Sermon April 12, 2015
John 20:19-31, Acts 4:32-35
When our kids were younger, they began comparing notes with their friends and realizing that a certain elfin yuletide cheery potbellied person who brings toys was something to be questioned. They came home asking Anne Marie if this magical visitor was real. Expecting her to say yes or no, they were taken aback by her honest answer, “I choose to believe. Everyone gets to make that same choice.”
Easter is always interesting because we are dealing with something that is unbelievable. We certainly can’t prove it. Easter Sunday isn’t so bad because we have big music, big attendance, and big décor. The problem is that it’s still Easter. This is a 50 day season. It isn’t as easy to choose resurrection when things go back to normal. Thomas, a faithful follower of Jesus, has become known for this one moment in scripture. It really is one moment because by the end of the reading from John today, he makes the strongest profession of faith in the whole gospel. But everyone forgets that part.
Thomas is known for saying he won’t believe Jesus has risen unless he sees Jesus himself. Look at the progression again…earlier in John, Mary encounters the risen Christ in the garden. She has no idea who he is until he calls her by name. Then she recognizes him. She runs and tells the other disciples. They respond to that news by locking themselves in a room and hiding in fear. Hello? Is that what a faithful disciple looks like? This picture of them hiding in fear looks like many churches today. There are churches everywhere that are struggling with an uncertain future, a lack of resources, and shrinking membership. They are responding by becoming more insular and afraid. They are doing their own version of locking themselves in a room.
Look at the text again. The disciples are closed up in a room because they are afraid. Jesus appears to them and shows them his wounds. He brings them peace and breathes on them to empower them with the Holy Spirit. Thomas must be out shopping when it happens because he misses the whole thing. Eight days later, they are together locked in a house when Jesus walks in. How is it they were locked up AFTER their encounter with Jesus and Thomas is the one called doubting??? Perhaps this story is less about Thomas’ disbelief and more about the disciples’ failure to act on their experience. Why should he believe when he returns to find them locked up in fear?
Jesus has come to offer Thomas the encounter he longs for and Thomas makes a powerful statement of faith. It sounds as if Jesus is chastises Thomas, but he came back just to appear to him, didn’t he? Perhaps he is referring to the fact that many will not see him in this form but will be asked to believe in what they can’t see.
Doubts are not deal breakers in faith. They do remind us that we choose where we place our faith. I felt this strongly when we passed a budget with a $48,000 deficit. I could imagine Jerry Maguire appearing and saying, “Show me the money.” Our decision to pass the budget was a choice to believe in something we couldn’t see.
Parker Palmer said, “Every religious tradition is rooted in mysteries I don’t pretend to understand, including claims about what happens after we die. But this I know for sure: as long as we’re alive, choosing resurrection is always worth the risk.”
I think he’s right. How many people have done something impossible by choosing to believe it could be done? How about the Wright brothers who believed people could fly? In 1961, John F. Kennedy challenged America to put a human being on the moon by the end of the decade. Many believed that was ridiculous until 1969 when it happened. There was a time when it was impossible to talk to someone in another town without going to visit them. Alexander Graham Bell changed that. Wouldn’t he be surprised today to see how the telephone has evolved?
Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” The one that we choose makes a difference. If we live as though nothing is a miracle, it will limit us tremendously. If we live as though everything is a miracle, our possibilities are endless. While some of us have a natural tendency to lean toward one way or the other, we still have a choice to make. What will we believe? How will we live?
I believe that our deficit budget does not limit us; instead we have extraordinary potential.
When we talk about the miracle of the resurrection, shouldn’t we also consider the miracle that God became human in the first place? What kind of God would do that? We’ve already believed the impossible. Lewis Carroll explores the capacity to believe the impossible in his novel Alice in Wonderland. The Queen begins by saying,
"I'm just one hundred and one, five months and a day."
"I can't believe that!" said Alice.
"Can't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."
Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
(From Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There ,1871, Chapter 5)
Perhaps that great theologian John Belushi from the movie Animal House is more your style: “Nothing is impossible for the person who will not listen to reason.”
Being people of faith does not mean we believe everything. We have plenty of doubts, but we choose how we will live in and with those doubts. Others learn what it means to be a person of faith by watching us. As a minister baptizes an infant, he turns to the congregation and says, “Welcome this new Christian. How will she learn to be a Christian? By watching you.”
The risen Christ breathed on his followers and empowered them with the gift of the spirit. They must then choose how they will live. Will they continue to lock themselves up in that room in fear of what will happen next or will they step out into the world bringing the risen Christ with them?
The answer to that question is found in the reading from Acts today. To spend energy critiquing the early church as communist or perhaps socialist fails to capture the power of the story. The reading gives us a glimpse of the early church where everyone gave generously. These early followers were clear about their mission that none would be in need in the community. When a need presented itself, someone would liquidate an asset and bring to the leaders to use for the good of all. They did not believe that things were theirs. Instead, they understood themselves to be stewards of God’s world. Everything they had was for the good of all, not for individual advancement. These followers were empowered by the resurrection to act in ways that transformed their community.
One can ask, “Did the resurrection really happen?” The answer is in the followers. If we look at the followers in Acts, the resurrection is real. That church inspires me. I love those tenacious followers who gave so generously to create a world where all are cared for and brokenness is not the last word. We are a church empowered by the resurrection. We can stand around and debate whether it really happened or we can live as though it did and continues to do so today. That is the church that I choose to be part of…how about you?