In the first half of the eighteen hundreds, people took long journeys over the ocean and would discover these fascinating creatures: Galapagos tortoises, over nine hundred pounds, living to be a hundred and fifty years old, some of them, or the small, flightless bird, rustling around in the underbrush at night, the Kiwi of New Zealand. People would bring back drawings or specimens and say, “Look at the wonderful glory of God, who made all these animals in their many different shapes.
Then came Charles Darwin, who said, “Wait a minute, these marvelous animals with all their shapes can be explained in the same way that the kindness of dogs or the speed of horses can be explained. Dogs are kind because people let the kindest dogs have the most pups. Horses are fast because people let the fastest horses have the most colts or foals. So also, the creature in nature best adapted to its little world will have the most babies. Bears will develop powerful, sharp claws, antelope will develop long, quick legs, and so on. The survival of the fittest!
Took away everybody’s fun.
Now people began to waver. They wondered, “What about the first creation story, Genesis Chapter I that we just read? Are we or are we not created in the image of God? And if we are not, then what are we? Is or is not the world holy, precious, good in and of itself, as it says, God saw that it was all good? Is God really there, or are we just the product of blank, impersonal laws of probability? Can something be from God if it has a rational explanation? Can something with a logical origin still be a miracle? Back and forth.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is risen from the dead. God’s life has reached beyond death. God’s peace has reached deeper than our destruction, our brutality, our hatred, our apathy. God’s hope has reached beyond our despair. Love wins.
Here in the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples believe the testimony of the women. They go to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. “When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.”
Here is a bit of scholarly interlude. The Greek word that is translated as “some” is “hoi”. Almost all the time otherwise, it is translated as “They.” So a legitimate reading would be “When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.”
Greek word for “doubt” is diastadzo, to waver, waffle back and forth. “Is Jesus really risen from the dead, does God’s love really win, all evidence to the contrary, or is it just wishful thinking?
Doubt, diastadzo. The Greek word appears only one other time in the New Testament, also in the Gospel of Matthew, when the disciples are sailing in their boat on a stormy sea. Huge waves and wind, chaos all around. You ever feel that way, like there’s chaos everywhere, about to swallow you? Jesus comes walking on the water, above the chaos. Peter thinks he can be above the chaos to. So he steps out of the boat, starts walking toward Jesus. Then he looks around at the wind and the waves and he’s terrified. So he starts to sink. And Jesus has to catch him. He says “Oligopisti, little faith guy, why did you doubt, why did you diastadzo, waver?”
This in contrast to a woman not too long after this, whose daughter has a demon, so she asks Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter and Jesus says, “No” because she isn’t Jewish. But the woman persists. She checks her ego at the door. She sets aside any illusions of special status or privilege from her social class or ethnic background or whatever, sets aside any sense of entitlement whatsoever, and she says “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs from the master’s table.” Jesus says “Great faith woman!” and he casts the demon out of her daughter. “Great faith women” verses “Little faith Peter.”
See, I have seen great faith in this congregation. People who have checked their egos at the door, given up all sense of privilege and status in an effort to seek the healing of God. I have seen great faith in this world. But a lot of the time, most of us have little faith. Most of us waver.
Is it Jesus? Is God real? Or is it just wishful thinking?
Here is what Jesus says to his wavering disciples, his doubting ones: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” So it’s not about you. It’s not about what you can do. It’s not about the strength of your certainty. It’s about what I am doing through you.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them,” drowning their death and hatred and brutality and apathy and despair in the flood of God’s life. And teaching them to obey everything I have taught you, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.” “You will love the Lord your God.” You will love this beauty, this life, this hope, this freedom, “With all your heart and all your strength and with all your mind, and you will love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets, everything we know about right and wrong.
Because we are not alone. “Remember,” says Jesus, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
You know, we all travel on a great journey of discovery. It takes a whole lifetime and more for us to discover what love is, what integrity means, the wondrous dance of honor and compassion, how to live with joy. Darwin might seem to come up with explanations for the animals that live in our world. Someone someday might even come up with explanations for love, integrity, joy. But that doesn’t take away the mystery of it. It just makes the mystery deeper. Share the mystery. Share the triumph of God’s life over death, God’s peace over our brutality, cruelty, destruction, hatred, apathy and greed. Share the truth, that God’s love wins, because whether we doubt or not, whether we waver with little faith or stand fast with great faith, Christ is with us. Jesus, risen from the dead, is with us even to the end of the age.