appears again and invites Thomas to touch him… “Do not doubt but believe.”
For too many of us we have turned this into a chastisement. I am not so sure. “Here it is right in front of you…don’t doubt…believe.” Jesus goes on to ask, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.
We have taken Jesus words and created a posture of privilege and arrogance… and turned Thomas into an example of a lack of faith…Don’t be a doubting Thomas.
I am a questioner at heart… I want to know why Thomas wasn’t there the first time Jesus was supposed to have shown up? Where is that question? No one seems to point out that while the 11 disciples are still in a locked room hiding… Thomas is not there… he is out roaming around somewhere! Perhaps he had had enough of the hiding. Perhaps he was tired of being around those who would rather lock themselves away than to live fully. Perhaps he was out searching for deeper answers to his questions.
What I take away from this familiar passage of John is Thomas was the brave one of the 11. Unwilling to remain locked away in fear. Willing to doubt… willing to question…Thomas was willing to let his questions and doubts deepen his encounter of faith. I have long appreciated Fredrick Buechner’s comment on doubt…
“Doubts”, he says, “are the ants in the pants of faith.” Doubts keep us moving. Doubts keep our faith from becoming stagnant. Doubts and questions are not anti-faith… they are the stuff of deeper faith… the opposite of faith is not doubt… the opposite of faith is certainty.
But it is not an easy thing to step outside that which others believe is certain… it is a courageous act to ask the question…to go against the flow…to stand up and say “No” when there are those who tell you questions and doubts are not appropriate. We can find ourselves stuck in fear of “the law” if you will, speaking biblically. Fear of stepping over the line, of believing something contrary to what tradition has held for the centuries… We can find ourselves losing sight of the very thing Jesus would have us embrace as followers of his. Fruit, he says, is the key…how do you live out what you believe?
We find ourselves fearful of breaking the rules rather than bearing the fruits of compassion and grace. Stuck in the letter of the law rather than the Spirit. It is the difference between the darkness of fear and the light of awakening. The willingness to question… to doubt is what gives life to our faith, these do not diminish it in anyway… always seeking, learning,
It is the difference between joining the larger church even though a group of youth know they do not agree with it… and standing up and saying, “No, not yet…not until the church is open to all. Where all means all!”
Doubts, questioning, studying, to know the why…even if it cannot be known… such is the wisdom of a Zen saying….“Where there is great doubt, there will be great awakening; small doubt, small awakening; no doubt, no awakening.”
Marcus Borg, John Spong, Robin Meyer, Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, all of those who would move us more faithfully into a progressive Christian faith lean on the scriptures to speak of the importance of moving from a faith grounded in “Right Belief” to a faith grounded in “Right Relationship” And in this movement encountering others with a posture of “What can I learn from you” rather than “You need to change”… A faith journey that can articulate what it is we believe and why… but more importantly… How can we work together to bring about peace, justice, kindness, and humility in the world around us? Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries, the limits? Don’t let the fear of dogma and doctrine limit the limitless Love and Compassion of the Spirit…. For if we are infected with the same epidemic of “rightness” without question… we are no better than those we see as wrong… but perhaps with such an open posture all might move toward a Kindom of inclusion… a Kindom where, as the song “If Everyone Cared” says… nobody cried, nobody lied, everyone shared and swallowed their pride, a Kindom where nobody died….
A Kindom where all would sing along…. A song of the day…. A song of Compassion, Justice, Mercy, Kindness, Humility, and Love, a song of the Beloved Community… if ? Everyone Cared… a song of the Beloved Community where…We Love One Another. Every. Single. Other. Until there are no others, only one beloved community of all. May it be so… May it be soon. Amen.