Benediction Online

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Peace be with you
John 20:19-31

Personally I’ve never had any trouble believing in the virgin birth. After all, if we can believe that Jesus was resurrected why can’t we believe that he was divinely fathered? But I know that’s something that many people have big doubts about. I’ve had people tell me that they can’t join the church or they can’t be Christians because they just don’t believe that Mary was a virgin. It always amazed me that it’s such a big deal until a friend told me that a generation ago her mother was denied baptism because she didn’t believe it. People remember things like that for a long time.

I have my own doubts, just not about Mary’s virginity.

I have long doubted that God listens to the prayers of fat women. Much of my life I have been overweight and I have doubted that the Almighty is taking as much interest in my prayers as he would if I was at a so-called healthy weight.

I can’t however report that my prayers have become more effective as I’ve lost weight!

So we all have doubts, some rational, some not so much. Today’s gospel is such a blessing for those of us who doubt quite a lot.

Thomas missed seeing Jesus the first time he came to them. And he doubted. So much so that we often call him Thomas the Doubter. He missed the big event and he said he thought it pretty unlikely. He wasn’t about to be fooled by an apparition like the rest of the disciples who were so nervous and jumpy that any little noise seemed like a big deal. And then Jesus appears, and suddenly Thomas isn’t so sure of himself. It really is Jesus. Right there, standing in front of him. Just like they said.

Notice what Jesus says as soon as he arrives, "Peace be with you." "Peace be with you."
That is his loving response to our fears and our doubts, "Peace be with you."

Jesus doesn’t judge us because we have doubts. Jesus doesn’t laugh at us for not being sure, for wondering if God really exists or whether it’s just a nice bedtime story. Jesus stands in front of us and simply says, "Peace be with you."

Theological doubt can be very healthy. We humans are creatures of meaning – we are always constructing explanations and meaning for the events of our lives. We feel more confident when we have a sense of how and why things are happening the way they are. But sometimes our lives outstrip our theology. Something happens which throws our carefully constructed maps of the universe into disarray. It forces us to either abandon our faith or to grow.

It’s a scary time. Nothing seems solid any more. The disciples were in the middle of a period like that. Jesus had died but they thought and hoped against hope that he had somehow come back to life. How could they know for sure? What was going to happen to them? They had believed that Jesus was the Messiah but now he was dead or maybe not, and what would the authorities do when they heard the rumors? Would they come after his followers next?

The disciples gathered on the first day of the week – their new holy day - and they were afraid.

If you’re like me often when you gather your thoughts there is an undertow of fear. Fear that I’ve forgotten something crucial. Fear that there won’t be enough money. Fear of being alone. Fear of failure,

We all live with degrees of fear and anxiety. They are the cousins of doubt. When we come to God bringing our inner rooms of fear, Jesus comes to us and says "Peace be with you."

Often we think about prayer as a long list of things for which we are concerned, people who are in our thoughts, things done and left undone. I have found that when I am anxious, doubtful or fearful my prayer can circle back in on itself – that as I bring to God that which troubles me it starts to loom larger because I am focusing on it. I become more anxious rather than less. It’s not helpful.

It’s not helpful because I am so busy and preoccupied with my problem that I cannot see or hear God. I want to suggest an alternative way of praying for those of us who get caught in fear and doubt. I want to suggest that we focus not on the problem but on God. God never turns to us in anger or recrimination. God is always courteous, loving and gentle.

So when we pray, instead of talking about the problems, which God already knows anyway, I suggest that we focus on God by sinking into the place where we connect with the deeper and wider and greater reality which is the divine. It is a place of peace. Jesus comes to us and he looks at our doubts and our fears and says four words. "Peace be with you."

Let’s close our eyes for a moment and just hear him say that; "Peace be with you." "Peace be with you." … "Peace be with you." Can you let that sink into the bottom of your stomach and sit there like a calm, warm solid feeling of safety? "Peace be with you."

Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet
Peace within us, peace over us, let all around us be peace.


  • Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin was I conceived. Psalm 51 distinguishess us from Him for a change. It is a plea for mercy from one who was born under rather different auspices, borne of a Virgin. Yes this ever remains a tennent of our faith, though the controversy continues, especially about Mary's role.

    By Blogger Herb Garfield, at 5:19 PM  

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