s025g02 Lockleys Second Sunday of Easter 7/4/2002

"Unless I see ..." John 20.25

The interchange between the risen Jesus and Thomas is often viewed as a fortunate, but rather unhappy, encounter. The general feeling is that doubting Thomas should have believed the other disciples. I mean, after all they knew each other, having walked and talked with Jesus during his earlier ministry. They ought to have been at least this level of trust. This unspoken yet nevertheless real pressure to trust the testimony of others, as a consequence implies we too should believe the Church's testimony, and if we do not, then we are at fault. "Trust and obey, for there's not other way ..." Or as some of my radical Mothers Union friends sing wryly "Dust and obey" :-) A rather more contemporary commentator says: "whether we believe by seeing or the testimony of others ... Mission begins with submission"?

Following this train of thought, in doubting we exempt ourselves from the blessing that Jesus pronounces: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe". It is a fortunate encounter in that Thomas "proves" that Jesus can overcome doubts, but such "proof" only makes the sword for ourselves sharper. If the sceptic Thomas came to believe, so should we... We shouldn't test God, we should just believe.

Surely we should trust the testimony of the Church, for after all if we can't trust the Church, who can we trust? So centuries of thought have been put into bolstering the arguements for the trustworthiness of the message. Michael Green, in his delightful little book "Why bother with Jesus" (one I've often given to confirmation candidates to read over many years) conveniently lists some of the people who through the centuries have followed Christ - some of the names will be unfamiliar to us, but he gives small accounts of the faith of Stalin's daughter Svetlana, Solzhenitzyn, Jimmy Cater and Cliff Richard ... (page 50).

So the Collect for St Thomas: "for the firmer foundation of our faith, allowed the apostle ... to doubt the resurrection of your Son ..." This seems a begrudging acceptance, and something that should be quickly resolved.

But I want to say that far from thinking that Thomas is someone not to be emulated, in fact I think that we should all emulate Thomas. I do not believe that anyone is well served by accepting faith "second-hand". The last thing I would want is that anyone here in the pews to accept my version of the faith. I share with you some of my journey, and in doing so invite you to explore your own faith or at the very least allow others the right to explore their own faith.

I stand up here and try to articulate my faith as best as I can, for that is all I can do. You are welcome to take what you may find valuable from my words and discard the rest. If there is anything in which I hope you would emulate me, it would be to be adventurous in your own exploration rather than timorous.

It does not matter if the faith is as orthodox as that which is founded on the scriptures, creeds, sacraments and episcopate that Anglicans consider fundamental (American BCP p877), one of the multitude of variants of emphasis that abound everywhere, my own particular heresy, or your own personal perceptions.

The reality is that the Risen Jesus touches different people in different ways, and each and every one is evidence that Christ is risen. Each and every one of us has "seen" something which we consider fundamental. It is right and proper that we are true to our perceptions.

Like Thomas, none of us should accept any substitute for our own faith. Demand to see for yourself. No matter how persuasive the arguments of the truth, orthodoxy or whatever - demand to see the risen Jesus for yourself. No matter how persuasive or inconsistent you find my apologetics, seek for yourself.

As I look back in my own life, I really "entered the Church" because I found I wasn't accepting the faith as expressed by the particular priest at the time, and I thought, well I couldn't debate with him, so I'd better try to find out what I myself believed. It is only now that I am beginning to be able to articulate my own faith, and this has been hampered rather than helped by the power of various orthodoxy's to demand adherence rather than honour enquiry.

For just as Thomas, as he enquired, found for himself the risen Jesus, so too we, as we enquire will find the risen Jesus too. If we are honest in our looking, and if we are prepared to honour that the risen Jesus might mean that some of our perceptions are modified by further encounter, we will, I have no doubt find what we are seeking for. It may be sometimes in the strangest of places that we will find the risen Jesus. But there is no way, other than closing our eyes, to not see this Jesus, in you and in me and in others whom the Lord puts around us.

One of the teachings of the Anglican Church is expressed in Article 10 (of the 39): "... we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God preventing us ..." This means that everyone here is here, not because you have chosen to come to Church this morning, but because God has touched your lives, probably ever so gently, perhaps, somewhat more dramatically. This means that no one is here for any other reason, and that no one is here for a more worthy or less worthy reasons. It means that everyone's presence here is because God believes it is good for each of us to be here.

So everyone is here because each and every one of you have glimpsed the risen Christ. On the other hand, I'm here because I wouldn't get paid if I wasn't :-)

And so that blessing that Jesus pronounces on those who haven't seen actually has doesn't apply to us, for we have seen - albeit, for us all, through the glass darkly. The Easter blessing the Jesus pronounces on those who haven't seen, actually refers to others. Jesus blesses those who haven't seen, those who are not Christians, yet believe that God is good to all and treat others accordingly.

And it is interesting that phrase, through the glass darkly, for what do we see if we look in a mirror, if not ourselves? At the end of time we will see clearly the risen Jesus at work in us, in that bleary eyed creature we look at each morning as we brush our teeth!

We have been blessed by our seeing the risen Jesus in our lives, and so we have already been blessed by the risen Jesus. The Easter blessing therefore is not just for us, but for others - those people who haven't seen and yet believe that God is good to all and treat others accordingly.

For many people have had tragedies strike them and find it is impossible to believe in a personal God - something that we find fundamental. For some this leads them, not to anti-social actions, but to work quietly for the good of society. This special Easter blessing is for such people.

But there is another side of that article 10, I quoted earlier, and that is that those whose lives have been blighted by difficulties and have not found the wherewithall to rise above the laws of the jungle, the survival of the fittest. The article tells us that God's actions are a prerequisite for people to change their lives. As a consequence, we are called not to criticise but to care for those who find themselves in such straits.

There is, of course, the danger that the faith we find might not be truly orthodox, and I touch on this question more properly on Trinity Sunday. Today it is only necessary to affirm that orthodoxy at the exclusion of others is always heretical. The risen Christ is found in others, his later ministry parallels his earlier ministry - and so this bids us treat others with enormous respect. If others treat people with less respect, then, again, perhaps they've not seen.

The last stages of this sermon were prepared after we saw the film "A Beautiful Mind" - and this showed dramatically the heights a brilliant mathematician - who suffered from one of the most debiliatating of illnesses - paranoid schitzophrenia - could rise, once he had faced the illness, accepted the help of those who loved him and made some determined choices to fight it. There is no one who has not a contribution to make.

When I was confirmed, many years ago now, a priest gave me a 1662 Prayer Book, with the inscription, as one did in those days, which was Matthew 6:33 and it has become something of a motto for me. The text is, of course, "Seek ye first for the kingdom of God" and this is nothing if not an invitation to explore one's own faith rather than mearly accepting someone else's orthodoxy.

And soon after that invitation to seek comes the promise, echoing words of Jeremiah: "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you." (Matthew 7:7).

 

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