Missouri, "My Fair Lady," and the Mission of the Church

You may wonder, as I have, what U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, Eliza Doolittle, and Thomas the Apostle have in common.

To discern this, we need only listen to their own words to uncover a common denominator.

You first, Congressman Vandiver:

"I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."

And now you, Miss Doolittle:

"Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme!

Don't waste my time, Show me!"

And finally you, blessed Thomas:

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

Now whether or not he had ever visited Missouri or seen My Fair Lady, I believe it is safe to say that Thomas could surely be identified as the "Show me" apostle.

And although he has long been identified as the doubter--to cut him some slack--I think we can upon second glance also detect something beyond doubt--a yearning, perhaps--a yearning to see with his eyes and touch with his hands that which his soul already knows to be true.

And I can't help but wonder if Thomas must not have felt as if, perhaps, he was being set up.  As if the other apostles had said, "Hey, let's get Thomas back for not showing up at church on Easter."  "Yea, let's play a prank on him!"

"Hey Tom, guess what, we sang your favorite hymn last night, and then you are not gonna believe what happened next!"

But, of course, we know that what happened in that closed room was so much more than some sort of sanctified snipe hunt birthed from apostolic imaginations.

Here in John's initial Christophany to the Apostles, the Church is being empowered by the giving of the Holy Spirit.  The Church is being given its mission--and part of the Church, namely Thomas, is not present.

And for the Church to be the Church, all must receive the gift of the Holy Spirit--not just those there in that locked room, but Thomas too--and us as well.

And while John may very well have been recounting a situation which was known to him to be true, the inclusion of the Thomas account also works well as a literary device in that it captivates the hearts and minds of all other obstinate absentees to the Resurrection and names that part of each of us that, when faced with the mystery of the Resurrection, might want to fling open the window sashes and scream, "Show me!"

And then there is of course doubt--which I believe is the companion of faith-- not its opposite.  And doubt tends to creep into all sorts of people--apostles, the baptized, and yes, even the clergy.

But doubt is healthy--in moderation. 

Doubt tests faith. 

Doubt tempers faith. 

Doubt makes faith stronger.

As I said a moment ago, doubt is not the opposite of faith.  And I think that is an important notion for Christians, and those striving to be Christian, to understand.  Doubt is what sometimes keeps people out of the Church.  But this is exactly the place where doubt should be brought, and doubt should be brought right to the altar along with our gifts of bread and wine and money.

We should bring our doubt to our communities of faith and asked that it be blessed, but not just blessed in some liturgical sense with the waving about of hands and perhaps a puff of smoke.  No, our doubt should be brought to be blessed through the engagement of that doubt with the community of faith. 

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and with one another in Christ.  This second Sunday story, then, is not only a story about Thomas' doubt or faith.  No, perhaps even more importantly, it is a story of the Church living out its mission.  It is a story of early Christians bringing others back into relationship with the living God--the resurrected Christ.

The disciples brought Thomas back deeply into their fold--doubts and all.  And it was then and there that Thomas encountered the risen Christ.  And it was then that he no longer needed to touch to believe because the presence was real--not only in the corporal reality of the resurrected Jesus, but in the living body of the assembly gathered--in the Church living out its mission.

And in case any of you are wondering what I believe the opposite of faith to be--if, as I claimed earlier, it is not doubt.  Well, there are several spectrums upon which we could pin "faith" as a polar opposite, but two come immediately to mind.

The first opposite of faith that I would posit is fear.  And fear can destroy us.  That is why in this day and age, we as people of faith stand apart from the rest of the world that seems to be fed on a daily diet of fear.  And it is during this season of Resurrection that we celebrate the destruction of death and therefore are assured that nothing--nothing--will separate us from the love of God.  And it is always the voices of the heavenly visitors who remind us, "Do not be afraid!"

The second great opposite of faith is certainty.

For faith, you see, is organic--it is alive and growing--it wrestles around and grows stronger--even while being tested.

But certainty is cold and solid--certainty is unchanging, inorganic, unmalleable.

Certainty can lead to types of manufactured truths--that is "truths" with a lower case "t"--that then become fundamentally destructive to faith.

And there are a substantial number of former Christians who have been driven into the streets by the painful ascent of "Certainty."

And so with blessed Thomas we celebrate Christian doubt this day.  We celebrate that part in each of us which on some level says, "Could all of this really have happened?" 

And we also celebrate the mission of the Church--that life-affirming, restorative commitment to unity with God and one another in Christ that is the great gift of the Church to the world.

And as people of the Resurrection, we bring all that separates us, be it doubt, or certainty, or fear, to God's Holy Table here in the midst of God's Holy People and ask that it be blessed--and by being blessed that it be sanctified and transformed into that yearning for what on a deeper level we know to be True--and that is True with a capital T.

And what we know to be True is this--that we, with Thomas and with all of the other disciples, and with all the patriarchs and matriarchs, with all the saints and martyrs in glory...

We stand together each and every time we gather in the presence of the living Christ...

We stand together collected through faith--a collected faith that extends throughout time and space--needing no longer to reach our hand out in doubt to touch, but reaching out our hands in faith to gather in all who so desperately yearn to taste and see and proclaim with us boldly through faith, "Alleluia, Christ is Risen!"

Let us pray.  Jesus, we believe you.  All we heard is true.  You break the bread.  We recognize you. You are the fire that burns within us.  Use us to light the world.  Amen.