The start of that title is an interesting bit in Matthew 28:17. It is made all the more interesting because of the liturgical day of Trinity Sunday. On Trinity Sunday we confess the Athanasian Creed which is the most strident of the three historic creeds in its statements and sweep. In that way it mirrors the statements by Jesus right around that interesting bit. What this sermon does is examine the current fetish with doubt, point to the real trouble which is not doubt itself but fear, and look at the ways that both fear and doubt are calls to The Faith, expressed in clear form like the creeds, and to faithfulness. Lastly, it attempts to knock down one of the great fears behind clear statements of the faith, by recalling Jesus’ final words and Peter’s Pentecost sermon…Let all Israel know for certain…(read/listen to the sermon to hear the rest).
Biblical Text: John 20:19-31
Full Sermon Draft
A traditional theological education is usually divided into four areas: Bible, Doctrine, History and Practice. They of course are meshed together, but the point really is to acknowledge that we have different primary lenses through which we can reflect. I tend to default to the Bible which I think leads me to a couple of quirks compared to the LCMS in general which is a Doctrine first body predominately. I’d just say the difference is between messy and clean. Doctrine is clean;the Bible can be messy. Doctrine is the math proof that leaves out a few steps as “obvious” that are not at all obvious to the layman or student. Practice tends to be the warm fuzzy pile where we are reminded it is not about the bible or the book of doctrine but the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The one that gets lost is History. Partly because it takes study. You have to read it. Partly because even if you read it you have to figure out how to preach it. And partly because if the bible is messy, try history.
This sermon is an attempt to look at how different ages of the church read and reacted to Doubting Thomas. Every age has their own fascinations and trials. This text is a sharp example of that which I think gave itself to a method of actually preaching Jesus. I’d invite you to have a listen or give it a read.
Text: John 20:19-31
Full Sermon Draft
Okay, I’ll admit that this is one of my geekier sermons. Although I think even if you completely don’t get what I’m talking about in the middle, the introduction and the application or gospel in the world section work.
Why this is so geeky is because it is an attempt to identify something that we are dealing with but has not been completely defined to the point of say “well duh”. Trying to compress it I think our society has a hard time believing anything. That unbelief is not you garden variety doubt, which I would label as just part of the Christian life. The older saints would call it poetically a dark night of the soul. Thomas doesn’t doubt, he believes something else entirely. He believes is wood and steel and Roman power and his senses and dead things stay dead. When Jesus appears the command is not stop doubting and believe, but stop the unbelief and believe. Now I said Thomas believed in something (wood and steel, cross and spear, the marks in the hands and the side), but belief in idols is no belief at all. Idols have no real existence, so belief in them is unbelief. Jesus tells Thomas, to stop the idolatry. And that is our problem. Our old idols of nation, race, ideology and even church have failed. And postmodernism has convinced us to not get fooled again. But the problem is that we don’t have a choice. We are contingent creatures. We all rest on something. The default metaphysical dreams are our bellies or nothingness or gussied up mammon and nihilism. Those are the idols of post-modernism. And they are bad ones. The command issued by Jesus to Thomas caught in both is stop the unbelief and believe. Christ is the true cornerstone that we can build upon. All the old idols have been knocked down, but they have been knocked down so that we might see Christ. Not so that we can find worse idols.
Two virtues are at the root of it I think. A great humility and a sense of the corporate. American Christianity places a huge emphasis on the personal i.e. the Jesus in your heart, having a personal relationship. Not to knock those, but New Testament’s primary way of talking about the church is corporate: the body of Christ, living stones of the temple, vine and branches. In down seasons, what used to be called dark nights of the soul, you lean on the community and its practices. Let the community do the confessing for you until the sun comes back up. And ultimately let Christ do the confession. “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, (Gal 2:16 KJV)”