Final Sermons: Some Doubted

On August 20th, the Patterson Avenue Baptist congregation ceased to exist.  News about our disbandment is available on this blog.  You can find it when you click here.

Beginning in June, when the congregation made this difficult decision, I began a series of messages aiming to prepare us spiritually for that eventuality.  These sermons focus both on the congregational grief, as well as the HOPE that is always ours under God’s grace.

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Some Doubted
Matthew 28:16-20

16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Ponder this question in your heart.

“Have you ever had any doubts about God?”

You understand why I asked you to “ponder this question in your heart.” It is not the kind of question we want to answer in any public fashion. If we did, we might be tempted to lie: especially in a congregational gathering. If we have ever had doubts about God, we would not to fess up among the religiously faithful. We would not want to see the expressing of dismay and disappointment among those who profess a doubt free lifestyle of faith.

Well, okay: I will fess up. I’ll answer the question while the rest of you can ponder in silence.

“Have you ever had any doubts about God?”

The answer: “Yes! Yes I have!”

That might bother some people. It might be okay for the everyday Joe or Jane to have their doubts, but not a pastor. I have been told many times that pastors should not have any doubts; or if they do, they should stay quiet about it. Many believe that a pastor should be exempt from feelings of uncertainly. I have been told:

A pastor should not have any doubts – or concerns, misgivings, fears, or reservations – about matters of faith!

I’ve known clergy who ministered in misery because they did not feel they had the freedom to express their doubts. I decided long ago not to be one of those clergy.

“Have I ever had any doubts about God?”

“Yes I have!”

If that bothers you, let me say this: Folks like me are in good company. I stand in a long line of those who have doubts, stretching back to include those who stood with Jesus on the day of his ascension into the heavens.

In Matthew’s account of the Ascension, the eleven disciples went to Galilee, where Jesus had told them to gather.

Up till this point, Jesus had appeared to them on many occasions: near the garden tomb, in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, near the seashore. In fact, the Bible records eleven different occasions when Jesus appeared, while the book of Acts implies that there we many other appearances not recorded in the biblical texts.

These appearances are a confirmation of Jesus’ entire public ministry. They substantiate his revelation of the love and grace of the God he called Abba. These appearances verify his authority as the penultimate word about God.

Yet with all of this as background, the text still says : “When they (the disciples) saw Jesus they worshiped Him, but some doubted.”

Think about that! They had walked with Jesus, heard his teachings, and witnessed his miracles. They had seen him walk on water, feed the hungry, cast our demons, give sight to the blind, and make the lame to walk. They had seen him heal the sick and raise the dead. Yet some of them doubted.

They had watched when he was arrested, watched as he was crucified, and watched as he body was placed in a tomb guarded by Romans soldiers. They were present a few days later when he appeared to them as their risen Lord. Through his many post-resurrection appearances, they could see the wounds on his body. At that very moment, he was standing in front of them, able to be seen, touched, and embraced. Yet the scriptures say: “some doubted.”

Here’s the point. When I have my doubts (and when you have yours), we can find comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone. Even the disciples had doubts as they worshipped Jesus on the day of his ascension.

Don’t fret about your doubts, questions, concerns, and misgivings. You are no different than the disciples on the mountaintop. They believed. But they also doubted. They were confident. But they also had their questions. They carried with them the paradox of having both belief and doubt.

I can relate to what the disciples were feeling that day. They were like children—insecure, fearful, wondering was tomorrow would bring.

What now?

Who will teach us?

Who will protect us?

Who will guide us?

Who will hold onto us now?

Jesus said: “I have all authority!”

Jesus said: “Go and make disciples!”

Jesus said: “I am with you always!”

And the disciples, hearing all this, still offered God praise, while carrying a fair amount of doubt through the worship service. They were fearful, confused, unsure of themselves, unsure of the gospel, unsure what to do next. The text says that they DOUBTED. I can appreciate that!

Doubts and fears come to all who have experience revolutionary change. Some of us might be feeling those doubts and fears today.

They worshipped him but some doubted. We understand! We’ve been there. We’ve felt that wonderment and fear; that joy and doubt.

We have our questions.

Did we do the right thing yesterday?

Are we doing the right thing today?

What should we do tomorrow?

How do we handle all these challenges?

Do I believe the right things?

Am I doing the right things in my life?

Wonder & Doubt–Joy & Fear! It all goes together for people like us.

So what do we do with our doubts and fear?

I say we bring them to church! Bring them right into the worship gathering. Lay them at Jesus feet. Trust Jesus to be big enough to accept us into his embrace despite our all too often feeling of doubt and fear.

Whenever and wherever we gather with the faithful to worship, we remember the mighty acts of God. We celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin and death. We rejoice that we have been made new creations by God’s grace. The joy of all that is powerful stuff! It reminds us that we are not alone; that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. It reminds us that we are never alone; we are accompanied by the God Jesus reveals as Abba; by the risen Christ who redeems; and Holy Spirit who empowers us.
We are never alone.

This is not the only story that illustrates the doubts of disciples. Do you remember the one that tradition refers to as “Doubting Thomas?” Do you remember how Jesus responded to Thomas’ doubts? He says: “Look at my hands and feet. Touch me. It’s really me!” In other words: “Thomas I am right here with you right now!”

That’s great news. It affirms that Jesus is with us, even though we may have doubts and questions.

Jesus wasn’t an illusion. He wasn’t a ghost. He wasn’t a figment of their imagination. Jesus was REAL. He was really with them. They would NEVER be left alone and they would never slip out of the embrace of his grace.

That’s why we bring our doubts to Jesus. There is no safer place to be when feeling doubt and having questions than in the presence of God’s people at worship.

I remember distinctly the first funeral I ever conducted. It was for a woman named Jean Smith. She was an Elder and Deacons of the Salem UCC church in Albany, Indiana.

Jean was a good woman. She was a school teacher, a community leader, and a stalwart member of the congregation I served while in seminary. She had the heart of a servant.

When we gathered for the family visitation, I remember standing near the casket with two of her nieces (Jill & Sarah). Jean never had children of her own, so she poured herself out in love for the children of her siblings.

As we stood there near the casket, Jill and Sarah were fixated on her hands, folded peacefully across her waist. Much of a person’s life story can be told by their hands. Those hands of Jean Smith had:

Held these gals when they were babies.
Waved at both greetings and departures.
Placed Band-Aids on a scrapped knee.
Cooked meals for a family reunion.
Gave comfort to a broken heart.
Squeezed the hand of a loving spouse.

Jean was not much different than most of us. Much of what we do—much how we communicate—is performed by our human hands.

I think if the same is true of our Abba. Do you think that it’s possible that Abba’s communication toward us might not done less with words and more with divine hands?

I don’t know about you, but when I come to worship I am less interested in the content of some teaching, and more interesting in the expressions of God’s affection. I am not looking for some truth to hold onto as much as I am looking for someone to hold onto me!

I spoke to Charlie Smith—Jean’s husband—about a month after her death. Jean’s final months were filled with pain and suffering. She died in discomfort. She bore it well, but her husband did not. He was angry and by questions and doubts.

We spoke one Sunday prior to worship. Despite all I just said about what was going on in his heart; Charles had not missed a single Sunday since her death. He did not allow the pain of doubt and grief to stop him from being present in worship.

Did you hear that? He was not going to allow the pain of grief doubt to stop him from being present in worship.

“How’s it going, Charles?”

He responded: “It’s hard! It’s really hard.” He choked back a tear and continued: “It’s hard to believe!” He wept a bit. I put my hand on his shoulder and cried with him.

But still he was there, at worship, expressing his doubts, fears, anger, and frustration—all in the presence of the risen Christ.


Worship is where we are reminded that in the darkest moments of life, victory is not ours because of something we hold on to, but by remembering that someone is holding on to us.

Today and every day we are safe in the embrace of divine grace.

We sing about it:

He’s got the whole world, in his hands.
He’s got the whole world, in his hands.
He’s got the whole world, in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.

It’s the hands of God – holding us; holding us even we doubt!

It’s the hands of God – never letting us God.

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