The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - April 15, 2018
Scripture Reading: Luke 24:36b-48

Sermon Title: Doubt

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     The story we read this morning is the second part of a fairly familiar story of Jesus appearing after his resurrection.  In the first part, Jesus appears to some disciples walking along the road.  They are talking about Jesus, how he was killed, what a great guy he was, but they don’t recognize Jesus.  Since they arrive late in town, they invite this stranger to stay with them, and that is when Jesus takes a loaf of bread, gives thanks, breaks it and they recognize who it is.  Then poof he is gone, and they run back to Jerusalem.  When they get back they gather with the other disciples, and suddenly there is Jesus with them, who nobody recognizes until he says “Peace be with you.”  They are frightened, think that Jesus is a ghost, but he holds out his hands so everyone can see he has skin and bones, just like you and me, and then he eats a bit of fish just to make the point solid.  Not a ghost.

     Then he opens the scriptures to them and suddenly they understand it all, and he tells them to stay there, they will receive what the Father has promised them, which, we know, since we have read the whole story, that it will be the Holy Spirit. 

     We don’t know how long this all took.  If you flip the page in Luke, the next part says he goes out with them and is lifted into heaven, but if you flip ahead to the book of Acts, which is really, most believe, the second part of Luke, you hear that this does not happen for another 40 days.  Jesus is described as spending the next 40 days, staying with his disciples.  That is all we know.  Remember the last week of Jesus’s  life, his entry into Jerusalem, the arrest, trials, hanging on a cross, ending with the earth quake and curtain in the temple torn in two.  All those who experienced that said “Yes, this really was God.”  And then he raises from the dead, just like he said, appears to his disciples breaking bread with them, appears to these other disciples, “Peace be with you.”  And then nothing?  No crowds wanting to see the Jesus who was raised from the dead?  No more healing, no more miracles, just crashing on his disciple’s couches for the next 40 days.  Remember, 40 days means a long time, not necessarily 40.  We can assume, since he was not a ghost, that he did eat and drink, and probably did some teaching, but nothing worthy of being written down.  Seems strange to me.

     So do you believe it?  Think about this, two weeks ago I stood right here and announced that Jesus is risen from the dead, and you all replied with Alleluia.  There seemed to be no doubt to what I announced.  I question it.  I was born in Missouri, the show me state.  I want to see the empty tomb, and I want to meet Jesus, talk to him, have him eat some fish or bread with me. 

     And I am not the only one who doubts.  When the women reported Jesus’s empty tomb to the disciples, the women are described as “Leros” the root of the English delirious.  The women were crazy, according to the disciples.  So of course, the disciples have to run and check on what the women said.  The men didn’t believe the women, had to see it for themselves;  some things have not changed much in 2000 years.  And then, did they recognize him walking on the road with him?  Nope.  Did they notice him in the group talking?  Nope.  It is a crazy thing, someone they watched die, or heard about dying, is now alive.  But I would like to suggest to you that doubt, and questioning, are not the opposite of faith.  My first week here, or maybe within my first month, I suggested that we don’t leave our brains at the door when we come into church.  If the women could not believe it and even the disciples couldn’t believe it, our doubt is in good company.  We can still be faithful, but with our doubts and questions.

     But what if it is true?  What would happen if we live our lives like Jesus was raised from the dead?  If it’s true that God raised Jesus from the dead… If it’s true that God promises to renew the whole creation and grant us new life… If it’s true that nothing can separate us from the love of God… If it’s true that God will not turn God’s back on any of us but always reaches out to us in grace, mercy, and forgiveness… If any of this – let alone all of this – is true, then how might we live our lives this week differently? How might this faith – not knowledge, but trusting, courageous faith – change how we look at our relationships, and our politics, and our work, and our resources, and our future?

     The other truth in the scripture this week is the truth that every time we get together, every time we get together to talk about Jesus, to debate a theological point, or to present some sermon we have worked on, Jesus always comes and stands in the midst of us.  We can never merely talk about God or Christ or the Holy Spirit without being aware that we are speaking in their presence as well.

     Psalm 139 reminds us, God does indeed know us from top to bottom and at every moment of our lives—in fact, the psalm claims that God knows us better than we know ourselves!  But the good news is that God is the One who can be trusted with such comprehensive knowledge.  This is a loving God, not one who will use what we say against us.

     Still, it’s startling to think that when we speak of Jesus, he is always standing right in the midst of us whether we notice him at first or not.  And like the disciples, there may be times when, upon realizing this, we too are startled and frightened by his presence.  But maybe remembering that we live all of life in the presence of Christ will have a properly humbling effect on us in terms of what we say about Jesus. 

     When I write a sermon I often wonder about how much needs to be said.  I also know that what I say on Sunday morning, we all view through our own life experiences.  Sometimes I will say something and it will be heard differently by everyone in the church.  Sometimes what is not said is more important than what is said. 

     I have made some claims this morning that are hard to believe.  Jesus raised from the dead, very hard to believe.  The fact that God wants to be in relationship with us, and God forgives us when we mess that up.  That God will never turn God’s back on us, and that God will renew all creation and give us new life.  This is not new, this is not something you have heard for the first time this morning, but still hard to believe.  And the other big claim, God knows us better than we know ourselves, and God is with us right here, right now. 

     I had a preaching professor who used the word Trilog.  Monolog is one person, dialog is two people, but preaching he called a trilog.  Yes, I am preaching for you to hear, but I am also preaching for God to hear.  You are not hearing only my voice, but hopefully you also hear God’s voice.  Hopefully I am hearing God’s voice.  And hopefully you are speaking to God in your prayers, and you communicate to me in silent ways during the service, and often in conversation after.  God is here, now.

     Since I have already given you several things that are hard to believe, I will give you one more.  God is not here when nobody else is.  God goes home with you.  And God sees you at your best and your worst.  God sees me when I get out of bed in the morning, stumble my way toward the coffee pot, hears me when I stub my toe and mumble words I should not even mumble.   God is sitting with me when I am cheering for Collin playing soccer, or watching Glenn competing with his robot.  God is sitting with me at dinner, and when I lay down at night.  God listens to everything I say, and even knows my thoughts, good and bad.

     Do I ever doubt it or question it, of course I do.  When the world seems to be crashing in from all sides, God, are you here now?  You can do anything, you raised Jesus from the dead.  But God knows we can handle it.  God knows how strong we are.  And honestly, quite often, when the world seems to be crashing in, it is often of our own making. 

     And someday I will be faced with something I can not handle.  Hopefully my body will just stop functioning but could be cancer or disease or an accident.  God is still with me.  I don’t know what happens when someone dies, but when I believe that God wants to be in relationship with us, I don’t think that our bodies matter in that relationship. 

     Doubt all of that, question all of that.  The disciples did.  Jesus, are you really raised from the dead?  But also have faith.  Faith can and does exist with doubt and questions.  And when you believe any of the things I have said this morning, I want you to ask “So what?”  God wants to be in relationship, what does that mean for who I am and how I live?  God raised Jesus from the dead and promises us new life.  “So what?”  What does new life mean for me?  God is here with us now.  So what does that mean about the things I say and the way that I act, at all times. 

     But I will also share it is not easy.  When we answer those “So what” questions, it should change us.  Take some time this week, ask what you can believe and what that means to the way you live.