Truth & Action

Truth & Action

In a lot of Christian circles, “doubt” is a four letter word.
People are taught and encouraged
to be certain of their faith, of the existence of God,
of the future destiny of both those who believe and those who don’t.

There are traditions within Christianity
that do not look too kindly on questions.
What they believe is absolute
and if you do not believe it
you are a heretic or a devil
sent to try and subvert the certainty of the faithful.

Friends, if you show me someone
who says they have never doubted their faith,
or God’s love, or even God’s existence,
I will show you someone who isn’t paying attention.

One of the things that I love about Methodism
is that our founder, John Wesley, was a guy that doubted.

He doubted a lot.
And he was a pastor’s kid,
had a great mom who saw to his spiritual education as a child.

He went to Oxford for college
and became a priest in the Anglican church.

He sought after holiness with a will,
and still, at times, doubted.
He doubted that God loved him.
He doubted his own salvation.

Even after he had his famous conversion story
where he felt his heart “strangely warmed,” he doubted.
He asked questions and looked for the answers
and at times just had to press on in his ministry
without answers to those questions.

I love that, because that has made the United Methodist Church,
for the most part,
a place where we can ask questions
and have doubts and live in the tension of uncertainty.

I would be lying to you
if I said there weren’t days that I doubt if God is really there,
or if God really loves me, or if I am truly saved.

I remember when I first believed in Jesus at 17 years old;
I prayed the sinners prayer,
and then a few days later I prayed it again,
and then again a month or so after that.
I didn’t know if I did it right or if salvation had really taken.

Doubt has always been a part of the story of the people of God.
Eve doubted the prohibition of the fruit of the apple tree.
Sarah and Abraham doubted God’s ability to fulfill God’s promise of Moses doubted the words from the burning bush.
The history of Israel
after they entered the promised land
is full of the people doubting God’s commandments,
and God’s punishment, and God’s existence.

The people of Israel doubted the prophets.
The Pharisees doubted John the Baptist
and they doubted Jesus.

Doubt is not only a part of our story,
it is essential to the story of faith.
Because faith, is believing, even in the face our doubt.
It is saying “yes I have doubts
but I still believe
even while I seek to have those questions answered.”
A couple of weeks ago
I was going through some old notebooks
and came across two of my journals.
One that I had started right after our son, Carl,
was diagnosed with Leukemia
and the other that I was writing in
while he was dying and after he passed.

They were hard to read.
In the earlier journal there was a lot of anger and fear.
There was a lot of judgment. And there was some hope.
It was all new and terrifying, but there was, at least, hope for recovery.

When I read the older one,
the one that I was writing in when Carl passed,
there was a big change.

Even before it became evident that I knew Carl was going to die,
I could see that my faith was coming undone,
my biggest issue was figuring out exactly how or even why to pray.

Heres a bit of what I wrote:
“Some people think that prayer moves God’s hands to action.
If that is the case than why is Carl still in the hospital
fighting for his life?
Hundreds of people, people better than me,
have been praying for him since he was diagnosed.
The gospels say that whatever we ask for ‘in Christ’s name’
we will receive.
I find it hard to believe that all of these faithful people
have failed to ask for Carl’s healing in Jesus’ name.”

After that I wrote about a conversation I had with my uncle one night.
I was distraught over not feeling able to pray
for my son because God is not a vending machine
where I push the right buttons and get what I want.

And even though Carl’s life was threatened by this disease,
I knew that there were other people in the world
who had it far worse and needed God to act.
Should I pray for healing?
Should I pray for strength to make it through?
Should I yell at God and try to make God pay attention?

My uncle, a goofball much of the time,
had some wisdom to share with me
after I had finished venting to him,
wisdom I still hold on to today.
He said, “Just pray, Mike; just pray.
Don’t pray for any other reason
than to connect your heart with God’s.”

And I did.
At that point in my writing,
even though the rest of Carl’s life was measured in days and hours, I found faith again. I found hope again. I found love again.

Even in the midst of my greatest questions,
my deepest doubts, my most difficult trial.
Because I stopped trying to fix it with theology
and just spent time with the one who knows my heart.

When the letter of first John was written,
the Church was experiencing some doubt,
and so John wrote to encourage people in their faith.

Many were leaving the church,
and there were questions about what would happen to them.
Most of all, though,
John spends a great deal of this letter
telling us how we can have some assurance
that God is with us and we are with God.

And with John, as with Paul, as with us all, the answer is love.

Our passage today starts with the ultimate example of that love. Greater love has no one than this,
to lay down one’s life for their friends.
And John tells us if that is how Jesus loves,
that is how we should love, sacrificially,
willing to put our lives on the line for one another.

But I also like that in the very next verse,
John walks that idea of sacrificing for others
into the reality most of us live in.
Because very few of us
will ever find ourselves in a place
where we are needing to lay our lives down for others.

“How does God’s love abide in anyone
who has the world’s goods
and sees a brother or sister in need
and yet refuses to help?”

If God’s love is in us,
if we are God’s children,
than when we see a need that we can fulfill,
we need, we must, fulfill it.

John is telling us that if we turn our backs on the needy,
if we refuse to help the helpless,
that is a pretty clear sign that the love of God is not in us.

The faith in Christ that we profess
is a faith that is not as concerned about self as it is about the other.

Think back over the stories of Jesus you have heard
in a sermon or Sunday School class,
or in your own bible reading.

Everything Jesus does is for others.
He does not use his fame and notoriety to become rich.
He doesn’t militarize his followers.
He doesn’t even allow his inner circle to close the circle.

There’s a great story in the gospel of Matthew,
Jesus has just been traveling with his disciples,
and large crowds were following them,
and Jesus was curing them and teaching them
and being tested by the Pharisees.
You can imagine just how exhausting it would have been. 

And apparently Jesus is taking a rest
and his disciples are around him,
I imagine them forming a perimeter
like the secret service around a president,
trying to keep the crowd away so Jesus can rest for a moment.
And most of the adults, they get it,
they back off and let the teacher catch his breath,
but there are some who see the lines dying down
and decide that it is their chance
and they rush up with their children.

Children who are not sick or injured,
but children whose parents desired
to have them blessed by Jesus.

And the disciples get a bit irritated
and sternly tell the adults and children to back off.

But Jesus, Jesus never closes the circle.
Jesus knows that love is what matters
and love is more important than a few moments rest.
He knew that with a little time,
some words of blessing,
he could change the lives of those children,
and their parents, for the better.

And we may think, well sure,
we wouldn’t turn kids away either;
kids are cute, and after all the children are our future and all that.

But Jesus does the same thing with adults.
And not just clean and well dressed adults,
but adults who, in that culture, had no value.

Adults who were ritually unclean
in the eyes of the religious establishment.
Jesus reached out and healed them.
Took the time to bless them.
The people who the rest of the culture largely ignored.

We read a story of Jesus walking through a large crowd,
so large people are just pushing off one another,
and all of a sudden Jesus stops and asks
“who touched me?”

And the disciples kind of look at each other
a bit confused and say,
“um, Jesus, have you seen this crowd,
they are pressing in from all sides,
honestly, a lot of people are touching you.”

But Jesus meant someone specific,
someone who had faith,
someone who believed
that if she would just touch the fringe of his robe
she would be healed.

Jesus felt her touch.
And though she had already been healed,
though he could have just kept walking,
he wanted to make sure there was interaction.
That the woman understood
it was her faith that made her well
and not touching the hem of a magic robe.

More importantly, for this woman,
who for a dozen years or more
had been shunned and ignored by everyone,
Jesus wanted her to know that he noticed her,
he saw her and her faith,
she was not invisible to him,
she was not unclean to him,
but she was a person,
a person that Jesus loved,
a person God created in love.

This is as close to certainty as we get with our faith,
this is how we can know that God’s love,
God’s spirit is with us.
When the world gets ugly we don’t turn away,
but we enter in. We see a need and we set out to fill it.
Love, real love,
the love of God in those who believe,
is made visible not by the words we speak
but by the action it moves us towards.

Mother Teresa said it a little better,
“Love cannot remain by itself – it has no meaning.
Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.”

I think it is also interesting that,
even though Jesus was asked a lot of questions,
he never really answered them.
But people were healed anyway. People believed anyway.
Even without all the answers.

Jesus didn’t stop to talk to the woman
who touched his robe
because he wanted to explain to her
the metaphysics or the theology of her healing.
And she didn’t care about that.
What she cared about was that she was healed.
And that someone noticed her.

And the important part of our faith
isn’t that we’ve gotten it all figured out; I certainly don’t.
The important part is whether we’re doing our best to live it out.

The “exam” at the end of life,
if there is one,
isn’t going to be on our understanding of Christology
or the mystery of the Trinity
or the correct balance between faith and works
in Christian living, in 300 words or less…

it will be “Did you love?
Did you love God?
Did you love others as you love yourself?” –
Did you do your best to live your faith,
to show your faith in love?
Did you seek to love unconditionally?

God is less concerned with us doing things right
than doing the right thing.

When all is said and done,
the world will know who we are
and whose we are by our love.

And not the love we have for each other,
but the love we have for the other,
for the outcast, for those on the margins.

The love we have for the invisible people in our world.
The love we have for those
who are in no position to return that love.

That is how we know we belong to God:
we enter the pain in the world,
we try to heal the wound from within,
we can’t merely stand on the periphery
throwing money at the pain and hoping it will go away,
and we cannot ignore the hurt, either.

If we belong to Christ, we enter in,
we notice the homeless person on the street corner
and we enter their pain,
we let them know we see them,
and we act, we serve, and we love.

There is no certainty in faith,
but there is certainty is love.
Because when we love, God is there.
That’s what Jesus promises us:
whatever you do for someone else, you do for me;
I will always meet you there.

I certainly don’t have all the answers.
But this I do know:
God loves me, and God loves you,
and God loves all those people out there, too.
So I’m going to do the best I can
to love God and to love other people,
and trust that, by God’s grace, it will be enough.

Beloved, let us love as Christ loves us,
in action and in truth. Amen? Amen.

1 John 3:16-24


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