The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r025.htm

s025g11  Second Sunday of Easter  1/5/2011
 
‘blessed are those who .. have come to believe’  John 20.29
 
I wonder what we are being invited to believe.
 
Are we being invited to believe that we will find God when we visit a church, when we hear the scriptures read, when we receive the sacrament of Holy Communion?   Are we invited to believe that we will receive preferential treatment if we recite and understand the creeds – preferential treatment in this world or the next?
 
The common feature of all these is that they tell us as much where God is not likely to be found as where God might be found.   Jesus’ demonstration to Thomas says that we will find God in flesh and blood, and flesh and blood are found in many places other than churches, scriptures and Holy Communion.   Jesus demonstration to Thomas is that we find God not in the ethereal, spiritual or religious, but in the physical, the material, in ordinary life. 

And so the object of belief that the church often portrays is actually unbelief that God can be found elsewhere.   In the same way, the devout in Jesus’ day did not believe that Jesus ought to associate with the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners.   They didn’t believe God could or should be found there.
 
I recall that Jesus’ first miracle, according to John, was the turning of the water into wine.   Here Jesus transfigured what was ordinary and common into something else ordinary and common, yet something which brings rather more pleasure.  There is nothing ethereal, spiritual or religious about 180 litres of water, or wine.

So when people say that they believe in Jesus, for me it begs the question of what that really means.   When people describe themselves as spiritual again it seems to me to be implying that it is something unearthly.
 
So when I read this story of the risen Jesus and Thomas I read it as an affirmation that the real and earthly Jesus continues to be with us and with all people.   Without this affirmation we might be tempted to look up into the heavens to find divine presence, as the disciples gazed up at the ascending Jesus, rather than to look around us amongst the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners – not amongst the professionally or voluntary devout.   Again, the tower of Babel was all about humanity’s efforts to ascend to the heavens, when 
God bids us get along with those around us.
 
And it seems important to me to affirm that Jesus was and is found associating with sinners, so the emphasis on sin and forgiveness in the church might lead us to assume that we find the divine when we are cleansed and forgiven.   Again, this says as much about where the divine will not be found as where the divine will be found.   Indeed while we believe that the church is on about doing away with sin, we are failing to appreciate that Jesus was on about accepting sinners.
 
Christmass tells us that we have an incarnational faith and the Easter affirmation is that the incarnation wasn’t defeated, but that the incarnation triumphed over the forces of evil that would deny it, forces that most often masquerade as religious.
 
So we have been brought up to wear our Sunday best to church, to acknowledge that those who wear white dresses up the front on Sunday mornings are spiritually superior, and that God only associates with white, straight males with short hair who speak the Queen’s English, have proper table manners and who believe certain things, mostly that God associates with them and not with others.   I am not just sure where justification for this is found in the bible :-)!
 
This blessedness because we have come to believe is not a personal blessedness denied to others, but a blessedness inherently shared with others because others also do not have to be white, straight males with short hair who speak the Queen’s English, have proper table manners and who believe certain things, mostly that God associates with them and not with others.   This blessedness comes through acceptance of others, and is likely to result in others accepting us.  And where there is mutual acceptance, there comes the possibility that faith will not be a contributing factor to world and personal disputes.

Recently I was told of research that shows that spirituality is a major factor in the treatment of cancer.  Those who have a spirituality have an inner resource which can help them through this particular journey.   And this made me think - how can those on the outside engender a faith in someone who has been stricken with cancer?   But as I say this I realise that this implies that my ‘belief’ somehow suggests that the sufferer doesn’t have a spirituality.  It says that my belief is more about where I don’t believe God is at work.   I too suffer from the misconception that somehow I ‘have’ faith and others don’t.   The task seems therefore to explore the faith or spirituality of the sufferer, to affirm that faith or spirituality and so to help them find within themselves strength for the journey.   So again, acceptance of people, as they are, is integral to health, their health and our own.

In all of the gospel accounts of the resurrection the role of women is emphasised, and it has come to me that the male disciples had to contend with the fact that they had to hear the good news from women.   Men had to accept that women carried the word of God to them, and so implicitly the ‘old boy’s network’ is inherently inadequate.  And what was the message that the women brought?  In Matthew’s gospel the women were told to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where they would see the risen Christ.  So the message was not to affirm the especial importance of women, but that the risen Christ will be found elsewhere.   The ‘old boy’s network’ was not to be expanded just to include women, even though this is a worthy beginning.   The communion was to be expanded to include all people, of whatever hue, sexuality, gender, language, and custom.   The essential belief for this new community is that this God associates with all and so all are included without hesitation, without discrimination and without expectation.

But so often in the church the message is about the exalted status of the messenger, and the unique and and unavoidable way to God that this messenger offers.   ‘No one comes to the Father but by (Jesus)’ becomes ‘no one comes to the Father but by my exclusively correct interpretation of Jesus’ which is essentially indistinguishable to the statement: ‘no one comes to the Father but by me’ - the priest, pastor, minister or preacher.   Others have been effectively excluded, when this is precisely where the risen Jesus is to be found.

‘Blessed are those who .. have come to believe’, and it is an invitation, for just as a love that is forced can’t be called love, so faith that is enforced by the holding out of personal spiritual blessedness or the threat of personal spiritual punishment is fear masquerading as faith.   But ‘blessed are those who .. have come to believe’ is true because it allows us to accept others without hesitation, without discrimination and without expectation.   The only blessedness worth having is a corporate blessedness, shared by one and by all, and this is precisely what I believe God would have for humanity.



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