“From Certainty to Clarity” 04/12/2015 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Acts 4:32-35 and John 20:19-31

In a court of law, a verdict depends on proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

We know this well. It has been constantly before us these last few weeks in the marathon bombing trial. A panel of jurors weighed the evidence, heard the testimony and were tasked with determining the truth.

Now with the verdict behind us, it is my hope that those whose lives were shattered can begin to move on. No one will never forget that day nor should we, but perhaps having proven with certainty what happened, we can begin to move forward into life on the far side of violence and loss.


When the text for today opens, the disciples are not yet in that place. They are not yet in that place of moving forward into what life on the far side of loss will look like. There has not yet been a verdict. They are still weighing the evidence trying to figure out what exactly happened and when. They have heard the testimony of the women saying that Jesus has been risen, but the disciples are not yet convinced. They are still grappling with reasonable doubt, locked behind closed doors and uncertain of the future for they we are told they were “afraid of the Jews.”

We have to turn aside for a moment of explanation. When John says “they feared the Jews” we have to be clear that this is not to be read as us verses them, a reading that far too often has been used as a doorway to anti-Semitism. We have to be clear that the disciples themselves were Jews. This small group of followers feared that the same powers and principalities that killed Jesus could now be looking for them. That is why they were afraid.

And then the text tells us, Jesus came and stood among them, not over them or apart from them, but among them as he always had. And he said “Peace be with you” not once but two times. And just as the breath of God swept over the face of the deep on the dawning of creation and called all that is unto being, Jesus breathes on the disciples making of all of them new creation freed from feel and flooded with peace.

All that, is except one, Thomas.

Poor Thomas. For Thomas has come to be known as “Doubting Thomas” and, as one commentator put it, most sermons on Thomas go something like this “Thomas doubted. He was wrong. Don’t be like Thomas.”[1]

But Thomas asks nothing less than what the other disciples received, and what all of us have come to expect as well before we are to make any definitive decision — and that is proof. Just as the testimony of the women was not enough for those gathered, so too is this testimony of his fellow disciples not enough for Thomas. He says he must see the evidence for himself before rendering any verdict. He says “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

And so proof is exactly what Thomas gets. One week later, Jesus appears to Thomas. Face to face with Jesus, Thomas speaks his truth. “My Lord, my God.”


There are so many times when I find myself envious of those first followers of Jesus, and this is one of them. I would have loved to have been Thomas that day. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there in the room when Jesus appeared? Wouldn’t you have loved to have heard his voice with your own ears, seen his face with your own eyes, and if you so dared, touch his body with your own hands? Wouldn’t you have loved to have such proof that all that has been told to you is in fact true, proven beyond a reasonable doubt?

But we don’t live in the time of those disciples, do we? Jesus says “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” But believing without seeing is hard. It is hard to be a person of faith when we look out over the world and see little evidence of the peace of which Jesus speaks. It is hard to be a person of faith amidst such doubt and uncertainty.

And so we are left with the questioned posed by one commentary I read this week and that is “Is faith really enough for ordinary life?[2]


Now while proof is essential in a court of law and proof is something we like the disciples crave as we face our own uncertainties and doubts about what exactly happened in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, I would like to suggest that our desire for proof is misplaced. If we metaphorically keep ourselves locked away until all our uncertainties are proven beyond a reasonable doubt, we end up missing out on so much living, and so much grace.

For we tend to think that the task of a person of faith is to move from doubt to certainty, from disbelief to belief. But I’d like to suggest that our task as people of faith is not to seek certainty about what was and what will be, but instead it is to seek clarity about who we are and how God wants us to be right now. Faith I have come to believe is living with clarity in the midst of doubt and uncertainty.

When I think of living with clarity in the midst of uncertainty, I think of a women I met while working as a case manager. She had become homeless and had been placed with her toddler daughter in a dingy road side motel. I remember feeling a sense of dread as I paused outside her door. I doubted whether I had the strength to go into yet one more room and to hear yet one more story of despair. I felt uncertain as to what to do and doubtful of my ability to help. But I took a big breath and knocked.

The door was opened by a smiling young woman with a beautiful toddler perched on one hip. I introduced myself as a case manager from Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program and asked if there anything I could help her with? She invited me into a room carefully kept and lovingly decorated. A homemade quilt was on the bed. Pictures arranged on the table, the baby’s clothes folded meticulously on the night stand.

As we began to talk, I was so moved by this woman’s clarity. Though the future was uncertain, she was clear that she was going to maintain a loving home for her child even if that home was a hotel room on the interstate. She was clear that she would find her way and that this time of distress would end. She said she had lost her relationship with her boyfriend and had lost her home, but she said, she had not lost love and had not lost her God. She said she did not know what the future would bring but what she did know was that she could live this day as God would have her live and that was with hope and with love. I remember leaving her room feeling hope rise in me for the first time in a long while.

About two years later long after my work with this woman had ended, I received a card from her. Tucked in it was a picture of a bright eyed four year old. She said she just wanted to let me know that she was living in a lovely apartment in Dorchester and that her little girl would be starting school in the fall.

When I think about living with clarity amidst uncertainty I also think about the new community born in the wake of Jesus death and resurrection about which Dan read for us in the Scripture passage from the book of Acts. This small but mighty community was putting into practice each day the values and way of living of Jesus. They were one body, caring and tending to each other. Loving and living full of hope and joy. While those around them were preoccupied with fear of the Roman Empire and the uncertainty of what the future would bring, these followers of Jesus lived with clarity of who they were and how God wanted them to be.

And of course they are our earliest ancestors. They are the first church. In them we see why it is that we gather today. Why we sing and pray. Why we pass the Peace one to another with smiles and hugs. Amidst all the uncertainty of our time, we too have clarity of who we are and how we are to be — beacons of hope, sources of comfort, fonts of inspiration, and ambassadors of love in this beautiful but wounded world.


And what I have found, is that when we live in this Way, when we with clarity in the midst of uncertainty and doubt, more often than not the risen Christ shows up. What I have seen is that when we live with hearts and hands open to share and to receive. When we live a life of love alive I have found that more often than not the risen Christ shows up with a whisper of comfort, a lifting of spirits, a flash of inspiration, an embrace of hope, an opening of possibility. I have found that when we live with clarity, we will find the breath of Jesus upon us and not only do we feel the new creation rise in us but through us and through the power of God’s love alive in the world we start to see and participate in the healing and renewal of all creation.

But please, don’t just take my word for it! Live it for yourself. Thanks be to God. Amen

[1] Les Carpenter “The Risen Christ will Meet You.” On Workofthepeople.org

[2] Lance Pape, Granville and Erline Walker Assistant Professor of Homiletics, Brite Divinity School Fort Worth, Texas. Commentary on WorkingPreacher.org