Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire
for Sunday, July 1, 2018
“The Opposite of Faith” Delivered by Laurence Upton,
Member of the congregation
the little children to come unto me, and
forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom
of God… Whosoever does not receive the
kingdom of God as a little child, he shall
not enter therein.” (Mark 10: 14-15, King
This does not mean
that a person who comes to the kingdom of
God as an adult will be turned away.Rather,
Jesus is saying:In
order to enter the kingdom of God, one must
come “like a child” with an open and loving
heart, with an open and loving mind.
Today’s sermon is a
treatise on faith and, more particularly,
the obstacles that get in the way of faith?
Let us begin with a
quick sentence completion exercise.I
will provide the first few words of a
sentence – and your task is to finish the
sentence with whatever words come to mind.
There are four
sentences in all.Let’s
take each one in turn.
I have faith in . .
. (congregation responds)
I have faith that .
. . (congregation
The opposite of
faith is . . . (congregation
obstacle to faith is . . . (congregation
I suspect for many of
us, the word doubt came to mind as
the opposite or obstacle of faith.Doubt
is one answer, perhaps the most obvious
answer, but there are others.And,
as we shall see later in this sermon, doubt
may be the ally of faith rather than the
It might be useful to
step back and give some thought to antonyms
in general.An antonym is a word that means the
opposite of some other word.
Some antonyms are
truly opposite, as in antithetical, to the
original word.War and peace are
and despair are antithetical.Love
and hate are antithetical, although
some might argue that indifference is the
true opposite of love.
Some antonyms simply
mean the “other” way, the other state of
being.Left and right; up and down; heads
is nothing wrong with left or down (or
tails, for that matter), they are just the
Faith and doubt fall in a third
category, in the same vein as sunlight
and darkness or active
versus sedentary.There is a “preferred” state but the
other state is inevitable, useful, or
comes; it is part of the cycle of nature;
but most of us prefer sunlight.Rest
is necessary (even enjoyable), but activity
is what makes our lives meaningful.
Faith and doubt fall
in this category of preferred state versus
necessary or useful step.Faith
lifts us up; it is the buoy in an ocean of
fear and despair.Doubt
doesn’t drown us; instead, it gnaws at us;
it unsettles us.It
says the search for safe harbor needs to
continue.Doubt can be a step on the journey
to a stronger faith.
What are some other
possibilities for the opposite of faith?
ignorance and apathy?Let’s
something.I will ask a question.Then
I will point to my left and when I do,
everyone on the left side will say, “I don’t
know.”Then I will point to my right, and
everyone on the right side will say, “I
Okay, what are you
folks on my left going to say?What
are you folks on my right, going to say?
COMES THE QUESTION:What
is the difference between ignorance and
on the left.Now on the right.THAT
is “I don’t know” and apathy is “I
Both of these can be
obstacles to faith.But
suspect apathy is the greater obstacle.Ignorance
can be overcome through learning and study,
through contact with other people and other
ideas.Apathy lives like a festering
sickness that goes unnoticed but poisons all
What are some other
Uncertainty can pose an obstacle
to faith.Sometimes we don’t know what to
believe.We see evidence for some belief or
position.Then again, we see other evidence to
the contrary.Uncertainty is not a bad thing.It’s
just a thing.
Injustice shakes our faith to
the very core.How can an all loving and merciful
God allow innocent children to die from war,
starvation, and disease?All
I can think is that God cries along with us;
it breaks His heart too.I
know that’s not a satisfactory answer but
it’s all I’ve got.
Mary Frost reminded
me that fear can be a formidable
obstacle to faith (and other things).Fear
immobilizes thought and action.It
freezes us in place.It
cancels out any opportunity for movement,
for change, for growth or discovery.
But there is
something else that cancels out the
opportunity for change, for growth and
discovery.And that brings me to a sermon I
heard a while back at Central Moravian
Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Rev. Dr. Craig
Atwood on the Opposite of Faith
Dr. Atwood is
professor of theological studies at Moravian
Theological Seminary in Bethlehem,
Pennsylvania.He frequently speaks at Central
The first sermon I
ever heard Dr. Atwood give was titled, “The
Opposite of Faith.”It
blew me away.I conclude this sermon, my sermon
of the same name, with a brief account
of what he had to say that day.
Most people think
that the opposite of faith is doubt.But
Prof. Atwood disagrees.With
faith we believe we have the right
answers, we hope we have the right
answers, but there are no guarantees.That’s
why we call it faith.
With doubt we reject easy
answers that lack substance.But
we leave open the door to continuing the
search.We leave a small crack open so that
truth may find its way to us or we may find
our way to it.Doubt is not the enemy.Doubt
can be a good thing.
Let me say that
again:With doubt, we leave open the
door to continuing the search.Doubt
leaves a small crack open so that truth
may find its way to us or we may
find our way to it.Doubt
not the enemy.Doubt can be a step on the journey to
a deeper faith.
Where then lies the
problem?According to Dr. Atwood, the opposite
of faith, the enemy of faith, is not doubt
-- rather it is CERTAINTY – yes, CERTAINTY
-- smug, sanctimonious, self-righteous
certainty.The certainty that declares I have
all the right answers.If
you believe what I believe, you too will be
right.If you don’t believe what I believe,
sorry, but you are wrong.
certainty is not faith; it is the antithesis
of faith.Faith is humble.Faith
is open, affirming, and reconciling.Faith
is respectful of differing opinions,
practices, and beliefs.Faith
is respectful of doubt.
That’s what Dr.
Atwood has to say.And
I’m inclined to agree with him.
Rev. Vodra provided a
prayer for the Sunday I preached about the
close today’s sermon with selections from
that earlier prayer.
Dear Lord.Like the disciples, we
are sometimes afraid, sometimes full of
doubt.But in your extravagant generosity,
your boundless love, you appear to us in our
fear -- and love us in our doubts and
grant us the oceans of your peace.Thank
you for loving us as we are.
Teach us not to hide from
doubt, but to recognize it as a door
to mystery and to deeper faith.This
morning we pray for the many men and women
in our society who have no faith at all.There
are so many who live without hope, without
your light in their lives. Risen Christ, be light in our world.We
pray for those in our congregation this
morning who find it difficult to believe.Lord
knows that they are not alone, but in the
best of company: Even
Christ's own disciples struggled to believe
all that they had seen and heard. Loving Christ, it is your presence
that removes all fear and erases all doubts:So
come, extend your loving embrace to those
who never knew your light and to those who
once did but no longer believe.And
grant to all of us, living Lord
Christ, renewed faith, great courage,
and your boundless peace.Amen.
We now sing Hymn #
Limit Not the Truth of God (verses
2, & 4) -- please
stand if you are able.