Cynics and Seekers

Sermon by The Rev. Ryan Wiksell

April 16, 2023

Second Sunday of Easter – Readings

Last Sunday I spoke about a few hometown heroes. Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, Skyy Moore, Harrison Butker. Now I want to talk about a different kind of hometown hero. A hero by the name of Jason Sudeikis.

This one’s special because he’s actually from here. Grew up in Overland Park, graduated from Shawnee Mission West. Imagine how successful he might have been if he’d gone to Shawnee Mission South (like I did.) But I don’t really want to talk about Jason Sudeikis, I want to talk about his TV character Ted Lasso. If you’ve seen the show by that name, you’re already on board with this sermon. But it’s ok if you haven’t, because this will make sense either way.

Ted Lasso is a lovable goof, who just happens to be very good at his job—coaching American football. But then he gets a call from across the pond to coach the other kind of football. The kind we call soccer, which he knows zero about. But he takes the job anyway, out of a sense of adventure. Obviously things go very badly right away. But little by little he starts to win people over with his lovably goofy ways.

A prime example of this, is my favorite scene from the series. Long story short, he’s in a bar with the team, and the co-owners, who were a couple, but are now in the middle of an ugly divorce. The ex-wife and ex-husband are both burned out and cynical about the team, but the ex-husband, Rupert, is especially dangerous. So Ted tries to wrestle power away from him by hustling him at a game of darts, a game Ted is secretly very good at.

So Rupert is a smart guy, and not easy to hustle. But he becomes a victim of his own cynicism—his own snide assumptions—that no goofy American could have any real skill at the game of darts. So, when it’s time for Ted to claim his come-from-behind victory, he lectures Rupert a little first. And his big punchline, before he takes the win? “Be curious, not judgmental.” (Well, his real punchline is “barbecue sauce” but that’s not helpful here.)

“Be curious, not judgmental.” Since the moment Ted arrived in the UK, he had to fight the cynical, judgmental nature of his new environment. From day one, people didn’t believe he could coach soccer. The fans booed him. The players ignored him. And this ex-husband darts-enthusiast never bothered to ask “Hey Ted, did you ever play any darts?” He was judgmental. But he wasn’t curious.

Rupert is a cynic. But Ted is a seeker.

From day one, Ted Lasso could have piled people left and right onto his enemies list. All the people who booed him, or ignored him, or insulted him, they’re out. Right? But that’s what cynics do. Not seekers. As a seeker, Ted kept digging. He found out what they liked and hated—what they desired and feared. He kept believing in them, and showing them his heart.

Cynics and seekers are not opposites of each other. They have something important in common: Doubt. But what makes them different is what they do with that doubt. Cynics nurse their doubts, and assume the worst. They become pragmatists, narcissists, and nihilists, believing only in what works, and only if it works for them. Seekers indulge their doubts, and dig deeper. They’re not afraid of what the truth might cost them [“Seek the Truth, come whence it may, cost what it will.”]

Last week I had a few conversations with St. Michael’s folks about Doubt. We were talking about the Nicene Creed, and the Apostles’ Creed, and the important role they play in our worship. But they don’t play the same role here that they played for me as a child.  

Growing up Pentecostal, I was pressured to believe exactly what everyone else believed. We didn’t recite the creeds specifically, but we had our own set of “16 Fundamental Truths” that stuck pretty close to the creeds, with a few bonus items. And if there ever came a moment in life when you couldn’t check all 16 boxes with confidence, then it was time for a serious conversation with your pastor. And probably a lot of intense prayer and study. (This worldview can be found in almost any tradition, by the way. Not just Pentecostalism.)

So Doubt was an enemy, to be vanquished quickly and decisively. People who have this approach to Doubt are neither Cynics nor Seekers. Out of the fear of becoming Cynics who reject their faith, or Seekers who adapt their faith, they instead become Conformists. It’s nice to feel unified, to have a veneer of consensus, but it’s phony.

When we recite the Creeds together, are we declaring that everyone in the room believes every line, exactly as it’s written, today and every day? I don’t think so. I have days when I’m not sure I believe in God at all. (Although I try not to let them fall on a Sunday.) That’ll be our little secret.

But I have a much bigger secret for you. And this one you’re allowed to spread: No one has ever believed a thing, because they were supposed to. Not once. Why? Because that’s not what belief is. It’s not compliance, or concession. Can you crave a food because you’re supposed to? Can you fall in love with someone because you’re supposed to? No, just like you can’t believe something because you’re supposed to.

The Apostle Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus was standing in front of him, just because everyone else did. So he gets that unfortunate nickname—Doubting Thomas—which makes him sound like a cynic, but he’s not. Jesus encountered cynics from day one, just like Ted Lasso did. He dealt with people all day long who wouldn’t believe anything unless it served them, and had given up hope years ago, that God would do anything surprising and marvelous.

Jesus was plagued with cynics, but Thomas wasn’t one of them. Doubting Thomas used his doubt to dig deeper, to seek the Truth, come whence it may, cost what it will. But in his quest for the Truth, notice that Thomas wasn’t trying to prove a hypothesis, or win a bet. He wasn’t looking for data. He was looking for Jesus. The Way, the Truth and the Life.

He wanted to know if his friend—his Savior—was truly the one standing in front of him. And as his friend, Jesus wanted to be known. So he gave Thomas what he was looking for: himself.

Where has your journey of doubt taken you? Some of us have done a lot of deconstruction to get here. And some of us here are just starting to deconstruct—to take all our old assumptions apart, and investigate them one by one. It’s hard work, and it seems productive when you’re doing it. But I have to warn you—the work of deconstruction is only as good as your motives. Are you doubting to prove someone in your past wrong? Are you doubting to show people how sophisticated you are now? Or are you genuinely curious for the Truth? Are you prepared for what it might cost you?

You may have heard it said, in other sermons, don’t be like Thomas. But I say to you, be like Thomas. Be curious, not judgmental. Be a seeker, not a cynic. And when you seek, seek Jesus.

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