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Pastor John Gibson preached this sermon Sunday April 3, 2016, the second Sunday in the Easter season, on Acts 5:27-32 and John 20:19-31.

Remember God's Deeds

Last fall Darren Wilson drove from his home in Greenville, South Carolina, where he lives with his wife and three children to a friend’s cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. Darren, a successful filmmaker of Christian movies, was going to spend a couple of days by himself praying and reading the Scriptures. After a two year hiatus, he was about to begin a new movie and he was scared. Even though he had directed five successful films in ten years, he worried that it might not happen this time. Darren wrote in his blog last October,

“You would think I would have gotten used to it over the years—that witnessing God doing the impossible through my lens time and time again would make me move forward into new projects with confidence and boldness. You would think so.

Instead, as I stare at the prospect of making my first television series … and perhaps the biggest movie of my career …, I find myself holed up in a cabin in the woods because I'm absolutely terrified of going back out there. What if I can no longer hear the Lord clearly as I seek direction for filming? What if we go to film and our prayer for people goes nowhere?

What if everything we film is simply pedestrian and isn't up to the expectations people have for what we create? What if, what if, what if ...”

Perhaps, you’ve had a similar experience in your life. I did preparing this sermon. I had made an outline of this four-part sermon series on Faith and Doubt last week, but somehow what I had planned for today no longer felt right. I did more research on the Internet. I wracked my brain for a direction, any direction. I finally simply stared at my laptop and thought I’ve got nothing, while the clock ticked away and I began to feel lost.

Today’s Gospel and the lesson from Acts help guide us through our times of doubt. The lessons reveal that our God is a personal being, who has acted and continues to act in the lives of God’s followers, in our lives.

While preparing for this sermon, I ran across a cartoon of Thomas talking to two other apostles. Thomas says, with both hands raised in the air, fingers wide apart, “All I’m saying is we don’t call Peter ‘Denying Peter’ or Mark ‘Ran Away Naked Mark.’ Why should I be labeled with this title?” Although we call him Doubting Thomas, he makes a greater faith profession than anyone else in the Scriptures when he calls Jesus “My Lord and my God.”

In fact, Thomas simply asks to see Jesus as the other disciples had seen him. The biblical scholar Karoline Lewis says that in John’s Gospel believing means staying in relationship with Jesus. The resurrection gives us the hope that we can be in relationship with him because he has been raised from the dead. Thomas, when he says that he will never believe unless he puts his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in Jesus’ side, shows that he can only believe by being in relationship with the one who was crucified. It’s important to note that Jesus also shows his hands and his side to the other disciples when he first appears to them. The risen Christ is no abstraction. He is the one who walked in Galilee, taught the disciples and died on the cross. Our relationship is with a personal God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the world.

When people wonder whether God exists, it is often because God has become no more than an abstraction to them. Michael, an atheist who lives in Utah, writes in his blog, “(God) is an abstract concept without any solid definitions backing it up. It can be used for pantheism like Einstein, as a sense of wonder and immensity in the universe as for Stephen Hawking, or as the personal, loving caring God of monotheists.”

While we, followers of Jesus, use the term God, which can be interpreted in many different ways, we have a solid definition. We worship a very specific being, the one who created the world, called a people named Israel, raised Jesus from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit to empower and to guide us today in Christ’s work. God to us is not just God, but Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In today’s lesson from Acts, Peter doesn’t only say God when he stands before the High Priest. He says “the God of our ancestors.” He says this because in the ancient world there were many gods. Some Greek philosophers were even monotheists. Peter specifically refers to the god of their ancestors. It was this God, not the abstract god of the philosophers, not one of the thousands of gods of the ancients, who raised Jesus from the dead.

God, like any other being in our lives, operates in ways that ultimately go beyond our full understanding just as we can’t fully understand our spouses, our siblings or even our pets. I have no idea why Cindy’s and my cat Coco has to go into the laundry room after she finishes eating. It makes no sense to me but she does.

While we will never fully understand God’s ways or comprehend God, we know God. We know of God’s love and power through the scriptures and the tradition of our faith that show us how God has acted in the lives of the Israelites, in Jesus of Nazareth and in the great cloud of witnesses that stretch from Jesus’ time till today.

When we struggle with doubts, perhaps because of something happening in our lives, we need to remember how God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, when the mightiest nation on the earth refused to let them go. We need to remember how God raised Jesus from the dead, when all had given him up for lost. We need to remember how God empowered the disciples with the Holy Spirit to spread the Good News of God’s love, when, standing at the foot of the cross, no one could imagine that 2,000 years later 2 billion people would call the man who hung there Lord and God.

This is not to say that we who follow Jesus will be spared from pain and suffering, although we might wish that were the case. Jesus himself asked in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup be taken from him, and it wasn’t. He lay in the tomb for three days after dying a horribly painful and humiliating death. The God who raised Jesus from the dead does not promise to spare us the pain and suffering that comes from life in a fallen world, a world that has all too often turned its back on God, even killing God’s only-begotten son.

No, but God does promise to walk with us even when we can’t see or feel the one who is Immanuel. God promises to deliver us from our bondage, whatever it may be, as God freed Israel. God promises to raise us to new life as God raised Jesus from the depths of hell.

In those times when we are doubting, when we are fearful, when we despair, we also need to remember those moments when God has already acted in our lives, those moments when God raised us from the many small deaths we all suffer whether illness, loss of a job, divorce, rejection or failure in some way. The God who delivered us before will deliver us again, even when we cry out in our pain and doubt, as the father of the sick child did to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

You might now be wondering what happened, what happened yesterday that you went from staring at your laptop with nothing to this, to all of this today. The truth is I don’t know. All I can say is that I once again I asked God for direction and suddenly it came to me, almost in a flash, like so many times before, and it was as if a flood gate opened and a torrent of living water poured out from, I don’t know where, except God.