January 24, 2016
“Shockingly Good News”
Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer, AMEN.
You have heard that sage advice — that if something seems too good to be true, than chances are it probably is!
This was driven home for me this week when I was listening to a piece on the radio about why it is we are so easily deceived by those who seek to deceive us. The piece was an interview with Maria Konnakova who wrote a book about con artists and why it is we fall for them. She says that con artists have this uncanny way of playing upon our vulnerabilities. Con artists detect what it is that we most desire and then they use that desire to deceive us. Con artists manipulate us into thinking that they are on our side; that we can trust them. And we are so thrilled by the good news when they tell us, “that we are lucky, winners, that all they want is what is best for us,” so much so that we readily handing our money, our trust, and our hopes to them.
Until of course, it all comes crashing down and we discover that we have been deceived. That the one we had places our hope in was actually preying on our longing in the most cruelest of ways.
Now, I know I tend to want to trust everyone, so what I do to protect myself against such tendencies is to swing to the opposite camp. I counter my natural tendency by working at being more guarded. When I get those phone calls telling me I have been selected out of thousands to win two round trip tickets to anywhere in the country all I have to do to claim them is come down to the Cape and tour the latest condominium complex, I hang up. When I get those emails that say “Congratulations! You have won! Click here to redeem your price,” I click delete quickly before I second guess myself.
If anyone tells me that they have good news for me, that I have won, that I am lucky, I keep myself safe by being skeptical. I protect myself by curbing my tendency to trust with a hearty dose of doubt.
So if I had been there in that synagogue that day; if I had been there to hear Jesus read those glorious words of deliverance, of salvation, from the prophet Isaiah and had I been there to hear Jesus say “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing” I think I know what would have been running through my head. Was it what was running through yours when we heard those same words just a moment ago? Were any of you thinking that what you just heard sounded just a bit too good to be true?
If so, you would not have been the only one. The text goes on after the passage that we read for today to tell us that those that heard Jesus words were not exhilarated by them. Instead they doubted that what Jesus said could actually be true and were incensed by his claim that “that now is the time, that the Messiah is here, and he is the one” , so much so that the people actually run Jesus out of town and threaten to throw him off a cliff.
And it is just not this one time in Luke where the good news that Jesus brings is doubted. We will actually see it over and over again in the Gospels. And even those who follow Jesus with their whole lives and heart, will begin to doubt the truth of all they have heard and seen in Jesus during Holy Week when it all seems to come crashing down.
Now I am not exactly sure, but for whatever reason we seems to have overlooked the presence of doubt in the life of faith.
I think many of us have been told that there should be this wall between doubt and faith. If you have one then you cannot have the other. If you have doubt, then you cannot have faith. And if you have faith, then you must be free of doubt. I have read that it was the age of enlightenment and its quest for proof that set doubt and faith in opposition like this. But honestly, I cannot believe that there was ever a time in humanity’s quest to know and be known by God where the whisper of doubt was not part of the conversation on the human heart.
Every Sunday we come into this place and we hear the most shockingly good news of God’s love for us. We hear that God’s plan for our lives and for the world is not suffering but joy, not captivity but release, not oppression but to be set free. We come into this place and hear over and over again the good news that Jesus came into the world to save us, to unite us from all that separates us from each other and God so that we may live the beautiful, big, grace filled, love-drenched lives that God desires for all people. What good, good news!
But then we start to remember how things are out there in the world and how thing may actually be in our lives and it is in that space between the promise of the good news and reality where doubt arises.
So the question is not can faithful people have doubt? The question is, what do we, as faithful people do with our doubt?
Instead of deciding that we must reject the good news as just too good to be true, the equivalent of wanting to run Jesus off a cliff, or instead of silently denying our doubts which only end up making us feel like a fake, what are our options?
I am remembering Thomas in the post resurrection accounts when he was not around when Jesus first appeared to the rest. When they told him how Jesus had appeared to them, he said “I will not believe until I can put my hand in his side.” And that doubt, that skepticism, that need to know for himself, is what brought the resurrected Jesus to Thomas for an encounter of his own.
You know that piece on the radio I mentioned earlier about why con artists are so good at what they do? Well it turns out that the reason why we are so easily duped is because we are so willing to trust. Maria Konnakova posits that we as a species are actually hard-wired to trust. It is to our benefit to be connected one to another. Social networks, communities of care are protective and essential to our well-being and trust is critical to relation. What it we were to recapture, reclaim this underlying urge to trust and bring it into our relationship with God?
Doubt may be something that keeps us safe from con artists that seek to deceive us. But God is not a con artist. We do not need to keep our selves safe from God. What would it look like then to not deny our doubt, or discard the good news because of it. But what would it look like to engage in it? What would it look like to step into it and see where doubt could take us? For I am becoming increasingly convinced that for many of us, doubt is actually a doorway to a deeper more authentic faith.
So can we use our doubt not as a way to turn away from God’s good new but as a door way to more fully enter into it?
For the time has come where we need to let go of the idea we must simply accept the beliefs of those who have come before us. That to be a good Christian is not to question, not to doubt. For our faith to be strong enough to carry us into and through the difficulties of our time, we each must do the good hard work of really wrestling with both our beliefs and our doubts in order to live into a faith that is our own dynamic, growing engagement with God.
So what if we trusted God enough to entrust God with our doubts about God? What if we were brave enough to take the blueprints of our faith to God, and pouring over them with the master builder, together reconstructing a relationship with God in which we were truly at home?
Can doubt be the author, be a blue print of a reconstructed faith? Can doubt instruct us as to what needs to come down? What needs to be built up? What is sturdy enough to stand? What is giving way under pressure? What can be polished up and appreciated anew for its beauty and what has aged beyond repair?
I think that is what Jesus was asking of those gathered in the synagogue that day, and is asking of us today. He is laying out the blueprints for building the kingdom of God right now, right here in our midst. It may very well sound to us like something too good to be true, but can we stand on trust and let doubt open the door as a way to an engagement that not only is authentic to who we are but that also opens us more and more to see and believe and live the good news that God is offering?
I think doubt can awaken curiosity and curiosity awaken questions and questions awaken engagement and engagement awaken a renewed, enlivened, authentic faith. So let us not run Jesus off the cliff and let us not shut down silently in our doubts. Instead let us let the doubts we may have in the hearing of such good news be the doorway into a lively, live-giving faith that we own as truly our own.
May it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen
 Living by the Word, January 24. Verity A Jones. In The Christian Century. January 20, 2016 edition.