We hope all of you are safe after this weekend’s terrible ice storm. We are grateful many you of you chose not to travel but to stay home as the roads were treacherous. If you were unable to join us, we share with you our new pastor’s homily for your reflection.
I often hear friends suggest that to have faith, we must strongly believe and not question. Faith, so it seems, is a firm expression in some certain fact or truth. I wrestle with such a notion of faith, for it clashes with my own experience of God and journey of faith. There have been few occasions in my life where I have been absolutely certain about the work of God in my life. More often than not, I find myself wondering, questioning, as to where God is in the midst of life.
I take comfort then, in the gospel narratives about the disciples following Jesus’ resurrection. The stories tell of women and men lost, confused, and afraid. Even the bold and strong women disciples, the first ones to the tomb and the first to proclaim the resurrection, appear to hold some doubt about what really happened. Although the disciples see with their own eyes and touch with their hands the resurrected body of Jesus, they still doubt and question. Strangely, I find their doubt reassuring, for I figure if they, the ones who actually lived with Jesus, question his works and wonders, then I might not be so bad after all in my disbelief and wonder.
Yet I am challenged as well by the disciples; they remain and wait for the Lord. Despite their disbelief, the disciples do not give up and go away, but continue to wait for the Lord to come to them. Although their hearts and minds were filled with fear and doubt, the early followers of Jesus remained together as one in their hopeful vigil that the Lord’s promise would be fulfilled.
The post-resurrection accounts of the disciples’ deep questioning of all that has taken place and of Jesus’ teaching remind me that their is room for doubt and questioning in the life of faith. In fact, it is a very biblical theme. It is also intrinsic to our own Christian theological tradition. The great medieval theologian, Anselm of Canterbury, when writing about the work of theology noted that theology, or the study of God, is “faith seeking understanding.” To question is to seek God. It is to wrestle with God and to understand God and God’s ways more fully.
As I said a moment ago, to question is also biblical. There are stories throughout the scriptures of people questioning God and God’s ways. Consider Abraham and Sarah and their disbelief in God’s promise that they will have a son in their old age. Sarah even laughs at God’s words; God, so it seems, is foolish. How can it be for a woman of her age to give birth?
Later in the scriptures we are told of how Jacob wrestled with an angel throughout a long night and unto dawn. Angels, we know, were symbolic of God’s interaction with God’s people. Jacob wrestled with God, and did so to the point of exhaustion.
Recall, as well, Moses and the Israelites as they wandered the desert in search of the promise land. The people frequently cried out to God as to why he led them out to the dry and barren land without food or water.
In each of these stories, and the many others of the scriptures, God does not punish the people for their questions, but rather grants them a sign of blessing or hope. Abraham and Sarah eventually do give birth to Isaac. Jacob, after his long wrestle with God, is transformed and is given a new name, Israel. The Israelites, despite their long laments, are granted mana and water sweetened by a log. And so too are the disciples, gathered in the upper room, given signs of hope and blessing in their questioning. Jesus does not condemn them, but loves them and grants them his peace.
Faith, so it seems, is less about certainty, and more about the desire to know God more fully. This has been very much the theme of the past few Sundays. Mary Magdalene desires to know of what has become of Jesus. Thomas yearns to see Jesus and to touch his hands and side. And the disciples, we hear today, wait anxiously in a room, questioning whether or not Jesus’ promise will be fulfilled. In each story we hear of a deep desire, a longing, for God to reveal God’s self. We hear as well of how the the disciples wait and listen to God.
Questioning, waiting, and pondering are not bad things to do in the life of faith; rather they form the core practices of our faith life and spirituality. The renowned Scottish Presbyterian minister and biblical scholar William Barclay once suggested that “the quiet times in which we wait on God are never wasted; for it is in these times when we lay aside life’s tasks that we are strengthened for the very tasks that lay ahead.”
I have found this to be true in my own life. While I’m more inclined to do things, I often find that sometimes I need to wait and to listen to God, whether in the solitude of prayer or in conversation with others. I’ve discovered that I learn more about God and God’s ways in the world when I question and when I listen. Although I may want things to become apparent much more quickly, I realise that God often has a greater vision than me and may take time in making that vision known to me. Yet I continue to question and to ponder the ways of God.
To be sure, we may endure long periods of silence. We may wait long days and nights for an answer or for something to become more clear and apparent to us. I believe, however, that with time God does grant us some insight into God’s ways. I believe that if we listen, we experience small blessings or signs of hope that God is active and alive in the world. Yet I know that those moments are often brief and lead to even more questions than answers for us. But we, like the early disciples, continue to listen and wait for the Lord to reveal himself to us.
I like to leave you with a poem that I came across the other day as I prepared this homily. Written by Rosalind Brown, a priest and theologian in the Church of England, the poem captures the essence of faith as a time of questioning, pondering, and waiting. Brown writes:
Ponder long the glorious mystery
breath, in awe, that God draws near;
hear again the angel’s message,
see the Lamb of God appear.
God’s own Word assumes our nature:
Son of God in swaddling bands;
Light of light, and God eternal
held in Mary’s gentle hands.
Ponder long the glorious mystery
of the Lamb who once was slain,
now at God’s right hand in glory:
he who in the grave had lain.
Once he bid the doubting Thomas,
“See my hands and touch my side.”
Now the angels gaze in wonder,
Jesus’ wounds are glorified.
Ponder long the glorious mystery,
“This my body, this my blood.”
Bread and wine reveal God’s presence,
love engulfs us like a flood.
Human longing meets God’s yearning,
words fall silent, all is grace;
mystery with hope is brimming,
earth is held in heaven’s embrace.
-Rev. Don Beyers, Incumbent