A sermon given on May 8, 2005 on John 20:19-31.
Doubt That Leads to Faith
Doubt That Leads to Faith - Fr. Anthony Messeh
A sermon given on May 8, 2005 on John 20:19-31.
St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church of Washington, DC
Fr. Anthony discusses St. Thomas the Apostle, who is known for doubting that Christ had risen from the dead until he saw Him with his own eyes. Fr. Anthony explores why the Church identifies Thomas Sunday as a Minor Feast, and why the life of St. Thomas challenges us to grow our faith on unshakable Faith, to face doubts as Thomas did and to have them affirmed by Christ, so that like him we may also witness to the ends of the earth.
Themes: Faith, challenges make you stronger, discussing faith with others.
In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.
Today as we all know we celebrate Thomas Sunday and it's a day, Which is a feast that we celebrate here in Church, one of the seven minor Feasts of the Lord. And it's a day we all know the story of what happened when OUr Lord appeared to Thomas and Thomas said he wouldn't believe till he touched Him here. Now just for those of you who don't know , St. Thomas was a great Apostle, on of the Twelve, one of the Martyrs, people would be martyred for our Lord Jesus Christ. A guy who would go and spread Christianity as a missionary to All the Ends of the Earth. The accomplishments did in his life, is more than all of us combined together, but when I say the word Thomas, what's the first thing you think of right away?
Do you think Missionary? Do you think Martyr? Do you think Apostle? Miracle worker? We're all the exact same thing, Doubting, doubting Thomas. People who know nothing about the Bible, know what a doubting Thomas is, because for two thousand years, any one who doubts anything has been called a doubting Thomas. Has nothing to do with Christianity, has nothing to do with the Bible, people who have nothing to do with anything can know this, if you look in the dictionary, believe it or not, look up Dictionary.com look up Doubting Thomas, it's in there and it says "one who is habitually doubtful." One who is habitually doubtful, he's always doubting everything. Would you like to be know that way? as everytime someone tells you somthing, you're doubting?
How did Thomas get such a bad reputation? The guy was a great guy, he did lots of great things like I said, but somehow, throughout, through the last two thousand years and for the next two thousand years, and the next ten thousand years, as long as there is people on this Earth, we're going to think of Thomas as one word, as doubting!
Well I think we need to give Thomas a break a little bit. I think we need to cut the guy some slack, I think if we look at Thomas, and understand the situation, the circumstances around him, we'd cut him a bit of slack, a little bit of room right here. See today is not the day we condemn Thomas for doubting, some people think that's what Thomas Sunday is all about, this is the day we come to church we condemn the doubters. That's not true. Today is a Feast, we don't condemn anyone on feasts, today we celebrate. We celebrate not doubt but we celebrate Faith, and we celebrate how God can turn someone's doubt, someone's shortage of Faith, into a very very very strong Faith and that's the example we see here with our friend Thomas.
First of all, let's try to understand why it is that he doubted, let's be logical here. They came and told him, that someone rose from the dead, kay, this is not something that most people believe, this is something, which doesn't happen, pigs don't fly, fish don't talk, dead people don't walk. That's a fact of life, no dead people get up from the grave, so when they came to him and they said, "Jesus who is dead is now alive," of course he's not going to believe you, of course it's not going to make any sense to him.
Think about it, the rest of the Apostles, did they believe right away when they heard? No they believe because they saw Him, alright? Thomas missed out on that opportunity so of course he didn't believe right away. Put yourself in his shoes, you attended a funeral last week, or two weeks ago or three weeks ago, or your cousin Ed or your grandpa Joe, or whatever, you attended a funeral you saw the casket, you saw the grave go down, let's say I came to you this week, guess who I saw at Taco Bell down the street, yeah I saw your cousin who passed away three weeks ago. Yeah yeah, he looks great, yeah you'd never tell he was dead a couple weeks ago, he's looking great now. You'd think I'm a crazy person, you'd say, Abouna Anthony's gone crazy or maybe he saw someone who looked just like him, or maybe he's just hullucinating, but there's no way in a million years you'd say "oh, I believe that cousin Joe is raised from the dead!" No way in a million years you would say that, so it's so impossible, so of course he didn't think to try explain it, he automatically didn't believe, didn't even try to.
[4:21] So like a said, before we jump down his throat and call him such a bad guy, I think we should cut the guy some slack. And I think instead of condemning Thomas, we should celebrate him, and see how someone, how God was able turn the doubts that Thomas had into a very strong Faith which as I said became a martyr, a missionary, and a great worker for the Lord.
In order to do that the first thing we gotta understand, that doubt is not necessarily a bad thing, that’s counter to what we usually think, we usually think doubt is very very bad, and anyone who’s had any kind of doubt is bad, and if you have doubt, just ignore them right away. That isn’t true, anyone who ever tells you that if you had a doubt in your life that you’re the worst person in the world, don’t listen to that person because it just ain’t true, everyone has doubts in life, if you don’t have doubts that means you’re brain dead.
[5:14] But anyone who’s got a brain is eventually going to have doubts someday, I know many people who struggle with doubts, for example:
How do I know Christianity is the right one?
Of course we know Christianity is right, but you ever that thought at the back of your head that what if it’s not right? What if we get to the end and it’s not?
Or how bout something like, I know Abouna says that prayers get answered, and the Bible says prayers get answered, but do they really get answered?
[5:43] You know, I know God is listening, but sometimes a little doubt kinda creeps in there. Some people struggle with much more difficult doubts that are difficult for one to explain, things like, if God is Love, then why in the Old Testament does He command killing people? If you never thought about these things, then that's great, but majority of the people have at one time or another had a doubt or two in their brain. And what I'm telling you is, it's not wrong, it's not wrong to ask these kinds of questions. In fact it can actually be a very very good thing for you in your life. You see that's one of the things about our human nature which is not good, which is that when we don't know the answer to something we pretend that we do, or we don't want to ask little questions that make ourselves look not so smart. That's not a good part of human nature. That's not a good way to go through your Christianity.
A better way, is to accept the doubt and find out the answer, because there's answers to all these kinds of questions that I'm talking about. The thing is we confuse two things, doubt is not the same as disbelief. They're not the same thing. Doubt is like I said, "I know God is there but I don't know why He's not answering my prayers." Disbelief is, "no, I know that God doesn't listen to prayers. I know that God didn't really rise from the death." That's disbelief, that's bad.
But doubt is the questioning, which hopefully leads you to the right answer. Let me put it to you this way, is it possible, you answer this question, to have doubts and strong faith at the same time? Is it possible to have doubts and strong faith at the same time?
[7:20] Absolutely! You don't believe me? Go ask a guy name king David. Did King David have strong faith? oh you better believe that he had strong faith or else the guy would have died. But he made it through with his very strong faith. Did he have doubts? You go read the Psalms and you tell me. "God where are you? How come you don't hear my prayer? Where are you in my troubles? Why are my enemies overcoming me?" Of course he had doubts.
[7:40] How bout a guy like Job? Job had extremely strong faith, but did he have doubts? You better believe he did. Did he question God? Absolutely, but it was in a way that was seeking the answer. So what I'm trying to say is that doubt in of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. The way I look at doubts, is doubts are like immunization shots, no one likes to get the immunization shots, no one likes to get the flu shot, or the needles, or the any kinds of vaccination, but they end up being good for you right? You know how it's good for you?
[8:10] Every doctor can attest to this, that when I get a flu shot, what they actually do, believe it or not, is they put the flu disease inside me. Just a little piece of it. They put a little piece of the flu inside me and then my body works really hard to beat up on that flu disease and to overcome it and build antibodies and build immunity so that my body is stronger and the disease goes bye bye.
[8:34] In the end, is my body stronger or weaker for having had those negative things inside? It's stronger and our faith should be the same way. The doubts will come and the one who is sharp will use those doubts to strengthen their faith. How do I know Jesus really rose from the dead? Use that as a way to figure out for sure and be able to prove it to yourself and prove it to the whole wide world around you that Jesus rose from the dead or whatever else it is that you may be struggling with. I know at the back when I was in College, my second and third year, I had a room mate, my room mate was atheist, that it wasn't just "atheist I don't care about religion" he was "atheist, I want to disprove religion. I want anyone who believes in God to know that they're foolish." And he used to try and come to me with different kinds of things, "and you believe this?" and a I'd say yeah I believe this, and he'd say "how come this and how come that?"
[9:24] At the time I didn't know what the heck I was doing in life so I would just kinda say "I don't know!" and I would get frustrated and I would just say "leave me alone" and stuff like that. But then what I did was, I would come back, go to my Father of Confession, Abouna Pishoy, and be like you know "Mikul told me this, this, and that, can you tell me how to answer?" and he would tell me how to answer, and I would go back and say "aha, take that" and stick him with all that kind of stuff. The he would tell me go read this book, or go look on the internet, or I would do anything and that kind of doubts that my room mate put in there, actually made my faith much stronger and got me to the point where I can't be shaken on certain things because I proved it to myself and to him and to everyone else around me.
[10:03] So what I'm saying is this, is that doubt is not necessarily bad, and the next thing is that if you never have doubts in life your faith will never be strong. Your faith will never be strong unless it has survived and overcome doubts, think about it, which is better, a faith which is never doubted anything at all life, or a faith which has faced doubts and overcome them? I would say the second one is much stronger and that's the kind of faith I want. I want a strong faith, I don't want a wimpy faith, I want a Popeye strong faith, that has big muscles, and can overcome any kind of doubts, that nothing can shake that kind of Faith.
[10:43] That's what Thomas had right? That's why he became that missionary, and became that martyr for our Lord Jesus Christ. So that's the first thing, that doubt in of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a bad thing. Doubt is like a cold, if you get a cold for a week it's not the end of the world, but if you have a cold for like six months that could be fatal, that could be a disaster, doubt is the same way. If you have lived doubt and you deal with it and you overcome it that's good, but if you had a doubt for six months and you haven't solved it, then you're in a situation where you need some help.
[11:18] So how can we take the doubts that we have and turn it into faith, like Thomas, take the negative and make it into a positive; produce those immunity antibodies that we need?
[11:33] Well let's go to our Gospel account right here. How does Saint Thomas who had these doubts, turn it into a strength? how did he become confirmed in the faith? Was it because the Apostles told him, "really, no, trust me, believe me" ? or is it because he read something that they wrote about it? or is it because he saw pictures of the empty grave? No, it's only one thing, is that he touched Jesus. If he hadn't had touched Jesus, he'd still be doubting today if he'd never touched Jesus. He said, "if I don't touch Him with my self, see with my own eyes, touch him with my own skin, I won't believe." And you know what? I believe it's the same way for may of us in life, that unless we touch Jesus, unless we learn how to have a face to face physical encounter with Him, and get really really close to Him, that our faith will never be strong, and we'll continue struggle with doubts for the rest of our life.
[12:27] Hey this Faith thing is not at easy thing. It's not something that I can kinda just happen naturally, and just hope that my faith get's better. If you want Faith, you must work to get it. Faith is the essence of everything we do. Faith is the most powerful thing. If you have faith the mountains are subject to you. The water is subject to you. There's nothing that can stop you if you have faith. So this isn't just going to come easy. It's going to take some effort from our part to get it. And the way that you get it, is by having as much encounters touching Jesus as much as you can, and putting yourself face to face with Him. If it's not for that, you'll never be able to overcome your doubts. Think about it, how is anyone..again that's what I said about someone rising from the dead...How in your right mind are you going to convince me that someone rose from the dead? There's no way in a million years that I'd believe you. There's no way in a million years that you could explain to me, you could do that math, you could do the science, I won't believe you until you do one thing, that you show me. And if you show me, let's ask Thomas right now, do you think that Thomas right now would doubt? Even if everyone else made him not believe? Of course not, because he saw with his own two eyes, he touched Him. Nothing could shake his faith.
[13:45] Look at it this way, let's say I ask you "do you have a grandparent or a parent alive in Egypt?" let's say yeah, let's say you said yes, I have a grandma alive in Eqypt. Prove it to me. Can you prove to me that you have a grandma alive in Egypt? You could bring me a Birth Certificate, well I could say you could fake that. You could bring me a picture, I could say, that could be a picture of anyone. You could bring me, you could talk to me, I could talk to her on the phone, I could say, that could be anyone talking on the phone. But by the same token, if I've seen her with my own two eyes, it doesn't matter if you don't believe or not believe, I know she exists, I've seen her, I touched her, I gave her the kiss on the cheeks, I know that my grandma exists and I know exactly what she looks like, I don't care what you believe. That's the same way we need to get with our faith, that when we touch Him and when we encounter Him, it make all the difference in the world for our faith.
[14:36] It's my fear that many of us have weak faith because we don't encounter Jesus enough, we don't touch Him enough, that's why our faith is weak. Our faith is weak because don't have enough personal touching with Him. If all you have, if your faith is based on second hand experience, if all Thomas had to go on was the fact that other people said that Jesus rose and that other people believed it, you really he think he'd been a martyr, you really think he'd have gone to his grave to say, to believe that this man really rose from the dead, you really think that?
[15:17] Probably not, [side conversation: very good, thank you very much, I appreciate it..thank you very much] Probably not, okay. but the fact that he saw Him with his own two eyes, and the fact that he had the doubt, overcame it, made his faith really really strong. And Like a said, it's my fear that many of us have weak faith but we're subject to more doubts because we don't have enough of those personal encounters with Christ.
[15:48] So, it's true that today is a story of Thomas doubting, but more so, that's only like one percent of the story, more so today is a story of how God can turn our doubts into faith. And He does it by encountering Him, by touching Him, and it's my hope that we would make that our goal for these Holy Fifty Days, to really grow in faith, cause like I said, if you got faith there's nothing that can stop you in this world. Everything is subject to you if you have faith, and in order to grow in that faith we need to have more personal encounters with Christ.
[16:29] I began here today by talking about Thomas and sticking up for him. I hope you see by the end that Thomas was no different than the rest of the Twelve, all he was, was a week late that's it. And Thomas was no different than the rest of us and if we haven't learned how to touch Him, if we haven't learned how to come to Church, not just say a few "Lord have mercy's" and not just take bread and wine, but we haven't learned how to come to Church and have REAL COMMUNION to really touch Him, to really feel Him inside of us and to really have Communion with Him, we're going to have that weak faith. If we haven't learned how to get up in the morning when there's no one watching, and there's no one telling me to pray the Agpeya, and there's no one telling me what to do and I haven't learned how to have real time with Him and encountering Him and touching Him in the secret place where there no one else watching, my faith is going to be very very weak and I'm going to continue to live a life down here, with the problems, and the anxiety, and the stress and this and that. But when we learn how to touch Him and we have that, we build that faith, faith has enough power to overcome that and overcome anything.
[17:32] The only reason that Jesus came to this earth was that He could touch Him and know Him personally. If He only wanted us to know Him second hand information He could have sent us the Bible, He could have just sent the prophets, the reason that He came all that way was so that we could love Him personally. So it's my hope that during these forty days that we kinda push ourselves to get to know Him and have encounters with Him as much as we can, and Glory be to God forever, Amen.
[17:59 - End of Sermon]