How Do We Live with Uncertainty?

John 20:19-31

[Object lesson: what’s in this box?]

See this box? What do you think is in the box? What if I told you that there is something special in this box…A TURTLE; would you believe me? Would you believe Tony if he told you that there is a special TURTLE in this box? What if I told you that both Annette and Tony have seen what’s inside this box, and they can tell you. Do you believe me now? Want to see?

Thanks for partaking in a bit of a children’s sermon object lesson here. Why should kids have all the fun; right? I’m wondering, what was going through your mind when I was showing you the box right before I revealed its contents? Were you excited? Confident? Scared?

It’s interesting how we process uncertainty in our lives. Some of us can blindly accept what others may say. Others of us will weigh and examine every possible angle and option. Still others, the ‘doubting Thomas’ (you knew we would hear that at least once today, right?), will have to see something with their own eyes before they believe.

But I don’t want us to focus just on Thomas today. Think again about that moment before you knew what was in the box. Think about that uncertain moment, when you didn’t know what was really inside. Yes, you heard a story from me about what was in the box. You heard witness accounts from others in this very room. Think back to that moment, and remember that feeling, that emotion, right before you saw what was in the box.

That’s the feeling I want to talk about today. The excitement before the magic trick is resolved. The dilated pupils upon the opening door to reveal a new guest. The moment of uncertainty. Let’s delve deeper into those emotions that we experience in the midst of such uncertainty; that ‘gasp’ before the unknown is made known; that split second when the world is filled with unlimited options and opportunities, for both good and bad.

 

This moment of uncertainty shows up in many forms throughout our lives. But here’s the problem; this uncertainty causes us anxiety and stress. Time and time again, we try to eliminate uncertainty in our lives; we want to be in control. We want to be certain.

Inevitably there will be moments in life where we simply are uncertain, but we continue to seek out this unrealistic ideal of being able to control the world around us. We want answers.

If our kids have questions of ‘why?’ that we may not have a quick answer for, our response is simple: ‘Because I said so!’

Some of us learned about critical thinking and research while in school, so we read books about things we don’t know, or talk with professionals who know much more than we do.

Others of us have a simple answer to our questions these days: Google it!

The fact is that no matter how much we learn from life experience, or studies, or the internet, it is impossible for us to know everything; there is always uncertainty. Phyllis Tickle, author of ‘The Great Emergence’ discusses this when she explains the ‘Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.’ Simply put, the act of observation of an object inevitably changes the very makeup of an object itself (wrap your head around that for a moment). In a sense, there is always uncertainty in this world; there is always the unknown.

The life of faith is not immune to such uncertainty. In many ways, we all have been on this roller coaster of emotions that the disciples, especially Thomas, experienced at some point or another. We desperately seek something to grasp onto in this world. In a time when each day spouts scientific and technology breakthroughs never before seen on this planet, we also acknowledge that these breakthroughs only lead to more questions than answers when it comes to our lives…every day.

Yes, we have just celebrated the rising of the Savior of the world, the Son of God. But how do we profess our faith in God’s salvation when each day we turn on the television, or our smart phones, or computers to read more news stories of lying, hate, cheating, and unspeakable violence. How do we put faith into a God who does not seem to control this unpredictable world? How do we move from doubt to faith? How do we live with uncertainty?

The scriptures capture the moment as the disciples are dealing with this uncertainty. And what emotion do we read of? Fear. We often don’t associate fear with Easter, but one of the initial emotions from the disciples was fear following the resurrection of Jesus. They huddled together in one place. They locked the doors. Then…Jesus was there amongst them. The disciples experienced that ‘gasp’, that moment of uncertainty, upon the new figure in their midst. And Jesus, perhaps recognizing the anxiety in the room, shared with the disciples peace upon his return.Peace be with you.”

Once the disciples saw Jesus, their hearts and emotions turned from fear to joy. But then something happens, which I feel we sometimes gloss over. Jesus says, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit

The disciples didn’t really know what was going to happen next. The last time they saw Jesus he was being crucified on Good Friday. Mary just now returned and shared the amazing news of Jesus being resurrected. The religious and political authorities were on a man hunt trying to round up and arrest any other of Jesus’ followers who had been causing a disturbance of the peace. Now Jesus came to them…somehow appearing out of thin air like Harry Potter, and he said he is sending them out?! I imagine that the feelings of joy once again turn to that of fear at the idea of being sent to an unknown, uncertain, future. And then he breathes on them the breath of the Holy Spirit, and they are commissioned.

Now Thomas, bless his heart, misses everything! He comes back into the room, only to hear this outlandish story of Jesus’ return and commissioning. ‘Thomas, you won’t believe what  just happened!’ His response is not unlike any of us in the room, much like our experience of protecting ourselves from an April fool’s Day prank—he was guarded.

‘Very funny guys. Nice one! Ok, you almost got me that time!’

But the other disciples were not laughing. A week later Jesus would return and confront Thomas.  It’s now Thomas who would have that gasp of uncertainty as he touched the wounded body of Christ.

Jesus said, Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

 

We all wrestle with uncertainty in our lives. We do all that we can to create a reality that is as predictable as possible, and yet, there will always be the unknown. Just when we think we have it down pat, life happens.

In a way, that’s what the ‘gasp’ in our lives is all about—life happening. Sometimes they will lead to delightful moments and memories. Other times they will lead to heartbreak. Jesus knew this when he revealed himself to the disciples and to Thomas. Jesus knew that there would be fantastic moments of joy…and wrenching moments of sorrow, when he breathed on them the Holy Spirit and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

And Jesus also knew the incredible challenge it would be for humans like you and me to put faith into a God who works in the world in this manner. He would say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

 

The Good News this morning is that in that ‘gasp’, in that moment of uncertainty, we can remember our blessing from the risen Christ. Perhaps instead of a gasp of uncertainty, we should think of that moment as an inhale of Holy Spirit. The message for us, the readers: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

Blessed are those who gasp with the joy of new birth.

Blessed are those who gasp with the sorrow of death.

Blessed are those who gasp with the celebration of marriage.

Blessed are those who gasp with the sadness of divorce.

Blessed are those who gasp with anticipation the uncertainty that life procures.

Blessed are those who breathe in the Holy Spirit with each new surprise that life throws at them.

A final thought. Friends, this uncertainty that we experience each day is only temporary in the eyes of our Creator. Jesus came to this world to share with us that while we may live life in an uncertain world, one thing is now certain. Death has been conquered; life eternal in Christ Jesus is made certain. This is the message that all of us are sent out into the world to proclaim. Jesus lives. The Kingdom of God is here.

Today, in the uncertainty that is life after Easter, we are blessed. God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. With this gift comes peace and forgiveness. And we are called to share it with the world. May we turn others gasps into breaths of the Holy Spirit as we share the Good News of God’s love in Christ Jesus and the peace of knowing his victory. Amen.

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