Healthy Skepticism

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John 20:19-31

The reading given to us today is the familiar story of Thomas the Apostle. The story is significant because it reminds us that everything about our faith as Christians revolves around the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are in fact the most important events in the history of the world from our perspective as Christians. Of course when we talk about matters such as the resurrection we are talking about something we all firmly believe in with all our heart. That is the meaning of faith. It is a belief that is firm and life changing. Unfortunately there are always folks who will reduce the Christian message. They will make it simply about morals or monotheism or suffering. Those are all aspects of our faith, but certainly they are not the focus. Our focus is always the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of God.

Once I spent some time speaking with an Orthodox Christian about the essential points of the Christian faith. After some time I realized that this person did not in any way believe in the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. They thought of it as some sort of metaphor or “spiritual” idea, whatever that might mean. I gently explained to the individual that believing in the physical resurrection was of extreme importance and that without this belief, one could not be called a Christian or take part in sacraments such as communion. This person decided that they would go elsewhere, perhaps to another church that would make them feel good about what they believed. Please note: if you want a faith that makes you feel good, as opposed to a faith that actually gives you the truth than what you are really after is self-centered religion, it has nothing to do with God. If you are really sick and you keep going to different doctors hoping that one will tell you that you are not sick, this is a form of self-delusion.

St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter 15 writes “Now I would remind you brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” He continues saying “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…….”
St. Paul continues by writing “Why are we in danger every hour? What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
So here we see St. Paul arguing that whatever they are doing as Apostles, working, preaching, traveling and suffering; it is all worthless if Jesus Christ was not raised from the dead. St. Paul teaches us that we are better off simply “enjoying” life doing whatever we please since there is nothing after death. Why should I waste time and energy bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ if He was simply crucified and buried? I might as well preach Plato or Buddha or Muhammad or Elvis if that is the case. Or better yet I should just live selfishly going after my own hearts desires, indulging the lusts of power, wealth, flesh etc. Perhaps some of us are already living this type of life but for St. Paul and the Apostles who went to their deaths, life was not meant to be squandered. They suffered while preaching the risen Christ and we are reminded that they died to bring each one of us the message that changes lives. They died to show us that this life is temporary and passing and easy compared to the eternal glory that will follow those who dedicate their lives to the crucified and risen Lord.

The story of Thomas is written for us as a reminder that these events, as unbelievable as they are…. actually happened. We see from Thomas that doubting is quite natural even for someone who followed Jesus closely for many years, someone who saw His many miracles. Jesus Christ is alive and loves each one of us. We are reminded that the Apostles were frightened and huddled together not knowing their futures or fates and we are reminded that after the Lord appeared to them they were bold and went to preach everywhere regardless of the risks. Within 2 months of the crucifixion the followers of Christ multiplied from a mere few to many thousands. All of this reminds us that the resurrection is real and powerful and it changed the course of history. This joy, this hope, this power is given to us freely not because we earned it but because He loves us.

If your life is difficult and full of pain and sorrow, be of good cheer. God has overcome pain and sorrow by patiently enduring them. If there are days when you even wonder why you are alive or what the meaning of life might be, don’t forget that Jesus Christ has conquered death….and gives us a chance to live for something, rather… someone who lasts beyond the grave. It doesn’t really matter where we start, even if we are skeptics like Thomas. But let’s also imitate Thomas when he boldly came to faith and said “My Lord and My God!” That faith changed his life and two thousand years later it still has the power to change yours. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Adapted from a sermon preached on April 22, 2012

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