A sermon for 2nd Sunday in Easter
Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31
It was a week ago that Mary went to the tomb, saw the open door, and runs to tell the disciples. Peter and one other run to the tomb, they both witness the head cloth and shroud. After they leave, Mary bravely enters the tomb, has a brief chat with two angelic figures, and speaks with Jesus. When she returns she tells the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” Later that evening, all except Thomas, are gathered in fear of the Jews …. Wait a minute, two disciples have seen the empty tomb. Mary has also seen and spoken with Jesus. Why are they afraid of anybody? With three witnesses to various signs of the resurrected Lord what is to fear? In spite of the witnesses it’s only after Jesus reveals the marks of his crucifixion that they recognize him. There is no doubt there is more here than the story’s presumptive title.
A week later, today, Jesus shows up again. This time Thomas is with the others; Jesus offers Thomas the same wounds he shared with the others earlier. Thomas’ response “My Lord and my God.” is the first time any one recognizes Jesus as God, which is significant in the overall Gospel tale, but more so in John’s telling. So, there is no doubt ~ this is the worst named story in all scripture. First of all, Thomas is only seeking the same experience his companions had. Secondly, the word ‘doubt’ never appears, what is translated ‘doubt’ is better translated ‘unbelieving.’ Again significant in John’s Gospel account because throughout the Gospel John connects belief with relationship. Thus what Thomas is really seeking is the same relationship with Jesus as his companions have. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015)
There is no doubt, we witness Thomas travel a different path in coming to belief; no doubt we witness Thomas travel a different path in coming to relationship with Jesus than his companions did. We do not know why he wasn’t present; though some speculate, the ever practical Thomas was out getting on with life. We also know the less traveled path Thomas took brings him to the same relationship with Jesus and therefore with God. It is not necessarily a lesser path. It is not necessarily a better path. It is just a different path, leading to relationship with Jesus and God. Which is, as the Gospel itself says, the purpose of the book:
… so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
There is no doubt there have long been different paths to belief in God, Jesus and the Spirit. In the Middle Ages Peter Abelard emerged as an influential Christian leader. He was and is known for his poetry, music, and philosophical prowess. He brought reason into matters of faith, essentially introducing theology as we know it today. (King, 2014) Somewhere along the line I learned Abelard sought understanding to believe.
However, his way is not universally accepted. Anselm of Canterbury is often quoted:
For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand. (Anselm, n.d.)
I think the two argued “I understand to believe.” verses “I believe to understand.” I gather their arguments were something to behold, and not always conducted with respect for the other. But, there is no doubt both believed in God, Jesus and the Spirit.
A couple of decades and a few years ago I was instructed to select a spiritual director for my time in seminary. For a variety of reasons I selected Anwyn. The topic we discussed the most was obedience and love. My entering the ordination process was in obedience to the divine dictate: “Go get ordained.” No more, no less. I don’t recall Anwyn’s journey to Holy orders, except that love was the dominate word. Our conversation over three years, were always challenging, respectful, and caring. It took a long time, of mostly way in the back of my head thinking, to understand Anwyn’s journey was Anwyn’s journey, and my journey was my journey. They cannot be reconciled. In truth, they do not need to be reconciled, for what is true is her journey brought her to belief, and my journey, brought me to belief. Both journeys’ destination were abiding relationship with Jesus in God with a little nudging by the Spirit.
There is no doubt this gleaning that all paths lead to God, is scattered throughout scripture. Jonah’s prayer:
I called to the LORD out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. (Jonah 2:2 NRSV)
echoes Psalm 130, and 139
Where can I go from your spirit?
… where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. (Psalm 139:7-8 NRSV)
Clearly there is no place where God is not, even the remotest of places, like the belly of a fish, God is present, and where God is, relationship with God is available, and that is the divine desire. Paul says it so eloquently:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NRSV)
There is no doubt God is ever present, that one’s relationship with God can forever continue to grow in dimensions we cannot imagine. There is no doubt all words, prose, poetry or lyrics; that all music, that all images, that any expression of how we perceive the world around us can be a seeking for the presence of God, can be a reaching out to accept the divine relationship so freely offered to us. There is no doubt that whether it looks like or is expressed as understanding or it looks like or is expressed as belief the object of such desire is life in the presence of God. There is no doubt all roads so traveled lead to Jesus, the Son of God and life in God’s presence. There is no doubt your journey your life are blessed. Thus spake your Lord Jesus. Alleluia.
Anselm. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.brainyquote: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/anselmofca400869.html#wxLYlERMKwowXjeo.99
Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 4 12). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from workingpreacher.org.
King, P. (2014). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Peter Abelard. (P. King, Ed.) Stanford: The Metaphysics Research Lab.