Toms

Jn. 20:19-31
Easter 2

This sermon is about three guys named Tom and the role of doubt in our lives.

I was saddened to read the obituary of my friend Thomas Abbott in the newspaper this past week. Tom was a religion columnist for The Advocate and Greenwich Time. I met him about two years ago, when he did my biography for the papers. We both came from the Chicago area and swapped stories about the Chicago Tribune, Col. Robert McCormick, Touey Avenue, Clarke Street and other haunts. Tom wrote for the Chicago Tribune and later for Xerox and General Motors. He had a certain irreverence and wry humor about him. But I knew him as a man of faith and a Lutheran.

Tom understood that religion permeates a person1s life and our society. In his retirement he approached the Greenwich Time and instituted a religion column, which grew to be a weekly page. He had a reporter’s insatiable curiosity and the pilgrimaging Christian’s sense of faithful exploration. Doubt was a companion to his faith, testing and re-examining what he saw and knew to be true. In his early years he worked for the City News Bureau of Chicago, referred to by my father, years ago, as “a collection of the most cynical and negative bunch of guys you could ever meet.” That was not Tom. Maybe that is why he left and went to work for the Trib and later on did PR. He was a believer, an explorer and a Christian gentleman. Our community is poorer for his passing.

A couple of days later I came across an article written by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, April 10, 1996. I like Tom Friedman’s stuff. He is insightful, sensitive and has a strong moral sense. The column is called “At God’s Elbow.” It is a eulogy for Nathaniel Nash. Tom writes: “In the spring of l982 I was working in the Business Day section of The New York Times and was befriended by a young editor there named Nathaniel Nash. Nathaniel was a gentle soul and a deeply religious Christian. He liked to come by and talk to me about Israel. In April 1982 The Times assigned me to cover the Lebanese civil war, and at my goodbye party Nathaniel whispered to me: “I’m going to pray for your safety.” I always considered his prayers my good luck charm, and when I walked out of Beirut in one piece a few years later, one of the first things I did was thank Nathaniel for keeping watch over me. I only wish I could have returned the protection. Nathaniel Nash, age 44, was the one reporter on Commerce Secretary Ron Brown’s airplane when it crashed in a Croatian hillside last week.”

Tom Friedman continues, “Nathaniel was a living reminder that to be successful, journalists don’t have to be cynics. The book on Nathaniel as a reporter was that he was too nice. His colleagues always doubted that anyone that nice could ever succeed in journalism, but somehow he triumphed over this handicap and went from one successful assignment to another. It was because Nathaniel intuitively understood that there was a difference between skepticism and cynicism. This is a lesson a lot of us have forgotten. Skepticism is about asking questions, being dubious, being wary, not being gullible. Cynicism is about already having the answers - or thinking you do - about a person or an event. The skeptic says, “I don’t think that’s true. I’m going to check it out. The cynic says: “I know that is not true. It couldn’t be. I’m going to slam him.” There is a fine line between the two, but it’s a line.”

Now I have told these two stories because they are about individuals who were men of faith and who articulated their faith in the work-a-day world. They did it responsibly and maturely. They were neither na•ve nor cynical. Neither was without doubt. Rather doubt played an important role in their work and in their faith journey. As Thomas Friedman points out, there is a fine line between skepticism and cynicism. Skepticism is doubt’s creative role in a vital and mature life of faith. Cynicism is corrosive, nihilistic and destructive.

You and I deal with doubt everyday. We deal with it in all phases of our lives. Don’t you doubt your abilities, your lasting power, your perception of things? Don’t you sometimes doubt your sincerity, your commitment, your acceptability, the outcome of what tomorrow brings? You most likely have doubts of faith sometimes. Am I really going to heaven? Am I good enough to be given the gift of salvation? Do I really have a soul? Should I be Catholic, Lutheran, Buddhist or Jewish? Will I ever get my orthodox Christian dogma right, or am I just too dumb? Is it okay to doubt?

We have looked at stories about two Toms. I now want us to look at the story of another Tom, Doubting Thomas, the granddaddy of them all. You know the story. St. John tells us that Thomas was a “Johnny-come-lately.” He missed the occasion when Jesus appeared to the disciples. Thomas would not accept the reality of the Risen Lord unless he saw and touched Jesus himself. Thomas was a good Jewish skeptic. He had been taught to challenge, probe and question. When Jesus appeared again, He knew of Thomas’ skepticism and challenged Thomas to test his doubt and to touch Jesus’ wounds. Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and My God.” Jesus replied, ” Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Jesus’ reply is not a condemnation of questioning and skepticism. Rather He pronounces another beatitude, similar to the beatitudes spoken earlier in His ministry. In those beatitudes Jesus says that when things do not conform to the usual secular or worldly standards, one is still affirmed by God. The poor are affirmed by God. Those persecuted for following Jesus are affirmed by God. Those who are peacemakers are affirmed by God. Those who have not seen, but still believe are affirmed by God. Jesus does not condemn those who have wealth, who are faithful Jews, who serve in the army nor those who doubt. He does have much to say elsewhere about the wealthy, the agnostic and the warrior. He condemns their idolatry and their hardness of heart. Here in John’s Gospel Jesus affirms the doubter and anticipates the life of a community in which there will be a lot of debate and which will have to rely on apostolic, oral and written tradition as well as its own experience of the Holy Spirit.

The interplay between doubt and faith in the lives of Tom Abbott, Nathaniel Nash (Tom Friedman’s friend) and St. Thomas is similar to the interplay in our own lives. Sometimes it is dramatic and oft times subtle. St. John in telling the story of Doubting Thomas continues his themes of exploring appearance and reality, the temporal and the eternal, light and darkness, seeing and believing. He invites us always to probe his stories.

What light do the stories of Tom, Nathaniel and Thomas throw on our own lives? I see six rays of light. 1) Certainty comes in many ways. 2) Doubt is often the beginning of faith, forcing us to clear away our defenses. 3) Doubting rightly takes its place at the table in the community of believers. Doubting by itself becomes cynicism and despair. 4) Jesus values and affirms the doubter. 5) The doubter needs to reach out and to act. 6) Doubt belongs at the nexus of the spiritual and the physical. It affirms the multidimensionality of human existence.

This Easter season embrace the reality of the resurrection, the promise of eternal life, and the presence of the risen Lord through the Holy Spirit, the sacraments and the life of the Church. Rejoice in your journey of faith. Rejoice in your life in the work-a-day world of doubt and uncertainty. Jesus Christ blesses you and me with the beatitude that even when we have not seen nor know it all, even when we doubt, the faith you and I do have is good, valid, life-giving and well worth sharing with others. Like the Toms, bless (affirm) your doubt and share your faith.

Amen.