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Doubts and Faith…

March 31, 2016

Abbey Gate

During my 21 years on Active duty with the US Air Force, I was fortunate to have two assignments in the United Kingdom. From 1994-1997 I was stationed at RAF Croughton, a small communications installation near Oxford. From 2005-2008 I was stationed at RAF Mildenhall, a tanker and special operations hub near Cambridge. During my first tour in England I was fortunate to be able to visit the ancestral home of my Mom’s family (Agnew) near Stranraer, Scotland. Her own father had visited Stranraer and actually met some distant Agnew cousins when he literally knocked on the door of Lochnaw Castle in 1958, a year before he passed away.

The picture above is not of Lochnaw Castle. The pictures taken during my first tour in England were, unfortunately pre-digital and sadly I can’t put my hands on the photo album where the pictures of Lochnaw are. The picture above is of the West Gate of the Abbey ruins in Bury St Edmunds which was close to RAF Mildenhall.

If you had told my mother that she would have been able to stand on the spot where her own father had stood thirty seven years earlier she would have laughed. If you had told me that I would be able to visit an ancestral home that I had only heard about in stories from my mom and from the faded postcard she had from her father, I too would have laughed.

Frankly, and honestly, if you had told me that I would have not one, but two opportunities to live in England for just over six years, I would have said you were crazy! In fact, when I got the orders for my second assignment in England, many of my chaplain colleagues were dumbfounded! Only a few are lucky to have one assignment over there as a chaplain, how did Moore get two?!

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In that same vein, if you had told me that Denise and I would be living in Estes Park, Colorado where I could literally stand less than ten feet away from one of these majestic Rocky Mountain Elk standing in the yard, I would have seriously doubted your sanity! Yes, I stood and watched this majestic creature graze and occasionally look up at the two legged neighbor with a camera on the sidewalk. Back in 1972 when my folks took me on a family trip through Estes Park, Colorado, I NEVER would have guessed that I would be living here and taking such a picture 44 years later!

Isn’t that funny how doubting and disbelief can be such a common part of our everyday life? I remember doubting that I would ever be able to preach Sunday after Sunday when I first accepted my call to ministry in 1980. Yet here I am, all these years later, still preaching. Heck, I remember doubting that I would ever survive my first toe-to-toe encounter with a senior officer when this junior chaplain was fighting on behalf of a young airman (but I did it anyway). Yet, somehow, by the grace of God, I rose to the rank of Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel!

Okay, okay, Padre, where is this all leading? Don’t you have something in here about the Second Sunday of Easter and the Scripture readings? Well, yes, I am about to get to that now that the stage has been set so to speak. In the midst of all the doubts of my life (only a small portion that has been mentioned thus far) amazing things happened. Often times, these things happened not because of me, but in spite of me.

Speaking of doubt and disbelief. This Sunday’s Gospel reading from John occurs the day of Jesus’ resurrection and then a week later. “That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! ‘Peace be with you,’ he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.'” (John 20:19-21 NLT)

Frankly, I think that John sort of cleaned the situation up a bit. Luke says that “the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost.” (Luke 24:27 NLT) Mark says that Jesus “rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead.” (Mark 16:14b NLT) Matthew says that when the disciples saw Jesus, “they worshiped him–but some of them doubted!” (Matthew 28:17 NLT)

Why do I share all of this? Well, I share it because, frankly, I believe that many in the church have given Thomas a bad rap throughout the centuries. The phrase “Doubting Thomas” isn’t exactly a term of endearment, is it.

When Thomas eventually returns to the place where the disciples were hiding in fear, they tell him the amazing news. He is risen! He is risen indeed! What they left out was the fact that they were scared and doubted (sorry John, when three of the four gospels say y’all were scared or frightened or jumped out of your skin, I have to believe y’all were and you just left that part out). Despite the story they told, Thomas doubted. Frankly he doubted just as they did when Jesus first appeared to them.

So, after the announcement by the others, Thomas and the gang still had no clue what they were going to do. Jesus appeared once, will he appear again? Even though he appeared, what were they supposed to do? So, they continued to hang out in what many believed was the Upper Room where they had celebrated the Passover with Jesus on the night he was betrayed.

“Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. ‘Peace be with you,’ he said.” (John 20:26 NLT) In the moments that followed, Thomas was invited to touch Jesus. He placed his hand in Jesus’ side. He felt the nail holes in his hands. “Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” (John 20:27 NLT)

What was Thomas’s response to Jesus? The response of the other ten who had witnessed Jesus’ first appearance was not recorded by any of the gospel writers. The response of Thomas, though, was recorded! “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 NLT) In that instance, Thomas went from doubting to believing!

Thomas gives me hope. Why does he give me hope? He gives me hope because despite his initial doubt and disbelief, Jesus still came back to him. And Jesus’ words to Thomas give hope to me –“You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29 NLT)

At the beginning of this blog, I talked a lot about some of the “you’ve got to be kidding me” and “seriously?!” moments in my life’s journey. Scotland? Me? Really? Who’d have believed it! Preaching for over 29 years? Me? You’ve got to be kidding! You are calling me to ministry? Yeah, right… that was my doubt when God first called me in 1972! Just call me Doubting Michael or Doubting Padre…

What did Jesus do with Thomas? He did the same thing that he did with Peter and the others. He called him and equipped him to serve God to the far corners of the world. Thomas supposedly made it as far as India (further than any of the others) spreading the Gospel. Doubt was transformed into faith. And that miracle continues to happen over and over and over again down through the centuries. Dear reader, God can transform your own doubt. God can transform your own fear. God calls you. Will you join with me in turning my doubts and fears over to God so that I can respond to God’s call?

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