|Sermon, April 3, 2016
2nd Sunday of Easter
We are given a story this week in our lectionary journey through the Scriptures that we get every year whether we want it or not.? The story is about Thomas who is infamous because he was a doubter.? His name is known in every Christian culture and ethnic diversity therein.? If you want to say something about a person who just refuses to join into the right way to believe, that person is a Doubting Thomas. Blessed is he who carries this weight for all time for us all.
There is a sacred rule, and maybe two, when preaching or teaching from the Gospel According to John. First, John?s Gospel is anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish at its core.? We cannot take faith from any segment of John?s rich literary composition without acknowledging that the Christian core of our world?s anti-Semitism found and continues to find its genesis in John?s Gospel.
So this morning when the author writes in verse 19 that the disciples are all hiding for fear of the Jews it should and must raise a red flag of disagreement, along with a most sincere apology to Jews of all time, along with a promise to serve and protect any Jews from the cruelty that still comes their way because of the way early Christianity blamed Jews for the death of the one called Jesus, the so called Son of God, if not God?s very self.
Such anti-Semitic rendering of the death story of Jesus has led directly through the centuries to Jews being openly persecuted, forced to live in ghettos, and killed.? Hitler?s Germany used the same Christian anti-Semitic statements to detain and murder 4 to 6 million Jews in World War II and confiscate their properties.? Still, to this day, good Christians refuse to return stolen art works and wealth that were taken from Jews in the 1930?s and 40?s.
We must be amongst the first to stand in opposition to any anti-Jewish religious statements.? It is not unlike our need to stand against the racism that is rampant in our culture in regard to Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos and Native Americans.? If not us, then who?? Granted, we did not ask for the job, but we have the privileges and with great privilege comes even greater responsibility to bear the truth to those who are suffering under our societies prejudices, which are spiritually, and too often bodily, deadly.
And, in addition, John?s Gospel, which is so well known, is also the least historically valid of all the accounts.? The community that produced John?s gospel was not producing a historical rendering of the life of Jesus but a piece of faith literature.? John?s gospel has religious themes and doctrines that it wants to communicate around the well-known story line of Jesus? life and death.? But, the story creators were not concerned primarily with the facts but more with teaching what they believed to be correct faith.? And there are beautifully constructed statements of faith in John?s gospel.
Thomas is only mentioned three times in our Scriptures.? And yes, all three times are in John?s Gospel, though he is mentioned on occasion by Paul in attempting to name all the Apostles but he never gets the same names right twice.
There is a reason that Thomas is used in John?s Gospel.? A reality that was happening in the time of John?s writing was that a significant group of people did not believe in the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus.? They doubted it.
There was most likely an apostle named Thomas, the twin. His doubting of the physical resurrection makes him my patron saint.? But, not so for John?s community.? Incidentally, the Apostle Paul believed in the resurrection but not in the body.? Paul believed in a spiritual resurrection, and he wrote about it at least a half century before the Gospel of John was written.
A community of faith such as ours needs to know the truths of these matters as much as they can be ascertained.? But, simply knowing these biblical trivial pursuit facts should not be what primarily names us as a faith community.
Why do we exist? When John says, ?so that you may believe,? he means so that you might enter into or be assured of your relationship with God.? That is why we exist: to be in passionate, trusting relationship with each other in our quest to know God and be in relationship with the world as God is?caringly, provocatively, passionately and reliably.
Belief in John?s Gospel is never a noun, but always a verb, and believing is to be in relationship with God. You are in a relationship with God and the purpose of what John writes is to support, nurture, and sustain that relationship. Regardless, the believing is not creedal but relational.
Believing in the resurrection is this kind of believing.? Believing in the resurrection that doesn?t have as its goal the guarantee of life after death; believing that doesn?t try to convince people to confess that which is, if we are honest, rather un-confessable; believing that doesn?t insist on some ?done deal? by God; but having a belief that promises a relationship with God that not even death can bring to an end.
We might think this is basic. Yet, no one else does. For most, resurrection is a belief stamp of salvific security, not a vision of relationship and community here and now. If we make resurrection, that which the people have to believe in, is about raising a dead body to a shiny new car look and smell,?then resurrection loses its relational power. At the end of the day, resurrection can?t only be about eternal life in the future. It can?t sound like some sort of lofty and abstract heavenly promise, a reservation for a room or an Airbnb mansion after passing through the pearly gates. Resurrection has to be the promise of abundant life with God and all creation– forever AND now.
We are in the liturgical time of year called Easter, where we are going to be bombarded with more traditional Jesus resurrected stories than anyone wants to hear, probably.? But, what I am going to focus on is our need to resurrect relationships and an intimacy with each other in community that has powerful, passionate possibilities to change our lives.
Church or faith community whether it is, if you like, religion or spirituality, is nothing without caring intimately for each other.? And by others, I do mean all the others in our world.
We do very well here at First United?not just well, we do exceedingly well?at being a place where all are welcomed and valued.? We go out of our way organizationally to touch lives in creative ways, meaningful ways, lifesaving ways.? But, how well do we know each other?? How well do you know your neighbor in the pew and the ones we smile at when we walk by them and greet them?
It is not anyone?s fault that society has changed from by gone time like in the Cheers television bar where everybody knows your name.? We live in a new time and in new ways just because that?s what it takes.? So we have to step up and form community in new ways that matter.? We have to form relationships with those we sit with in the pews with the same intentionality that we created a structure to invite the homeless to spend the last six years sleeping in our building, surrounded by the safety and concern and love of our volunteers.
We must learn how to do passionately caring relationships for each other?because resurrection is about relationships that will never be broken, that will never be abandoned, that will never know separation, and will forever be. Think this is just a pie-in-the-sky promise? Let?s pause and think about how much a relationship that will never end might mean.
We live for and exist in relationships that are often not life-giving, that are on the brink of dissolving, that will end, most certainly, because of every fault, or no fault, of our own. Think about the relationships that have changed over time, that can?t go back to the way they were before, that need to change, but maybe can?t and, in the end, maybe that?s okay. So we exist in tension and frustration and grief because we are not sure how to handle an acceptable demise or how to negotiate what this means for our relationships in the future. Think about the relationships that ended too soon?by terrorist acts, the ruthlessness of illness, the not-so-random events of nature?s reaction to environmental complacency, the sudden separations not planned, never anticipated, and so devastating, for whatever reason and for whatever cause.
Our lives exist in, are known through, and defined by broken relationships. But it is not so with our relationship with God. This is the truth, the grace, the gospel of John 20:30-31. The point of God?s revealed self in the Word made flesh, the Word crucified, the Word resurrected, and the Word ascended, is the commitment, like no other, to show what true relationship means.
Resurrection is about relationship with God that cannot be broken.? Ever.? Period.? No add-ons.
There is nothing so very theologically elevated about resurrection belief other than it is a promise that God has been, is, and will be with us, no matter what.? No matter our love of God, God loves and cares intimately for us?and it is a love that will never be broken even though we may be broken.? God brings wholeness no matter what has happened and no matter how broken we experience our lives to be.
Living resurrection is believing in the sense of it being a verb.? It is rising up with the blessing of God, surrounded by the reality of God from whatever ashes we have dissolved into.? Be the resurrection, let us be the resurrection that others are looking for at the grave.? Why look for the living among the dead?? Rise up and become with God.? Let us be all that God is loving, luring us to be.? And in so doing we will lift up all the others who need what we have discovered?resurrection is relationship with all that is holy, divine and good that must be translated into similar relationships with each other.
Have you died a thousand deaths in this life?? It is time to believe resurrection and allow it to move you, to move me, to live new.? Let us risk being amazed at what allowing resurrection can do with our lives.