Note that the sermon has two edits which are video clip I can not legally upload to youtube. But here are links to those videos Yentl's Papa Can You Hear Me? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwCPAo5e_F8 and Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame "God Help the Outcasts" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEEpavnk7Uw . What follows is the text of the sermon:
There is nothing easy about doubt. Whether it is experiencing it or talking about it, doubt is challenging and mysterious. Yet doubt is something that is common to us all. That is why I started with the clip from Yentl. There is a trueness and a authenticity about the doubt that the Barbara Streisand character shows. The character has just lost her father, who as a rabbi had taught her to read and study the religious texts, which was forbidden from women at the time. She has run away from home to enter a rabbinical school dressed as a man. Her doubt is multi-layer and complex like ours often is she is praying asking where God is, while asking what of this relationship she had with her father that sustained her, and this path in her life that is deeply complicated by her society. No there is nothing easy about this doubt. Yet rather than ignoring it or pushing it away, it is faced, examined and even used as a tool to move forward. More on that later.
First, though, if your experience has been anything like mine the truth is that traditionally the church has been a detriment to my understanding of my own doubt. Too often we are told that doubt is something that we should be ashamed of, that doubt and faith are somehow opposites. As if having doubt somehow means that one does not have faith. Nothing could be further from the truth. The disconnect in this is that I have never met a minister, pastor, or church leader who did not have doubts. Yet too often because somewhere on our walk we are told that doubts are shameful, we hide them never to examine them, never to explore what they may be telling us.
It especially seems odd to me that Christianity has been so unhelpful in thinking about doubt when each year we come face to face with Jesus in his Gethsemane moment. One way of reading the story of the Garden of Gethsemane and one that has been instructive to me over the years is to see it as Jesus’ moment of doubt. Here Jesus stands after the last super not only knowing that one of his best friends is going to betray him, but that the others all asked “is it I” meaning they thought they could have done something to betray him. He does not want to be alone yet these same friends have fallen asleep on him. In this moment we see a very human Jesus who sees the road ahead but questions if that is the road to travel. Praying to his Abba out of that doubt. Jesus in this moment I believe explores his doubt, unashamed of it and is able to move forward in part because he does this.
The point is that if in our biblical narrative Jesus has a moment of unashamed doubt, does that not allow us to doubt as well. I completely believe that it does. What is striking to me both about Gethsemane and in the clip from Yentl is the authenticity that the prayer of doubt has, it is not the opposite of faith but it brings a realness to faith. After all if the divine is the divine than our doubts are already know.
It would be easy for us the second we see doubt to throw out everything around that doubt. I don’t believe that this is a helpful tool. Many of us have experienced as our life has gone along discovering that we doubted things that our parents have told us or our Sunday School teachers told us. Even in some cases discovering those things are downright false. This does not mean we should throw out everything that we learned from these places and people just because one thing is not true. This is the importance of examining our doubts.
In both of these examples of doubt; Jesus and the Barbara Streisand character from Yentl are examining their doubts rather than ignoring them. I think we have a great deal to learn from this. As we examine our doubts they can tell us a lot about ourselves and about how to be in relationship.
There are some doubts when we examine them that reveal to brokenness and places where repair, reconciliation and conclusion need to be reached. This may be true of doubts we have in our relationships. Does my partner still love me? Do my parents respect/love me? Is my partner faithful? Do my children care what I’m going through, now that they have their own things going on? Has God abandoned me? These are the kind of doubts that can eat at us. What they expose is that relationship is in need of attention. These are the kinds of doubts call us to actively be in the job reconciliation, finding ways to heal the brokenness that is causing the doubt. These doubts can be tools to helping us examine what need examined.
Other doubts do not necessarily need to be resolved at all. They can rather be more like walking partners on our journey. Many of these be things like doubting that God is anything like the construct that you have been living with, doubting that God micromanages our lives, doubting the status quo, or doubting that the government has all the answers. These kinds of doubts can be important parts of our growth. For centuries theologians have express the importance of doubt as a tool for growth. No one more emphasized this as did Soren Kierkegaard. He wrote of what he called the “dark night of the soul.” These were the times in our faith where the answers seem remote and the divine illusive. Kierkegaard reminds us that in these times we often grow because our understanding of the divine is not stagnate, we begin to rethink and reimagine what it means to be in connection with the source of all and to be disciples. So while these times are not easy and sometimes even painful they are the important to continuing the journey.
I want to emphasis that Kierkegaard, or I for that matter, are not suggesting that we should go out seeking doubt, or become obsessed with living in doubt. This would in fact be counterproductive. But rather the suggestion is to walk with our doubt exploring it and letting it move us forward as prayer and spiritual discipline. A life lived embracing uncertainty can allow us to see the divine and ourselves in new and powerful ways we never imagined.
This embrace of the uncertainty can, in fact be a very powerful social justice tool. It allows us to question the status quo, allows us to question the same voices we hear all the time, and allows us to act to publicly question policies that undermine and diminish people humanity. The embrace of uncertainty can bring us to a place where we are a greater heart for those who society places on the margins, who they try to cast out (God Help The outcast video clip). Maybe doubt is just the tool and prayer we need to be in connection with our sisters and brothers who the world has marginalized. Maybe doubt is the prayer and tool we need to turn the tragedy of a young man, Trayvon Martin, being shot because his skin color and clothing were different into a discussion of racism and prejudice within the country. That doubt that leads to rethinking, justice, action and reconciliation is something our country and our world are in deep need of.
None of this is easy but we are called to engage our doubt and the truth is the church should be a safe place to begin that process. I hope and pray that in this church it can be. The truth still remains however, that there is nothing easy about doubt. No matter how challenging our doubts can be, the good news is that whether we recognize it or not the divine presence is with us every step of the way embracing us and holding us in our doubts. In Romans Paul puts it better than I ever could “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness: for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Even when doubt and pain render us silence, our very silence is prayer.
So God be with us as we doubt, but in fulfilling and challenging ways, lead us to green pastures beside still waters where we might in you, with our doubts find rest, Amen.