Friday, March 23, 2018

Some Doubted

Sermon preached at the Chrism Mass
Diocese of Bethlehem
March 22, 2018

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Matthew 28:16-20

Several years ago, I was brought to my knees by a sermon that Bishop Jack preached at a Chrism Mass. I was not in a good place to begin with, and I listened to Bishop Jack tell his personal story of getting lost along the way in his ministry—and I knew that I was lost too. I practically cried my way through the vows, wondering how in the world I could ever keep them.

But some doubted.

Here we are on the cusp of Holy Week hearing a lesson about the resurrection. Here we find the eleven on their way to meet Jesus: the Jesus who has been resurrected. They go to their sacred place, and find him waiting there, just as he said. And they worship him. But some doubted. Even then, even there, even after all that…some doubted. We don’t know the flavor of that doubt. Did some have feelings of uncertainty? Or lack of conviction? Were they afraid to believe with their whole hearts? Were they worried that all this resurrection stuff was not real? Were they more comfortable with the rabbi from Nazareth they thought they knew, than with the Son of God?

But here’s the thing. Their doubt didn’t faze Jesus a bit. Jesus commissions them all. “They worshipped him;but some doubted.” And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go!”  Go. Make disciples. Baptize. Teach. Some doubted…all were sent. What kind of ridiculous idea was that? From who’s strategic planning playbook did that come? Well… it was Jesus’s plan. God’s plan. The plan that landed each one of us here. The doubters participated in getting us here.

Here’s the thing. I suspect that the “some” who doubted were not always the same “some.” I bet that on any given day, some doubted and others did not. I bet they took turns. I’m pretty sure that the road that got us here is paved with faith and unfaith, belief and unbelief, doubt and conviction, as well as a whole variety of prayers. You know what some of those prayers are… “Help” and  “I’m sorry” and “Thank you.” This is the blessing of Christian community, that we can care for one another. That on the day when we just can’t pray, someone else is praying for us. And when sorrow ravages our soul, a sister is there to offer solace. And when we share our joy, it is multiplied by our friends. And when we are laid flat by doubt, someone believes for us. In fact, Jesus believes in us.

Some doubted, all were sent.

When I have been the one with the doubts, some of you have carried me through. And I’m not just talking about my clergy colleagues. You, the people of the diocese of Bethlehem, have been there for me. You, fellow Christians along the way, have been there for me. And I am grateful. Because I cannot possibly do this alone. That is a lie of the enemy. That we are in it alone, that it all depends on us, that we don’t need anyone else. And close on its heels is another more subtle and thus more dangerous lie, that we need some of us and not others. That we can do without the doubters, or without the “others,” or without those people who are just not quite like us. But Jesus knew better. Some doubted, all were sent.

This lie of the enemy needs to be pulled up by its roots and brought out into the light of day, into the brilliant illumination of Jesus’ love for us, so that it may wither and die. We need one another, and we need the saving power of Christ. And God has given us both. God’s promise is that not one of us will be lost. God will not let go.

After that Chrism Mass many years ago, I picked my sorry self up off the floor of this cathedral and called one of you—one of my companions along the way. And by “you” I mean any of you and all of you. And you listened to my doubts, and you did not judge me, and you did not fix or advise me, but you welcomed me and you let me know that we were in this together. You reminded me that God loves me, always. And whether you knew it or not, you embodied Jesus in that moment and in many moments since, proclaiming the truth of our savior’s promise: I am with you always—each of you, all of you—to the end of the age.

We are all loved. We are all in this together. We are all sent. Let’s get going.