Sunday 11 June 2017
The Revd Prof Patrick Keifert,
Professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary, St Paul, Minnesota and President and Director of Research of the Church Innovations Institute
“But Some Doubted” (Matthew 28.16–20)
In his kind invitation to preach this morning, the Dean of the Cathedral noted that today was Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday of Ordinary Time. That is, in the time keeping of the Church year, everything to this point in the Church year is around the rhythms of Jesus’ life, from Advent through to last week, the celebration of Pentecost. Now we enter ordinary time. In clearly a move unwarranted by the proper use of the word ordinary time, I immediately thought of ordinary time and ordinary people. I wondered what might God be up to in this Gospel lesson this Trinity Sunday for ordinary people like us in ordinary time in this place?
The narrative is clear: eleven disciples gather on the appointed mountain in Galilee where Jesus said he would meet them. When he arrives they worship him and he gets straight to the point: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The text was as I remembered it except one little thing: it notes that when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” Some doubted!?
I had not remembered this detail: some doubted. It seems odd; 11 disciples had after all followed him throughout his ministry; had heard him preach, watched him heal and forgive sins, and watched as he was handed over to the chief priests and scribes, found guilty of blasphemy, and finally crucified by the Roman government. They had experienced resurrection appearances and been sent to this mountain top. They had come to this place and were willing to worship him but still doubted him? It seems odd. Or is it?
Doubt is hardly unusual among those who follow Jesus today. Dare I suggest that some here might both worship him today and doubt as well? Dare I admit that I am one of the ordinary people gathered here today who both worship Jesus and doubt him, too? Doubt, it would seem is part of the life of faith, if these disciples are to be taken as typical examples.
Doubt makes up a great deal of modern ordinary lives. In fact, we pride ourselves in our ability to doubt almost everything. We often confuse sophistication and wisdom with a posture of systemic doubt. Indeed, even the great philosophers, like Rene Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, enshrined doubt at the center of the wise life. Nothing is worth being an Archimedean point of life, a trustworthy foundation, that is not first doubted and shown to be clear, distinct, and indubitable. In short, undoubtable. One might say, then, we can hardly call ourselves ordinary modern people without saying we doubt. In this, it seems, we are like the disciples at our Lord’s ascension.
We are not only like the disciples, however, but also like Jesus. Or, shall I say more precisely, Jesus is like us. He doubted; you might even say, he was the greatest of all doubters. Remember as he hung on the cross he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is no small matter, no trivial doubt; this is beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Really Big Doubt, the doubting of God.
Jesus cries out his doubt, his experience of abandonment, for all to hear; he does not hide it; it is not just a quiet doubt hidden in the back of his mind: no this is a very public doubt. Even more public than the doubt of the disciples gathered on the Galilean hill for his Ascension, or the doubt you and I might have this morning as we worship him. As if to say, I have taken on all that it means to be human: fear and anxiety, joy and desire, life and death, and yes, even doubt of God so that there is nothing that properly belongs to ordinary people like us that is not been deeply a part of Jesus.
And, why take all this on? For our sake, for our salvation. He takes our mortality and gives us his immortality. He takes our corruptibility and gives us his incorruptibility. He takes our doubt and gives us his faith. And all of this as a gift in our baptisms in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This great exchange, this sweep swap, between Jesus and us joins us to the very heart of the life of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For as Jesus took on death and depended upon the Father’s will in the power of the Spirit to be raised to life, so do we enjoy the same Father’s will in the power of the Spirit, to be raised to life.
To my knowledge, Christianity is the only major religion in the world where God is a community. Our God is a being in communion. And not just a community but a community that is Love: A Father who loves a Son, a Son who loves a Father, and a Spirit who empowers their oneness in Love. And not a community of love turned in on itself but a community that seeks others to join it. A community of love that seeks to join a whole creation in its love.
No surprise, then, that Jesus tells his disciples, the ones worshipping him and doubting him, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” So, he says to us today, the ones worshipping and doubting him, Go, make disciples, baptize. You are the community of the baptized, you have the power to make new members of this community, ordinary people who will worship and doubt Jesus, love and be loved. Ordinary people who need this same great exchange, this sweep swap. Give it away, he says, “And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.” And so he is. Amen!