I wanted to title my sermon today, “You a lie and the truth ain’t in you.” I grew up with this quote weaved among the many southern sayings I heard the elders speak over us and into us as children as a way of building character through easily remembered and often repeated retorts and corrections. Until I became an actual student of theology I did not know that this saying, and many others, are actual scriptural references from specific texts. 1 John 2 from today’s epistle reads in part: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

This reminded me that before Black Americans were legally allowed to learn how to read and write in school, those among us who could, would read the Bible aloud and listeners would memorize the bits and pieces they could retain and stow them away in their hearts and minds to be used as needed for spiritual lessons as life unfolded. This was rooted in the belief that by using these bits of  remembered scriptural wisdom on repeat they would take hold and implant  in our hearts and minds, and those of our children, to strengthen character, deepen faith and fortify our resolve to be good, moral upstanding christian folk. 

I think there is a historical mythology around Black People in the time of enslavement, reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement. That myth is that most of us wanted to be part of the many revolutions that happened for our freedom, and basic human rights.  In truth many of us just wanted to be able to live our lives as fully realized human beings in peace without the overwhelming threats of violence, torture, and a nearly constant state of post traumatic stress. Our greatest dream and desire was to live free of the legally sanctioned domestic terror that dominated our very existence. Many did not believe this could actually happen in their lifetime, but had faith that it could be a reality for future generations. They could not believe something so far-fetched from their actually lived lives, and yet could hold a faithful vision of its future possibility. 

Belief and faith are funny things. It is thought that they automatically go together. When you look them up in the dictionary each is used to define, or clarify, the other. According to a thesaurus they are interchangeable as synonyms. One can be used in equal meaning, weight and connotation, or how they make you feel.  When it comes to lessons in spirituality, I beg to differ. It’s hard to explain, so I will try to use two personal stories to suss it out in the hopes it becomes more clear.

  1. The day Michael Jackson died, one of the greatest all round performing artists in recent history, My Beloved and I were at a PRIDE Party sponsored by her employer for its employees. This was around the time that corporations started making PRIDE a part of their annual marketing strategy like 4th of July. Whispers of the tragic loss started to go out over the crowd like a rising tide, at one point the DJ paused the music to mention it, but then went right on with the  party and cocktails flowed. My Beloved is a scientist and she believes nothing without evidence and hard facts-not alternative ones. On the ride home it was the dominant conversation on the radio, and as I began to get emotional, she stubbornly stated, “I will believe nothing until I see it on CNN.” Now My Beloved could not believe what she did not see, but had faith that CNN would have the facts. 
  2. About a month ago on a chilly Saturday morning I was traveling north on the 35W towards the 28th street exit. I was racing towards a client obligation in my work as a spiritual wellness consultant. If you know that exit, both lanes must turn right, and we had the green light as we approached the end of the ramp and I moved into the left lane so I could make an immediate left at the next intersection.  I noticed a small dark car coming into the intersection on my left not slowing down and I did not believe it could stop in time. In that flash of terror, my faith cried out FATHER GOD! I came within a few feet from being t-boned while turning into a deep curve. My belief was supplanted by my faith in that moment and I was spared in the twinkling of an eye.

Doubt is sometimes needed to grow and root down into ones faith. Doubt is the liminal space between belief and faith. A faith that dares to inquire and investigate can be stronger than a faith that doesn’t think for itself. See, if I said, God stopped  a car from hitting me on the driver’s side at full speed in the last possible second, even Believers would doubt me and my nuclear explosion of  powerful faith. But as I share what I myself doubted was possible in that moment then you saw the strength of my faith differently once my doubt and questions matched your own. We stand in the liminal space of doubt together.

When telling a story that’s hard to believe in my culture, one is likely to hear “You lyin!…” while the listener still waits with bated breath for the rest of the story and the evidence of this unbelievable tale. 

I believe this is what happened to Thomas. He heard the excitement of the other disciples at having seen the risen Christ and didnt believe them, and then he is specific about the evidence needed to clear his doubt: Todays gospel in John 20 reads “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.” Basically Thomas said I gotta see it, to believe it. He was standing firm in the liminal space of doubt between his belief and his faith. The other disciples had experienced something he did not and had no frame of reference for in this moment of what had to be heightened emotions. This is the moment they had all waited for, perhaps didn’t believe would ever happen. They had faith in Jesus as they had witnessed his miracles, heard his word and accepted his call over their lives. But to triumph over such a public, torturous and humiliating death? It was real and true for them, but was not for Thomas, he needed his own experience of the risen Christ. 

Now, I want to pause right here, because we all know what happened a week later, right? We will get to that, but for now I want to speak to the parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, godparents, and all of us adults who try to speak life over and into our young people-the tweens, teenagers and young adults we adore. Just breathe as I speak this hard truth: Sometimes they don’t believe you when you talk about God, Jesus, the church and all that faith and belief stuff. They are waiting to have their own experience of the risen Christ in their own lives in their own lived experience. Their doubt and their questions and pushback about your beliefs, the church’s beliefs, and their own beliefs are an essential part of their faith formation. If God wanted us to be obedient yes-people without question he would not have given us free will- and if its one thing teenagers know its free will. Most of our beloved youth have not yet had to bury a parent, a sibling, beloved spouse, or their own child-yet. They have not survived life threatening illness, bankruptcy, figuring out the ridiculousness of work/life balance. We, the grown-ups, are like the disciples on that first night when Jesus showed the brilliance of his divine risen being to them. You have experienced the divine in your life in space, places and times that have not yet come to many of our young people. They are like Thomas, doubting the brilliance, majesty and power of such a divine being as a resurrected christ. When they experience Him for themselves, everything will shift and change. Until then make space for their doubt, for their questions, for their resistance to your belief. Speak life into them and over them. Keep sharing how God shows up for you, with you, and in you, while allowing them their liminal  space of doubt. Space for their belief and faith to find each other in this unfolding adventure that is life.  

I think many of us have lived long enough to know that our doubts can lead us back to our faith. That it is in our darkest moments of disbelief that we find our back to what we believe. Many of us live working to protect our beloved young person from the inevitable dark nights of the soul. But it will come and then they will come to know the majesty, and power of our Risen Saviour for themselves just like Thomas did after spending a week – I am sure- of listening to the other disciples replay the story of Jesus coming to them over and over again. A week after the first group of disciples saw Christ, He appeared again and immediately addressed Thomas and his doubt, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Now some take Jesus’s response to Thomas’ acknowledgement in that moment as a chastisement:” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

I think it is Jesus’ way of acknowledging the work ahead for the disciples as their ministry unfolds to spread the word and work of Jesus so that others will believe without having known Christ as intimately and directly as they have. He acknowledges Thomas’s experience in that moment of his belief matching his faith. Then Jesus is blessing future believers who will not have known Him as the disciples have. Thomas is not having a crisis of faith- he is having a moment of profound belief, the culmination of three years of a complex faith walk with the living Christ and now the glory of the Risen Saviour. May we all find the brilliance and majesty of the resurrected Christ in our own way, in our own time, holding sacred liminal space as others do the same.

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