Monday, August 7, 2017

Why Do You Doubt? - Matthew 14

Why Do You Doubt?
Tony E Dillon Hansen
Last updated: 8/13/17 9:15 AM

A Sermon based upon Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 and Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b • Romans 10:5-15 • Matthew 14:22-33

Will you pray with me?  Let God guide our senses, our hearts and our ears to receive the lesson given to us.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer.

I

In the years leading to 2000,
there were many claims of impending doom and rapture.
When the turn of the millennium came,
many churches held special prayer sessions
around the “hour” of foretold demise.
(Given Earth’s rotation, I wonder which hour that was supposed to happen.)
We are told stories of crowded prayer vigils in preparation
for the minute the clock strikes twelve.
Tickets were even sold for seating in vestibules and choir lofts
because “even during the rapture there is preferred seating.”
Then, nothing happened
except time moved to the next day, year and more.
Did you have doubt?

Someone claims to have “found faith.”
(we hear this especially around scandals)
Maybe, they were using good rhetoric.
Maybe, a moment of despair revealed something to them. 
Would you have doubt?

Were you that person?
Have you doubted yourself?
Why do you doubt?
What did you learn from your doubts?

When science (and most everyone else agree)
that climate change is happening,
you can doubt these assertions.
You are welcome to challenge science
with your theories for public consideration.
At the same time,
the prudent thing might be to consider
--how are you going to adapt.

You can challenge the news reports
about the recent Virginia protests-turned-violent.
What is clear is that racism is unfortunately alive.
How do we deal with these powerful forces?

As a taekwondo instructor,
we teach how to break boards.
This is not just to make fire kindling
but to show progress of techniques.
Invariably, students will look at the first boards
with considerable doubt
about their ability to break it.
Yet somehow, they muster courage to try
(some with great success and astonishment.)
 I consider these lessons about methods
for myself, as the “master”, about overcoming doubt.
These are truly moments
where the students teach me
some unique ways to overcome doubt, fear and challenges.

Our lesson today brings us to the Sea of Galilee.
A storm has stranded our disciples in fear,
and Jesus does miraculous things here to calm our disciples.

Now, if you were Peter,
would you tried to walk with Jesus on the water?
Would you have even got out of the boat?
Yet, in the calm of Jesus and panic of Peter,
we are asked a simple question:
why do you doubt?

Jesus’s question extends to
why people doubt Church, God, Jesus or religion all together.
Incidentally, I have been writing a piece about this subject
and how the Church has played a role.

Doubt includes uncertainty, skepticism or loss of trust.
This disbelief and doubt may be due to inexperience
or due to a difficult experience.
I challenge, however,
to see that doubt is not necessarily a bad thing and is intertwined with faith.

II

For our purposes,
let us consider what has turned people away from Church. 

Perhaps, there is a simple matter of convenience with the Church,
but people lost the necessity of church.

We know that faith is personal and close to our hearts.
How one person constructs their faith
will be different than others.
Thus, faith is uniquely personal.
Faith helps us to be curious of the mysteries around us.
Similarly, there are personal motives that drive doubt.
Healthy doubt also spawns curiosity and learning
because it challenges us to question:
to keep thinking.

Thus, there is a question of how the Church,
as a representative of Christ and God in our lives,
play into faith and doubt.


For some people,
something in their life with Church,
caused them to question
the congregation, traditions or messages delivered.
For some, there were real, unsettling experiences of being
abused or torn down by the Church (or by the people therein.)

That is because
when you are told that you are too young (or too old) to understand;
when religious leaders attack your personal dignity;
when elders tell you that your family is not valid;
or when you are accused (made guilty) for things you never did;
you might develop questions.
You might doubt, or more.
I have witnessed the pain of such indignation
and what this can do to people.

While religion has encouraged some family relationships,
quite simply, instead of being the beacon of Christ’s Truth:
(e.g. with tenets of
welcoming, compassion, justice, peace, forgiveness and hope)
religion has been responsible for breaking families and tormenting people
in favor of behaviors that soiled Christ’s message and exiled people.

Truly, Church that says only certain people can participate
is forgetting that community has many parts
and is not really sharing Christ’s teaching.

Where the Church was to be the embodiment of Christ’s Truth,
pain inflicted upon people tells a different story.
When Church leaders and elders
crush your human dignity,
that will impact feelings about God and Church.
The virtues of the institution come into question.
Inevitably, some question the very nature of God and Jesus.

Perhaps, those leaders and elders are ones
that need to consider their own doubts.

There is an obvious,
tangible response to an awful experience,
which few could deny.
The message of hope gets lost.
Perhaps, those leaders were lost.

Hopefully, we continue to have healthy doubt
rather than stop discerning altogether.
The student that attempts the board-break will find success more
than one that never tries or quits.
A student that studies, rather than refuses,
the social issue or science can provide ways to adapt.

We are reminded Christ teaches us to meet the powerful forces of bigotry, shame and violence with love, peace, and hope.

That is part of the board-break lesson because
doubt helps us to question how we approach life
and to ultimately overcome challenges.
We know the Church and community
can do better
than be guided by disturbed hypocritical or indignant vendettas
that twist Christ’s Truth.

We, the Church, can encourage those that proclaim graces
the tenet’s of Christ’s Truth
(salvation, welcoming, forgiveness, hope, compassion, and peace)
should also reveal that by actions,
not just words alone.
While embracing thoughtful questioning of Christ’s Truth,
the Church that nurtures our beautiful, God-given uniqueness,
is when the Church becomes offers a compelling case.
That is how I came to be here today.

We can help the Church to adopt a better job
of demonstrating this Truth in actions and words
because words, as well as deeds, can cut deep.
That is the board-break challenge for the Church.
We can remind the Church that it’s ok to doubt
--just don’t stop evolving.

Thus, there is hope through our doubt.
We can “break” the proverbial “board” that hides Christ’s Truth.
You and I have persevered,
learned to doubt fogs of deceit and empty glitter.
No one can shade that luminous Truth for long.

Our lessons provide a great illustration of how perseverance,
through darkness and doubt,
revealed that luminous Truth waiting.

Joseph’s own family conspired against Joseph,
ultimately for being who he was.  
His brothers were ready to kill him:
then chose to deport and to exile him. 

Joseph had reason to be demoralized and bitter.
Instead, Joseph observed the path beset by viciousness,
but followed the vision that God provided to him.

Even in the darkest of despair,
there we may observe God showing an opportunity:
your true path.

Be assured that God reveals ways through distortions and pain
to show us a way forward, just like with Joseph.
Such may not happen overnight.
Yet, give God a chance like Joseph, and some amazing things can happen.

III

Joseph’s example, of overcoming powerful forces as well as doubt,
to follow God and to forgive
is one case the Church might do well to study.

Just like Joseph,
despite the travesties around him,
and whether you doubt, or question God,
someone is still waiting to be there for you.

Jesus, by example and words,
teaches that forgiveness is from the heart,
and ultimately,
Jesus is willing to pull you out of water
and out of harm
-- even when you still doubt.

You may doubt the claim for impending rapture
because there is someone that is far more reliable.
Through your doubt,
you learn about yourself and your relationships:
with faith, the Truth, God, your neighbors, and life.

Bitterness and jealousy are not needed,
but forgiveness and justice are.
We can be embodiments of Christ’s Truth now
and be the students that teach those teachers.

God made you challenged, goofy, inquisitive and imperfect
because God made you just the way you are:
beautiful and authentic. 
Anyone, or any institution, that denies God working in beautiful you
may reveal the little, actual faith they have. 

The mystery of God is bigger than our imagination,
and way bigger than our fallibility.
From Romans,
“we all fall short” of the perfection of Jesus.
Even then, we are merely an arm’s reach towards perfect guidance.
The Christ ‘s Truth endures.

No distortions or family conspiracies can change the Truth.
Romans states, “for everyone that calls on the Lord will be saved”
 – tickets are not necessary.

Yes, our imperfections and doubt remind us that we are fallible,
and there is one that is above fallibility.
Even with our imperfections,
those gaps remind us that each of us
are beautiful, unique teachers
to help complete those gaps together.
We can use the example of Joseph and the calm of Jesus
to show us the way past our imperfections.

We do not have to be the family that exiled one of our own.
This is because when we separate that which is truly great in us from us,
then our arrogance ought to be humbled towards forgiveness.

Instead, when our brothers, and sisters see
the example of Christ message revealed within us and our Church,
they, who found reason to leave,
may be given a more compelling reason to return
and to reach beyond their doubt.

Yes, the Truth of Christ says:
We, all, are beloved God’s children,
with all our frailties, doubts, and problems,
and we are to be welcomed to the altar of life and embraced.

That is the Truth that Christ teaches us,
and you need no doubt of this.

When we as a church,
a society,
or mere humble servants of God truly welcome and truly forgive,
then we can lessen doubts
and teach the Church the power of hope:
the power of the Truth.
Grace is revealed within every Beloved child of God,
like you.
Yes, You and I can be the students that teach the “masters.”

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Thanks Be to God!