May 5th, 2024 | Series: When In Doubt

The sermon delves into the topic of doubt, faith, and suffering, emphasizing the transformative power of Jesus and the invitation to find healing and hope through communion.

Sermon Resources
Sermon Content

Good morning, friends. How are you doing today? Welcome. My name’s Alex. I’m one of the pastors here. If you’re visiting, I’m going to start us in a moment with a passage of scripture. But if you’re a follower of Jesus, what I want you to begin to do in the midst of this is To begin to orientate yourself, or orient, I don’t know with you guys, it could be orientate, it could be orient, in the direction of the tables, here and at the back.

What I’d love us to do today is concretely move fairly quickly, but also intentionally, towards these tables, that you may have grown up knowing as mass, The Lord’s Supper, Communion, the Eucharist, any of those names. There’s something that we’re going to conclude by doing here that churches have done for a couple of thousand years.

But that is truly life changing. If you grew up in a Catholic church, you may have heard that when we do this, the bread becomes the literal body of Jesus and the wine becomes the literal blood of Jesus. And we might say maybe it’s a little less than that. If you grew up in a Baptist church, you may have heard the bread becomes a wafer and the wine becomes a cracker becomes grape juice, and it’s not a good joke.

. We’ll get better. Don’t worry. And we might say it’s a little more than that. There’s something here that I would describe and others have described as a real. There’s something in the midst of it that is truly life changing and we’re gonna bring some stuff here And we’re gonna receive some words over us as we continue to process The doubt that we’ve talked about over the last few weeks There’s this idea that doubt and faith are partners on the journey towards If you grew up in a community, a culture that said there was no space for any doubt, that if you expressed any, you felt shut down, that is not the way of Jesus.

In his disciples lives, they experienced and articulated, even after the resurrection, moments of doubt. I grew up in a church that didn’t handle doubt well. I can still remember occasions where I was wrestling with a question, perhaps with a group of fellow followers of Jesus. And as we began to express some of those questions, even in just a small circle, the associate pastor that was leading the group felt called to say no, we don’t talk about that.

here. That’s not on the table for discussion. The problem with that approach is this. What kind of things grow in the dark? Bad things, right? Hidden things don’t tend to be healthy things, and so it felt to me like in shutting it down, it didn’t bring healing, it didn’t bring change, it actually meant that we just landed in that place by ourselves for a long period of time.

period of time. Also, what Chambers says doubt is not always a sign somebody is wrong. It might be a sign they are thinking. Last week I shared a modification with you. Doubt is not always a sign somebody is wrong. It may be a sign they are hurting. And actually, you may need space to process that with someone.

Aaron, could you just take a look at the PowerPoint? Because that’s last week’s keynote, and so I’m not gonna be able to use that for very long.

You’ll get that fixed. Here’s our text. My faith in this team at the back is incredible. They’re gonna sort it out and we’re gonna be, we’re gonna be fine. And if not, I can talk for a long time without any kind of notes. John chapter 14 says this. Jesus said to his disciples, Don’t be worried. This is the contemporary English version.

It’s gonna read a little different. Don’t be worried. Have faith in God and have faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. Amen. I wouldn’t tell you this unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together and you know the way, we’ll be together, you know the way that I am going.

Thomas said, Lord, we don’t even know where you are going. How can we know the way? I am the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus answered. Without me, no one can go to the Father. If you had known me, you would have known the Father. But from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him. Philip said, Lord, show us the Father.

That is all we need. Jesus replied, Philip, I have been with you for a long time. Don’t you know who I am? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. We’ll get to that text in a minute. Doubt can be a head thing, it can be a heart thing. What I would suggest, wherever you sit in the midst of that, whether wrestling with intellectual doubt, whether experiencing something feels like a trauma, something that has led you to question God’s goodness or even role in your life.

Somewhere what we want to open up the possibility to is that there is healing, whether an experience of the head or the heart and need is for hope and healing. And I would suggest that table offers some of that, especially In the moments where you wrestle with what you might call heart doubt that deep existential sense that not all is right with the world.

But today we wrestle with perhaps the most difficult area of doubt that we’ll wrestle with in the whole of this journey. We wrestled last week with doubt around the actions perhaps of other followers of Jesus moments that we’ve experienced that kind of trauma. And we’ll get to process some of that at this table as well.

But today we wrestle with the idea that I’m going to say this carefully, that in our doubt, God might feel like the one that we’re struggling with. We’re talking about primarily the question of suffering in the world. The thing that, outside of the Christian question and the actions of other Christians, is the number one reason people Say that they experience doubt.

It’s the question of, is God there? And if he is he powerful enough to impact this world? And if he is both of those things, why doesn’t he do it? The idea is that if God can, then he should. And if you’ve been in a moment where there’s some kind of part of your life that you say this just seems so broken or you’ve looked at the world in general and said wow this whole thing seems so broken, you know what I’m talking about, that heartfelt question of a child saying why is this the way it is.

That’s what we’re going to wrestle with today. And so first I’d like to start with a question. Have you ever met anyone and started to get to know them? Perhaps you’ve built up an early relationship. There’s something about the person you like. It feels like you’re having good conversations. It’s not necessarily a romantic relationship, but it might be just a platonic thing, but you’re starting to have these moments together and you’re like, I just, this person seems like a person I want to spend more time with, a person that I’d like to get to know, and then somebody says something.

Something that implies that there’s perhaps a hidden secret, a thing behind the thing, a thing that, that maybe they don’t say out loud, but you suddenly start to say, huh. Do I know this person at all? I had this experience some years ago. I was working on a golf course and there was a gentleman that used to wander onto the golf course late in the afternoon, he never paid, which wasn’t uncommon, but he brought a golf club and a dog and he would just chip balls on to the green and he was fun to talk to, seemed like a, a, a.

cool kind of guy. He had this kind of this great mustache and he had this kind of slick back hair. If I’m honest, he looked actually something like this guy.

And then I got talking to some people and it turned out that he was this guy. They just started to drop kind of hints into the conversation. You know what that guy does, right? And it made sense when I started talking about it. He was always asking me about going to the mattresses, or to take the cannoli and not the gun, or making me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

All of those kind of Pieces of language, but it turned out the guy I was hanging out with just having these good conversations with was Involved in one of the biggest criminal gangs in the whole of the area And so suddenly I had this moment where I’m like do I want to be friends with this guy? Or actually, maybe I should be friends with this guy maybe I don’t have a choice about being friends with this guy anymore.

It was one of those encounters, and perhaps you’ve had something like that, you’ve started to get to know someone, started to push into a relationship, and suddenly there’s been these flags that say, maybe take a step backwards. And maybe you’re married to that person today, and that’s great. But maybe you’ve been there.

Uncertainty about character can challenge a relationship. And that’s exactly what we’re going to see today. In the story of a guy called Abraham. Abraham is a guy that’s had two really in depth personal conversations with God. God has appeared to him in a way that the early part of scripture is unique outside of Adam and Eve and their story.

Abraham is a man that knows God. God has talked to him. Up until this point only about Abraham. He has promised Abraham certain things. He’s told Abraham something of what his future will look like. And now he’s going to have a third conversation with Abraham. And suddenly the conversation won’t be about Abraham, but will be about the world in general and very specifically about a town called Sodom and another town called Gomorrah.

Two towns that are famous for having been destroyed in the Old Testament narratives. In Genesis 18 verse 17 we read this. Then the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, the impending destruction of these two towns? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.

For I have chosen him so that he would direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised. God has a conversation first with himself, shall I bring Abraham into the picture? It’s similar in some ways to the flood narrative that has come just a few chapters before.

That, in that narrative, God informs Noah, the main character, but it’s not really a conversation as such. Noah gets information and gets things that he’s supposed to do, gets a list of tasks, but here it’s a little bit more. There’s more of a dialogue. Verse 20, and then the Lord said, The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sins so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.

If not, I will know. In actual fact, the list of sins against Sodom, or the list of things against Sodom and Gomorrah is fairly huge. There’s a whole bunch of sexual sins that are part of the equation And there’s actually just the question of hospitality, which they have apparently not shown to people.

Ezekiel holds that as one of their significant sins. He says they have not cared for the poor around them. Something that maybe gets us a little bit like, wow that’s a serious thing. I didn’t know God maybe held that so seriously. The men, the two men that are described as being with God turned away and went towards Sodom, but Abraham remained standing.

And now this is where we get the conversation. Because Abraham is going to do something that up until this point has not been done in Scripture. He’s going to have a conversation with God about the actions that God is about to undertake. And he’s going to intercede for these people. He’s going to push back on the actions that God has told him that he will carry out.

Check this out, it’s just an amazing piece of Scripture. Verse 24. Then Abraham approached him and said, will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Will you make those that have done nothing wrong to suffer? Is that really who you are? Will you make the righteous suffer with the wicked? What if there are fifty?

Righteous people in the city. We don’t know how the, how big the city is, but let’s suppose it’s in the 2, 000, 5, 000, 10, 000 range. 50 is already a fairly small number. What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the righteous people in it?

It’s a fundamental question which is more of an infraction of justice, to allow the guilty to go unpunished or to punish the innocent alongside the guilty. And Abraham seems to lean towards the latter of those being the greater infraction. For the sake of fifty, will you really destroy it? Unlike Noah, Abraham advocates for the people of the world.

Defends them in the midst of God’s impending action. Far be it from you to do such a thing. Have you ever prayed a prayer like that? That’s a bold prayer. This isn’t you, God. This isn’t how you act, right? I’m fairly confident you wouldn’t do something like this to kill the righteous with the wicked.

Have you ever prayed that in the midst of some kind of natural disaster? Some kind of man made disaster? Maybe you haven’t prayed it, but I bet you’ve asked it. I bet you’ve wondered, God, why is it that this seems to hit people indiscriminately? With no sense of, it lands on the guilty, in actual fact, if anything, at times it feels like the innocent are more likely to be.

to be punished than the guilty. David, the Psalmist, praise those exact things. He asks those exact questions. Far be it from you to do such a thing. Far be it from you. Will not the judge of all the earth do right? Feels like it could be a rhetorical question, but I wonder if it is. I wonder if it’s a real question.

And I think for many of us, we might say at times in our lives, it has been a real question. Is this right? Is this fair? Is this how it’s supposed to be? God, will you really allow these kinds of things to happen? Perhaps you at the moment, observe all the things that are going on in the Middle East and say, God, is this you?

This what you want? Perhaps you’ve watched people go through starvation through drought and say, God, is this you? Why is this the way it is? Why do you allow this to continue? Abraham raises the important question in the midst of this, of God’s character. Won’t you do the right thing? Aren’t you going to act in some way?

It raises the fundamental and challenging question that perhaps is the dark secret that you’ve kept at different moments in your life, and it looks like this. Can God be trusted? Is he trustworthy? This question at times has rocked the faith of people that have been deeply involved in the life of the church This is a picture of Charles Templeton in the 1950s.

Charles Templeton was the Charismatic evangelist the one that was going out and sharing the good news of Jesus with people all over the place He was close friends with this gentleman, Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist ever to live. A man who shared the message of Jesus with more people than any people in history.

And if you talk to people that were watching at the time, they said, it feels like Charles Templeton was going to be the one that spoke to the most people that reached the most people. He had this deep charisma and passion for Jesus. And then one day he saw a picture that looked something, but not quite this, something like this.

It was a picture of an emancipated woman in Africa. This is a lady suffering through drought. Her name is Faria. She lives in Somaliland. This is her son. The picture Charles Templeton saw was different in one way. The woman was nearer to death, and the child was dead. And Charles Templeton said, I looked at that picture and I knew in that moment there could be no good God that would allow this in the universe.

And nobody wrestled with him with that. Nobody helped him navigate that. Because there are times I would suggest when we see something like this and say, this feels existentially wrong. How is it that 1 billion people on this planet don’t have enough to eat? And how is it that 700 million people on this planet don’t have clean drinking water?

How can this be? And some of it, sure, it’s man made, it’s our own fault. I used to work a lot with the country of Haiti and the deforestation of the nation has destroyed the landscape, has made starvation almost a certainty. Sometimes we do things that seem to destroy and break this world. But sometimes we might ask the question, God, why don’t you just fix this?

Why can’t you send this woman rain? If that’s all that stands between her and a family that are fed and a family that are healthy. Faria said this, if the rains do not come, none of us will survive. None of us will survive. This is the existential question of suffering that we wrestle with. The challenge of our visibly broken world often leads atheists to reaffirm that there can be no God.

Conversely, for theists, a broad group, including those of us that follow Jesus, the question is usually phrased this way, is God really good? Why doesn’t he do this? And then it becomes deeply personal because if he doesn’t do it for Pharaoh and he doesn’t do it for the people of Somaliland, what about when it’s our turn?

Will he do it for us? Can God be trusted individually? Can I trust him? With my everyday struggles and needs, the moments of my deep suffering and pain. In Matthew chapter 5 verse 45 Jesus suggests that in actual fact rain and sun are provided just without reference to good or bad. God, he said, causes his son to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Growing up in a place that had more rain than we could handle, I never quite read that the right way. I was like, yeah, he just keeps making it rain on all of us, right? We’re always, there’s too much rain and I’m good and there’s still rain landing on me. But here in this culture, it was rain as a positive thing.

Rain is the thing that gave crops life. And so to phrase it this way, when I need rain, will God provide? And what does it mean if he doesn’t? What do I do if he doesn’t? As most problems of doubt, there’s an intellectual side to this and an experiential one, and so the first question I have for you is there an intellectual answer?

And there is, but I don’t know that you’ll provide it, find it particularly satisfying. I think you’ll find it to be a struggle still, especially if in this moment or in your recent history you are going through an experiential thing that says to you, suffering is very real. If to you it’s personal and deep right now.

Despite much suffering, this world is, some people have suggested, the best that can be imagined while maintaining both free will and a sense of need for the divine. If there are no needs in the world, if there is no suffering, why does anybody need God? Why would anyone reach out to find him, to look for him?

Some people would say that this world needs some of those things to be able to create that opportunity. The other aspect is free will. We are free to do with this world to an extent what we want to do and we, as we already address, we have not always treated this world as it should have been treated.

We’ve destroyed elements of it. We’ve made it a more difficult place to live in. That’s true of Adam and Eve and the earliest sin of human beings, and it’s true for people like you and I. But some people have argued this. That we need a world that looks something like that. The poet John Keats said this, Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?

The something that our own individual suffering brings out of us that is actually deep and profound. The writer C. S. Lewis, who himself experienced a great deal of suffering, said, we were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told blessed are those that mourn and I accept it I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for.

Of course It is different when the thing happens to oneself not to others and in reality not in imagination Suffering has a way of transforming that almost nothing else does. How many of you have ever said these words, I’ve grown more than I can have believed as a Christian over the last two years, and it’s been the two easiest years of my life.

Nobody has said those words. Our struggles have a way of bringing us to our knees and bringing us to the feet of the God of the universe. There’s something about it that is transformative. And if we’re honest, we enjoy suffering. when it’s other people. Not in a schadenfreude sense, not in a truly bad sense, but there’s something compelling about someone or particular people that experience their sense of suffering.

Soren Kierkegaard says this about poets, and you could extend it to songwriters, to musicians today. A poet is an unhappy person, an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music.

And men crowd about that poet and say to him, Sing for us soon again, that is to, as much to say, May new sufferings torment your souls. If you go back and look at most of the movies you love, most of the songs that you love, most of the poetry you love, it’s formed in the crucible of suffering. Because it is the truly transformative thing.

The Apostle Paul says in 2nd Corinthians verse 4, this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory. Some of your texts may say something about follows, but in actual fact preparing is correct. Preparing us for an eternal weight of glory. There’s something about suffering that is truly transformative to a life.

Victor Frankel who experienced the horrors of Auschwitz said, When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. I’ve tried to be intentional today about giving you outside voices that have experienced suffering to the maximal degree. These are people that are versed in what it is to suffer and still speak of the beauty of transformation in their lives and in the lives of others.

Despite much suffering, this world is perhaps the best that can be imagined, while maintaining both free will and a sense of need for the divine, and that even in suffering, it is better to have existence than no existence. Very few people in the midst of suffering come close to saying, I wish it had never been.

And sometimes when they say it, it’s not actually really meant. We’re still predicated to choose life over no life, to choose that in the midst of this world we see that is full of suffering, that the horror of a universe that never has a voice to cry out, never has a species to see what is out there, never has a species that can sing songs about it, that can write about it, can imagine about it, to not have any of that.

would be truly horrific. And to not have a species that deeply searches and longs for God would be the most horrific thing of all. Even in the midst of that almost universal suffering, we say it’s still better that life exists. The movie, One Day, captures this perfectly. It’s a story of a relationship between 1980s, or it begins there anyway, and it takes place.

A day each year and sees where they are in their relationship. St. Swithin’s Day, 14th of July. And so the narrative jumps forward year by year and you watch the ways that they experience trauma, they experience heartache, the ways the relationship breaks, becomes dysfunctional, comes back together.

There’s the moment where she suddenly dies in a most surprising way, and we watch his heart break and loss afterwards. We watch them struggle through life, moving towards each other and away from each other at different points. But what the movie does so beautifully is this. It ends with the beginning.

It ends with their meeting in this moment where it seems like they won’t stay in touch, where they won’t meet, and she walks away and says have a nice life. And knowing all of the trauma, knowing all of the heartbreak, there’s this pause where you wait and you say to him, sitting there as an observer, run after her, don’t leave it.

There and then there’s this moment where you hear footsteps as he runs up behind her and he catches her and he says I need your phone number. And you breathe a sigh of relief because something inside you tells you that with all the pain, it’s still worth it. Still, we want it to happen. Still, we want the relationship to continue.

Even when suffering is great, life is still preferable to no life. That may not be universally true, but it’s often true. That’s the best intellectual answer that I can give you, and I don’t know if it means much. Because really what we need is something more than that. In the midst of suffering that is often tied to personal experience, a reality we have seen, a diagnosis we have received, a loved one we have lost, an experience we have had, the only satisfying answer I would suggest is the person of Jesus.

who entered into this world and embraced suffering, who took it on to the maximal degree, who experienced it and lived in it. In John chapter 14, Jesus expresses some of who he is. He recognizes that the disciples will experience deep loss and deep struggle, but he also gives them answers to some questions that they have.

He tells them, do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. My father’s house has many rooms. If that were not would I not have told you that I, would I have told you that I’m going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am.

You know the way to the place where I am going. Thomas said to him, Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way? Jesus answered, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and you have seen Him.

Philip said, Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us. Show us the God of the universe as He really is. Give us the thing that we are longing for. Jesus answered, Don’t you know me, Philip? Even after I have been among you such a long time, anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, show us the father?

In the moments where you ask whether the God of the universe is truly good, whether he can be trusted, and whether he cares, know that the God of the universe is seen uniquely and most clearly through Jesus. Through the Jesus that wept at the grave of his friend. Through the Jesus that suffered horrific torture and death at the hands of an empire.

Through the Jesus who loved his disciples until that end moment. That’s how we see God. When you have questions about his character, when you struggle with all of the existential elements of this world, know that Jesus is seen through the, that God is seen through the person of Jesus. The contemporary English version says of Colossians Christ is exactly like God who cannot be seen.

The message version says we look at this son and see the God who cannot be seen. That’s perhaps the only answer to the struggle of suffering. That God is in it too, with you too, present in it by choice, entering into it. God is like Jesus, we might say. He has always been like Jesus. He will never not be like Jesus.

He is the image. He is the one. When wrestling with questions, look at Jesus. When having wonderings, look at Jesus. He has given us that image of his father. He’s the one we serve. He’s the one we follow. He is the one we love. God is best seen in the one who chose to die for his enemies rather than to fight against them.

God is best seen in the one who wept at the grave of a friend. God is best seen in the one who will restore all things, who will bring healing to this broken world, who in the midst of a creation that gasps and moans, God will bring healing. And we see that most perfectly in Jesus. My invitation to you in the midst of all of the ways you experienced doubt is to bring it to Jesus, who suffers it with you.

who has been in the midst of it, who didn’t turn away from it. We come to this table and we remember death and we remember resurrection. We come to a God who loved his enemies, a God who faced death and defeated it. We come to the God that is seen in Jesus. So my invitation to you is to bring all of the angst that you have, Last week we talked about those of us that have experienced deep hurt at the hands of other Christians.

And I invite you to come and take this communion. Come to this table with that. The writer K. J. Ramsey, who experienced herself deep trauma at the hands of the church, talks about the final action for her as a pastor on staff was to serve communion to the lead pastor who had lied about her. who had destroyed her career, who had left her deeply traumatized at the hands of the church.

And she said, in that moment, what I realized was that I followed a God who chose to love his enemies. And so as that man walked down the aisle, I handed him the bread and the wine. And I said, the blood of Jesus given for you, the body of Jesus broken for you. That’s the faith we follow. If you’re wrestling with your own suffering, there is no intellectual answer I can give you, but I can offer you this table and space to come to it.

Space to come to the table of the God who loves his enemies, who dies for them, who sat with his earliest followers, 10 of whom would run away from him, 11 of whom would run away from him, one of whom would betray him, and does this, my body broken for you. My bloodshed for you. Whatever you have to bring can come here to the real presence of Jesus who brings healing, who brings transformation.

As you come, there’ll be some people at the tables. They’re going to read a very short prayer over you. It’s to help you process, but I’m going to invite you to take some time in the midst of this song to listen before we come. Jesus, would you speak to your people? Amen.