Monday, January 17, 2022

What do Kids Need to Know?

 It is interesting reading the debate about what children are taught in schools.

Should parents dictate what their kids are taught?

Should schools be the ones who decide what is taught?

Drawing the either/or here is a great mistake in my opinion.

Parents are vital in a child's education, and they should definitely be involved in the process of their child's learning. I have been personally frustrated with the schooling of my children because they oftentimes bring home work, and I have difficulty helping them.  Not because I am unintelligent, but because there are no text books and no worksheets showing the methodology.  My kids aren't necessarily the greatest at taking notes, so I struggle to find out how a problem should be worked.  During the time schools went virtual during the early stages of the pandemic, I was able to follow along with the methodologies being taught, and then pass them onto my kids.  Since they have returned to in-person class, I am now unable to follow along.  Yes.  Technology is great.  Yes.  Saving space on textbooks is helpful, but at what cost.  We who are parents are no longer able to read along with our kids.  Engage with textbooks like we used to, and help teachers with the methodologies being taught.  That is a major downside, and I think also a contributor to the problem between parents and schools.

Because, when parents cannot see what is being taught, and sometimes, are stonewalled when they ask what is being taught, suspicion gets raised.  Secrecy is not a good thing in education.  Our brains love to fill in the gaps with information that may or may not be accurate.  We will literally make stuff up to make things make sense, and if we are not being told what is being taught--we conjure up all sorts of reasons why.  And a lot of times, those reasons are negative.  Having some sort of open access to what kids are taught might make all the difference in the world with some of this issue.

But so will a realization that neither parents nor schools themselves are the sole arbiters of what children should be taught.  There is a mutual engagement that needs to take place in this arena, particularly in the society we find ourselves navigating.  Too often, there are forces looking to indoctrinate rather than inform.  There are too many forces trying to tell kids what to think instead of giving them the tools to search out data and then interpret that data.  There are too many forces trying to limit which facts are taught in schools in favor of the facts which are particular to their own narratives.

This is why parents and schools must work together.  Parents and schools must fill in the blanks and ensure that as many facts as possible are given whatever subject matter is taught.  And perhaps we desperately need to agree upon what the overall goal of an education is.  What are we trying to ensure when we teach children.  Are we giving them life skills to help them survive in the business world?  Are we strictly trying to prepare them for college?  Are we working towards giving them the basic tools necessary to be a good citizen in the U.S.?  Is it a bit of all of it?  

I know that as a parent, I would like my children to walk out of high school with the basic skills necessary to enter into the workforce as well as an understanding of what our country is and what it means to be a citizen of the U.S.  I think this means they should be able to read, write, and have some mathematical comprehension as well as have a basic understanding of U.S. history and civics.  If they have the ability to research, gather data, and draw conclusions based on that data in a critical fashion--even better.  I feel rather fortunate to live in a community where these values are greatly shared by the school system, but I know that is not the case everywhere.  The news stories bear this out.

But instead of shouting it out at school board meetings, perhaps we need to realize just how collaborative an effort education is.  

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

No. We Will not Defeat COVID-19

 Can we please stop the insanity?

We are not going to defeat COVID-19.  

This isn't a defeatest statement.  

It's a statement of reality.

We. Are. Not. Going. To. Defeat. COVID-19.

We have to learn to live with it.  

Period.

Unfortunately, those in power and in control aren't willing to say this.  I have my thoughts as to why, but they are speculation.  Maybe I will do a little bit of that later.  But, for now, we need to consider the evidence.  And there is only once conclusion to draw from the evidence.

We will not eradicate COVID-19 by vaccination.  From all the evidence, vaccines will reduce your chances of hospitalization and death immensely, but they will not completely prevent you from getting the virus, nor will they keep you from spreading it.  By now, you probably know someone who has had a breakthrough case.  I have had a breakthrough case.  After being fully vaccinated, I caught the Delta variant.  After about a week of feeling like I had a balloon in my head and losing my sense of smell, I was well.  I had a mild case.  Would I have ended up in the hospital without the vaccination?  Who knows?  I am thankful that I didn't.  I am not the only one with a breakthrough case.  I could point out at least 20 others in my congregation alone who caught COVID after being fully vaccinated.  Let's dissolve ourselves of the idea that these vaccines will stop this disease in its tracks.  It won't.

And the breakthrough cases are not the only evidence we have to know that vaccination will not defeat COVID.  The news media has at least indirectly given us another piece of information which helps us in our quest of the truth. COVID is not restricted to human hosts.  Animals get it.  Stories abound from zoos where animals have contracted the virus and even died from it.  As a hunter, numerous stories were written telling us to mask up and wear gloves when field dressing our deer because they were infected with COVID.  What is significant about this news?  The virus has hosts to replicate and mutate in outside of humans.  This means, our vaccines will eventually be rendered useless and must be continually updated to deal with the mutations.  The reason we have been able to nearly eradicate measles, mumps, and other such diseases is that they are human specific.  The reason we have not been able to eradicate the common cold or flu--they are not human specific and continually mutate.

This evidence is hard evidence. It is not circumstantial.  You cannot explain it away.

And lock-downs are ineffective.  Just look at the data.  In the U.S. look at the graphs of states who were strict about lockdowns and mask mandates.  Compare them to states who were more lenient.  Any difference?  No.  Not at all.  I know there are more than a few studies that suggest lockdowns worked and that mask mandates meant fewer cases.  Not by the hard data.  Not by what you see with your own eyes on the graphs.  COVID spreads.  Like a common cold.  It's that infectious, and there isn't much we are going to be able to do to stop it.

The insanity is thinking that we can.  

The  logical conclusion given the hard data is that COVID-19 will become and indeed might already be endemic.  We won't defeat it.  We will have to live and manage with it.  Vaccines will help mitigate the severity of the disease--especially for the most vulnerable.  Medications will arrive which will also help.  Folks who take care of their own physical health--COVID seems to really have an adverse effect on people who are overweight/obese--will be in good stead.  

Some may choose to remove themselves from society to protect themselves.  That is their choice.

Others will choose to engage in the world and live taking the risk.  That is their choice as well.

But let's stop the insanity of thinking that we are going to defeat this thing.  Ain't happening.  There are things that are beyond our control.  This is one of them.  Deal with it.  


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

What Happened to "The Call"?

 At a recent council meeting, we discussed several trends affecting the church in 2021.  We discussed how many churches are now hybrid congregations: having both an online and in-person presence.  We breeched the subject of how we might conduct Holy Communion with people in their homes and in small groups.

At this point, I raised a concern regarding such things.  "Whatever we do, I just want to make sure the meaning and understanding of the sacrament is not diminished."

Not that the sacrament can be diminished.  It's the real presence of Jesus.  You can't diminish that in and of itself.  But it can be diminished in peoples' hearts and minds.  This is why Martin Luther wrote certain explanations in regards to petitions of the Lord's Prayer in the following manner: the will of God; the kingdom of God; certainly comes without our prayer, but in this prayer we pray that it may come to us... The kingdom of God; the will of God are certainly undeterred by us, but we don't want such things diminished by our failure to see them or bow before them or even work against them.  

My colleague offered some insight into this as he shared that in a very real way, administering the sacrament of Holy Communion is the only thing that really sets clergy apart from everyone else in the church.  For those who do not know the terminology, the church is broken down into clergy (pastors, priests, etc.) and lay folks (congregation members, teachers, elders, etc.).  Lay folks certainly preach and teach.  Lay folks can administer the sacrament of Baptism in special circumstances. Lay folks forgive sins; lead worship; read Scripture; and so on and so forth.  In all of these things, there is not much distinction between clergy and lay!!  And the line has become even more diminished.

There are some internet sites which offer people "ordination" so they may preside at weddings of family members and others.  Therefore, with no training; no formal education; no discernment, a person can become an ordained minister.

Now, I am no fool.  I know there are plenty of pastors and ministers who have gone though the ordination process who probably should not have made it.  The numbers of clergy who have committed heinous sins of sexuality attest to that.  The numbers of clergy fired from their churches for financial mismanagement attest to that too.  Pastors who have bullied their congregations or people in their congregations add to the numbers. A theological education is no guarantee that an ordained minister is going to perform the duties of the office well.

But there is something that will: a calling.  Perhaps I am just too isolated in the setting I serve, but I remember a time when we talked deeply about a sense of calling in the church.  We talked about sensing a call to the ordained ministry.  This was a deep feeling/sense/intuition that God had set you apart to proclaim His Word and lead His people.  This call could have come dramatically (as did mine), or it could have risen in bits and pieces over a long period of time until you knew this was what God had given you as a vocation in life.  

But simply sensing this call was not enough.  The larger church took it upon itself to examine whether or not it believed the call you sensed was genuine.  Along with seminary training, we had to go through a candidacy process.  There was psychological evaluation.  There was evaluation of your prayer and spiritual life.  Was there evidence of the Spirit working in your life?  Was there evidence of the Spirit working in your preaching and teaching?  Did you exhibit compassion?  Were you able to comprehend theological concepts?  Did you adhere to the doctrine of the Lutheran Church?  All of these things were evaluated to see if indeed God had called you and set you apart for ordained ministry.

I get the sense that this understanding of calling is greatly diminished. For certain in our society.  For suspicion in our churches.  One of the last recruitment videos I watched put out by my own denomination never asked the question, "Are you called?"  Yes, there was language about God calling a person, but the main, driving question was, "Do you want to change the world?"  Note to ELCA seminaries: The hard truth is that no one really changes the world; they can hardly change a congregation; and you will be lucky if you can even change yourself.  The calling to serve as an ordained pastor isn't about changing the world.  It's about proclaiming Christ and Him crucified.  

The calling to become an ordained pastor isn't about wanting to officiate at a loved one's wedding.  It's about proclaiming Christ and Him crucified.

The calling to become an ordained pastor is about serving the church, but it is in the capacity of proclaiming Christ and Him crucified.

"Are you called?"  That's the question.  It is a wonderful, terrible question to wrestle with.  And I wonder how often it is being asked.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Cancel Culture must be Cancelled

 Even I recognize the irony and hypocrisy in the title of this post because I am a strong proponent, ardent defender, and principled believer in the concept of freedom of speech.  You would come to the logical conclusion that I would want no one cancelled; that I would embrace allowing folks' to articulate their positions without fear of negative consequence.

And I would, and I do.

And it would seem that such a position would be incompatible with calling for the cancellation of a train of thought or "culture" as it seems.

But one must dig deeper into this virus that has infected our society and realize just what we are dealing with.  For we are dealing with two very incompatible ideals.

One ideal seeks a society of the open interchange of ideas.  It seeks robust debate and argumentation.  It gives people ample opportunity to speak their minds and then change them if convinced otherwise.  Therefore, it allows mistakes, stupid comments, ignorant comments, and even repulsive comments with the thought, hope, and knowledge that a person's position can (and often is) swayed by argument, logic, reason, and understanding.

The other ideal seeks a society where only certain ideas are accepted and allowed to be spoken.  It is punitive and does not allow mistakes, ignorance, stupidity, or repulsiveness.  And such mistakes, ignorance, stupidity, or repulsiveness is defined only by the powers that be--not by any particular, objective standard.  Make one misstep, and you can lose your job, status, and well being.  There is no free interchange of ideas.  There is imposition of the correct ideas.

These two positions are totally and completely incompatible.  And one of these positions will consume the other if it is not checked.  Totalitarians don't stop unless they are overthrown.

Oh, and I have heard the arguments regarding the limits of free speech.  "You cannot cry fire in a crowded theater if there is no fire."  Indeed.  That is lying.  One can easily prove such speech false, and one can be punished for the consequences of lying.

Yet, such a comparison is not the same as stating one's position on gay marriage, for instance.  It is not the same as pointing out the statistics of police officer shootings of unarmed black men.  It is not the same as support of a particular political candidate.  In all of these things, well articulated arguments backed up by statistics and facts or reasonable opinions have led to cancellation of individuals.  And they are not the same as yelling fire in a crowded theater.  

Unfortunately, in this particular situation, we are at a point where we can liken it to bullying or even warfare.  One side wants peace and freedom.  The other side wants imposition and to control.  One side deeply values peace and freedom and wants to uphold it, but in order to prevent the other side from taking over, it must stand firm and even fight.  (No, masters of technology.  I am not arguing for guns and fists and knives and the like.  If you try to cancel this blog because of your reading into the text something that is not there, you will face a lawsuit.)  We must be willing to cancel the cancel culture.  We must be willing to undermine it. We must be willing to argue vehemently against it.  We must be willing to use the tactics of seizing power to ensure the free exchange of ideas.  If the two "sides" were compatible in some measure, we would not have to do this.  We could peacefully coexist.  But because they are logically incompatible and contradictory, one must emerge victorious.  

One of these positions has been shown throughout history to provide human flourishing.

The other has been shown to lead to human misery and suffering.

If you have studied history, you know which, but for the ignorant, I will be blunt.  It's not cancel culture.  It's the free interchange of ideas.

Stand and fight for it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Loving Jesus but Hating the Church

 For some reason, the title of this blog has stuck with me for a few days.  I've heard sentiments like it phrased in several different ways.  And, of course, there are rebuttals.

But I began to question if such a thing is possible.

And I know that oftentimes our rebuttals to such things tend to be quite soft; intended to change minds and "win" someone over.

But I wonder if the reality is a bit harsher.

I wonder if the response to this isn't more a matter of laying down the law.

Because I think the reality is this: if you don't love the church, you don't love Jesus.

Because when you love Jesus, you love the church.

The church has been and will continue to be the "bride of Christ."

And ugly bride though she may be, for the criticisms of the church are often dead accurate, she is still the bride of Christ.

And Christ loves her.  Warts and all.

Just like Christ loves us, warts and all.

And that is, I think, central to the matter.  For oftentimes, a distaste of the church is rooted in a sense of moral superiority.  It's rooted in a sense of finger pointing.  It's rooted in a sense of self-righteousness.  It's rooted in a lack of forgiveness.

And I know that people have been hurt by the church.  I know that people have been hurt by people in the church.  I know that people have been hurt by leaders in the church.

So have I.  

So.  Have.  I.

I still bear a few wounds that are not completely healed as well as some major scars.  I have been falsely accused of things.  I have had my reputation drug through the mud.  I have had my family attacked.  Rumors spread about my supposed infidelity.  Children called unspeakable names.  All by "upstanding church members."  And I have had church leaders shrug their shoulders, offer little to no support and be all too happy when I pulled my stakes and headed to a different venue.  I have every reason to dislike the church and some of the people in it.

But I can't love Jesus and not love the church.

Because all of those things that were done to me, at some point in my life, I am sure that I have done to others; and not only done to others but done to Christ Himself.  

And despite my callousness towards Christ, He has never stopped loving me.

He has never turned His back on me

He has never rejected me.

He has only and ever reached out his arms and died for me.

He has only and ever forgiven  me

He has only and ever extended grace to me and a love that is completely and totally undeserved.

Can I do anything less for His bride?

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Bible is Inspired, but Your Interpretation Isn't

 Apparently the title of this blog is an argument being used against folks who share certain thoughts about what the Bible says.

I am curious as to which interpretations are being called into question?  The linked article referenced human sexuality.  But I wonder if any others.  I ask because I have actually never heard anyone say this.

However, even though I have not heard it said, I think it worth responding to--even if it might be to simply get ahead of the curve.

There are several things that come to mind:

First, the idea that our interpretations are not inspired by God is a bit of a fallacious argument.  A Christian who has been born from above (John 3) has the very Spirit of God dwelling within: calling, enlightening, sanctifying, and preserving that person.  When guided by this Spirit, the interpretations are indeed inspired.

Second, we must always temper this with the knowledge that we are sinful, imperfect beings.  Therefore, we must always measure our interpretations against and with others whom history has shown to be faithful.  Our interpretations are bound to the intent of the authors of the Scriptures, and, thankfully, we have Greek and Hebrew studies as well as historical/cultural studies to guide us.  When in constant dialogue with those who have been found to be faithful as well as the scholarship of ancient languages and cultures, we can be relatively sure our interpretations are correct.

Third, making the blanket statement, "your interpretations are not (inspired)," is actually a self-defeating statement.  It applies to any person's interpretation.  Any.  Person's.  Let that sink in.  If you want to tell someone, "Your interpretation's wrong," on what basis do you do so?  That's your interpretation, and it's not inspired.  If you want to agree with another person's interpretation, it is simply a matter of your opinion.  It's not because that interpretation is right or true.  It's just that it fits your taste.  There is no need to actually do any hard work in trying to figure out what the biblical writers tried to convey to their audience.  None of that matters because none of it is inspired.  It's all relative.

Finally, is it really that hard to interpret certain portions of Scripture?  I mean, really.  Certainly there are places in the Bible that are metaphor.  They are not to be taken literally, and interpretation is warranted.  There are also stories and parables that require interpretation to make application.  However, there are also some very straight forward sayings that do not require a high degree of interpretation.  "You shall have no other gods before me."  What's difficult to interpret about that?  "Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you."  Trouble understanding that?  Applying it might be a bit difficult, but the interpretation is pretty clear.  "You shall not murder."  Again, how hard is that to interpret?  It's not.  And in my estimation, if you are making it difficult, you are simply trying to justify a behavior that the Scriptures forbids.

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Proper Use of Doubt

 Luke 24:36-49


36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.' 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.' 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?' 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.' 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.'


The week after Easter, as I was browsing through my Facebook feed, I saw that someone had posted an article in one of the groups I belong to.  The name of the group should tell you everything you need to know. The name of the group is: The Lutheran Nerd Clan.  Yes, it is everything both Lutheran and nerdy, and I am a proud member.  But that is beside the point.  The point is the article that was posted, and it’s title immediately intrigued me: “A Tiny Particle’s Wobble Could Upend the Known Laws of Physics.”  It was a science article in the New York Times.  I love science, and I know that oftentimes, science points us towards the majesty, wonder, and beauty of God.  Really.  If someone ever told you there was a conflict between science and faith, they are misguided.  Not just misguided.  They are wrong.  There is no conflict in the least, but that’s not the topic of this sermon.  The topic of this sermon has to do with what this article in the New York Times was all about.

Let me quote the article here, “Evidence is mounting that a tiny subatomic particle seems to be disobeying the known laws of physics, scientists announced on Wednesday, a finding that would open a vast and tantalizing hole in our understanding of the universe.”

Again, quoting the article, “The particle célèbre is the muon, which is akin to an electron but far heavier, and is an integral element of the cosmos. Dr. Polly and his colleagues — an international team of 200 physicists from seven countries — found that muons did not behave as predicted when shot through an intense magnetic field at Fermilab.

The aberrant behavior poses a firm challenge to the Standard Model, the suite of equations that enumerates the fundamental particles in the universe (17, at last count) and how they interact.”

Now, that’s all of the article I am going to read.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to push the science any further.  Some of you may be going, “Wow! This is cool,” but I know there are others out there who are thinking, “Man, I hated science.  Why in the world am I hearing about science at church?  I thought I was done with this stuff.  What in the world does this have to do with my life and my relationship with God?”  Patience.  I am getting there.  Really.  I am getting there because this experiment along with another one which had similar results back in 2001 has shaken the scientific community.  It has caused a lot of doubt.  Whereas they once thought they had most of physics figured out, it might turn out that they have to completely and totally rethink how they believed the atomic world operated.  There is still much data to be waded through, but if this experiment is confirmed, it will turn everything topsy turvy.  And now, there is much debate within the community about this matter.

The results of this experiment are very much like the results of Jesus coming and sitting in the room with the disciples on that first Easter evening.  Our Gospel lesson this morning is Luke’s account of Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples after the resurrection.  You may recall that last week, we heard the Gospel of John’s account of this appearance, and there are many, many points of connection between the two accounts.  The major difference between those two accounts is that John emphasizes the reaction of Thomas, one of the disciples.  That account is often referred to as the doubting Thomas account.  But as Pastor Casey said last week, we would do better to call it the disbelieving Thomas account.  The Greek is pretty clear there.  Thomas didn’t doubt, he was disbelieving.  In today’s account, there is a much better example of doubt.  We actually have the doubting disciples, and this time, the Greek wording matches up.

Let’s set the scene.  Again, like in John’s account, the disciples are huddled behind closed doors. The disciples who Jesus met on the road to Emmaus have just arrived and have shared their account.  Everyone is talking about this, and suddenly, Jesus appears.  Like in John, Jesus’ first words are words of peace, “Peace be with you.”  A bit of chaos ensues.  The disciples are startled and terrified.  That’s the wording that is used.  They think they have seen a ghost.  

Jesus then works to convince them that they aren’t seeing things.  He is real, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”  Let’s stop there because here is where the word doubts actually comes into play.  The Greek word here is dialogismoi, which has the definition of discussion, consideration, or debate.  Perhaps a literal translation would be, “Why are you frightened and why do you debate with yourselves in your hearts?”  This is true doubt.  This isn’t a “I believe!”  And this isn’t a “I don’t believe.”  This is a “I really am not sure what to do with this information.  If this is real, then everything that I have once thought I knew is now topsy turvy!”  I told you, this biblical passage is very much like what happened with the results of those scientific experiments.

But the disciples were having quite the difficulty coming to grips with Jesus being there.  They weren’t sure about what was happening.  So, Jesus keeps pushing. He keeps giving them evidence.  Look at my hands and my feet.  Touch me.  See, I am real.  

And again, we are told that the disciples were “in their joy disbelieving.”  Probably a better translation for us would be, “They thought this was too good to be true.”  So, once again, Jesus takes another step to show that he is real; that he is not a ghost.  He asks for something to eat and eats it right in front of them.

Now, I want to take just a moment before continuing to point out something that the Bible is showing us.  Sometimes, there are folks today who dismiss ancient people.  They will say things like: ancient people weren’t as advanced as we are today; ancient people were not as skeptical as we are today; ancient people were not as scientifically minded and so they would accept things back then that we would never accept today.  They just didn’t know any better.  And while that is true about some things, that is not true about every thing.  Just because ancient people didn’t know about atoms and protons and electrons, they knew that people didn’t just rise from the dead and appear.  They knew that once someone had been crucified and was buried, they stayed dead and buried.  The Bible here does not show the disciples just accepting the resurrection of Jesus without any thought or skepticism or doubt.  I mean, for heaven’s sake, Jesus appeared to them.  Jesus was in the room with them, and they didn’t just automatically believe it.  They didn’t just automatically accept it.  They doubted.  They wrestled.  They tried to figure all of this out.  They didn’t turn their brains off.  Instead, when confronted with this new reality; when confronted with this new information; when confronted with the risen Jesus; they turned their brains on and tried to figure it out.  They questioned.  They debated.  They wondered.  Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that we are more advanced than they were.  They were just as skeptical as we are.

But they had one advantage over us.  They had Jesus with them there in that room.  And Jesus took the time to convince them.  Jesus took the time to get them through their doubts.  Of course, we already heard that Jesus showed his hands and feed.  We heard that Jesus had them touch him.  We heard that Jesus ate food in front of them.  But that wasn’t quite enough.  There was more that was needed, and Jesus gave that to them too.  He opened the Scriptures up to them.  He explained the Scriptures to them.  He showed them how the entire Old Testament pointed to him and was fulfilled by him.  As Jesus taught these things, the disciples were convicted.  

Step by step, Jesus showed them that the Messiah was destined to come into this world and live the life that they were supposed to live.  Jesus showed them how he alone fulfilled the commands of God.  Jesus showed them how he loved the Father with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Jesus showed them how he loved his neighbor as himself.  Jesus showed them how he was the spotless lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world.  He was the sacrifice of atonement to end all sacrifices.  He was the one who had come to give his life as a ransom for many.  Step by step, he showed them that it was necessary for him to die for them; to take their sins upon himself and then give to them his righteousness.  He then showed them how his resurrection has defeated sin, death and the devil.  The gap that once existed between humanity and God is no more.  All of this Jesus showed them as he opened God’s Word to them.

As he spoke, I am certain the disciples’ hearts began to burn within them. Their eyes were opened.  Their doubts turned to belief.  And here is the crucial thing about doubts.  Doubts are healthy–they poke at us and make us think deeply.  They make us consider things we may not have considered before.  They make us ask questions that we may have been afraid to ask.  But, doubts are meant to lead us to answers.  Doubts are meant to lead us to find truth.  You don’t just say, “Oh, I doubt that.” and then stay in your doubts.  That’s pure laziness.  The disciples didn’t stay in their doubts. When Jesus offered them evidence; when Jesus opened their minds to the scriptures; they believed.  Their hearts became convinced.

And now, let’s bring this home.  Let’s talk about the Christian faith in the midst of life in the 21st Century.  Let’s talk about faith in a culture full of skepticism and unbelief and competing truths.  Let’s acknowledge that it is okay for us to have doubts.  Let’s acknowledge that it’s okay to wrestle with things deeply.  Even scientists who once thought they had things figured out have to do that in the light of new evidence.  But let’s not use that as an excuse to reject the tenets of Christianity.  Let’s not use doubt as an excuse to turn to internet atheists and others who claim to be more enlightened.  For you see, doubt is nothing new.  The disciples faced them, and Jesus answered them.  And throughout history, the church has faced doubters, and very smart people have been led by the Spirit of God to have answers to those questions as well.  How do I know?  Well, I have doubted.  I have sought.  I have found answers.  And I have been asked questions.  Sometimes I didn’t know the answers, so I had to learn.  And the more I have learned, the more I have studied the scriptures, the more I am convinced of the truth of Christianity.  The more I long for a chance to be a witness to the Gospel-just like he called the disciples to be in that room long ago.

I remember shortly after I started going to college and had started taking theology classes, I went home to visit my folks.  I remember going to church on Sunday and sitting in on the confirmation class.  One of the young men there asked me a terribly difficult question, “Why did God pick such a lame way to save the world?”  What I wouldn’t give to be able to respond to him now.  I had never wrestled with that question until he asked it.  I didn’t have a good answer.  I had nothing.  He wasn’t satisfied with my pastor’s answer, and I knew he wasn’t satisfied with mine–and I wish I could remember exactly how I answered it then.  I don’t.  I just remember it wasn’t good.

But through my doubts, I have had a chance to study.  I have had a chance to learn.  And if I had the chance to talk to that young man again, this is what I would say, “I don’t believe it was a lame way to save the world at all.  In fact, I think it was beautiful.  God cannot let sin go unpunished.  When you do something wrong, you deserve to face the consequences of your actions–that’s justice.  And you and I both know that we have sinned.  You and I both know that we haven’t done the things we should do and been the people we should be.  Deep down, we know that we are not right and have not done right.  We know that we deserve punishment–we deserve justice, and God should probably toast us.  But God also loves us.  God doesn’t want to have us be punished because that would mean complete separation from Him.  And so he somehow has to find a way to bring both love and justice together.  And here is how he does it. Instead of punishing us; he takes the punishment for us.  That’s what Jesus does on the cross.  Jesus is God taking the punishment that we deserve.  It’s like a parent paying to replace a broken lamp that their kid has destroyed.  The kid can’t pay the price and replace it, but the parent can.  Our heavenly parent pays for our sin by dying in our place.  And when you understand that. When you understand what God has done for you, and for the world, you will see that as a thing of beauty.  If you doubt this; if you are debating in your heart; seek the answers.  When you do, I know that you too will be convinced.  That Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  And Christ will come again.  Amen.