I’ve been away from church working on a writing project, so, yesterday, we worshiped at Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church in Savannah. It is a great church for lots of reasons and the only Methodist church to invite me to preach since that denomination kicked me out for being gay 36 years ago. Asbury was nearly dead until Rev. Billy Hester asked to be assigned there in 1993. Since then, the church has welcomed everyone, grown, and created a dynamic and transformational presence in the city of Savannah.
Since I have been at Virginia-Highland Church I have taken remarkably few Sundays off. Despite Bill’s illness and death, I preached 43 Sundays there last year, taking many late-night and early-morning flights to be present in worship. Because of that, when I have a rare Sunday away, I’m sometimes tempted to sleep in. Yesterday was one of those days, and Asbury’s website didn’t reveal whether Rev. Hester was preaching. I resisted temptation, however, and we took a chance. I am very glad we did.
For “Low Sunday,” the service was remarkably full and energetic, and, of course, my friend Billy preached on the same text that most mainline preachers used for the Sunday after Easter. It was the story of the one we often call “doubting” Thomas. As I listened, a couple things happened to me that every preacher hopes will happen with every sermon: I gained an insight into the passage that I had not thought of before, and it spoke to my heart in a healing way.
Billy pointed out that Jesus did not condemn Thomas for his doubts (something I also have preached on), but he also noted that the community of Jesus’ followers to which Thomas belonged did not judge, condemn, or exclude Thomas because of his doubts. It was this that struck me so powerfully. It was a challenge to the congregation to do likewise.
The few people that attended Good Friday services around the country two weeks ago might have heard the story of Gethsemane and how Jesus struggled with his own doubts, or the cry from the cross when Jesus was feeling God-forsaken. What touched my soul yesterday was a reminder from a great preacher and friend that my own doubts and struggles make me part of a long line of faithful company that includes Thomas and Jesus.
Rev. Michael Piazza