sermon among the Storydwelling community on May 1, 2022 in Kiwanis Park, Bend
rooted in John 20:19-31

I have my own “doubting Thomas” at home–
a reputation he is proud of.
And doubting, critiquing is an important,
inherent part of this community’s DNA–
we spent a lot of heart and time and energy in my living room
in those early days giving honor to our doubt,
respecting it, as we sought to unlearn
some of the theologies we were offered,
some of which included the notion that it is not okay to doubt.

My hope is that we have blessed our doubt over the past couple of years,
called it good.
Cole Arthur Riley, the writer of Black Liturgies, invites people to:
“Release yourself from the tyranny of spiritual certainty.
Doubt is not a threat to faith;
it’s faith that has finally taken off its mask.”
We were tired, in those early days, of our intellects, our wonder,
being cause for breaks in relationship.

Somewhere, deep down inside,
my gutm which is Spirit’s sacred information for me,
tells me: my intellectual assent to a set of doctrine,
no matter how lovely that doctrine might be,
is not nearly as important as how I give my heart
in relationship to the people and things I love.

This is the difference in contemporary English sense of “belief”–
and the ancient Greek one. Pistevou–
which is less like belief and more like:
commitment, fidelity, giving one’s heart.

Which brings us back to Thomas. Because, we have to ask:
behind the locked doors where the disciples are gathered,
why was Thomas was not there? Where did he go?
Jesus goes on to tell them–
if you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.
if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.
That’s just the truth, right?
If we trust that a faithful definition of sin is–
a break in relationship–
it is just true that communities and individuals have the power, the ability,
to hold on to brokenness, to fissures in relationship,
or to release brokenness,
to release whatever cracks in relationship that may grow.

I wonder if there is at first a fissure in
Thomas’ relationship with the community.
Because why is he not there?
It’s not a stretch to wonder if perhaps this whole story
is not about Thomas’ “right belief”
but is about Thomas moving out of
and then back into relationship with his community.
His community’s attempts, sometimes good sometimes bad,
to engage in reconciliation with him,
in healing, in welcome, in affirmation of who he is.

We don’t know why Thomas is not there,
but it sounds like it was dangerous out there, beyond the locked doors–too dangerous for him to be alone.
It was his community’s job to protect him.

Our call, which I think we’ve known from
the very first seeds of this community,
which we know in our guts as individuals, wherever we are–
in school, at home, with our children, in a session, on a work site
is not to operate within the paradigm of
whether someone is a believer or not a believer,
whether we can think our way into a particular doctrine,
but is to operate in the world of
giving our hearts in right relationship to people and things that we love:
which looks like accompaniment, reconciliation,
continual repair and healing.

For what it’s worth, this is for me what it looks like to “believe in Jesus.”
To give my heart to what I see that Jesus gave his heart to.
To be in a posture that always centers relationship.

That is what we do today, my friends–
as we steep ourselves in conversation around our value of
affirming and celebrating the beautiful variety of
sexual orientations and gender identities among us,
the beautiful variety of ways that Love expresses itself among us.
We’ll have a community conversation about making our “welcome”–
although it is and will be much more than a welcome–
explicit and bold and something
we can hold ourselves accountable to…

And it grieves me to say it: that we do this,
because it is joyful, because it is good and right and important, yes
and also because, somehow, it is still dangerous out there.
And it is community’s job to protect each of us,
to protect all, in right and loving relationship–
in how we give our hearts to what Jesus gave his heart to–
the work of belonging, healing, accompaniment, life together.

May it be so.